Research in African Literatures 34.2 (2003) 175-182
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Esther Nirina Speaks to Carole Beckett
Antananarivo, June 1998
Esther Nirina is well known and much admired in literary circles in Madagascar. Her volumes of poetry boast prefaces by poets better known than herself: her compatriot Jacques Rabemananjara's glowing words introduce Lente spirale (1990); Edouard Maunick, the internationally acclaimed Mauritian poet, introduces her collected works Rien que la lune (1998). Yet beyond the boundaries of the Indian Ocean island, even in the French-speaking world, this woman whose poetry sings and dances, whose images are full of light, whose eloquence often leaves the reader breathless but mystified, is barely known. She does not merit this status. In an attempt to redress this injustice, Éditions Grand Océan of Réunion has recently (December 1998) published her collected works. These poems allow a wider audience to meet the poet but not to get to know the woman behind the words. This is what this interview attempts to do.
Carole Beckett 2 : So little is known about Esther Nirina, the woman. Could you start off by filling in some of the gaps.
Esther Nirina: Speaking of oneself is always a little . . . I don't know . . . not embarrassing, just . . . well I don't know. Where should I begin? We are in my ancestral home to which I am very attached. Throughout my childhood, I used to come here with my parents. At that time, it was very different. All I can say is that my parents waited ten long years for me. That's why, when I was born, they named me Nirina, the desired one, like the French name Désirée. After me, there were no children; I am an only child. The satisfaction, the joy of a woman who waited so long for a child, and then the child came. I believe that, psychologically, my mother saw only beautiful things, good things for her only child, and that these feelings, these premonitions had an effect on me. I know that such things are not scientifically proven but I believe that that is what explains my attachment to nature, to everything that is beautiful, to things that are larger than real life, to things that go beyond mere reality. This is perhaps the most important aspect of my parents that I would like to highlight. As for myself, I prefer that people—if that is what they find—call me a poet rather than a writer. For me, being a poet is . . . how can I put it? . . . is a state of mind. It's a celebration of the Creator and all that he has made. What else can I say?
CB: So, as a child, you lived here, in the countryside, in your ancestral home?
EN: No. I didn't live here but we often came here. It was my father who lived here and when he married, he taught my mother to love the village. And my mother soon became beloved by those who lived in the village, so much so that during the holidays and often over weekends, we would come here. I know everything here so well. Even in the past, my mother and I used to [End Page 175] make plans: when I am grown up I will do this, I will do that. My father also did a lot for the village and it is because of my parents' involvement that I am so attached to the village. I say this, but I too have a mission, a mission which I have given myself.
CB: What is that mission?
EN: I want to return some of the good fortune which I have had in life. I want to make a practical contribution to the lives of these people, these peasants who have so little.
CB: If you didn't grow up in this village, where did you live?
EN: My parents had built a house in Tana. My father was one of the lucky few to have studied. I say study . . . that's a little...