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C2 Proficient (CPE)
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Test 1 / 20

Cowboys of Madagascar

The anthropologist Luke Freeman joins a group of young Malagasy men on the cattle trail.

As a socio-cultural anthropologist, I’ve lived in Madagascar for more than three years and I know the people, the language and the culture well. The cattle drives undertaken by young Malagasy men have fascinated me ever since I lived in a remote rice-farming village in the central highlands.

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This gives an indication of how much the Malagasy love cattle. They are potent symbols on the island and it is common practice for young men to trade in them prior to marriage.

To fulfil my ambition, I headed for the frontier town of Tsiroanomandidy looking for a group of drovers with whom to share life on the road. Here I met Vonjy, a young man who had spent most of his life driving cattle across the island.

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Our destination sat in the middle of nowhere, abandoned in a landscape of wide plains, where nothing grows but tall, swaying savannah grass. Undulating hills dip and rise to the horizon, the monotony broken only by the broad red scars of soil erosion. There is often no sign of life for miles. This was the land we were to cross with our herd of 52 zebu steers, the long-horned cattle found all over East Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

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Far off in the darkness glowed the orange rings of bushfires lit to burn off the old dry grass and bring forth new green shoots. Ground that seemed flat in the daylight became treacherously uneven on a moonless night. Some of us formed a line either side of our cattle as we struggled to keep the herd together, shouting warnings to the drovers behind us. On one occasion we stopped to discover that two of our steers had disappeared.

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The next morning we awoke, dew-damp, on a cloudy hilltop, not far from our destination. The cattle mooched slowly in the tall, wet grass. It was just dawn, but a woman and her daughter who had walked 16 kilometres to set up shop were already selling coffee and cakes wrapped in leaves.

Tsiroanomandidy hosts the largest cattle market in Madagascar. Every Wednesday, a huge cloud of dust hangs over the town, raised by the hundreds of cattle pressed into the wooden corrals.

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This was an easier journey, a slow wandering over the highest peaks of central Madagascar. The head drover was a laid-back languorous man who didn’t raise an eyebrow when he heard I was joining his team; we nicknamed him the President. Our somewhat haphazard meanderings through the hinterland came to a sudden end when, passing through a village near Firavahana, the President found a buyer for his cattle. It would take a couple of days to sort out the paperwork, so Vonjy and I decided to leave him to it.

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From there, we got a lift 400 kilometres by road down to Madagascar’s second biggest cattle market at Ambalavao, where Vonjy had more family in the trade. We joined them on another cattle drive up through the central highlands along Madagascar’s main north-south road.

The highlands are the most crowded part of the island; every last hectare of land has been carved into neat rice terraces that scale the hillsides. From here, our journey took us eastwards into the forest.

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I learnt that such minor hardships were easily overcome as my body became conditioned to the rhythm of the road: walking at cattle pace, prodding and coaxing the beasts; listening to the drovers’ soft talk.

If there’s a lesson to be learnt from the young men with whom I travelled, it’s just how simple travelling can be. Over the hundreds of kilometres I travelled with the drovers, I never heard a cross word or an argument. You don’t need a whole lot to be happy on such a journey.

To add to our woes, there was no wood nearby with which to make a fire and it was a long, slow wait for the rice to boil over smouldering dried cowpats. But we didn’t dwell on our loss, accepting it in typically Malagasy fashion as the work of fate.Cloud hung over us all day and we used our plastic sheets as raincoats, for the drizzle was unremitting. This was perhaps the toughest bit of droving: being wet all day, sleeping in damp bedding. Even the cattle seemed depressed as they bowed their heads into the rain. But the constant rain did not dampen my enthusiasm for the droving life.Children clamber on the fences and point out their favourites, learning to spot strengths and weaknesses; cattle barons stand quietly eyeing up the steers and making silent calculations. We sold ours to a buyer from Antananarivo, who took them on to supply the capital’s meat markets. Not wishing to take that route, Vonjy and I joined another group of drovers taking a herd of smaller cattle to the western highlands.We hit it off immediately, and after 20 minutes talking cattle, we took a truck to the isolated market town of Ambatomainty, where we joined some of his family, who were going to buy cattle to drive east into the highlands.Surrounded by curious children, we exchanged little formal speeches of farewell, reflecting on our time together, the companionship and laughter, the meals shared and the happy memories we would keep in spite of the distance that would now separate us. With a plaintive song, the drovers wished us goodbye and we left them to their trading.On one occasion, a politician was giving a speech in the main street when a long-distance drive passed through. The listeners’ attention switched immediately to admiring the cattle and greeting the drovers; young men in rice fields downed spades and ran to the roadside; the schoolmaster let the children out of class and the boys whooped with glee and ran alongside. The politician’s promises fell on deaf ears.The drovers knew better than to work these smaller steers too hard, and if we came across a river, we often set up camp before sunset. With the cattle grazing nearby, we slept soundly in our makeshift tents, the full moon shining brightly above.Ours were ultimately destined for Antananarivo, the Malagasy capital, where they would fetch roughly twice what we had paid for them. Joining up with other herds for safety, we drove them for days under a blazing sun. I’d imagined we would stop in the early evening to set up camp, but such was our hurry to make market day in Tsiroanomandidy that we often kept going well after sunset.
Test 2 / 20

Malgudi Days

Just at that turning between Market Road and the lane leading to the chemists shop he had his ‘establishment. At eight in the evening you would not see him, and again at ten you would see nothing, but between those times he arrived, sold his goods and departed. Those who saw him remarked thus, ‘Lucky fellow! He has hardly an hour’s work a day and he pockets ten rupees — even graduates are unable to earn that! Three hundred rupees a month! He felt irritated when he heard such glib remarks and said, What these folk do not see is that I sit before the oven practically all day frying all this…

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At about 8:15 in the evening he arrived with a load of stuff. He looked as if he had four arms, so many things he carried about him. His equipment was the big tray balanced on his head, with its assortment of edibles, a stool stuck in the crook of his arm, a lamp in another hand and a couple of portable legs for mounting his tray. He lit the lamp, a lantern which consumed six pies worth of kerosene every day, and kept it near at hand, since he had to guard a lot of loose cash and a variety of miscellaneous articles.

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He always arrived in time to catch the cinema crowd coming out after the evening show. A pretender to the throne, a young scraggy fellow, sat on his spot until he arrived and did business, but he did not let that bother him unduly. In fact, he felt generous enough to say, ‘Let the poor rat do his business when I am not there. This sentiment was amply respected, and the pretender moved off a minute before the arrival of the prince among caterers.

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Though so much probing was going on, he knew exactly who was taking what. He knew by an extraordinary sense which of the jukta drivers was picking up chappatis at a given moment — he could even mention the licence number. He knew that the stained hand nervously coming up was that of a youngster who polished the shoes of passers-by. And he knew exactly at what hour he would see the wrestlers arm searching for the perfect ducks egg. His custom was drawn from the population swarming the pavement: the boot polish boys, for instance, who wandered to and fro with brush and polish in a bag, endlessly soliciting ‘Polish, sir, polish” Rama had a soft spot for them.

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It rent his heart to see their hungry, hollow eyes. It pained him to see the rags they wore. And it made him very unhappy to see the tremendous eagerness with which they came to him. But what could he do? He could not run a charity show, that was impossible. He measured out their half-glass of coffee correct to the fraction of an inch, but they could cling to the glass as long as they liked.

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He lived in the second lane behind the market. His wife opened the door, throwing into the night air the scent of burnt oil which perpetually hung about their home. She snatched from his hand all the encumbrances and counted the cash immediately.

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After dinner, he tucked a betel leaf and tobacco in his cheek and slept. He had dreams of traffic constables bullying him to move on and health inspectors saying he was spreading all kinds of disease and depopulating the city. But fortunately in actual life no one bothered him very seriously. The health officer no doubt came and said, ‘You must put all this under a glass lid, otherwise I shall destroy it some day… Take care!

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Rama no doubt violated all the well-accepted canons of cleanliness and sanitation, but still his customers not only survived his fare but seemed actually to flourish on it, having consumed it for years without showing signs of being any the worse for it.

Rama prepared a limited quantity of snacks for sale, but even then he had to carry back remnants. He consumed some of it himself, and the rest he warmed up and brought out for sale again the next day.All the coppers that men and women of this part of the universe earned through their miscellaneous jobs ultimately came to him at the end of the day. He put all this money into a little cloth bag dangling from his neck under his shirt, and carried it home, soon after the night show had started at the theatre.No one could walk past his display without throwing a look at it. A heap of bondas, which seemed puffed and big but melted in one’s mouth; dosais, white, round, and limp, looking like layers of muslin; chappatis so thin that you could lift fifty of them on a little finger; duck’s eggs, hard- boiled, resembling a heap of ivory balls; and perpetually boiling coffee on a stove. He had a separate aluminium pot in which he kept chutney, which went gratis with almost every item.His customers liked him. They said in admiration, ‘Is there another place where you can get six pies and four chappatis for one anna?’ They sat around his tray, taking what they wanted. A dozen hands hovered about it every minute, because his customers were entitled to pick up, examine, and accept their stuff after proper scrutiny.They gloated over it. ‘Five rupees invested in the morning has produced another five…’ They ruminated on the exquisite mystery of this multiplication. Then it was put back for further investment on the morrow and the gains carefully separated and put away in a little wooden box.But he was a kindly man in private. ‘How the customers survive the food, I can’t understand. I suppose people build up a sort of immunity to such poisons, with all that dust blowing on it and the gutter behind…’He got up when the cock in the next house crowed. Sometimes it had a habit of waking up at three in the morning and letting out a shriek. ‘Why has the cock lost its normal sleep?’ Rama wondered as he awoke, but it was a signal he could not miss. Whether it was three o’clock or four, it was all the same to him. He had to get up and start his day.When he saw some customer haggling, he felt like shouting, ‘Give the poor fellow a little more. Don’t begrudge it. If you pay an anna more he can have a dosai and a chappati.’
Test 3 / 20

If these bones could talk…

To a palaeoanthropologist, the past is an open book, but one that fails to tell the whole story. The covers are missing. The first chapters may never be found. There are hardly any pages, and most are so smeared and crumpled, so foxed and faded, that the text could mean almost anything. The cast of characters is confusing and narrative thread anybody’s guess. Is it a detective story, a cliffhanger, or a romance? Can there be a happy ending?

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Homo floresiensis was the mysterious survivor unearthed from a cave on the island of Flores in Indonesia: a pygmy descendant, perhaps, of Homo erectus, perhaps even connected to an earlier human species, but with this special feature: the bones were only 18,000 years old. So Homo sapiens, Homno erectts, Homo neanderthalis and Homo floresiensis must have all shared the planet at the same time, tantalisingly recently: within the last 100,000 years perhaps. Now only Homo sapiens survives.

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Stringer, 57, is head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. One of palaeoanthropology’s big players, he has spent his career in pursuit of Homo neanderthalis and is also one of the great proselytisers of the Out-of-Africa theory, the one that says the human story begins on just one continent. Homo floresiensis, however, astonished him.

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‘Nature is constantly experimenting. I think a lot of people thought that humans were somehow different; that we had this all embracing culture and this unifying adaptation, which meant that human evolution progressed in a somewhat different way, because of our technology and the way we probably vainly think we are partly controlling the world now. So people project backwards and think that humans are somehow special. The evidence shows us that our evolution was as complex and as undirected, I suppose, as that of any other species we have studied’

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Modern humans probably popped up within the last 200,000 years, but the things that make modern humans so distinctive in the fossil record — symbolic art, pottery and jewellery — bloomed only about 50,000 years ago. Nobody in the world of palaeoanthropology considers modern humanity to be the flower of creation, either. A temporary bloom, maybe.

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Genetic evidence suggests humans may have come close to extinction a number of times in the past. Modern humans shared the Middle East with Homo neanderthalis 120,000 years ago, and as Cro-Magnons became the sole tenants of Europe 30,000 years ago, a terrain held successfully by the Neanderthals for more than 100,000 years. Did they compete? Did they co-exist? Did they trade, or cohabit?

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‘T still tend to the view that the primary message would have been: different. They would have had a different body language, a completely different way of communication; they would have had different behaviours.’

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He and his co-author Peter Andrews — a former head of human origins at the Natural History Museum, and an expert on the early part of the human story — tried to tell the story of human evolution not just through time, but through its context, Stringer says: how you set about excavating a site, what a piece of tooth or jaw can tell you about ancient human behaviour. In that, the title of the book means what it says: complete.

It’s humbling, Stringer says. “We shouldn’t see ourselves as the summit of the perfection of whatever evolution is trying to achieve. We seem to be very successful at the moment in terms of our numbers but, looking at it on a geological timescale, how successful will we look in 50,000 years, which is a very short time, geologically speaking?’‘Neanderthals were certainly human and evolved as us in their own way, but they were different. They had several hundred thousand years of evolving their own anatomy and behaviour. But when these people met in Europe would they have seen each other as people? Or as someone different?’ he says.What stories could these bones tell? And who could have dreamed, before their discovery that some tree-climbing, pygmy-elephant-hunting human candidate could have survived on a tropical island while Homo sapiens moved into the Fertile Crescent, preparing to invent agriculture, civilisation and global terrorism?He thinks the Neanderthals perished at a moment of maximum stress in the stop-go, hot-cold pattern of climate during the last ice age. Though they left their mark in the Pyrenees, they never got to Britain at all. But then the human occupation of Britain itself is a bit of a riddle. There is evidence of it, most of it indirect, of little pulses of human occupation, and then a gap of 100,000 years when no humans appeared to have visited Britain at all. Modern humans finally moved in and stayed only 12,000 years ago.These people were capable of making tools and butchering large beasts like rhinos. They may not have killed these beasts themselves — they were, after all, dangerous animals — but even if they were just scavenging, it must have taken some degree of cooperation and organisation to have driven off the lions or wolves, and secured the carcass for themselves.There is a story-so-far, but that potted version of events is forever being revised, and nobody knows that better than Chris Stringer, one of the authors of a book published today called The Complete World of Human Evolution. Complete? Stringer spent eight years on the text. Then, late last year, he had to sit down in one night and compose an entirely new chapter to incorporate the discovery of Horno floresiensis, also known as the Hobbit.Here is the orthodoxy, pieced together over a century or more by Darvwin’s disciples: primate creatures with a capacity for walking upright emerged perhaps twenty million years ago. From these emerged the ancestors of all gorillas, all chimpanzees and all humans. There is no line of evolution: think, instead, of foliage, and the surviving humans and two species of chimpanzees are just nearby buds at the ends of twigs close together on the tree of life.‘Until that turned up, we had no idea that ancient humans had ever reached as far as Flores. We certainly had no idea that there was a completely new kind of human — or is it even human? That is still being argued about — living there, and the fact that it was still around there when modern people passed through the region. Each of those is astonishing and that shows how little we knew about human evolution in that part of the world. We are building up the pieces of a huge, complex jigsaw, and we still have a lot of spaces to fill in, he says.
Test 4 / 20

Ringing the Alarm for Earth

Peter Raven is a botanist. He knows about photosynthesis, primary productivity and sustainable growth. He knows that all flesh is grass; that the richest humans and the hungriest alike depend ultimately on plants for food, fuel, clothing, medicines and shelter, and that all of these come from the kiss of the sun on warm moist soils, to quicken growth and ripen grain.

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The global population is about to soar from six billion to nine billion in less than a lifetime. Around 800 million humans are starving, and maybe two billion are malnourished, while three billion survive on two dollars a day.

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By many, Raven means perhaps half to two thirds of all the other species on the planet in the next 100 years. There could be ten million different kinds of fern, fungus, flowering plant, arthropod, amphibian, reptile, bird, fish and mammal on Earth. Nobody knows. People such as Raven, director of the Missouri Botanic Gardens in St Louis, are doing their best to count and preserve them.

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Some of these organisms are now being chased to oblivion by human population growth at levels that ecosystems cannot sustain.

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There are ways of confirming species loss, even if it cannot be established how many species there were in the first place. Look at the vertebrates and molluscs in fossil records, Raven says, just for the past sixty-five million years or so. “You find that the average life of a species is two to three million years and you get about one species per million becoming extinct per year in the fossil record. Those particular groups are a small sample, but they are a real sample,’ he says.

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That works out at hundreds of creatures per year over the past four centuries, and even more when humans, rats and other invaders started colonising islands: 2,000 species have vanished from the Pacific basin alone since the Polynesians got there 1,200 years ago.

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There are various wild creatures that get along with humans and follow them everywhere: cockroaches, fleas, ticks, rats, cats, pigs, cattle, scavenger birds, lusty weeds. These invade little islands of ancient biodiversity, take over, and see the natives off the premises. And not just islands: one third of all endangered plants in the continental US are threatened because of alien invaders, Raven says. In Hawaii, it is 100 percent.

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Ecosystems are not static. They change, naturally. They burn, are grazed or browsed, they regenerate, flood and silt up. But left to themselves, they go on providing services that humans and other creatures value. A mangrove swamp provides a habitat for shrimps. It cannot be improved by draining it for a tourist beach, or building a large city on it. Its natural value would be dissipated. ‘An ecosystem itself undamaged is very, very resilient, and the more simplified it gets, the less resilient. Globally, what we are doing is simplifying them all, simultaneously, which is a very dangerous large-scale experiment,’ Raven says.

A Ecosystems, Raven says, can be whatever you like. Hedgerows in Hampshire are an ecosystem; so are weeds on a railway line at Hammersmith. Savannahs, grasslands, prairies, rainforests, dry forests, pine forests, uplands, heathlands, downlands, wetlands, mangrove swamps, estuaries, oxbow lakes and coral reefs are all ecosystems, and they survive on diversity. The greater the variety of microbes, plants and animals in an ecosystem, the more resilient it is and the better it works for all, including humans. So it would not be a good idea to evict at least half of these creatures, especially if nothing is known about them. But, Raven says, that is what is happening.‘Then you can start with the literature in about 1600, when people began to care enough about organisms to be able to document them well, and for the groups that they were documenting —- birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies and plants — then you can say, “What was the rate over the past 400 years? It’s tens of times or hundreds of times the level it was before.Global warming is not going to help, either. What happens to the unique assembly of plants in the Cape region of Africa as the thermometer rises? They cannot migrate south. There is no land south of the Cape. So many will perish.As he keeps pointing out, the human species is living as if it had more than one planet to occupy. Forty years ago, he and colleagues tried to calculate the economic cost of exporting humans to a star system likely to be orbited by habitable planets. They worked out that it would cost the entire gross economic product of the planet to ship just twelve people a year to Proxima Centauri or beyond. His message for the planet is, ‘Think, look at the big picture, and think again’.But the human population is growing at the rate of about 10,000 an hour, and each human depends on a hectare or two of land and water for what economists now call ‘ecosystem services’ — the organisms that ultimately recycle waste and deliver new wealth to provide oxygen, fresh food, clean water, fuel, new clothes, safe shelter and disposable income.Valuable agricultural land is being poisoned or parched or covered in concrete, soils eroded, rivers emptied and aquifers drained to feed the swelling numbers. Something has-got to give, and the first things to go are many of the plants and animals.So botanists such as Raven begin with the big picture of sustainable growth and can calculate to the nearest planet how much land and sea it would take to sustain the population of the world if everybody lived as comfortably as the Americans, British or French. The answer is three planets.There is another way of checking, Raven says, pioneered by, among others, sociobiologist and evolutionary psychologist Edward O. Wilson. There is a logarithmic relationship between the area of habitat and the species that inhabit it. Measure a patch of forest and count a sample of the species in it. Then compare it with another patch of forest ten times smaller. The smaller one will have only half the sample species count. This has been shown in thousands of individual observations, he says. So destroying forests piecemeal is a way of extinguishing creatures.