Cultural expedition

A country like no other

Whether you’re a journalist, scientist, or simply interested in discovering Madagascar and its customs, or the various cultures that compose it, you’re in the right place. Thanks to its cosmopolitan population, Madagascar offers a diversity of cultural practices that may surprise you: knowledge, beliefs, and religions inherited from several ethnicities coming from all corners of the globe. Vivy Travel offers you the opportunity to discover: Famadihana or the turning of the dead, Tromba, Ody and Sampy, Hira Gasy and Kabary, and Savika. 

Famadihana or the turning of the dead :

Practiced by Malagasy people starting from the month of July, Famadihana, specific to the highlands (practiced by the Merina and Betsileo ethnic groups), exists in other forms among other ethnicities (Bara, Betsimisaraka, Sakalava, Mahafaly, etc.). Famadihana is not strictly speaking a turning of the dead, but it can involve grooming or dressing the remains of the deceased, or even transferring them from a temporary tomb to a permanent location. In many cases, the need to practice Famadihana always begins with a dream: a woman has dreamt of the ancestor at the edge of her bed, complaining of being cold in their tomb, feeling neglected by their descendants or the Zanadrazana. Family leaders then consult “the Mpanandro,” the diviner-astrologer, who sets the day of Famadihana, etymologically the day of passage from one life to another. With prior organization, you can directly witness this spectacle during your homestay in Madagascar, but this type of trip requires extremely advanced planning and booking, as the date of Famadihana is only set by the Mpanandro, at least if you wish to attend the ceremony from the beginning.

The Tromba :

The tromba is a possession ritual particularly found in the west, north, Imerina, and southeast of Madagascar. Regardless of the form of tromba, the possessed is always incarnated by a deceased king or an ancestor who holds great power over the family and speaks through their mouth to advise the living. The possessed, especially among the Sakalava, were allies of the kings. Through them, the deceased and prestigious kings legitimized and strengthened their power. Thus, through them, ancestors gave their approval, in a way, to any decision, especially political or military. They could also challenge the king’s decisions and even question his legitimacy. They were then the reflection, consciously or unconsciously, of internal conflicts that could not be openly expressed. Just like with Famadihana, it is entirely possible to encounter individuals possessed by tromba and converse with them to hear their story, or witness their appearance and exchanges with the people who invoke them. However, this also requires prior organization because, as they say, kings always require a request for an audience and the exchange of gifts to be called upon.

The Ody and Sampy :

The ody are amulets meant to ward off diseases and bring prosperity, ensure abundant harvests, and guarantee the fertility of women, among other purposes as needed. Some are also used by social groups rather than individuals; they are then called Sampy. The ody and sampy are intended to assist a specific person or group of people in fulfilling their mission to the best of their ability. In many practices, foreigners are prohibited from seeing the sampy. However, to avoid surprises and disappointments, know that they are small amulets made of pieces of wood wrapped in cloth, some glass beads, or animal remains. Despite their modest appearance, they hold great importance for their wearer. You may often encounter them during your cultural journey in Madagascar, as they come in all shapes and sizes.

The Hira Gasy and Kabary :

Two forms of popular oratory from the highlands of Madagascar, Hira Gasy and Kabary, also hold great importance in society and culture. Hira Gasy is a moralizing spectacle that extols the virtues that everyone should cultivate through examples drawn from Lovantsofina, an oral tradition, daily life, or even the Bible. Historically, Hira Gasy were educational spectacles aimed at enlightening the people. Love, work, and mutual assistance are recurring themes, and the words often invoke “ohabolana,” proverbs of popular wisdom.As for Kabary, inscribed in 2021 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, it is a poeticized discourse declaimed before an audience, a highly structured speech composed of proverbs, maxims, rhetorical figures, and wordplay. This ritual oratorical style was initially used by leaders to inform the community about social events and administrative decisions. Over time, it has been adopted by communities for communication and has become an inseparable element of social life in Madagascar, whether during festivities, funerals, official ceremonies, or popular demonstrations.

The Savika :

Practiced mainly by the Betsileo ethnic group, Savika is a form of masculine show of strength in the eyes of their family, especially to impress the young girls of the village. This ancestral practice, almost akin to an extreme sport, sees young men from the Betsileo community facing off against zebus. Often organized during weddings, circumcisions, and funeral ceremonies, Savika has now become a spectacle of strength that attracts as much crowd as modern sports. It also serves as a means to foster a very powerful bond between generations.Savika is practiced bare-handed, and contrary to what one might think, the zebu is not killed. In Malagasy practice, it is forbidden to kill a zebu unless it is to feed one’s family. The animal can also be sacrificed during ceremonies often related to death. But apart from its food function, the animal provides valuable labor for farmers.