Survivors recall the tragic 1947 anti-colonial revolt in Madagascar

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French cinemas began this month showing a documentary film telling the story, with first-hand witness accounts, of a 1947-1948 pro-independence uprising against French rule in Madagascar. Fahavalo, directed by French-Madagascan filmmaker Marie-Clémence Andriamonta-Paes, is the first feature film-length documentary of the events to be screened in cinemas, and includes numerous interviews with former members of the rebel movement, which was brutally crushed by the French army with the loss of tens of thousands of lives, variously estimated at between 30,000 and 89,000. Fanny Pigeaud interviews the director and returns to the events which for many decades officially remained a buried and unrecognised tragedy.

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In Madagascar, some among the older generations refer to it as the “tabataba” in Malagasy, the country’s national language, which means noise, or commotion, while others call it the “événements”, meaning the “events” in French, the second official language on the island. The euphemisms allude to an armed insurrection by the islanders, between March 1947 and the end of 1948, against France’s colonial rule, and which was brutally suppressed by a French army force of almost 20,000 soldiers.