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Malagasy

Malagasy

PRONUNCIATION: mahl-uh-GAH-see

LOCATION: Madagascar

POPULATION: 12 million

LANGUAGE: Malagasy (Merina); French

RELIGION: Traditional beliefs; Christianity; Islam

1 INTRODUCTION

The origins of the Malagasy people remain a mystery. Scholars believe the Malagasy have a combination of Indonesian, Malayo-Polynesian, and African roots.

Supposedly, the Indonesians were the first arrivals. Then came the Arabs, the southern Indians, and merchants from the Persian Gulf. South and East Africans followed, and eventually Europeans. The first Europeans to arrive were the Portuguese, then the Spanish, the British, and finally the French, who conquered the island in 1895.

Today, the Malagasy population of twelve million people is divided into eighteen identifiable ethnic groups in addition to the Comorans, the Karane (Indo-Pakistan), and the Chinese. The white people are classified as either zanathan (local-born) or vazaha (newcomers).

On June 26, 1960, Madagascar gained independence from France. In 1993, the government changed from a communist dictatorship to a democracy with a free-market economy.

2 LOCATION

One billion years ago a piece of land broke away from Africa and moved southeast to become an island continent in the Indian OceanMadagascar. Madagascar, located 250 miles (402 kilometers) off the east coast of Africa, is the fourth-largest island in the world. It is approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) long and 360 miles (579 kilometers) wide, nearly the size of California, Oregon, and Washington combined. It has a population of about 12 million people.

Many of the species of plants and animals originally found on the island either became extinct or evolved independently. As a result, 90 percent of all species on Madagascar today are unique, found nowhere else in the world.

3 LANGUAGE

Malagasy and French are the country's official languages. The Malagasy language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages. The Malagasy language includes many dialects. The Merina dialect is the official language of the country and is universally understood.

4 FOLKLORE

Malagasy do not consider death to be the absolute end to life. In fact, Malagasy believe that after death, they will continue to be involved in the affairs of their family. Thus, dead family members are honored for their continuing influence on family decisions. Malagasy tombs are usually far more elaborate than the homes of the living.

Many Malagasy believe that spirits are present in nature, in trees, caves, or rock formations, on mountains, or in rivers or streams. Some also fear the tromba, when the spirits of the unknown dead put people into a trance and make them dance. The one who is possessed must be treated in a ritual by an ombiasy (a divine healer). Quite often, people consult or rely on them to look over the ill or the dying, or to set the dates for important events.

5 RELIGION

Roughly half of Malagasy are either Roman Catholic or Protestant, and a small number are Muslim (followers of Islam). Native religions featuring ancestor worship are followed by the rest of the population.

6 MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Madagascar's official holidays include:

January 1 New Year's Day
March 29 Memorial Day
March 31 Easter Monday
May 1 Labor Day
May 8 Ascension Day
May 19 Monday Pentecost Holiday
May 25 Unity African Organization Day
June 26 National Day
August 15 Feast of the Assumption
November 1 All Saints' Day
December 25 Christmas Day

7 RITES OF PASSAGE

Malagasy ancestor worship includes a celebration known as the famadiahana (turning over the dead). Each year, ancestors' bodies are removed from the family tomb. The corpses are rewrapped in a fresh shroud cloth. Family members make special offerings to the dead ancestors on this occasion. The rites are accompanied by music, singing, and dancing.

8 RELATIONSHIPS

On a personal level, the Malagasy people are warm and hospitable. However, in unfamiliar surroundings, they appear to be reserved and somewhat distant. They are not likely to initiate a conversation with strangers, or even to keep a conversation going.

A single handshake and a "hello" is the proper greeting when people are introduced. A handshake is also used when saying goodbye. Among family and close friends, a kiss on both cheeks is exchanged at every meeting. Women, as well as young people of both sexes, initiate greetings when they meet elders.

Refusing anything outright, no matter how politely, is considered rude. It is better to make up excuses than to simply say no to food and drink, or anything else that is offered.

9 LIVING CONDITIONS

Overall, Madagascar is ranked as one of the poorest countries in world. Its people suffer from chronic malnutrition and a high (3 percent) annual population growth rate. In addition, health and education facilities are not adequately funded. Basic necessities such as electricity, clean water, adequate housing, and transportation are hard to come by for the average citizen.

There are sharp divisions between the country's upper and lower classes. There is vitually no middle class.

10 FAMILY LIFE

Most Malagasy social activities revolve around the family, which usually consists of three generations. Extended family members may live in one household or in a number of households. The head of the family is usually the oldest male or father. Traditionally, he makes major decisions and represents the family in dealings with the outside world. However, this authority is declining among urban dwellers.

Recipe

Akoho sy voanio
(Chicken and Coconut)

Ingredients

  • 6 chicken breasts (any combination of chicken parts may be used)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 can of unsweetened coconut milk
  • Oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2½ teaspoons of ginger
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced

Directions

  1. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.
  2. Chop tomatoes and set aside.
  3. Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan. Sauté chicken over medium heat until cooked thoroughly (juice will be clear when the chicken is stabbed with a fork).
  4. Add onions to the pan. Cook chicken and onions over medium heat until the onions are golden brown.
  5. Add ginger, tomatoes, and garlic to pan. Sauté together for about 3 minutes over medium heat.
  6. Reduce heat and add coconut milk. Stir to mix well.
  7. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Serve with rice and salad. Serves four.

Malagasy marriages are preceded by lengthy discussions between the two families. The groom's family will give a symbolic gift, called a vody ondry, to pay for the bride. This may be a few thousand Malagasy francs or perhaps one head of cattle. The ancient ideal of having seven boys and seven girls per household is now far from the norm. A more modern expectation today is four children per household.

Women are expected to obey their husbands, but they actually have a great deal of independence and influence. They manage, inherit, and bequeath property and often handle the family finances.

11 CLOTHING

The Malagasy wear both Western-style and traditional clothing. The markets are full of poor-quality imported clothes and imitation Western outfits.

Common traditional clothing items include the lamba, which is worn somewhat like a toga. Lambas are made in bright, multicolored prints. They usually have a proverb printed at the bottom. In some cases, they are used to carry a child on a woman's back. Older women will wear a white lamba over a dress or a blouse and skirt. It is not common for women to wear pants.

In rural areas, men wear malabars, dresslike shirts made of cotton woven fiber. They are usually made in earth tones.

12 FOOD

In Madagascar, food means rice. Rice is eaten two or three times a day. It is common to have leftover or fresh rice for breakfast, sometimes served with condensed milk. Lunch and dinner consist of heaping mounds of rice topped with beef, pork, or chicken, with a vegetable relish. Beef is usually served only for a celebration or a religious offering. Koba, the national snack, is a paté (paste) of rice, banana, and peanut. Sakay, a hot red pepper, is usually served on the side with all Malagasy dishes.

Dessert usually consists of fruit, sometimes flavored with vanilla.

13 EDUCATION

About 80 percent of Madagascar's population aged fifteen and over can read and write. The level of education varies depending upon geographic area and other factors. Parents commonly send their children to France or elsewhere overseas for higher education.

14 CULTURAL HERITAGE

The musical form Salegy has become widespread on the island since instruments such as the electric guitar, bass, and drums were introduced. Most Malagasy music and lyrics are about daily life.

Internationally recognized Malagasy musicians include guitarist Earnest Randrianasolo, known as D'Gary; Dama Mahaleo, a Malagasy folk-pop superstar; and Paul Bert Rahasimanana, who is part of Rossy, a group of twelve musicians.

Madagascar's unique melodic instruments include the vahila, a tubular harp; the kabosy, a cross between a guitar, mandolin, and dulcimer; and Tahitahi, tiny flutes, usually of wood, gourd, or bamboo. Percussion instruments include the Ambio, a pair of wood sticks that are struck together; and Kaimbarambo, a bundle of grasses played many ways.

15 EMPLOYMENT

Malagasy men generally do not work full-time throughout the year. Content with satisfying only their families' most basic needs, they may earn wages only three or four months of the year.

Women's role in agricultural work is often more difficult than the men's. It includes carrying water, gathering wood, and pounding rice. Women also have special roles in cultivating crops, marketing the surplus, and preparing food, as well as making domestic crafts.

Business in Madagascar is dominated by non-Malagasy groups, such as Indians, French, and Chinese.

16 SPORTS

Typical sports played in Madagascar are soccer, volleyball, and basketball. Other activities include martial arts, boxing, wrestling or tolona, swimming, and tennis.

17 RECREATION

Most social activities center around the family. Typical recreation includes dining and playing sports together.

Unique Malagasy games include games with stones, board games such as Solitaire and Fanorona, cockfights, singing games, and hide-and-seek.

18 CRAFTS AND HOBBIES

Madagascar is known for its basket-weaving and painting on silk.

19 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

The primary social problem in Madagascar is poverty. One-fourth of the population has been estimated to be living in or on the verge of absolute poverty. Unemployment is widespread, and the rate of infant mortality is high. Quatre-amies, or street children, beg for food or search for it in the garbage.

Poverty is a serious problem in Madagascar. Quatre-amies, or street children, beg for food or search for it in the garbage.

Madagascar's population of 12 million is expected to at least double by the year 2015.

20 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bradt, Hilary. Madagascar. Santa Barbara, Calif: Clio, 1993.

Mack, John. Madagascar: Island of the Ancestors. London: British Museum Publications Ltd., 1986.

Madagascar in Pictures. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1988.

Preston-Mafham, Ken. Madagascar: A Natural History. New York: Facts on File, 1991.

WEBSITES

Embassy of Madagascar, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.embassy.org/madagascar/, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Madagascar. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/mg/gen.html, 1998.

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Malagasy

Mal·a·gas·y / ˌmaləˈgasē/ • n. (pl. same or -gas·ies) 1. a native or national of Madagascar. 2. the Austronesian language of Madagascar. • adj. of or relating to Madagascar or its people or language.

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Malagasy

Malagasy pert. to (a native of) Madagascar; sb. its language. XIX. f. Malegass, -gash, varr. of Madegass, -cass, after or parallel with F. malgache, madécasse, adj. f. the name of the island.

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Malagasy

Malagasy See Madagascar

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Malagasy

Malagasybassi, Brassey, brassie, chassis, gassy, Haile Selassie, lassie, Malagasy, Manasseh, massé, massy, sassy, TallahasseeCotopaxi, maxi, taxi, waxy •Anglesey •antsy, Clancy, fancy, Nancy •paparazzi, patsy •Yangtze • necromancy • cartomancy •geomancy • bibliomancy •chiromancy • ataraxy •Adivasi, brassy, classy, dalasi, Darcy, farcy, Farsi, glassy, grassy •chancy • ardency • Nazi •Bessie, Crécy, dressy, Jessie, messy, Nessie, tressy •prexy, sexy •Chelsea, Elsie •Dempsey • Montmorency •discrepancy • incessancy •Betsy, tsetse •epilepsy • narcolepsy • nympholepsy •apoplexy • catalepsy •Basie, Casey, Gracie, lacy, O'Casey, pace, pacy, precis, racy, spacey, Stacey, Sulawesi, Tracy •cadency • complacency •blatancy, patency •Assisi, fleecy, greasy, Tbilisi •decency

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Malagasy

Malagasy

PRONUNCIATION: mahl-uh-GAH-see
LOCATION: Madagascar
POPULATION: 20 million
LANGUAGE: Malagasy (Merina); French
RELIGION: Traditional beliefs; Christianity; Islam; animism

INTRODUCTION

The origins of the Malagasy people remain a mystery. Scholars believe the Malagasy are a kaleidoscopic mix of Indonesian, Malayo-Polynesian, and African descendants. It is not known where the original people, the Vazimba, came from, nor where they are today.

Supposedly, the Indonesians were the first arrivals. Then came the Arabs, the Southern Indians, and merchants from the Persian Gulf. South and East Africans followed, and eventually Europeans, starting with the Portuguese, then the Spanish, the British, and finally the French, who conquered the island in 1895.

Today, the Malagasy population of 20 million people is divided into 18 identifiable ethnic groups in addition to the Comorans, the Karane (Indo-Pakistan), and the Chinese. The white people are either zanathan, a French term, local-born, or vazaha (newcomers).

Merina live in the central highlands of the island's capital, Antananarivo or Tanananrive. Their home region is called Imerina. They are thought to have come from the east of Mangoro or from the northeast, pushing back, intermarrying with, and finally conquering the original inhabitants, Vazimba.

The Merina society is hierarchical and extremely structured. Previously they were divided into three main castes: the Andriana, the nobles; the Hova, freemen who are the commoners; and the Andevo, slaves descended from former slaves. Today, the caste division is no longer practiced or is not obvious.

The Merina ruled Madagascar before the French assumed control in 1895. They are usually highly educated and represent the modern middle class and the intellectual elite. They can be found scattered around the island, except in the extreme north or south and a portion of the west coast, as businessmen, doctors, ministers, managers of plantations, technicians, and government officials.

Betsimisaraka, “the many inseparables” or “the many who do not want to separate,” are the second-largest ethnic group, found in the east. They are cultivators. They reside in isolated villages because of differences in dialect, in ritual or local political office, in cultural practice, and in material culture. Their political organization is village-based.

Betsileo, “the numberless invincibles,” are a peaceful and hardworking peasant tribe of the central highlands around Fianarantsoa or the east coast of Madagascar. They are skilled craftsmen known for their mastery at managing water for their irrigated and terraced rice and cassava fields on poor soil. They share customs, beliefs, and historical traditions similar to the Merina, but are less warlike and less well organized.

Tsimihety are “the people who do not cut their hair”—a phrase that could be a sign of mourning or a sign that they did not observe hierarchy. It may also be derived from the fact that during the 19th century, facing Marofelana bandits, Tsimihety men let their hair grow long so that they might be mistaken for women and would not be attacked. They reside in the north of Madagascar. They have 40 localized kinship groups, the largest being the Antandrona, the Maromena, and the Maromainty.

The Tsimihety are often referred to as mobile semi-nomadic people because it is their custom to move around for freedom. Peter J. Wilson, in his book Freedom by Hair's Breadth: Tsimihety in Madagascar, observes: “Through this mobility they could express their sense of freedom and defiance of outside authority because they could always exercise what Albert O. Hirshman has called the “exit option.” They are egalitarians who do not believe in the ownership or transmission of land; rather they believe that individuals are stewards with a responsibility to manage the land on behalf of their ancestors. Land belonged to those who cultivated it or to those who have ancestors buried in a particular area.”

Sakalava, “dwellers in long valleys,” are a tall tribe of dark brown people, formerly the most powerful of the tribes. Majunga, now called Mahajunga, is their most important city. They are associated with the Islamic groups of Madagascar's southeast. Europeans from around the coast, communities already established in the southwest, and migrant people from the eastern seaboards form the Volamena (literally, “red silver” or “gold”) royal lineage.

Anteifsy, “people of the sands,” lived originally on the African continent and live in the southern end of the east coast of Farafangana, in Fianarantsoa Province. They live in three strata: nobles, commoners, and descendants of slaves. Members of each stratum marry solely within their own group.

Antandroy, “the people of the thorny brambles,” are a dark-skinned, primitive, and attractive tribe who live in the arid south around Ambovombe in the east. They are a branch of the Sakalava of the west coast and worked readily for colonists all over the island. They are a large, cohesive group with a uniform set of customs.

Tanala, “the people of the forests,” live in areas where forests have been cut down on the slopes inland from Manakara on the east coast. They are divided into two subgroups—the Tanala Menabe and the Tanala Ikongo—with the Menabe living in less desirable areas. The Tanala lack political organization but are skilled hunters, food gatherers, and woodsmen.

Anteimoro, “the people of the coast,” live in the region of Vohipeno and Manakara on the east coast, south of the center of the island. Some have Arab blood, and traces of an Arab culture exist. They are the only group that knew how to write before the London Missionary Society arrived in Madagascar in 1818. Unique contributions from the Anteimoro include manuscripts dealing with history and religious matters, written in the Malagasy language using Arabic script. They claim to be descended from Arabs who arrived by boats from Mecca in the 13th century, married local women, and founded a kingdom.

Their society is divided into castes, with the upper level claiming to be direct descendants of Arab settlers. Their culture also is divided by age, with each group being assigned specific functions and a particular status for a given number of years. They are known for the ombiasy (divine healers) and sikidy (fortune tellers).

Bara is a name with no certain meaning. The Bara are nomads of the southern highlands around Ihosy and Betroka. They are artists, sculptors, dancers, cattle rustlers, and athletes. They are divided into four kinship groups living in different areas: Bara-Be, Bara-Iantsantsa, Bara-Vinda, and the Bara-Antevondro. They once considered agriculture degrading work; however, one can find some Baras working as sharecroppers on tobacco plantations in Miandrivazo or Malaimbandy.

Sihanaka, “those who wandered in the marshes,” are found around Lake Alaotra, the largest fresh water lake on the island north of Antananarivo, west of Tamatave in Tamatave Province. They work as farmers, cattle herders, and fisherman, and are known to drain swamps to make rich agricultural land. They have features similar to the Merina and live next to them; however, they refuse to mix.

Antanosy, “the people of the island,” are dark-skinned, flat-nosed, thick-lipped people. They were the first to drive the French settlers out of Fort Dauphin, in and after 1643. The Antanosy were divided by chiefdoms belonging to the noble class.

Mahafaly, “those who put taboos on things,” are a dark-skinned, primitive tribe living around Ampanihy. Their kings were related to the kings of the Sakalava tribe before Madagascar was conquered. They are known for their mastery in carving the long wood staffs used to garnish their tombs.

Maka or Masombiky, “people of Mozambique,” live on the west coast across from Africa, and are the only truly African descendants of the imported slaves, perhaps brought from the Mozambique Channel by Arabs from Zanzibar.

Bezanozano means “many little braids”—a name referring to their traditional hairstyle. In many ways, they resemble the Betsimisaraka, with whom they live intermingled in the sub prefecture Moramanga. They are herders and woodsmen.

Antakarana “people of the rocks,” lived in the northern tip on Diego-Suarez, now Antsiranana (Cap d'Ambre to Sambirano River). They are a heterogeneous group with mixed Sakalava, Betsimisaraka, and Arab ancestry. During Merina conquests, part of the group settled on the northwest coast, where they managed to preserve considerable independence. This group became Muslim, but they still maintained traditional customs dealing with family relations and burial practices. They raise cattle and also grow maize, rice, cassava, and other crops.

Antambahoako, “the descendants of Rabevahoaka,” are the smallest of the tribes. They live near Mananjary, south of the center of the east coast. They are the only ethnic group with a single common genealogy, being descended from King Raminia, who came from Mecca in the 14th century. They are no longer in contact with the Islamic world, but they retain fairly strong Muslim influences. They are divided into eight kinship groups and resemble the Betsimisaraka, whose home-land surrounds them. They are known as good fishermen and boatmen.

The Vezo are a small group of people living in the southwest part of Madagascar who, as John Mack notes in Madagascar: Island of the Ancestors, “do not practice circumcision, which is a central ritual elsewhere on the island, circumcision often being for men a crucial condition of access to ancestral tombs. This in itself argues for a strong African rather than Southeast Asian element in Vezo culture, and to this day they retain strong contacts with coastal peoples in Mozambique.”

In the 1800s, three major movements among the Sakalava, the Betsimisaraka, and the Merina created an alliance. Nevertheless, tension was constant, particularly among the different ethnic groups who were “ultimate masters of adaptation.”

On 26 June 1960 Madagascar gained independence from France.

In 1993 the government changed from a Communist dictatorship to a still-adapting free market democracy. Madagascar is being pressured by economic and environmental forces on all fronts. The economy and infrastructure continue to decay due to constant corruption and political instability. Economic reforms have been erratic. Other nations seem more interested in preserving the endangered species rather than the people.

Overall, Madagascar is ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world, suffering from chronic malnutrition, under-funded health and education facilities, a 3% annual population growth rate, and a severe loss of forest lands accompanied by erosion.

Madagascar has six governmental administrative divisions: Antananarivo or Tananarive, Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga, Toamasina, and Toliary. Elections were held in February 1997. Following those elections, President Didier Ratsiraka was reinstated chief of state. (President Ratsiraka was the president of Madagascar from mid-1975 until the end of the 1980s.) However, in the 2001 presidential elections, Marc Ravalomanana shocked most outside observers when he claimed outright victory, supplanting veteran politician and longtime president of 27 years, Ratsiraka. In the elections of May 2006, Marc Ravalomanana was once again declared the winner of the presidential elections. In April of 2007 voters in a referendum endorsed constitutional reforms to increase presidential powers and make English an official language. The consolidation of power by Ravalomanana has raised questions about his authoritarian tendencies.

The legislative branch of government is a bicameral Parliament which consists of a National Assembly or Assemblée Nationale and a Senate. The National Assembly consists of 127 seats, reduced from 160 seats by an April 2007 national referendum. Members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. The Senate or Senat has 100 seats; two-thirds of the seats are filled by regional assemblies and the remaining one-third of seats appointed by the president to serve four-year terms. The decentralized regional assemblies were elected in February 1997 and in the May 2006 elections.

LOCATION AND HOMELAND

One billion years ago a piece of land broke away from Africa and moved southeast to become an island continent in the Indian Ocean—Madagascar. Many of the species of plants and animals found on the island became extinct or pursued separate evolutionary courses. As a result, 90% of all species on Madagascar are unique, found nowhere else in the world. Some of the unusual species that evolved are the lemurs, the tortoises, the Aepyornis (elephant birds), the tenrec, the chameleons, and other strange and exotic insects and birds.

Madagascar, located 250 miles off the east coast of Africa, is the fourth largest island in the world, after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo. It is approximately 1,000 miles long and 360 miles wide, nearly the size of California, Oregon, and Washington combined.

LANGUAGE

Malagasy, French, and English are the country's official languages. The Malagasy language is rich in metaphor and poetic imagery and belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages. Although the Malagasy language includes many dialects, the Merina language is the official language of the state and is universally understood. The basic Malagasy vocabulary is 93% Malayo-Polynesian in origin and there is evidence of borrowings from Arabic, Bantu, Sanskrit, and Swahili.

FOLKLORE

Malagasy ancestor worship includes a celebration known as the famadiahana (turning over the dead). Each year, ancestors' bodies are removed from the family tomb and the corpses are rewrapped in a fresh shroud cloth. Family members make special offerings to the dead ancestors on this occasion, which is accompanied by music, singing, and dancing. Malagasy do not consider death to be the absolute end to life. In fact, Malagasy believe that after death, they will continue to be interested and involved in the affairs of their family. Malagasy believe that dead family members continue to influence family decisions and are thus honored. For this reason, Malagasy tombs are usually far more substantial in construction and luxurious than the homes of the living.”

Many Malagasy believe that spirits are present in nature, in trees, caves, or rock formations, on mountains, or in rivers or streams. Some also fear the tromba, when the spirits of the unknown dead put people into a trance and make them dance. The one who is possessed must be treated in a ritual by an ombiasy (a divine healer). These ombiasis are known to have supernatural forces, particularly in the area of constellations. This is why, quite often, people consult or rely on the ombiasis to look over the ill or the dying, or to decide the proper date to have a marriage, a circumcision or a famadiahana (turning of the dead).

RELIGION

Traditional religion in Madagascar is identical with traditional culture; ancestral civilization determines values and behavior. All Malagasy believe that there is one supreme being called Zanahary (God) or Andriamanitra (Rakotosoa). There is no dogma or clergy. “Men who die ‘leave to become God,' having powers with the rank they held in life,” and “prayers are always asked for blessing with both Zanahary and the ancestors,” observes Harold D. Nelson in his Area Handbook for the Malagasy Republic. He goes on: “about [half] of the population are Christians, divided almost evenly between Roman Catholics and Protestants; [there is a] small Muslim element; [the] rest [of the] population adheres to indigenous beliefs and practices in which [an] ancestor cult is [a] primary feature.”

MAJOR HOLIDAYS

The government of Madagascar's official holidays include the following:

January 1New Year's Day
March 29Memorial Day
MovableMonday Easter
May 1Labor Day
May 8Ascension Day
MovableMonday Pentecost Holiday
May 25Unity African Organization Day
 (UAO)
June 26National Day
August 15Assumption
November 1All Saints' Day
December 25Christmas Day

RITES OF PASSAGE

An important celebration of Malagasy culture is circumcision or mamora raza. Once a young boy is circumcised, the eldest male in the family is expected to eat the foreskin with a banana.

However, circumcision in the Tsimihety culture is a “hit or miss” situation which the circumciser, or tsimijoro, performs with or without parental consent. The term for this is kiso lehifitra. Tsimihety do not have a celebration or feast after the procedure, but celebrate before if the ceremony is formalized. Formalization takes place when and if the boy's father invites the tsimijoro and his wife's brother; both males contribute a cow to the proceedings. Then, meat is distributed to the family or close affinities. At night, before the circumcision, both families sing for the happiness of the child. The operation is performed before dawn. Special powerful water, or rano malaza, is poured over the penis, after which the prepuce is marked with white earth. The foreskin is then given to the wife's brother, who has to swallow it, or he might throw it over the roof of the house. The tsimijoro spits salted water onto the wound. After six days, the boy is thrown into a river or pond where he is bathed.

The Vezo do not practice circumcision, nor is female circumcision practiced in the Malagasy cultures.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

On a personal level or in one-to-one relationships, the Malagasy people are hospitable, very warm, and amicable. However, in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar people, they appear to be reserved, somewhat distant, or unassertive. They are not likely to be the first to initiate a conversation and are not likely to continue a conversation.

A single handshake and a “hello” is the proper greeting when people are introduced. A handshake is also used when saying goodbye. Among family and close friends, a kiss on both cheeks is exchanged at every meeting, regardless of the number of people present or how often they have met during the preceding days. The custom is for women and the young to initiate greetings when they meet elders.

A polite but simple refusal of an offering, especially food or a dance from an invited guest, is considered rude and pompous. It is better to fabricate excuses than to simply refuse politely. It is also considered embarrassing if a host does not offer a visitor a chance to sit and have something to eat and drink.

Regardless of the situation, elders and seniors are always right, and women are expected to take the modest position, particularly in public.

LIVING CONDITIONS

The high incidence of disease in Madagascar is a result of a nutritionally inadequate diet and insufficient medical care and sanitation practices. Malaria, schistosomiasis, and tuberculosis are common diseases, along with leprosy, bubonic plague, diphtheria, typhoid, venereal infections, tetanus, hepatitis, and gastroenteric parasites.

Madagascar is considered a third world country, and basic essential necessities such as electricity, clean water, stable housing, and transportation are hard to come by for the average citizen.

When walking the streets of Madagascar, it is evident that the people are sharply divided between an upper class and a lower class. A middle class virtually does not exist. Many upper-class homes are fenced and guarded 24 hours a day and filled with maids who work at the beck and call of their owners.

FAMILY LIFE

The strong and significant social value of Malagasy culture is summed up in the word fihavanana, which refers to both kinship and solidarity. As Nelson observes, “Family loyalties override all others, and help with expenses occasioned by marriages, funerals, and sickness continues to be a moral imperative.” Help is never regarded as an exchange of economic services but, instead, as the demonstration of a moral link between kin, related or not, especially in times of death.

Most Malagasy social activities revolve around family—which usually consists of three generations—whether family members may live in one household or in a number of households. The head of the local family is usually the oldest male or father, who makes major decisions that affect the family interests, represents the family in dealings with the outside world, and reprimands those who act counter to the welfare and reputation of the family. In some instances, the oldest female plays these roles.

But the powers of the eldest male have diminished in the cities, where he can no longer protect family members as he would have in the past, or where the young can escape his control. Nevertheless, parental control remains stronger in Madagascar than in Western countries. If a father is deceased, then the eldest son assumes the role of the father and is often referred to as “father” or dada by the younger siblings. Daughters are required to perform household duties and to care for younger siblings, while sons go to school or are allowed to play.

In general, women are expected to care for family and domestic affairs. They are less educated than men and are hardly consulted in the decisions which affect the future of the society. They are discouraged from taking jobs away from men and are rejected from traditional male-dominated occupations. In a nutshell, women are subordinate to men, and younger Malagasy are subordinate to their elders.

An ancient ideal of having seven boys and seven girls per household is now regarded as a joke—a common thing to say to a couple who has just married. A more modern expectation nowadays is four children per household.

Most communities are represented by a fokon'olona, a village council in which older generations always take precedence over younger generations. They lead meetings and make final decisions. In short, the senior male is the final authority.

In many ethnic groups, there is a tendency to marry within one's kinship group and within one's social rank. Other groups, such as the Tsimihety and the southeastern groups, insist on marrying outside the kinship group to forge stronger links with other villages. Merina marriages between close kinsmen keep land inheritance by both sons and daughters continuous.

A ceremony of purification is performed in cases of marriage between close kin. Marriage between the children of two sisters is considered most incestuous of all, because it is the mother, not the father, who gives ra (blood) to the child according to Malagasy beliefs.

Nelson tells us, “Polygamy, which formerly was frequent, has almost disappeared except for the Muslim Comorians and some people in the south and southwest, such as the Antandroy, Antanosy, Mahafaly, and Antaisaka.” However, in Tsimihety culture, marriage is either expanded or not, and trial marriages are practiced because of their belief in partnership. Adolescents are free to have sexual relations in hopes of finding someone they would like to marry. Once the adolescents have chosen, the parents are informed, and the parents inform senior kin. Then discrete inquiry by relatives on both sides begins. First, as Peter Wilson describes in Freedom by Hair's Breadth, they “try to find whether there already existed a kinship relationship between the two individuals, and, second, whether the households and extended family were diligent or slovenly and whether the prospective spouse was likely to have been brought up well to perform his or her role. The usual method was to contact a kinsperson who was likely to know if the person was fit or not.”

Malagasy marriages are preceded by lengthy discussions, or kabary, by a representative from both families. As a gesture, the groom's family will give a few thousand Malagasy francs or perhaps one head of cattle, which is called a vody ondry, to pay for the bride. This gesture also serves as a reimbursement for the expenses and hardship incurred for raising her.

Women are expected to obey their husbands, but in practice they have a great deal of independence and influence. They manage, inherit, and bequeath property and often hold the family purse strings.

CLOTHING

Many of the Malagasy have come to regard anything Western as desirable and fashionable. Therefore, the markets are full of poor-quality imported clothes and imitation Western outfits. However, traditional clothing varies throughout the island.

Common clothing items include the lamba, which is worn somewhat like a toga, with or without additional clothing underneath. Lambas are made of bright, multicolored Malagasy patterns that usually have a proverb printed at the bottom. In some cases, lambas are used to carry a child on the women's back. Elder women wear white lamba made of fine silk, or raphia from the leaves of a tropical plant over their dress or blouse and skirt. It is not common for the women to wear pants.

In rural areas, men wear malabars, dress-like shirts made of cotton woven fiber. They are usually colored in earth tones.

FOOD

In Madagascar, rice is synonymous with food. If you have not eaten rice during the day, then you have not eaten, as rice is eaten two or three times a day.

Nevertheless, the Malagasy diet varies. It is common to have leftover or fresh rice for breakfast, sometimes served with condensed milk. Lunch and dinner consists of often heaping mounds of rice topped with beef, pork, or chicken with a vegetable relish. However, beef is usually served only for a celebration or an offering. The Tsimihety eat with disinterest; the cooking is bland, unimaginative, and aesthetically impoverished.

The coffee and vanilla that Madagascar supplies to the world is hardly part of the Malagasy diet. Candy, ice cream, and cake make up a small part of part of their daily or holiday diet.

It is common for a visitor or someone important to be given a basket of uncooked rice and a live chicken. Chicken is usually served to guests rather than beef. In some of the more rural areas, the Malagasy also eat fruit bats, civet cat, and lemurs. Or, like the Tsimihety, they may snack on roasted corn, roasted insects, guinea fowl, and fruit. Children in particular eat roasted beetles, grasshoppers, and grubs.

A national snack called koba is a paté of rice, banana, and peanut.

A typical drink is ranompango, which is water added to a pot after all the rice but the crust has been removed and then allowed to boil, so as to take the flavor of burnt rice. Some villages produce sugar cane fermentation for rum (betsabetsa) or distilled rum (laoka), which are mostly used for bartering or for addressing ancestors, by pouring it on the ground.

Dessert usually consists of fruit, sometimes flavored with vanilla.

Some typical Malagasy dishes include:

Akoho sy voanio—Chicken and Coconut

1 chicken
1 coconut
2 tomatoes
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
20 g of ginger
Oil, salt, pepper

Cooking Instructions:

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Slice tomatoes into small cubes. Set aside.

Shred the coconut into a clean cloth. Fold the cloth around the shredded coconut. Wet the cloth using a glass of warm water. Squeeze the cloth and the shredded coconut to extract coconut milk. Discard the shredded coconut. (If obtaining a fresh coconut is not possible, you may substitute a can of unsweetened coconut milk instead.)

Add a small amount of oil to a frying pan. Sauté chicken over medium heat until cooked thoroughly.

Add onions to the pan. Continue stirring over medium heat until the onions are brown.

Add ginger, tomatoes, and garlic to pan. Sauté together briefly over medium heat.

Add coconut milk. Mix well. Reduce heat.

Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.

Serve with rice and salad.

Serves four.

Lasary Voatabia—Tomato and Scallion Salad

In a 1-quart bowl, combine:
1 cup scallions, finely diced
2 cups tomatoes, finely diced
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
Several drops Tabasco sauce

Stir lightly and chill.

Serve approximately 1/3 cup per portion in small dishes.

Kitoza

A popular delicacy in Madagascar in which beef is cut into strips and broiled over a charcoal fire:

Cut round steak to ¼-in thick.

Cut meat into pieces about 4 in by 2 in. Th read the strips on a fine strong cord, and hang the cord as you would a small clothesline. The meat will become quite dry in a few hours.

Put the strips over a charcoal brazier so that the meat dries to a crispness but does not burn. Remove meat immediately from the fire when it crisps.

This dish is usually eaten with a watery cornmeal mush for breakfast.

Vary Amin Anana—rice and greens

In a 4-quart saucepan:
Sauté ½ pound boneless chuck cut into ½-in cubes in 2 teaspoons oil until meat is brown on all sides.
Add 1 tomato cut into ½-in chunks.
Cook with the beef for 10 minutes.
Add 1 bunch of scallions cut into 1-in pieces
½ pound mustard greens cut into small pieces
1 bunch watercress cut into small pieces
Sauté, stirring occasionally with cover on until vegetables soften.
Add 2 cups water (or enough to cover vegetables)
1 cup rice
1 tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Cover tightly and simmer slowly until rice is thoroughly cooked and all the liquid is absorbed.

Correct the seasoning to your taste.

Sakay, a hot red pepper, is usually served on the side with all Malagasy dishes.

EDUCATION

In 2005 over 70% of Madagascar's population ages 15 and over could read and write. The level of education achieved typically depends upon geographic area and an individual's rank and status. However, parents expect their children to reach the highest level of education possible, including a master's degree or a Ph.D. Parents commonly send their children to France or elsewhere overseas for higher education because the quality of education in Madagascar is poor.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

In the liner notes to the recording Music from Madagascar, D'Gary proclaims, “Musically speaking, Madagascar is a liberated heaven with no closed doors!” Stephane De Comarmond goes on: “Music in Madagascar can be divided in two extremes: melodic and rhythmic! The capital and High Plains of the center—most oriental-oriented—are packed with melodies and harmonies, whereas the coastal regions, which have been in regular contact with Africa, are the home of the beats.” One musical form, Salegy, which in the 1960s was evident on the northern coast, has become widespread on the island with the introduction of non-traditional instruments such as the electric guitar, bass, and drums. Most Malagasy music and lyrics are about daily life.

Internationally recognized Malagasy musicians include: Earnest Randrianasolo, known as D'Gary, a Malagasy guitar-ist of the Bara culture. He is an original guitarist and musical visionary. He has been successful in transferring the music of many unique, traditional Malagasy instruments to a finger-picked acoustic guitar. One D'Gary song, “Betepotepo” (the name of a town) is about the desire to return to the home village. His themes include nostalgia for children, family, and village life. Other musicians include Dama Mahaleo, a Malagasy folk-pop superstar; Paul Bert Rahasimanana, known as Rossy, a group of 12 musicians; Jaojoby; Justin Vali, “the master player of the valiha”; Mama Sana, a 70 year-old valiha master; Poopy; Jean Emilien; Rakotofrah; and Kaolibera, a well-known guitarist. Another group is Tarika Sammy. Tarika means group, specifically referring to a performing ensemble. The Tarika Sammy group plays tradition-based music. The lead group is Sammy, or Samoela Andriamalalaharijaona. One song produced by Sammy is called “Mila Namana” (“I Need a Friend”); it is about feeling lonely and needing a friend. Another song is called “Eh Zalahy” (“Hi there!”).

Classical music, such as music by Mozart and Dell, is played in the churches.

Some of Madagascar's unique melody instruments include: the vahila, a tubular harp; the marovany, a box zither; the kabosy, a cross between a guitar, mandolin, and dulcimer; the lokanag, a solid-bodied, Malagasy fiddle; Sodina-b, a flute made from bamboo (“B” indicates “big flute”); and Tahitahi, tiny flutes, usually of wood, gourd, or bamboo, used by Tarika Sammy as bird call sounds. Percussion instruments include: Ambio, a pair of resonant wood sticks that are struck together; and Kaimbarambo, a bundle of resonant grasses played many ways—sometimes called a kefafa, which literally means “broom.”

WORK

In The Great Red Island, Arthur Stratton writes: “The Malagasy laborer has none of his European or American counterpart's inducements to work for fixed wages during certain hours of the day or the night, and regular days of the week, throughout the year—not even with a paid holiday in summer. The Malagasy needs are simple and his wants are easily satisfied. He is not concerned with climbing any sort of social, spiritual, or economic ladder to get within reach of any real or illusory goal on top. His concept of success does not goad him along to ‘improve' himself, to keep up with the Joneses, or to buy himself some status symbols like a Cadillac or a mink coat. . . . They have no drive to occupy their minds or their hands; they like to do nothing serious at all; they have no sort of compulsion to steady occupation; they do not live from payday to payday. A Malagasy man and his family can get by very happily with highly irregular working hours amounting to no more than three or four wage-earning months of the year. The rest of the time they spend in resting up after enjoying themselves. Th us there is a chronic labor shortage in Madagascar while there is also a chronic unemployment.”

Today, the French, the Creoles from Réunion, the Chinese, the Indians, and the Merina highlanders dominate in business in Madagascar.

The Chinese are known for their integrity and are appreciated in Madagascar because, when they migrated to Madagascar, they chose to live among the Malagasy on the same footing. However, they keep to themselves and operate in a different manner.

The Indians, or karana on the other hand, are thought to be “slippery and an unpopular lot.” A marriage between a karana and a Malagasy virtually never happens; however, marriage between a Chinese person and a Malagasy is highly possible.

Women's role in agricultural work is often more arduous than the men's, including water carrying, wood gathering, and rice pounding, much of it to compensate for inadequate technical services in the economy. Special roles in planting and cultivation, marketing surplus crops, preparing food, and domestic crafts keep women occupied throughout the day and the year; men insist on conventional periods of repose.

SPORTS

Typical sports played in Madagascar are soccer, volleyball, and basketball. Other activities include martial arts, boxing, wrestling or tolona, swimming, and tennis.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION

Because most social activities center around the family, recreation and entertainment consist of family members and relatives meeting to play typical sports and to dine together.

Unique Malagasy games include games with stones, board games such as Solitarie and Fanorona, cock-fights, singing games, and hide-and-seek.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES

In Madagascar: Conflicts of Authority in the Great Island, Philip M. Allen writes: “Malagasy artistic creativity finds itself in crisis today. In the past, Madagascar excelled in traditional architecture and sculpture—seen especially in tombs of the west and the south—as well as in oral and literary poetry, in textile design, and especially in music. Paintings remain servile to French academic styles, including determination of palette choices to render typical scenes of Malagasy life, the most popular subject for oil painters and water colorists. The imitative process results in waves of local-color celebrations for the tourist market rather than a true expression of the Malagasy creative spirit.”

Madagascar is known for its basket weaving and painting on silk.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

The primary social problem is poverty, and quatre-amie, or street children, who beg for food or search for it in the garbage. Rapid population growth over the recent past threatens biodiversity because every year nearly one-third of the island's former scrub forest and desert is set afire to keep land arable. The Human Development Report indicates that between 1990 and 2004, over 70% of the population was living below the national poverty line. Although mortality rates have declined dramatically, fertility rates are extremely high in Madagascar. Other demographic indicators such as infant mortality rates are also relatively high. Malnutrition is also rampant.

GENDER ISSUES

As already noted above, women are expected to care for family and domestic affairs and be subservient to men. According to the UNDP Human Development Report 2006, in 2004 the literacy rate for men was 76.5% and 65.3% for women. The primary-school enrolment ratio for male and female students had climbed to 1:1, but girls leave school more often than boys because of the burden of household chores, parents' views on the importance of girls' education, concern for girls' safety, and a lack of gender-sensitive school environments. Women are conspicuous by their absence from gainful employment and public life in Madagascar. The position of women is weakest in the political sphere: women received the right to vote and to stand in elections in 1959, yet in 2004 only 8.4% of seats in parliament were held by women. In a nutshell, women are subordinate to men, and younger Malagasy are subordinate to their elders.

In terms of human rights, Madagascar has signed or ratified five of the six principal international human rights treaties. Since 1993, human rights have been generally respected and although the death penalty remains in force, it has not been applied for more than 40 years. However, despite government commitment to human rights, judicial proceedings against people associated with the Ratsiraka government, including those suspected of human rights abuses during the 2002 crisis, were often unfair. There are reports of police brutality against prisoners and political detainees, as well as instances of arbitrary arrest and detention. Quite often prison conditions are deplorable and life threatening. Women prisoners are routinely subjected to violence and abuse including rape.

Generally, homosexuality is not condoned in rural and urban Madagascar. However, homosexuality appears to be legal in Madagascar with 21years as the age of consent. Neither homosexuality nor sodomy are mentioned in the criminal laws of Madagascar. Nevertheless the government is actively engaged in curbing sex tourism with punishment for prostitution and pornography.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Allen, Philip M. Madagascar: Conflicts of Authority in the Great Island. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.

Hellier, Chris. “Malagasy Melting Pot: Photojournalist Chris Hellier Takes Us on a Tour around Madagascar to Meet Some of the Country's 18 Ethnic Groups.” Geographical : the Royal Geographical Society Magazine (August 2000): 14-25.

Jolly, Alison. A World Like Our Own. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980.

Krabacher, T., Kalipeni, E. and Layachi, A. Global Issues: Africa. Dubuque, Iowa: McGraw-Hill Contemporary Learning Series, 2008, p. 74-76.

Mack, John. Madagascar: Island of the Ancestors. London: British Museum Publications Ltd., 1986.

Nelson, Harold D. Area Handbook for the Malagasy Republic. Washington, D. C.: The American University, 1973.

Sandler, Bea. The African Cookbook. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1993.

Stratton, Arthur. The Great Red Island. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964.

Webster, Donovan. “I was caught in Madagascar. Peddled for 30 cents. Smuggled to Orlando. Sold for $10,000. I'm rare, coveted tortoise—coldblooded contraband.” The New York Times Magazine, 16 February 1997.

Wilson, Peter J. Freedom by Hair's Breadth: Tsimihety in Madagascar. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan, 1992.

World Beat. Societe Malagache de Reproduction du Son et De L'Image. Songs compiled by Stephane De Comarmond. Compact disc.

—revised by E. Kalipeni

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