Populated at the end of the first millennium and Terra Incognita for the Europeans until the sixteenth century, Madagascar nurtured the development of a unique civilization influenced by various factors. The daily life, the customs, the arts, the common language with its multitudes of ethnical variations is the expression an infinite diversity. A traveling exhibition entitled “Malagasy, who are you?” has stated the enigma of the Malagasy people. Just as their country, the Malagasy people are to be discovered, far beyond their legendary smile.
THE REVIVED PALACE
The compound of the “Rova” of Antananarivo has been dominating the skyline of the city for over 400 years. All successive monarchs have built a personalized residence to mark their reign, including Manjakamiadana (where it is nice to reign) commonly called the Queen’s Palace. The reconstruction works of this monument destroyed by the fire started in 2006, respecting all its architectural specificities and the international regulations on historical monuments’ rehabilitation.
When the interior (representing 20% of the work) is completed, the Queen’s Palace will reintegrate its position as a Cultural and Historical epicenter.
THE ROVA OF AMBOHIMANGA
Located 21 km North of Antananarivo, The Rova of Ambohimanga is a sacred hill, used by the great kings and queens as a secondary residence. The site is considered one of the 7 wonders of Madagascar. As a sacred hill (Vohitra Masina), it preserves and displays the spirit and wisdom of the Malagasy people who managed to combine environment and culture. Consisting of architectural ensembles and cultural landscapes, it also correlates events, traditions and beliefs, which, still carry a universal significance.
In December 2001, The Rova of Ambohimanga was classified as an UNESCO World Heritage site.
THE GREAT RITUALS
All regions of Madagascar have their own ritual proceedings. In the highlands, Alahamady celebrates the Malagasy New year from a lunar calendar, which counts 12 months of 28 days each. The bathing of the royal relics is an important tradition for the Sakalavas from the Boina and Menabe regions. The Fanompoambe is characteristic of the Boina, and the Fitampoha of the Menabe; the latter is performed on the banks of the Tsiribihina River. The Antakaranas from the North perform the “Tsanga Tsainy”, a photographers’ delight. Another spectacular tradition is the collective circumcision called Savatse by the Vezos from Anketrake in Tuléar, and Sambatra by the Antambahoaka from Mananjary. All these events are great moments of authenticity, whereby all rites inherited from the ancestors are scrupulously observed.
THE PEOPLE OF SAINTE MARIE AND THE WHALES
The people from Sainte Marie used to be fearless whale hunters; the hunting was performed more for the glory than for subsistence. When the pirogues left, nursing women would separate from their babies, so that at sea, mother whales would do the same. Upon their return, fishermen would be triumphantly greeted by women shouting “nahazo rahavavy izahay !” (We have a new sister!).
Today, the people of Saint-Marie consider whales as relatives and deities, which they refer to as “Zagnahary Be”. And each year, the whales express mutual consideration by traveling 5000km from Antartica to visit them, from July to September.
THE OTHER FACE OF NOSY BE
The Perfume Island is a pivot point for the Sakalava culture and history. Planted in a place that marked the life of the queen Tsiomeko, the Sacred Tree is a place of worship and offerings where red and white fabrics are dominant. To visit it, one must wear a waistcloth. Ambanoro, now covered in vegetation, used to be the second capital of Nosy Be, following Tafondro and before Hellville. Other sites of cultural interest include the ruins of the fortified city of Mahilaka, or the Mahabos: a collection of royal tombs with the Northeastern side always free from any construction to allow the spirits to wander free…
THE AWAKENING ASSOCIATIONS
The Awakening Association or “Fifohazana” is a Christian revival movement. One of the most famous is the one from Ankaramalaza, in the Manakara region (Southeast of Madagascar). During its yearly pilgrimage, it gathers over 20.000 people from the entire island and even from abroad.
Soatanana, in the South West of Fianarantsoa, is a center or “Toby” for a Fifohazana Association that is open to visitors. The village has a particular atmosphere with all its inhabitants uniformly dressed in white, from the school children to the elders who decorate their hats with a white ribbon for the great occasions…
Like the Santa-bary in the region of Antananarivo, the Volambetohaka in the region of Amoron’i Mania near Ambositra celebrates the first grains of rice, but it usually is extend beyond a simple celebration. It consists of several days of celebration and gathering, when all natives make an effort to come back to their homeland. Amoron’i Mania then shows the richness of its cultural heritage through bullfighting, children’s choreographies, the traditional hairstyle contest and the verbal sparring match. But the Volambetohaka’s strong feature is the “Velantsihy”, a common meal taken on hundreds of mats (tsihy), laid side by side on the floor. Impressive…
THE MALAGASY AND RICE
Work in the rice fields is hard but labor is carefully distributed between men, women and zebus. The traditional stomping or “revorevo” is still performed in the countryside, turning men and animals into strange statues of mud. During harvest, sheaf are slammed on a hard surface to release the paddy that will be left to dry before it is given to the women to be grained.
Rice is not only found on tables, but also in proverbs and other popular expressions. For example, “Love is like rice, transplanted elsewhere, it will keep growing” is one of these graphic sayings!
THE MALAGASY AND THE ZEBU
The humped cattle is a typical image of Madagascar. The sacrificial victim of many great demonstrations, its meat is not shared to fill the stomachs - as the speeches will stress - but to seal the “Fihavanana”, which is the cardinal virtue of the Malagasy social life. Zebu is even present in death: skulls cover the tombs of the Deep South to show the rank of the departed. Everything in the zebu is useful and valuable: its quiet strength for plowing and towing, its skin for crafts, its horns for the “ranomena”, a potion used for countless purposes, its meat for food, and its sacrifice to attract the favors of the ancestors…
The national dish is undoubtedly the “romazava”, a delicious stew containing a large range of leaves. Also very popular are the shredded cassava leaves with pork or “ravitoto sy hena kisoa”, which are always served during themed dinners. Coconut Chicken, fried tilapia, or stuffed eel are some of the delicacies appreciated in Malagasy family gatherings. These gatherings are an occasion to cook the tasteful grain-fed poultry or prepare pork and beef cooked together to make the rich “kisomby ». All these “laoka” as the Malagasy call them are served with rice. Many varieties are available, but the red rice or “rojo mena” with its nutty flavor is exclusive to Madagascar.
THE WONDERS OF HANDICRAFT
Madagascar is renowned for the talent of its artisans. Some localities are now identified through their specialties, like Ampanihy and its magnificent mohair carpets, or Ambatolampy and its cast iron saucepans and sculptures. But the prime localities are along the National Road 7: Ambositra, located 258 kilometers from Antananarivo, is the capital of marquetry, thanks to its proximity to the Zafimaniry people and their long tradition of forestry and woodworks. Or Ambalavao, which specializes in “Arindrano” Betsileo fabrics and the handmade “antemoro paper”.
It is hard not to mention the raw silk, also called wild silk, which is used for fashion accessories, interior decoration but also fashionable clothing for men or women….
TRADITIONAL GAMES AND RECREATION
Fanorona is a very popular strategy game opposing two players, each with 22 pieces. Observers are allowed to give their toro or advise, but it is up to the player to follow them or not.
In contrast with the quiet concentration required for playing this game, Savika is a form of killing-free bullfighting, which is deeply rooted in the Betsileo culture.
Either gripping the horns or the hump, the bullfighter’s goal is to infuriate the bull and wear it down. Injuries are common and the bullfighters boast them with pride: the zebu will never be considered as an enemy, but some sort ofvbig toy which has to be handled with care…
Three Festivals stand out, thanks to their national extent and their growing international fame. The most recent one is Angaredona, which focuses on traditional music, and shares the treasures of this heritage.
Madajazzcar was created in 1988 to allow the encounter of Jazzmen from Madagascar and the rest of the world.
Lastly, Donia, inseparable from the Island of Nosy Be, needs no introduction. It was created in 1994 by a small group of tour operators and quickly became the biggest Tropical Music Festival in the Indian Ocean. Donia is a celebration of life, which is its actual meaning in the Sakalava dialect…