Malagasy Culture and Traditions
Malagasy culture is difficult to apprehend succinctly. It is based on “Fihavanana“. An untranslatable word, it is akin to mutual aid, solidarity and protection among members of the same family, including the ancestors, members of the same clan, neighbours, ethnic groups … This value is a fundamental principle of Malagasy individual and collective life. So to maintain Fihavanana, a Malagasy will naturally carry out “Adidy” (duties) towards society throughout his/her life. Fihavanana also fosters a sense of belonging in many ceremonies such as
This takes place from June to September and is a highlight of the relationship between the ancestors and the living. It consecrates the social affiliation of a boy to his father’s lineage and therefore to his ancestors. Circumcision can also be done collectively as in Mananjary. Called “Sambatra“, this ceremony gives rise to great festivities every 7 years.
This is a very important time of life to have the blessing of parents and society. It usually takes place in 3 stages (with variants) including the most important one, the Vodiondry (literally sheep croup). This last stage is the “negotiation” phase between the two families. As the future wife is considered very precious, the fiancé’s family must prove to the other party that she will be loved and cherished. Moreover, the bridegroom must give her parents a dowry or sum of money equivalent to compensation for the the bride’s absence. This ceremony can give rise to long oratorical matches (kabary) and thus last for hours.
Believing that there is a life after death and that ancestors have the power to protect and help the living, the Malagasy must respect them. The ancestors are like the bond that binds the living to the Creator of the universe (Zanahary or Andriananahary). So there are many sacred places, “Doany” (stones, trees, hills, lakes …) in Madagascar and several ways or ceremonies enabling the Malagasy to honour their ancestors and ask for help or blessings. In the highlands, for example, the Fahamadihana (turning the dead, wrapping the ancestors in new shrouds) or the bathing of royal relics in the Menabe region (Fitampoha) or near Majunga (Fanampoa Be).
All these ceremonies follow a code of “Fomba” (customs, or even protocol) and “Fady” (forbidden or taboo). They may be animated by singing, dancing (according to the time), big feasts and especially “Kabary“. More than a speech, the “Kabary” is oratory that mixes discourse, metaphors, proverbs, maxims and even fairy tales. It is used to convey deep messages in order to touch the audience’s hearts and souls while eliciting their admiration.