The stone letters of the island of Mangabe. Madagascar

Madagascar Post Rocks (5 photos)

About 2 km off the coast of Madagascar, in Antongil Bay, there is a small, uninhabited, tropical island called Nosy Mangabe. The island is heavily forested and has no permanent settlements. But in the 16th and 17th centuries, Dutch ships sailing far east around the Cape of Good Hope often stopped at the island to replenish fresh water supplies, repair a damaged ship, or recover from illnesses.

Nusi Mangabe has plenty of fresh water thanks to the rains, it washes around the island almost all year round. The island, which has an area of 5 km, receives more than 400 cm of rainfall per year. The abundance of fresh water flowing down the sides of the island’s many peaks and cliffs made it impossible to simply pass by.

Photo: Mark E. Polzer

When ships stopped and replenished their fresh water supplies, sailors would walk the beaches and leave their names on the rocks. Some scratched out the ship’s name, the captain’s name, and the dates of arrival and departure. Over time, an ingenious system of messaging began to develop here. Sailors began to leave messages and sometimes whole letters, which were carefully wrapped in canvas treated with resin to make it waterproof, and then buried near the rocks. The idea was that sailors of the next Dutch ship anchored on the island would collect these messages or read the message and pass it on to the recipient.

In the early 1920s, a French colonial adjunct inspector of waters and forests discovered about a dozen of these so-called “post stones” and managed to read them. In 2012, a team of researchers led by marine archaeologist Wendy van Duivenvoorde of Flinders University in Australia found even more.

Duivenvoorde and her team found about 40 inscriptions left by officers and sailors of at least 13 different Dutch ships that sailed to the East Indies between 1601 and 1657. The inscriptions were carved on several large rock ledges and on the rock itself on a small beach that still bears the name “Plage des Hollandais,” which means “Dutch beach.”

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Photo: Mark E. Polzer

Some of these inscriptions tell amazing stories. One record shows that the ship Middleburg reached the island in 1625, having lost all her masts and sails after a storm. It anchored here for a full seven months while it was being repaired.

“It’s amazing that they managed to get to the bay without masts or sails,” Duivenvoorde said.

Once Middleburg’s crew finished building a new mast, the ship continued her voyage back to the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the ship never made it home. Near St. Helena in the South Atlantic, she was attacked and sunk by the Portuguese, leaving no survivors. Nevertheless, Middelburg stopped briefly at Table Bay, South Africa, to deliver letters from crew members. These letters, now in the archives of the Dutch East India Company in The Hague, are the last surviving records of the crew and officers.

By the late 1600s, the Dutch abandoned the post-stone system because they found that messages did not always get to where they were intended. Increasingly, the crews of competing companies began to steal letters from all the stones and use the information to track the activities of their competitors. Dutch ship managers began hiring locals to keep the letters.

On St. Helena and at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, poststones similar to those found at Nusi-Mangabe have also been found. Indeed, the post stones are a unique part of South Africa’s postal history. In 1500, the captain of a Portuguese ship stuck a letter in a tree hollow in Mossel Bay, informing him of the loss of several ships in his flotilla during a violent storm that swept across the Atlantic. Three months later, the crew of another Portuguese ship discovered this letter and delivered it to Portugal.

You can see these stones in several Cape Town museums, but Nusi Mangabe is the only place where the post stones have remained in place.

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Photo: Mark E. Polzer

Wendy Van Duivenvoorde inspects a post stone at Nusi Mangabe. Photo: Mark E. Polzer

Post stone found on the coast of South Africa with an inscription dating back to 1632. The inscription in translation reads as follows: “Below lie letters from Commander Dirk van der Lee and Deputy Commander P Crook from the ships Nassau, Frederik Hendrik, Nimegen Wessel and Galliots. They arrived here on April 9, 1632 from Batavia and left on the 15th the same way.

Seamen’s Stone Letters on the Mysterious Island of Mangabe

Sailors' stone letters on the mysterious island of Mangabe

The transmission of information is a rather interesting subject. Especially if it is something from the past. We are and always will be concerned about how people communicated and what secrets people had in the Middle Ages. At that time, people had learned the paper, and may well have been able to communicate through it. But here’s the mystery of letters on stones.

The origin of stone letters

The existence of post stones was noted at the site of Antongila Bay, which is located in the northeastern part of Madagascar on the island of Mangabe. It was there that such letters were found. The paper would get wet and deteriorate from the weather, but the stones left their messages unchanged for a long time.

Madagascar Island Mangabe

There were cases when paper with letters were hidden under stones, but beforehand they were treated with tar so that they wouldn’t get wet from the rain. Messages were left by sailors . It was through this small island that they made their way, stopping there to fetch fresh water and repair the ship. Some of the breakdowns were so serious that the sailors had to stay there for months. One ship stayed there for almost seven months.

Seamen’s stone letters

Initially there were messages of this kind: the name of the sailor, the date of his arrival on the island . Some wrote the name of their commander or the name of the ship on which they arrived.

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But these were not the only kinds of messages sailors might have left. For example, they might leave something for the next ship . The idea is that the next ship would read the information or deliver it to the addressee.

Important: It wasn’t just because of its convenient location that sailors fell in love with this island. In fact, here they took fresh water, which is usually not enough . Moreover, it was clean, which delighted sailors.

Madagascar Island Mangabe

Exchange of information in the Middle Ages

The exchange of information by means of stone mail was gaining popularity at that time. For example, more than a dozen such unusual stones were discovered in 1920.

Synopsis! In 2012, a team of researchers found a few more messages of this kind, but already in Australia. A total of 40 letters were found. And they came from 13 different ships.

History of the ship “Middleburg”

Amazing and rather mysterious history of the ship called “Middleburg” . And the story became known only because of the post stones . According to the information that was written, this ship came to the island in 1625. After a cyclone it lost its mast and sails. So it remained on the island for a full seven months, until it was fully recovered.

All this time the crew worked together to rebuild a new mast. Next the ship sailed for Holland. Only this ship failed to make it home. On her way in the South Atlantic, near St. Helena, she was attacked and sunk by the Portuguese. Unfortunately, none of the entire crew survived.

Stone letters on the island of Madagascar

Before her sinking, the ship still managed to leave her last message. And it happened in a port in South Africa. It is these letters that are now preserved in the archives of the East India Company in The Hague – the very last from the entire crew and officers of the famous ship Middleburg, so mercilessly sunk by the Portuguese.

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Rejection of the “stone” mail

It didn’t take long for such unusual mail to last through the rocks. Competing companies often tracked the messages and simply stole information, using it for their own purposes.

Around the end of the 17th century such letters simply ceased to exist. People found it more expedient and reliable to use the local population to transmit information. And letters started to be delivered only through them.

Stone letters on Madagascar

Nowadays you can see letters on the stones in some museums of Cape Town. And it is only on Mangabe Island that they can be contemplated in their natural environment.

The tropical island of Mangabe: myths and superstitions

Synopsis. The small island is only 5.2 square meters, where the highest point is at 1,331 meters. The settlement closest to the island is a town in Madagascar (5 km from the island of Mangabe) called Maroantsera.

Despite its interesting story of post stones and beautiful pristine nature, the island is not popular among tourists. And there is no local population here.

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And it is the locals who are responsible for its rarity, the species was on the verge of extinction. And this is not by chance, because people have been simply exterminating it for centuries.

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The interesting island of Mangabe with its tropical climate holds post stones and a piece of history for those who love adventure.

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