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ETHNONYMS: Alternative spellings, especially in French: Saclave, Sakalave, Séclave (archaic); on Mayotte (Comoro Islands): Kibushy


Identification. The Sakalava inhabit an expansive region of Madagascar; their territory today encompasses nearly all of the west coast of this large Indian Ocean island. "Sakalava" is a compound term meaning "the long valleys" or "rivers." A noun as well as an adjective, it refers both to a specific ethnic group and its affiliated language. Its origin is obscure, although one argument is that Andriamisara, an early southern ruler, settled on the banks of the Sakalava River, which subsequently gave its name to his settlement and followers. "Sakalava," as a collective ethnic term, encompasses a diverse array of communities that are united by their common respect for a host of related royal dynasties. Other important markers of ethnic affiliation include regional dress, such as the waist wrap (kitamby ) for men and the two-piece body and head wrap (salovana and kisaly, respectively) for women; dietary preferences; the observance of local food and behavioral taboos; and dialect. Censuses conducted among the Sakalava during the colonial period and following independence in 1960 have periodically included such groups as the Vezo, who are fishers of southern Madagascar, and the Makoa, people of African slave descent found along the west coast. Sakalava draw sharp distinctions between local "insiders," referred to as tera-tany or tompontany (meaning "masters of the soil"), and vahiny or "guests." Nevertheless, intermarriage with non-Sakalava occurs frequently, involving unions with other Malagasy speakers (such as the Tsimihety), as well as immigrants of foreign origin (including French, Chinese, Indians, Comoreans, and Yemenis). The quintessential mark of Sakalava identity is that one respects, honors, and works for living and dead royalty.

Location. Over the course of several centuries, Madagascar's history has been marked by the formation and expansion of royal kingdoms, and here the Sakalava are no exception. Today the Sakalava form the islands fifth-largest subgroup of Malagasy speakers, who, as a whole, comprise the majority of Madagascar's population. Sakalava are also found on the Comoro Islands, especially on Moyotte, where they are referred to as Kibushy speakers; these are the descendants of Sakalava who followed Andriantsoly, a ruler who fled from western Madagascar to Mayotte in the 1820s when threatened by Merina armies from the central highlands.

The Sakalava of Madagascar (who will be the focus of this article) are organized into a string of kingdoms located along the entire western coast, extending from the south, at the Bay of Augustin near Toliary at 23°35 S, to as far north as the offshore island of Nosy Be, the Bay of Ampasindava, and the Mahavavy River, all of which lie at approximately 13° S. Sakalava territory is bordered to the south by the island's arid region; to the east by the central highlands; and in the far north by mountainous terrain, where the highest peak is Mount Tsaratanana at 2,876 meters. The Sakalava inhabit a variety of ecological zones: the far north, in particular, is forested; as one moves south, the terrain turns into grassy savanna and then sandy (and, at times, arid) areas, with palm and baobab trees. The Antakarana are the Sakalava's northern neighbors; to the west are the Tsimihety, and to the south is territory occupied by such pastoral groups as the Bara and the Mahafaly.

Within their own territory, the Sakalava draw distinctions between "southern" and "northern" Sakalava, each exhibiting local variations in dialect as well as ritual activities that focus primarily on their respective royal dynasties and associated tombs. Menabe, encompassing the territory surrounding the city of Morondava, is the seat of the southern Sakalava, and also that of the original Maroserana dynasty, which was founded in the 1600s by the ruler Andrtandahifotsy, his classificatory father Andriamisara, and his grandfather Andriamandazoala. In the northwest is Boeny (or Boina), centered around Marovoay near the city of Majunga. Boeny was founded by the ruler Andriamandisoarivo in the early 1700s. All Sakalava dynasties trace their origins to the Maroserana rulers of the far south, each having moved progressively north following disputes over royal succession. The Bemazava dynasty, based today in the town of Ambanja, is located in the far north and is the youngest of all, having been established in the nineteenth century. Sakalava dynasties are also further categorized as being of one of two dynastic groups: the Zafinibolamena (also abbreviated to Zafin'i'mena and meaning "Grandchildren of Gold"), of Maroserana origin, and the more recent Zafinibolafotsy (or Zafin'i'fotsy, "Grandchildren of Silver"). Today each is represented throughout Sakalava territory.

Demography. Census information for Madagascar has been collected sporadically throughout the twentieth century. The reliability of census data is hampered by political agendas (such as election preparations) that can affect their outcome; furthermore, data for different ethnic groups are not always available, or may be defined differently from one census to the next. Thus, the label "Sakalava" has at times encompassed the Vezo and Makoa, for example, whereas at other times these groups have been recognized as distinct categories. With these qualifications in mind, the 1987 census recorded that Sakalava comprised 5.8 percent of Madagascar's total population of approximately 9.9 million (or of 12.6 million in 1992).

Linguistic Affiliation. Sakalava is a dialect of Malagasy, the dominant language of Madagascar. As a Western Austronesian language, Malagasy reveals the cultural and historical roots of the Malagasy people as a whole, who trace their origins in part to southeast Asia, Melanesia, and Austronesia. Linguistically, the Sakalava dialect reflects the impact of worldwide trade networks, with loanwords drawn from Arabic, kiSwahili, numerous Bantu languages, and, mostly recently, French. There is also a smattering of loanwords from Portuguese, German, English, and several Chinese and Indian languages. When compared to Merina, the island's dominant dialect (which is spoken in the central highlands), Sakalava offers striking differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Among the most significant of these is the nasal n sound (which approximates the "ng" in "sing") and a preference for the active over the passive voice. In bureaucratic and educational settings, Sakalava speakers also make use of Madagascar's two official languages: French and Official Malagasy (mcdagasy officiel).

History and Cultural Relations

The earliest references to Sakalava kingdoms appear in the writings of traders, most notably Portuguese sailors, as well as the prolific Jesuit Father Luis Mariano, all of whom either visited or settled on Madagascar's coast in the early 1600s. For centuries, the Sakalava have actively plied trade routes that have extended to the Persian Gulf, India, and the Far East; the African continent (especially the north, along the east coast, and the central interior); neighboring islands such as Mauritius and Réunion; and the Americas. Sakalava ports supplied oceangoing merchants with such foods as beef, fruit, and rice; Sakalava were also actively engaged as both buyers and suppliers of spices and slaves. Goods acquired from abroad included guns, ammunition, rum, and European manufactured items. Sakalava hegemony in the arena of Indian Ocean trade was particularly pronounced during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Early European contact in the 1600s involved trade as well as relatively unsuccessful missionary attempts by Portuguese and French Catholic fathers. Over a century later, French priests (as well as planters) had greater success in the northwest, especially on the offshore island of Nosy Be. Throughout the nineteenth century, Sakalava formed alliances with the French and with sultans of Zanzibar and Muscat as they sought to fend off invasions by the Merina ruler Radama I (r. 1810-1828), who sought to unite the entire island under his rule. Although Radama I took a daughter of a Maroserana ruler as a wife, the Sakalava of the northwest proved difficult to conquer. In the late nineteenth century, the Sakalava found themselves subjugated by their former allies: under the leadership of General J. S. Gallieni, the French conquered the Merina kingdom and, subsequently, the rest of the island. In 1886 Madagascar was declared a colony of France, and remained so until independence in 1960. Sakalava have nevertheless guarded their royal traditions, even when faced with censure, imprisonment, and exile under French rule; when necessary, royal activities were conducted clandestinely. In the decades following independence, the Sakalava have continued to emphasize their political alienationand independencefrom the highland Merina and Betsileo, describing themselves as côtiers, or "coastal dwellers," whose concerns and customs (fomba ) vary radically from those that characterize the inhabitants of the island's metropole of Antananarivo.


The size of Sakalava communities ranges from small-scale homesteads or villages of perhaps only a dozen to several hundred inhabitants, to large towns and cities (e.g., Morondava, Majunga, Analalava, Ambanja, and the island of Nosy Be). Urbanization is not a new phenomenon: Portuguese accounts from the 1600s describe the southern town of Sadia as having as many as 10,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, the more recent economic demands of a colonial administration certainly encouraged rapid urbanization in numerous locations.

Sakalava settlements, often regardless of size, follow common patterns. Dwellings are typically lined up along a main path or road in parallel formation, reflecting an older pattern found throughout Madagascar, whereby houses are oriented according to compass directions (northeast being a sacred and thus auspicious point of reference). A common design is a square structure with a peaked roof, elevated a foot or two off the ground. Houses are built of ravinala palm or other locally available plant materials, corrugated tin, or concrete or earthen bricks. Houses generally have one or two rooms, each of which will then have a separate door leading out onto a small veranda where perhaps up to half a dozen people may sit comfortably under the roof's shade during the hotter after-noon hours. Such houses may have windows as well, made with hinged wooden shutters that can be locked from the inside. There may also be granaries, which are higher off the ground, or shaded platforms under which people sit, work, visit, or hold ceremonies. Cooking is generally done outdoors over a wood or charcoal fire on a three-stone hearth, a three-legged iron support, or a small brazier.

In villages, the occupants of any given household are usually expanded or extended family; household membership can vary radically from day to day in response to the demands of labor migration and child fostering and because of short- and long-term visits from kin. In precolonial times, royal households were often polygynous. Furthermore, village affiliation, especially in the past, was generally clan based.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Sakalava territory is vast, encompassing four diverse ecological zones: the west coast and the adjoining sea, riverine areas, savanna pasturelands, and forests. The local ecology shapes a highly diversified subsistence economy. Sakalava are avid fishers, who use outrigger canoes of the same design as those used by proto-Malagasy when they made their voyages across the Indian Ocean. Canoes are propelled using paddles; some also deploy a rectangular sail when there are winds. Sakalava consume fish of all sizes as well as shellfish and turtles; since about the 1970s, fishing for sea cucumbers for Asian markets abroad has become a highly lucrative commercial activity. Sakalava also catch freshwater fish; settlements are found along all major rivers and many lakes in western Madagascar. Seafood is prepared in a variety of ways: cooked in stews, fried, smoked, or salted. Hunting and occasional gathering of wild foods further supplement local diets. Crickets and other insects, which are available seasonally, are rich sources of protein, as are hunted animals, including birds, fruit bats, lemurs, and wild boars. Wild honey is also gathered.

When the French arrived in northern Madagascar, they were struck by the quality and quantity of cattle raised in the region. Although herd sizes diminished during the colonial period, Sakalava continue to raise humpbacked zebu cattle for meat and for ceremonial purposes and to pull two-wheeled wooden carts. Cattle were owned collectively by clan members, and large herds were a mark of wealth and prestige. Within the last generation or two, private ownership of cattle has become more common. Cattle of particular colors and markings continue to be reserved exclusively for royal herds or ceremonial use. Other animals raised for food consumption include goats, chickens, guinea hens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. Meat and eggs are consumed sporadically.

Sakalava are also horticulturists who practice primarily swidden agriculture. Local diets are supplemented by what is available during the two primary seasons: the wet (November to April) and dry (May to October). The two main staples of the Sakalava diet are rice (dry and paddy, depending on the terrain) and, especially in the dry regions of the south, manioc. Accounts from the early 1600s also report millet as a staple. In some regions, Sakalava cook with coconut milk, which is used either as an ingredient in stews or is added to rice as it cooks. Vegetables consumed include an assortment of leafy greens that are boiled in a copious amount of water. Other fruits and vegetables vary according to the terrain, temperature, and fertility of the soil: these include mangoes, green and sweet bananas, papayas, oranges, cashews, maize, beans, and other garden vegetables. Participation in cash cropping varies considerably from one region to another. The city of Majunga, for example, is a major source for cashews, whereas, in the north, cocoa, coffee, and, to a lesser extent, spices (such as vanilla, pepper, and cinnamon) are grown on plots ranging from large-scale private and state-owned plantations to the smallest of village and individual gardens. Madagascar also has a copious pharmacopoeia of wild and domestic plants from which teas and medicines are derived.

Arts and Industrial Arts. Knowledge of indigenous textile arts has declined considerably within the last generation or two; earlier in the twentieth century, Sakalava textiles exhibited complex weaving techniques. Single ikat designs, with colors derived from plant dyes, were woven in cotton and raffia on a horizontal loom with a fixed heddle. Today mats and storage containers are plaited by hand into a basket-weave design from palm and other plant leaves. This, like weaving, is the occupation of women. Fishing nets, on the other hand, can be made by either men or women, depending on the region. Men are responsible for boat building, woodworking, and carpentry, depending on local economic needs; items produced include ox carts and outrigger canoes as well as furniture made of palasander, ebony, and other tropical woods. Today embroidery, lacework, and riche-lieu cutout work decorate even the most modest homes and provide supplementary income for many women. Both men and women are actively engaged as tailors and seamstresses, making use of electric and hand-driven sewing machines.

Trade. From the tenth century onward, accounts written by Muslim traders describe the Sakalava as being active participants in Indian Ocean commerce. From the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries, Sakalava ports were central to the success of the slave trade that linked Madagascar to the African continent, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. As the British and French developed sugarcane plantations on Mauritius and Réunion, they created a large-scale and regular demand for slaves; by the eighteenth century, Sakalava were among the more important slave traders for the region. Sakalava themselves raided East African ports and the Comoro Islands for captives, although most slaves were brought to Madagascar by Muslim traders sailing from Kilwa, Zanzibar, and the coast of what is now Mozambique. These captives were exchanged for cattle and rice, supplies that were generally taken to Mauritius and Réunion to feed the inhabitants there. Slaves purchased by the Sakalava were generally resold for guns, ammunition, or rum. Sakalava kept slaves of their own to work, for example, in the royal rice fields; slaves were also sold to neighboring Malagasy groups or were marched across Madagascar and resold from eastern ports. Defiance of local and international decrees that outlawed slavery was rampant throughout the nineteenth century: Sakalava cooperated with Muslim and European traders in clandestine slaving activities, and the trade continued to flourish well into the 1870s (and, along the northwest coast, as late as 1900). In Sakalava territory, the term "Makoa" (derived from the ethnic label "Makua" in Mozambique) denotes slave ancestry, and today it is applied to people whom Sakalava assume to be of "African" origin. Some continue to work for royalty as their ancestors once did, set off as a loosely defined group of royal laborers.

Small-scale commerce is also very much a part of Sakalava economic activity today. Even the smallest villages often have a local epicene, where such essential items as kerosene, salt, sugar, cooking oil, soap, and matches are sold. Larger stores sell items varying from freshly baked cakes to fabrics and brightly colored body wraps manufactured in Madagascar and abroad. Marketing activities are widespread throughout Sakalava territory. Larger towns and cities have daily markets; there are also regional rotating markets that occur in specific villages or towns on a weekly basis. Both Sakalava men and women engage in market activities, selling goods they themselves have produced or that they have either bought at a larger market in the region or in the nation's capital of Antananarivo. Individual sellers may also develop personal networks, selling items to favored clients in the privacy of one another's homes. Many children become involved in commerce at an early age, assisting adults with clients, running errands, or setting up their own small market or roadside stands; their clients include adults as well as other children. Commercial specialization by age and gender is quickly evident in any large market: for example, young and middle-aged women sell dried fish; grandmothers specialize in woven mats and leafy green vegetables; and older men sell a host of medicinal herbs.

Division of Labor. For Sakalava, "to labor" or "work" (miasa ) is an action that includes subsistence activities, household chores, ritual affairs, and national development. The most essential agricultural activity is rice farming: men, women, and children are involved at all stages of its production. Until the late twentieth century, work was taboo on Tuesday (Talata), providing a respite from the arduous work in the rice fields. Among fishing communities, the division of labor along gender and age lines varies radically from one region to another: in some areas, only men and boys fish; in others, men and women of all ages as well as children fish. Men and boys hunt, using rifles, slingshots, and hunting dogs. Women and children are most often responsible for water retrieval and cooking. Daily housework is shared by all; chores are often divided between boys and girls. Girls, however, often do the more time-consuming work, such as polishing floors, washing dishes, and doing the laundry.

As noted, the act of honoring royalty is a central defining principle of Sakalava identity. Such loyalty is demonstrated by periodically performing royal work that honors both living and dead rulers. Among the most important ceremonies is the "royal bath" (called fitampoha in Menabe and fanompoa-be in Boeny), the annual purification of a dynasty's sacred relics (and sometimes the reigning ruler). Other forms of royal work include entombing royalty, building a new royal residence, celebrating royal circumcisions, and instating new rulers. The division of labor for royal work was determined by birthright, each clan having its particular duties. Although clan-based labor is being forgotten in many areas, a special caste, called the Sambarivo, continues to be actively involved in royal work. Sambarivo live in special villages; both men and women help orchestrate royal events and perform a multitude of duties during royal ceremonies.

Colonialism has had a major impact on the division of labor throughout Madagascar. Household, head, and cattle taxes drove Sakalava men in particular into wage labor and cash cropping early in the twentieth century. A French bureaucratic system that favored the nuclear family has given rise to a patriarchal bias within many Sakalava households. Adolescent boys and men were affected in other ways as well: they were conscripted into the army, police, and civil service. Men, more so than women, were saddled with the much-despised annual labor quotas that were designed to build up the colony's infrastructure. In the plantation areas of the north, Sakalava refused to work on plantations, and Malagasy from other areas were brought in to work the fields. The French instituted primary schooling throughout much of Sakalava territory; boys, in particular, however, received more advanced training at centers for teachers and civil servants. In postindependence Madagascar, both Sakalava men and women have made their way into these professions as well as medicine, government, and other high-status work.

Land Tenure and Inheritance. Sakalava typically practice virilocality, and inheritance patterns exhibit a patrilineal bias; hence, land most often passes from fathers to one or more of their sons. Nevertheless, women often inherit land from their brothers, fathers, and maternal kin, exhibiting the bilineal (or, more recently, bilateral) quality of Sakalava commoner kinship. The point at which men and women inherit land can best be understood by examining the life cycle: young married men (particularly those who do not relocate or migrate out) generally assume the care of their aging parents' fields, whereas older women (who are often widows) will return to their natal villages upon inheriting fields, homesteads, or houses from maternal or paternal kin. Women also buy land for their personal use. In regions where the soil is fertile and large-scale plantations exist, it is essential that small-scale peasant farmers have land deeds in their possession. Although the concept is not as strongly held as it was prior to the colonial period, land continues to be considered collectively owned as well: the Sakalava of a given region are the rightful tera-tany or tompontany, the "masters of the soil," of a region the boundaries of which coincide with those of the local kingdom.


Kin Groups and Descent. At the time of French conquest, Sakalava were organized into a loosely defined caste system composed of royalty, commoners, royal workers (Sambarivo), and slaves. Royal descent assumes the form of truncated patrilineages that preserve primarily the names of former rulers. Today royalty maintain with care written records of genealogies that extend back several centuries.

Several principles guide commoner kinship, although they are being forgotten in some areas, particularly where there is pronounced urbanization and the in-migration of non-Sakalava. The first is the village-based clan (firazaña or fi razanana ), the membership of which is often sentimental. That is, individual affiliation depends upon choices made in response to where one has spent much of one's life. Clans are organized hierarchically in reference to their royal-work responsibilities, their names reflecting as well the nature of such work. Commoner kinship tends to be bilineally conceived. The second guiding principle of Sakalava commoner affiliation is the tariky, or kindred, composed of an individual's matri- and patrikin. Again, personal residence patterns typically determine tariky affiliation. A third principle distinguishes paternal and maternal kin, respectively, as the "children of men" (zanakan'lahy ) and the "children of women" (zanakari vavy ); these are particularly important categories of reference in ritual settings because both must be represented at circumcisions and other important rites to be performed. Sakalava also distinguish the children "of one belly" (kibo araiky ) from others because they are united by their common links to maternal kin. In the past, this final principle placed restrictions on the children of sisters and excluded fostered and adopted children from full participation in their adoptive clan's royal-work activities.

Kinship Terminology. Sakalava use classificatory kinship terminology. As with other Malagasy groups, kinship terms distinguish between the age and gender of the speaker relative to other kin. Thus, for a male Ego, "brother" is rahalahy and "sister" is anabavy. For a female ego, "brother" is anadahy and "sister" is rahavavy. Zoky serves as an additional term of reference and address for older siblings, zandry for younger ones. Parallel and cross cousins are labeled and addressed as siblings. Ego's parents' siblings are also differentiated by age and sex. Thus, the terms used for the father's kin are: baba (father), bababe ("big father," or father's older brother), babakely/babahely ("little father," or father's younger brother), and angovavy (father's sister). For the mother's kin: nindry or mama (mother), nindrihely/mamahely ("little mother," or mother's older sister), and zama (mother's brother). The spouse of one's angovavy is referred to as zama (and vice versa); the spouses of Ego's parents' same-sex siblings are addressed as nindry and baba. Ego's spouse's siblings are ranao; and, in turn, their spouses are referred to structurally as Ego's siblings. The relationship with one's ranao is restrained. A joking relationship exists between agnates of the opposite sex; for a female Ego, this individual is called the rokilahy; for a male Ego, the rokivavy. The classificatory term for "child" is zanaka t although the children of Ego's opposite sex sibling are referred to as asidy. The classificatory term for "grandchild" is zafy. As a result of the impact of colonialism, in some regions these kin terms have been replaced by others, of French origin.

Fictive kinship is also common, the most elaborate form being fatridra, a ritual that links nonkin as blood brothers and blood sisters (between men and women as well as between the sexes).

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Indigenous marriage patterns reflect differences between individuals of royal and nonroyal descent. A generation or two ago, royalty exhibited a preference for caste endogamy; some marriages, deemed incestuous, are recorded as occurring between classificatory siblings who shared parents that were kibo araiky. Although outlawed by the French, royal polygyny is still practiced in some areas. The marriages of Sakalava rulers often operate as forms of political alliance.

A generation ago, commoner marriages exhibited a pattern of clan endogamy: particular clans were grouped hierarchically as appropriate marriage partners, based on the royal services they performed. Endogamous unions could occur if purification rituals were performed. Virilocality continues to be the norm for commoners; the derogatory term jaloky is used to describe a man who takes up residence with his wife's kin and farms her father's fields. Only high-status commoner groups practiced uxorilocaltty.

Sambarivo continue to practice endogamy as well as virilocality. Until slavery was outlawed at the turn of the twentieth century, slave marriages were endogamous. Although slave origin continues to be an important marker of low status in other regions of Madagascar, this factor is not as relevant in Sakalava territory: the label "Makoa" more closely resembles an ethnic rather than a caste distinction.

Today Sakalava marriage is a flexible institution, whereby one may have a series of partners over the course of one's lifetime. Married men and women also take lovers. Literature by Christian authors in particular identifies such behavior as a sign of sexual laxity that has sprung from Western contact, an opinion that runs contrary to the evidence found in historic documents. Most often, cohabitation signifies marriage, its permanence confirmed by the subsequent births of healthy children. In the past, bride-price was paid in the form of cattle. Some Sakalava also opt for Muslim or Catholic weddings, or they obtain a marriage license through the state. When marriages are troubled, typically it is the wife who leaves her husband and returnswith or without her childrento her parents, hoping to be cared for by her mother and protected by her father. Ideally, parents in such circumstances serve as advocates for the wronged wife, and the husband may be required to pay stiff penalties (in the past, in the form of cattle) to win his wife back. A father, however, may insist that his daughter return to her husband, and, if so, she has little recourse but to obey.

Domestic Unit. A marriage blessing heard throughout Madagascar is "may you have seven sons and seven daughters." A generation ago, peasant households of this size were not uncommon; today, however, one of this size would struggle to survive. Sakalava households assume a variety of forms, the most common being the nuclear family, extended family, and female-headed household. Household membership size is extremely flexible, particularly where children are involved. Short- and long-term fostering is common: children sometimes move on a daily basis among the houses of their parents, parents' siblings, and grandparents. A woman may bear and give a child to a sister who is having difficulty conceiving; one or more children may be sent to assist grandparents in the fields; and either boys or girls may be offered to siblings who require assistance in commercial activities. If the siblings live in a town, they may take in the children of village kin so that they may continue their schooling. Single and married adults likewise move in and out of different households, especially if they are involved in labor migration or commerce. The rice-harvest season leads to the migration back and forth of individuals or even entire households from their permanent dwellings to temporary structures near their fields, if they are more than a few kilometers away. Sakalava prefer to live near kin (havana ), which is thought to ensure social and economic security. In both towns and villages, a house occupied by aging parents will be surrounded by separate dwellings, which are occupied most often by married sons with children. If a daughter lives close by, she will try to visit on a regular basis, and she will send her own children to visit, acquire agricultural produce, and provide her parents short-term labor in the home or in the fields.

Socialization. Many persons are actively involved in the socialization of children. Infants remain in close proximity to their mothers throughout the first year of their lives. They are often breast-fed for two years or so, with solid foods being introduced when their first teeth appear. The ingestion of rice is an important first meal. Fathers play an active role on a daily basis in caring for children, as well as teaching them proper behavior; they return an infant to its mother when it needs to breast-feed. Even men who do not cook often assume the responsibility of feeding solid food to toddlers. Children learn at an early age (before they are 10 years old) how to care for their younger siblings, and, by the time they can walk and talk, they are allowed to roam freely with their playmates. By this age, they are also assigned household tasks, and they run errands for adults. As boys and girls grow older, their duties shift: girls assist female kin in food preparation; boys hunt or fish with older male kin. Boys and girls are equally likely to be sent to the market or local epicerie to buy food and other supplies or to the well to fetch water. Although both are assigned daily domestic chores, in towns, girls are more likely to be hired out to do part-time housework or child care, assisting households where the parents work and the children are in school full-time.

Several rites of passage mark the progress of a child's life. During a forty-day postpartum period, a Sakalava mother and her child are secluded. Throughout this time, the mother and infant must be bathed several times a day with either warm or cold water, depending on whether the mother follows "hot" (mifana or mafana ) or "cold" (ranginalo ) restrictions. The day that the child emerges is one of celebration: it is coddled and played with by all who come to visit. The eating of the first mouthful of rice and the first hair cutting are also important events in an infant's life. Circumcision is an important ceremony for boys; preferably, it is performed during the cooler months of the year (June to August). A healthy child is generally circumcised at about the age of 5, although some boys may wait until they are 10 or older. If a child is a member of a Muslim household, the ceremony will reflect this affiliation. Circumcision celebrations are more elaborate for royal children than those for commoners: they involve special public dances, such as the rebiky, and spirit mediums will be invited so that the royal ancestors (tromba ) can give their blessing. There is no equivalent rite of passage for girls. Other ceremonies that mark the progress of a child's life may include baptism and first communion, if the family is Christian. To mark changes in status, an individual's name may change throughout the course of his or her life: children often are not named until after the postpartum period, and, once they are baptized, they may take on another name.

Marriage is another important transition in an individual's life, although it is the birth of the first child that truly marks the passage to adult status and that often cements the relationship between two adults. Upon the birth of the first child, parents change their names and assume teknonyms, such as "Maman'i'Soa" and "Baban'i'Soa" ("Mother" and "Father" "of Soa"). They bear these names until their own children are adults and have offspring. If this child should die, the parents are quickly assigned another name, either taking the name of another child or reverting to nicknames or terms that designate that they are the aunt or uncle of a sibling's child. Once adults attain elder status (most often marked by the birth of grandchildren), their names change again, either to a name they had when young, or to a nickname that makes note of their abilities, temperament, or physical appearance. This name will often be preceded by the honorary "Mama" or "Baba" (without the possessive i). Elders are also typically addressed by kin and nonkin alike by the honorary forms "Dady" and "Dadilahy," or "Grandmother" and "Grandfather."

Special naming rules apply to rulers. At the onset of his or her reign, a ruler is given a new name; when the ruler dies, this name becomes taboo and is replaced with a praise name (fitahina ) that makes note of events or achievements during the ruler's lifetime. This name is usually preceded with the prefix Andrian- or the variant Ndram-, meaning "royalty," and ends with the suffix -arivo, meaning "thousands" or "many." Thus, Andriamandentarivo means "the king who slit the throats of many," whereas Andriamarofalinarivo is "the king who has many taboos." Praise names are also used when addressing the tromba spirits of dead Sakalava royalty.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Sakalava are organized into clans, each with separate duties that they perform periodically for royalty. Sakalava social organization is hierarchical, consisting of royalty (ampanjaka ); the "people" (vahoaka ) or "commoners" (vohitry ), who may also simply be called "Sakalava"; those who serve royalty at ceremonial occasions (most notably the Sambarivo); and slaves (andevo ), many of whom are of more recent African descent (such as the Makoa). Although Sambarivo status is low with respect to the state hierarchy, they are considered to be the closest to royalty because of the nature of their work.

Political Organization. There are few steadfast rules that govern royal succession: although a first son might be preferred by a living ruler as his successor, Sakalava dynasties reveal a history of disputes over succession. A ruler's successor is as likely to be the son of a first or later wife, the child of a sibling, or, at least since colonial times, either male or female. New dynasties are typically established in response to dissent over succession.

Political leadership is a complex process in any Sakalava kingdom: the ruler, or ampanjakabe, is the head of the state, but he or she cannot work successfully without the assistance of a host of advisers. Among these are the manatany, an older man appointed as the ruler's primary counselor and spokesman; the fahatelo, or "third" in command; and a collection of other male elders, composed of the hereditary ranitry and nonheredity rangahy. Although women do not serve as royal advisers, they occupy other primary roles in royal ritual contexts. Historical accounts of several rulers also identify the diviner-herbalist (moasy ) as an essential adviser; some who held this office even appear to have become rulers themselves. One may not address a ruler except through these advisers. They serve as interpreters, sitting beside the ruler when he or she receives visitors. Male and female royalty are also actively involved in counseling and directing a ruler's affairs. The amount of influence they wield depends upon the temperament and political abilities of the ruler. No major decisions can be made without first consultingand receiving the blessing ofthe most powerful of the tromba, or spirits of royal dead, who are the ruler's ancestors and, thus, his or her grandparents (dadibe ). These spirits possess mediums, who live full-time at the royal tombs. Throughout Sakalava territory the French sought to undermine royal power; as a result, possession and other royal activities were often conducted in secret. Royal power continues to hold sway in much of western Madagascar today.

Social Control. Rulers serve as judges in major disputes; in daily affairs, elders as well as village chiefs (a position created under the French colonial administration) may hear cases and pass judgments. Serious crimessuch as theft, assault, and murderas well as land disputes and child-support cases are handled by the court of the local county seat (Fivondronana). Social ostracism, gossip, and, in extreme cases, accusations of the use of harmful magic (fanafody raty ) are effective methods of social control. In response, the accused party is forced to change his or her behavior; otherwise, there may be no other recourse than to move away and settle elsewhere. The latter is a serious decision, however, given that it often requires moving away from close kin.

Conflict. Sakalava dynastic power is thought to have originated in what is now Mahafaly territory, in southern Madagascar. The first "Sakalava" were those who willingly submitted themselves to (i.e., were most likely conquered by) the earliest Maroserana rulers. At the time of European contact, the Sakalava were considered fierce warriors, a reputation that kept early French missionaries and planters out of much of their territory. Disputes over royal succession often led to armed conflict, a fact that is recorded ritually in the rebiky dance (see "Religious Beliefs"). The wars against the Merina also figure prominently in the historical memory of Sakalava. In the early nineteenth century the Merina ruler Radama I sought to conquer and, subsequently, unify the entire island into one kingdom. His efforts proved futile, however, throughout much of Sakalava territory. The memories of related events are preserved in the tales surrounding several Zafin'i'fotsy tromba spirits who committed suicide by drowning rather than submit to Merina rule. Hostility toward Merina remains pronounced, and, in some ceremonial contexts, taboos (fady ) exist that prevent Merina participation.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Religious practices and beliefs are closely linked to royal affairs. Today the term "tromba" is used throughout Madagascar to describe a host of forms of spirit possession; strictly speaking, however, it is a Sakalava term. At the heart of Sakalava religion are the royal ancestors, or tromba, who are the spirits of dead royalty. Tromba spirits are arranged hierarchically into generations that correspond to dynastic lineages of the northern and southern Sakalava. They are then further differentiated by the two broad categories, the Zafin'i'mena and Zafin'i'fotsy. When mediums are possessed by tromba spirits, they don clothing that is indicative of their rank, lineage, and the time period in which they reigned or lived. The oldest and most powerful of these spirits possess select mediums (called saha ), commoners who are usually single women living full-time in villages located next to royal tombs (mahabo ). These spirits are the dady, and they guide living rulers in all major decisions that affect the kingdom as a whole. Other less powerful and younger spirits are a pervasive force in the everyday lives of commoners living in villages and towns. A given spirit may have many mediums, but can only be present in one medium at any one time. Women constitute the majority of mediums for these lesser tromba spirits, although men can be possessed as well. Other possessing spirits include tsiny (nature spirits that are associated with sacred trees) and kalanoro (small, impish forest spirits). There are also numerous kinds of malevolent spirits that cause misery and suffering. These go by a host of names, including jiny, Njarinintsy, troma hely (or "little tromba"), bib, and kokolampo.

Expressive culture takes form in drumming, song, and dance, all of which are essential components of royal celebrations. Specialized drums, called hazolahy, are played when royalty are present, particularly at such ritual events as circumcisions, during the instatement of a new ruler, or at the village of the royal tombs on days when royal work is performed. Men are the exclusive players of these drums. Dances reserved for royal festivities are performed to the accompaniment of the hazolahy, the most frequent being the graceful and slow-paced rebiky (which depicts battles among rival dynastic branches) and, far less often, the animated maganja, which is said to be of more recent African origin.

Many Sakalava are simultaneously followers of other faiths. Catholicism has made significant inroads into Sakalava communities. It is not uncommon to find women who are spirit mediums during the week attending Mass on Sunday. Royalty, especially in the north, are more likely to be Muslim, their forebears having been converted to Islam in the nineteenth century as they sought to win allies against the French. Sakalava royal tombs also bear evidence of Islamic influence: they are often decorated with stars and crescent moons.

Religious Practitioners. Religious practitioners fall into several categories. Among the most common are those whose religious duties overlap with (and are often indistinguishable from) those of practitioners of the healing arts. Important healers include mediums for tromba, tsiny, and kalanoro spirits, the first category being the most widespread today. Other healers include moasy, who are particularly skilled in the use of local pharmacopoeias, and mpisikidy, or diviners. An individual who uses magic (fanafody ) to harm others is considered dangerous and is labeled a "witch" or "sorcerer" (mpamosavy ). Other religious practitioners include those individuals who serve royalty throughout the course of their lifetimes. These include the Sambarivo, as well as male and female tomb guardians (antimahabo ), who oversee the care of royal tombs.

Ceremonies. Sakalava ceremonies are guided by auspicious and inauspicious or taboo (fady) days of the week, months of the year, and phases of the moon. For example, Friday (Zoma) is the most auspicious time to perform a royal ceremony; restrictions on other days and on certain months depend on the regular flow of activities that occur at various locations where royal tombs are found. Possession ceremonies, as well as all other royal events, can only take place during the phases of an ascension to full moon. For example, if a ruler dies during the phase of no moon, his or her body can not be moved to the tombs until the moon enters the new phase. In general, Sakalava describe royal practices as "difficult" (sarotra ny fomba ny ampanjaka ) because of the complex set of taboos associated with royal events. Thus, the observance of royal ritual rules is a sign of love for and devotion to the ruler. Spirit mediums, diviners (mpisikidy), and healers such as moasy also often play an active part in determining the appropriate time and location for a ceremony.

Much of Sakalava ritual life is complementary along gender lines; many ceremonies can not be performed unless both men and women participate. Circumcisions, for example, require the participation of the zanakan'lahy and zanakan'vavy (represented by the boy's mother and mother's brother) and both matri- and patrikin, represented by the boy's mother and father.

Various ritual items figure prominently in Sakalava ceremonies. As noted, the hazolahy drums appear at royal festivities; other sacred items that symbolize sacred power and that are employed for purification and healing purposes include gold (vola mena ) and silver (vola fotsy ) and, most often, the tsanganob (an archaic French coin), precious metals that symbolize the two major dynastic categories of "Gold" and "Silver." Other items include honey mead (tô mainty ) and rum (toaka ).

Medicine. Madagascar has a rich pharmacopoeia of plant and animal products acquired from the land and sea. These medicines are applied to the skin, boiled to make medicinal teas, mixed into bath water, or added to amulets. Both men and womenparticularly eldersare well versed in the use of many plants that can be used to treat such common ailments as headaches, fatigue, and malaria. More difficult or persistent ailments are handled by a variety of healers whose knowledge is rooted in Sakalava religious practice (see "Religious Practitioners"). They draw from the power of ancestors and other spirits to diagnose and heal as they simultaneously apply plant remedies. Sakalava turn as well to cosmopolitan clinical medicine at state and privately run hospitals and/or to healers associated with Islam or Christianity. These sorts of decisions are dependent on the forms of health care available, the perceived etiology of the illness, and personal choice. Dream interpretation is also a specialization of numerous categories of healers.

Death and Afterlife. Sakalava do not practice the famadihandy or reburial ceremony, which characterizes Betsileo and Merina cultures of the central highlands. Another factor that separates Sakalava from other Malagasy speakers is that personal ancestors do not figure prominently in the lives of commoners; rather, royal ancestors are the focus for collective identity. Tales of cultural origin likewise focus on royal events. The Zanahary created the world and human society, but they are remote deities who rarely participate in daily human affairs (although they must be honored at the opening of any ceremony). Tromba spirits are far more prominent in thoughts of the afterlife. Descriptions of death focus on the discomfort of tombs, which troma spirits describe as cold and lonely. It is for this reason that these spirits appear regularly in mediumsthey wish to continue to participate in the daily affairs of the living.

As with all Malagasy, it is essential that the bodies of Sakalava be entombed properly and in their rightful place. Commoners are entombed with the kin (havana) with whom they had the strongest sentimental ties. Thus, an adult is as likely to be entombed with one or both parents as with a spouse. Commoners' tombs are simple structures generally void of decoration, and they can be found in the forest, in rock grottos by the sea, or in Catholic or Muslim cemeteries. A body that is lost and thus unable to be placed in the tomb is a terrifying image; it means that the person's ties to kin have been severed. These individuals become lolo, troubled spirits that haunt the locations where they died, causing sickness, accidents, and deaths among those who cross their paths. The dead may also appear in the dreams of close relatives in order to let them know that they are troubled and are in need of care. In the past, some individuals, including those who had committed serious crimes (such as murder) or who suffered from leprosy or serious physical disfigurement, were not entombed but left in taboo areas.

Royal funerals are elaborate and may extend over a period of several months or even years before being completed. A specialized vocabulary and body of taboos (fady) surround all royal rituals, and this is especially pronounced in the context of royal funerals. For example, rulers do not die, as do commoners; rather, the verb mihilana ("to turn around," or do an about face) is used. It is forbidden for a ruler's body to enter the royal residence: if a ruler dies in the palace it is forever polluted and cannot be inhabited by future rulers. Throughout the funerary period, Sakalava (royal and commoner alike) may not bathe, comb their hair, or wear shoes, and they must wear Sakalava body wraps. The ruler's body is taken to a special location and placed in a temporary structure, where it is attended by different categories of Sambarivo, each with particular duties to perform. The body is allowed to rot away, the effluvia collected with care in special earthenware pots and discarded at night in a sacred location. Relicsincluding occiput bone and patellae, teeth, hair, and nailsare retained for future ceremonial occasions, and the remains are placed in a temporary stone structure within the wall that surrounds the royal tombs. Eventually, a permanent structure is built to house the remains of this particular ruler. Once the remains have been placed within the tomb walls, the formal public discussion and debate may begin regarding the instatement of a successor.


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