The history of rum in Madagascar

Sugar cane has been present for a long time on the big island of Madagascar, and even well before the arrival of the first Western navigators... Read more

The history of rum in Madagascar

Sugar cane has been present for a long time on the big island of Madagascar, and even well before the arrival of the first Western navigators... Read more

The history of rum in Madagascar

Sugar cane has been present on the large island of Madagascar for a long time, and even long before the arrival of the first Western navigators. It is thought to have arrived from India, and was also brought by Arab traders. The cane was first consumed by mouth, as well as its fermented juice.

The first Europeans approached the coasts of Madagascar around 1500. The Portuguese, the Dutch and the French began the first exchanges with the country. The first French colony was established in Port-Dauphin (today Tolagnaro) in 1642. However, Captain Rigault of the East India Company found it difficult to develop his activity, as cane was used by default, local customs preferring honey. The fact that this part of the coast was frequented by pirates and slave traders did not make his task any easier either.

The latter introduced brandies, especially rum, and alcoholism quickly became a plague at the beginning of the 19th century. King RadamaI died of it in 1828. His widow, Queen Ranavalona I, tried to control this epidemic, but the high society had already adopted Western habits and did not set an example.

The first rum distilleries

Some Frenchmen like De Lastelle and Jean Laborde saw the great potential of the island, and created their plantations as well as their sugar factories/distilleries. The island of Nosy-Be was colonized by France in 1840. The first sugar factory was built in 1854. In 1860, there are a number of planters, but only one sugar factory. The distilleries flourish on the other hand, the Malagasy always prefer honey to cane sugar but appreciate nevertheless the brandy.

In 1861, after the death of the queen, Radama 2 liberalized the importation of brandies, and in priority of rum. History repeats itself, and alcoholism is once again devastating. In 1864, there were 36 plantations and 9 sugar factories on the island of Nosy-Be. There were only 18 in 1877. Their rum was consumed more on Nosy-Be, and was only very little sent to the main island.

In 1888, rum imports continued and amounted to 13% of the country's total imports. It is a record, which does not take into account the clandestine imports. In 1889, 31 plantations/sugar factories are again present on Nosy-Be. 16 of them have their own distillery. The distribution of rums in the country had changed, since from then on the great majority was sent to the big island.

Madagascar becomes a French colony

The French occupation intervened in 1895 with the capture of Tananarive. At the same time, the Reunionese from the neighboring island, who were great consumers of rum, arrived.

The local brandy is then called "toaka". It is very widespread and popular. In front of each hut, there is a barrel and a cup, and each of them becomes a small bistro. This pure cane juice rum is flavored with plants, which often give it an aniseed taste.

The toaka is distilled in large pots called "vilanibe". They are mostly made of earth and equipped with a bamboo or metal arm. The rum then enters a metal coil condenser, passing through a container filled with water, made of wood or masonry.

It is mostly consumed during ritual celebrations such as circumcision, or on the occasion of funerals.

In addition to industrial rum from its large sugar mills, Madagascar imports rum from Mauritius, Reunion and Mayotte.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Madagascar exported large quantities of rum to France. It was intended to support the soldiers of the First World War.

The interwar period

Industrial rum continued to develop with the sugar industry, and continued to be exported after the war. In 1922, the French authorities wished to slow down imports from all over the world in a market that was now saturated. They therefore introduced reduced taxes on a certain quota of rum. However, they wish at the same time to maintain the dynamism of the local Malagasy economy.

The quota is therefore broad and generous as regards Madagascar, which has the effect of significantly increasing production and exports. Exports rose from 162 hectoliters in 1921 to 1,225 in 1924. They even rose to 3,951 hectoliters in 1934, then 6,487 in 1937 and finally 10,613 hectoliters in 1938!

In 1939, there were 6 molasses distilleries and 12 pure cane juice distilleries. In 1940, Madagascar continued to export 8,888 hectoliters of rum. But the war eventually imposed its consequences, and this figure dropped to 27 hectoliters in 1943. The island still distilled and exported, but it was now more alcohol used as fuel. After the Second World War, rum exports picked up even more strongly, reaching 15,500 hectoliters.

The most important distilleries at the time were those of the La Bourdonnais sugar factory (in Tamatave), the Mahavary Sugar Company (in the province of Diego Suarez), the Société Sucrière Marseillaise of Majunga and Nosy-be.

The independence of Madagascar

In 1947, Madagascar experienced a wave of independence, accompanied by a bloody insurrection and repression. This disrupted activity for a time, but in 1954, the modern Sosumav refinery opened its doors. It developed mechanization, improved sugar production techniques and, thanks to irrigation, achieved record production figures. The sugar and molasses sector soared until independence in 1960. The sugar and rum markets collapsed and exports came to an end.

They resumed in the 1970s, with large players located in Ambilobe, Nosy-Be, Namakia and Brickaville. The small planters continue to cohabit with the large factories, and each has its own audience: local consumption for the former and exports for the latter.

Production then declined in the 1980s and 1990s. But Madagascar can count on the support of Europe, which maintains its orders, with sustainable purchase prices. In terms of rum, however, industrialists now produce almost only alcohol at over 90%. The production of toaka continues, and remains an important tradition from the local point of view.

Rum and sugar from Madagascar in the 21st century

In the 2000s, the end of the European sugar price protection was announced. Moreover, the industrial equipment was behind in its maintenance and was becoming increasingly old. Conditions are difficult for the sector, and the Nosy-be factories are abandoning sugar to devote themselves only to rum.

In the 2010s, the sugar sector was analyzed and then restructured. We encourage the industry which survives as best we can, but which progresses, with the reopening of sugar factories by important groups like Vidzar (which is in particular at the head of the Dzama rums).

The production of rum in Madagascar

Today, the rum of Madagascar is above all Dzama. Its name comes from the Dzamadzar factory, built on Nosy-be in 1929. The brand was created later, in 1980. The success was fast and massive, which led Lucien Fohine, the founder, to transfer the production to the big island in 1984.

Its molasses rum is distilled in columns, and has the particularity of being aged in whiskey barrels from the house of Chivas.

A few small brands also exist locally, such as Rhum 303 (Ambalavao), which distills pure juice in alembic, Cap d'Ambre (Diego Suarez) and Grantera, launched in 2014 by the Star Brewery.

Finally, like its neighbor Reunion Island, Madagascar is an island where the culture ofarranged rum reigns. Read less

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