Mpanandro Malagasy

The Guardians of Malagasy Tradition and Spirituality.

Madagascan Mpanandro, or traditional astrologers, play a central role in the cultural and spiritual life of Madagascar’s communities. Their knowledge, handed down from generation to generation, encompasses astrology, divination and knowledge of lunar calendars.
In outlying areas, they are widely consulted for a multitude of reasons, from planning important events such as the Famadihana and Fanambadiana to seeking spiritual advice. In short, Mpanandro are seen as priests à la Malagasy. This article explores the role, importance and practices of Mpanandro in contemporary Malagasy society.

Role and functions of Mpanandro in a community :

Spiritual Advisors :

In Malagasy society, Mpanandro play a crucial role as spiritual advisors. They are consulted to determine the auspicious or inauspicious days for various activities such as weddings, house-building, the start of journeys and religious ceremonies. Their expertise is based on knowledge of lunar calendars and astrological positions, enabling them to guide individuals and families towards favorable choices while avoiding bad omens.

The Mpanandro calculate auspicious days according to lunar age, taking into account the 28 destinies. They master the cycle of the new moon and the last quarter, as well as the division of the twelve months of the year (tonon’andro) and the various destinies (tonom-bintana), whether positive, favorable or unfortunate.

During each consultation, the Mpanandro take into account the person’s birth destiny, distinguishing between major destinies (renivintana) and minor destinies (zana-bintana). In the case of marriage, they also check that the partners’ fates are not opposed. Based on this information, they determine the most opportune days for each event.

Healers and mediums :

In addition to their role as astrologers, some Mpanandro are also healers and mediums. They use divinatory practices to diagnose illness, interpret dreams and communicate with ancestors. This spiritual dimension is essential in Malagasy culture, where respect for ancestors and connection with the spiritual world are deeply rooted.

In Malagasy society, healing is not limited to physical illness; some people can be affected spiritually. For example, a person with a series of failed projects may be considered to have been born under a bad sign, known locally as “teraka Alakaosy”. These people often consult a Mpanandro to repair their fate, through a process called “Manarim-bitana”, aimed at erasing bad luck and improving their destiny.

Guardians of Tradition :

The Mpanandro are also the guardians of ancient traditions and knowledge. Their knowledge of ancestral myths, legends and rituals makes them central figures in the preservation of Malagasy cultural identity. They play a crucial role in traditional ceremonies such as famadihana (turning over the dead), where their blessing is often sought to ensure that the rites run smoothly.

In the central highlands, there are many Mpanandro whose bodies are no longer considered their own property. Unlike the Tromba, where the spirit temporarily inhabits the body, the spirit of these Mpanandro resides permanently in their body, continuing to teach, share or heal the individuals who consult them. Often, these Mpanandro may be in the body of a child or young adult, but possess a much more mature and imposing spirit. You may encounter one if you visit the sacred hills of Madagascar.

Importance of the Mpanandro in Malagasy society :

Social and Cultural Influence :

The Mpanandro occupy an important place in Malagasy society and hierarchy. Their influence often extends beyond the family to the entire community. Their opinions are respected and followed, and they play an active role in collective decision-making. In the villages, for example, no major event is planned without their prior consultation. In the remote villages of Madagascar, village chiefs are also chosen or elected with the consent of the Mpanandro.

Strengthening community ties :

By promoting ancestral traditions and values, the Mpanandro strengthen community ties. They play a key role in social cohesion, ensuring that rites and customs are respected. Their presence ensures cultural continuity, uniting past and present generations in a shared vision of the world.

With their know-how and knowledge of ancient knowledge, the Mpanandro can impose laws and practices that the Malagasy must follow. Taboos and fady are also often dictated by the Mpanandro. For example, the prohibition on eating onions or garlic, described by the Mpanandro, has been transformed over time into taboos and fady.

Cultural resilience :

In a constantly changing world, the Mpanandro symbolize cultural resilience. They adapt their practices to contemporary realities while preserving the essence of traditional knowledge. Their ability to evolve while maintaining the foundations of their beliefs demonstrates the flexibility and vitality of Malagasy culture.

Malagasy Practices and Rituals :

Astrological consultation :

Astrological consultations with the Mpanandro often involve analysis of lunar and planetary positions to determine auspicious days. Individuals come seeking advice for specific events, and the Mpanandro provide recommendations based on their traditional calculations and interpretations.

Rites of Healing :

Healing rites are another important facet of Mpanandro work. Using medicinal plants, incantations and rituals, they treat both physical and spiritual illnesses. Their holistic approach takes into account the interconnection between body, mind and soul.

Divination and Dream Interpretation :

Divination and dream interpretation are common practices among the Mpanandro. Through these methods, they provide advice on personal or community matters, helping to navigate the uncertainties of daily life. Dreams are seen as messages from ancestors or spirits, and their interpretation is crucial to understanding the signs of fate.

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