Madagascar, The Island of Friendly Indigenous Peoples
Discover the Island
Madagascar is a real heaven for nature lovers keen to go trekking! One first example: the Lokobe nature reserve is a protected area that shows the remains of the rainforest that previously covered the whole Island. The volcanic lakes are the perfect habitat for crocodiles, and the hills and mountains are the incredible backdrops of this unique place.
Lemurs running over a branch
More: there are approximately 950 hectares of Mangroves that host a rich community of crustaceans and mollusks. Here also lives the smallest frog and the smallest chameleon in the world! Even the state road has a high natural value: is known as the “Avenue des Baobab” and connects the municipality of Morondava with Belo Sur Tsiribinhina with it’s is 198 km length. It is known all over the world for the breath-taking Baobabs living along its path, which are centuries old and considered as a Natural Monuments. Moreover, UNESCO enlisted in the world's heritage list two of Malagasy natural patrimonies: the Rainforests of the Atsinanana and Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve. The bay of Antsianana is the second largest in the world.
Avenue of Baobab trees
That said, if trekking is not your cup of tea, the Madagascan famous white sand beaches are worldwide recognized, and Nosy Be could be the right location for you.
Madagascar, however, is not only famous for its outstretched white sand beaches and palms, lemurs, orchids, and baobab trees: it is also home to some of unique tribes in the world, with at least 18 different indigenous groups. Wrapped around legends, myths, and traditions, the Mikea, the Antandroy, and the Sakalava are part of the intangible heritage of this exceptional country. They are today the living memory of millennial traditions and the Madagascan folklore. In this article, you will learn some curiosities about these three tribes that you can visit with Nomadic Tribe and better prepare your trip!
Discover three Malagasy tribes. Folklore and Resilience to keep traditions alive.
MIKEA - The secret to life is hidden deep in the desert’s ground
"Wheelbarrow Fun" by Rod Waddington is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0.
Mikea people, a group of Malagasy-speaking horticulturalists and foragers, inhabit the Mikea Forest, mixed spiny forest and dry deciduous forest area along the coast of southwestern Madagascar. Curious about Mikea way of life and their temperament? Let’s discover something together!
- The Mikea people live in what is considered one of the most hostile environments in the world, a desert. Due to these conditions, they were sure they could live in peace; far away from cities and urbanization and continuing their traditional lifestyle.
- "Mikea" literally means "who doesn't want to be sued". That is why The Mikea concept is a flight from modernity and its constraints. It's a rebellion against civilization.
- During the 60s, researchers, and anthropologists tried to approach the communities, pushed by their curiosity, and encouraged by the numerous legends regarding them. They discovered friendly people that adapted entirely to the territory and the harsh weather. The Mikeas are known to be hunter-gatherers who have become breeders and farmers: every day, and they're going through about 10 km on foot for food.
- Mikea people could go on for days (or even weeks!) without drinking any water, thanks to a yam called Baboho, which grows in the sand of this desert at 2 meters deep in the ground. These have plenty of water in them, and they are prepared in different ways from jelly jams or even raw, giving the hydration that the Mikea need to survive.
- Music plays an important role both in their social and spiritual life. They still use traditional musical instruments such as the musical bow on the gourd, the seven-stick xylophone and the rattle.
- The Mikeas are known to make masks, that is rare in Madagascar, using human teeth and hair. Quite scaring no?!
Read more about Mikea tribe in our tribes section.
ANTANDROY - Ancestors dictate the community’s laws and everyday life
"Antandroy traditional dancing" by Woodlouse is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0.
The Antandroy are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group of Madagascar inhabiting the arid southern part of the Island called Androy.
They are well known for their taboos called “Fady”, which are prohibitions imposed by the ancestors, but also the “Fombas”, obligations and traditional customs to follow to avoid insulting the ancestors. These can be considered as a sort of “laws” and moral values. Some Fady and Fombas are observed to this day, and it is common courtesy for visitors to follow them. Let's dive right in and discover some of the most curious ones that you can quickly adapt (and surprise your host family!)
- Some specific places are considered fady: these are generally sacred, and it is forbidden to build on its ground.
- Turtle isn't on an Antandroy menu, since eating them is considered insulting to the ancestors. Stories about why this is forbidden are numerous, and each community has its version! This also applies to snakes, cats, dogs, cows without horns, and onion.
- Curiously enough, some fady apply to bananas. In some villages, the fruit is considered sacred. The legend states that a family found an abandoned baby sleeping in the trunk of a banana tree, floating down a river, and bringing luck to his adopting family.
- Astronomy plays to this day a vital role to determine if a baby will be born on a lucky or unlucky day. Some babies have been abandoned in the past; however, this is not the custom anymore. Fady also applies to some weeks' days, Monday is usually a rest day.
- Comparing someone to a dog is not only an insult but a potent "fombas". If someone compares a person to a dog, a cow will probably be sacrificed to cancel this insult.
Read more about Antandroy tribe in our tribes section.
SAKALAVA - Spirit possession to seek guidance
Native Malagasy Sakalava girls
The Sakalava are one of the smaller ethnic group of Madagascar, constituting about 6% of the total population. They live in the western and northwest region of the Island, in a band along the coast. Their name means "people of the long valleys.". What about their traditional customs?
- The cult of possession started within the Sakalava monarchical systems is known as Tromba. The king had divine rights, had life and death powers over people together with healing powers. After death, he became even more powerful, as he was destined to return to his people through Tromba possession.
- Today’s Tromba, are generally considered to be the work of an ancient ruler’s spirit possessing someone to bestow blessings, advice or remedies for diseases. Most frequently, the possessed are generally women, often single or with fertility issues. Usually the possession is preceded by a state of trance, or even it manifests itself through a dream. After these first signs, some public ceremonies are organised to allow the spirit to express itself. The possessed will be blessed and officially appointed by the village's medium to learn the use of medicinal plants.
- Other ancient customs are called "Doanys", where bones of deceased kings of the Sakalava are kept. The mortal remains are brought back into the circle of the living in a ceremony called Fitampoha, the annual purification of a dynasty's sacred relics. Relics are washed in the river and brought back to Doany.
- No surprise if Malagasy tombs are always better built than homes! The Sakalava tribe don't build tombs but bury in uniquely graves decorated with erotic wooden sculptures. They believe that, when the wood disintegrates the soul, is finally free to govern the living again.
Read more about Sakalava tribe in our tribes section.
NOMADIC TRIBE TEAM
Cover photo Traditional fishing village, Madagascar