A Look Inside My Malagasy Wallet

Malagasy money as it normally looks.

            In all countries, money plays an important role in the lives of its people.  In Madagascar this role, and the relationships it creates, exist in a large degree in the market place.  Whether it be with your favorite person to buy chicken from, or your carrot and green bean lady who always picks out the freshest veggies for you, or your pepper lady who always has a colorful array of peppers stacked in neat piles upon her straw mat on the ground, or the owner of the store who, though you rarely buy anything from him, always wants you to stop and chat so he can practice his English.  These experiences and relationships are a corner stone to many people’s lives on a daily basis. 

            Money can tell a unique story, from the hands it passes through to the pictures depicted on its bills.  Below is a brief summary of the money used in Madagascar; what it depicts and
what it can buy (I have posted for both my old and new site since they differ in both region and size of town).  The photos are of actual bank notes I had on me and are the cleanest I could find (they almost never as clean as presented in these photos). 
*Though there are coins depicted in the photo above they are almost useless and you do not commonly see them anymore.

100 Ariary ≈ $0.03 USD

100 ariary madagascar money
100 ariary Madagascar bank note
            This is the smallest value paper bill in Madagascar and, along with the 200 ariary bill, is the most used bill in Madagascar.   The front side of the 100 ariary bill has two images that are very characteristic of Madagascar.  In the foreground is the ravinala tree, also known as the ‘traveler’s palm’ due to the fact that one can often find water trapped in the base of the leaves.  Apart from being a symbol of Madagascar, the materials from the tree are used for the walls and roof of traditional Malagasy homes.  In the background of the image is the tsingy formation found in both the western and northern parts of the island.  It is most notably known at the Tsingy of Bemaraha in western Madagascar, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.

            On the back side of the bill is an image of Nosy Lonia, a sacred island in Antsiranana Bay.  The bay can be found in the northern tip of Madagascar and is considered one of the finest harbors in the world.  It serves and protects the city of Antsiranana, also known as Diego Suarez, from the Indian Ocean. 

-In Vondrozo (Southeast countryside) this would buy four oranges, fried banana, or a tomato.
-In Diego (Northern big city) this would buy possibly a small fried bread or a small piece of candy.

200 Ariary ≈ 0.06 USD

200 ariary madagascar money
200 ariary Madagascar bank note

             The front side of the 200 ariary bill is an image of the large stone gateways that were once used to protect villages in the highlands of Madagascar.  The large stone disks, known as vavahady, would be rolled in front of the gate every night to protect the villagers inside.  Prior to French colonization in the 1800’s, Merina royal families used fortified cities to maintain their position of power.  The most notable of these villages is Ambohimanga, where the creation of the Kingdom of Madagascar first began, which was added as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

            On the back side of the bill are images of the aloalo, which are found primarily in the southern regions of Madagascar.  These wooden poles are carved with designs and placed atop tombs.  The intricate designs, along with the skulls and horns of slaughtered cows, tell the story of those that are buried there.

-In Vondrozo (Southeast countryside) this would buy a mango, coffee with milk, or three bell peppers.
-In Diego (Northern big city) this would buy a small bunch of green onions, a small glass of juice, or a piece of ginger.

500 Ariary$0.16 USD

500 ariary madagascar money
500 ariary Madagascar bank note

            The front side of the 500 ariary bill has an image of a Malagasy artisan weaving a traditional straw basket.  The most common types of items made are floor mats (known as tsihy), baskets, bags, and hats.  These items are part of Malagasy life all over the island.
            On the back side of the bill is an image of a herd of zebu, a species of domesticated cow found in all regions of the country.  Known for its resistance to high temperatures the zebu can be found living in many tropical countries.  The zebu is easily identifiable by the large hump between their shoulders.  In Madagascar, zebu is kept as work animals and for beef, and in some areas used as currency; many people investing their money in cattle instead of using a bank.  The zebu plays an intricate part in Malagasy life and culture; so much so that it even featured prominently on the countries seal.

-In Vondrozo (Southeast countryside) this would buy an egg, a large pineapple, or a cup of beans.
-In Diego (Northern big city) this would buy an egg, a one way trip in a taxi, or three bell peppers.

1000 Ariary$0.33 USD

1000 ariary madagascar money
1000 ariary Madagascar bank note 

            The front side of the 1000 ariary bill shows images of some of the diverse wildlife found here in Madagascar.  The images show two species of gidro (lemur), the Black and White Ruffed Lemur in the foreground and the Aye Aye behind, as well as a tortoise.  Madagascar is well known for its biodiversity; approximately 90% of all plants and animals here are endemic to the island. 

            On the back side of the bill are images of some of the plant life found in Madagascar.  There are images of two plants, the sisal plant (a species of agave) and the cactus, both prominent plants in the dry desert areas of southern Madagascar. 

-In Vondrozo (Southeast countryside) this would buy a pound of carrots, three cups of rice, or about 20 ripe bananas.
-In Diego (Northern big city) this would buy a small pineapple, five samosas, or a bowl of soup.

2000 Ariary$0.66 USD

2000 ariary madagascar money
2000 ariary Madagascar bank note
            On the front side of the 2000 ariary bill is an image of the iconic baobabs.  In Madagascar you can find seven of the nine species of baobabs in the world; six of which are endemic to the island.  In some parts of the country, the baobab is seen as the mother of the forest and as a link between the living and their tribal ancestors.  The Alley of Baobabs outside of Morondava, in western Madagascar, is a popular tourist attraction.

            On the back side of this bill is the typical landscape found in many parts of Madagascar; terraced rice fields.  Rice plays an important part in Malagasy life and is the staple food of the country.  Typically eaten at every meal, rice is the primary focus of the meal with meat and/or vegetables seen as side dishes and eaten in much smaller portions. 

-In Vondrozo (Southeast countryside) this would buy three cups of beans, three loafs of bread, or rice and a side dish at a local Malagasy restaurant.
-In Diego (Northern big city) this would buy 1.5 liter bottle of water or a pound of onions.

5000 Ariary$1.66 USD

5000 ariary madagascar money
5000 ariary Madagascar bank note

             The front side of the 5000 ariary bill is an image of a traditional Malagasy boat out at sea.  In the coastal regions of Madagascar, fishermen still use these boats for deep sea fishing.
            On the back side of the bill is the scenic beach view of Fort Dauphin, on the southern coast of Madagascar.  Another popular tourist location in Madagascar, the town shows the complexity of landscape in the area; from its beautiful coastline to the stunning mountain range that rolls into the ocean to the diverse variety of plants.

-In Vondrozo (Southeast countryside) this would buy two 22 oz THB beers, a steak and fries, or a little over two pounds of beef.
-In Diego (Northern big city) this would buy one 22 oz THB beer at a restaurant, a pair of sunglasses, or about ¾ pound of beef.

10000 Ariary$3.33 USD

10000 ariary madagascar money
10000 ariary Madagascar money
            This is the largest bill found in Madagascar.  The front of the 10000 ariary bill is a historical reminder of the Kingdom of Madagascar. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the Malagasy royalty ruled over its kingdom from the central highland city of Antananarivo (the current capital city).  The Rova (royal palace complex) was the home of several kings and queens of Madagascar and sits upon the highest point in the area.  Depicted on the bill are the Queen’s Palace and the tombs of some of her predecessors.  In 1995, a fire destroyed the inner wooden building of the Queen’s Palace and all that remains today is the outer stone structure.  Even so, it remains a prominent figure on the skyline of the capital and can be seen from almost any point within the city.

            On the back of the bill is an image of trucks and cranes that symbolize the process of development in Madagascar.  Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest nations and there is a lot of concern within the country about the construction of new roads, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure, along with the politics that come along with that.  In many parts of the country there are roads that are hardly accessible by car and many building that date to the early 1900’s when the French colonized Madagascar.  This bill both reminds us of the history of Madagascar and serves as encouraging reminder of the steps the country is making to become more developed.   

-In Vondrozo (Southeast countryside) this would buy 1.5 liters of honey, two pounds of sausage, or a taxi brousse ride to my banking town.
-In Diego (Northern big city) this would buy almost a two pound chicken or a hamburger.

Going to the bank

            Madagascar has two main banks; BFV and Bank of Africa.  Banks are only located in bigger cities and one will often find long lines, especially on payday, both inside the bank and at the ATM.  People can sometimes wait hours before have access to the ATM only to find that the machine has run out and they must return another day.  The process of replacing a lost or stolen card can also be frustrating as it can take months before you receive a new card.
            On the smaller bills you will see the equivalent in francs printed below the ariary denomination.  This is a throwback from French colonization which many Malagasy have a hard time letting go of.  The ariary officially replaced francs in 2005 but you will often still hear sellers in the market calling out the prices of things in francs while also using French numbers.  This creates a confusing process of converting the francs to ariary (the conversion rate of francs to ariary is 5:1) and then paying in ariary, which presumably they then convert back to francs in their head.  

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