Elie Rajaonarison, Malagasy artist, has died

Elie Rajaonarison, a Malagasy poet, has died on November 27, 2010, at the age of 59. An accomplished artist, Elie Rajaonarison tried his hand successfully at photography and film. He held degrees in anthropology and was a professor at the University of Antananarivo. He published a poetry book, Ranitra, and translated French poet Jacques Prevert into Malagasy. He was also Secretary of Culture, and once advised former President Marc Ravalomanana during the 2002 political unrest that followed the presidential elections and led to former President Didier Ratsiraka's ousting and exile in Paris, France.

Bloggers eulogize him:
Ndimby who usually blogs about politics, is positively lyrical

“Elie était un homme profondément enraciné dans la culture de son pays natal, qu’il a su sublimer dans la magie de ses mots, de ses idées et de ses actes. Dans quelques jours, son corps va rejoindre cette terre qu’il aimait tant, tandis que son âme va s’envoler dans les airs à la rencontre de son immortalité.”

Elie was a man deeply rooted in the culture of his country, which he has sublimated in the magic of his words, ideas and actions. In a couple of days, his body will join this land he loved so much, and his soul will fly in the airs to meet his immortality.

Pierre Maury publishes an interview he held with Elie Rajaonarison in 2002, while Elie Rajaonarison attended the
IOWA Writers’ Workshop and met with poets and writers from all over the world. During the interview, Elie
Rajaonarison exhorts Malagasy writers to join the world and exit their insularity.

“La plupart des pays présents ici font l'effort de traduire leurs œuvres, de les intégrer aux mainstreams
culturels de notre temps. Notre contexte insulaire ne doit pas être perçu comme négatif. Au contraire. Nous avons la chance d'avoir le sens de l'enracinement en même temps que du voyage comme tous les insulaires. Le questionnement identitaire est déjà bien engagé, il doit continuer de nous interpeller. Il est temps maintenant de “voyager”. Le temps est venu d'aller voir ailleurs et de nous faire voir ailleurs (sans jeu de mot malvenu), en deux mots: d'exister! Figurer en bonne place sur la carte littéraire mondiale. Nous avons tous les atouts pour réussir ce pari: une littérature en langue nationale bien établie et qui ne cesse de se développer, la maîtrise de la langue française que l'intelligentsia s'est appropriée, le penchant “naturel” des Malgaches à apprendre les langues étrangères et notamment l'anglais, le développement des Ntic dont la jeunesse urbaine branchée est friande mais qui va s'étendre à toutes les couches sociales et dans toutes les régions. Autant d'atouts, autant d'essais qu'il s'agit maintenant de transformer par la traduction de nos œuvres en langues étrangères car le Monde nous attend et il a besoin de nous pour exister, lui aussi.”

“Most countries present here [at the IWP workshop] make the effort to translate their works, to integrate them into the cultural mainstreams of our time. Our insular situation should not be perceived as a negative. In the contrary. We have the chance to have both the rootedness sense and the traveling instict like all islanders. The identity questioning  is well engaged, and it should maintain our involvement. It is now time to “travel”. It is now time to make ourselves seen and to see elsewhere, in a couple of words : the time has come to exist ! To gain our place on the world literary map. We have all assets to win this bet : a well established literature written in our national language which keeps developing, mastery of French that the intelligentsia has well appropriated, the “natural” gift Malagasies have to learn foreign languages, with a special mention to English, development of Information technology of which the urban youth is a greedy user, but which will extend to all social groups and to all regions. Many assets, many tryouts which we now have to transform by translating our works into foreign languages because the World is expecting us and it needs us to exist, too.

SipaKV writes about the title of Ranitra, published in 1992, and the lone book of poetry that Elie Rajaonarison published, even though he had already written at the time more than 500 poems in 1992.

But my favorite in the post face is the wordplay on the title “Ranitra”, as explained by the postfacer.

Ranitra as an adjective standing for “sharp”, it may wound, it may also mean “smart” 

Ranitra as a root may also mean “tease”, as in provoke, irritate

Lastly, Ranitra also means “friend”, in the Merina language, secret friend as in “mistress”, vady ranitra.

And a beautiful bitter booming poem, of which I attempt a translation. It becomes obvious in the poem why Elie Rajaonarison wanted his poems spoken out loud and scanded. I picked it for a distinct reason, which you will realize if you look closely at the date of its writing.

Most bitter is the bite of hunger
which awakens you in the morning
keeps you up at night
Most bitter the price of sweat
you do not even notice
emptied while unhelped from
dried out while indebted
It is even harder
to not raise, crushed by complaints
to not dream, petrified by weakness
to not reconcile, closed minded

Bitter is all that!
In the darkness of the everyday
shines Light
rises Joy
Floods and vanquishes the unshelterable bile

Then rise the chants of the ready
to win the everyday
to place their rays to history’s legacy

Sing o hills
as she the most beautiful
raises unremittingly unvanquished in war

Written by Elie Rajaonarison on August 15 1990, 1 year and 5 days before the Iavoloha massacre,

Elie Rajaonarison leaves a wife, three daughters and many grandchildren.

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