Tuesday, July 1, 2014


With something like 18 hours left in this small town waiting for my bus to arrive I thought it best to take the opportunity to buy supplies for the jungle and take time to write down some of the things I've learned about Madagascar.  Perhaps the most interesting and poignant of all things to be learned from Malagasy culture is that of the fady.

The word Fady loosely translates to taboo although many people maintain that it has a much deeper meaning.  Fady are usually brought upon by a significant story or an event in nature which is relative to a specific area in Madagascar.  Because of this fady can differ greatly from region to region and as a traveler it is important to be knowledgeable about different fady in each part of the island.

I once heard a story which I feel best gives an example of fady and it goes something like this.  Although I'm not sure which part of the island this comes from there was once a village which was under attack by a neighboring clan.  The village under attack was known for keeping geese as livestock and they were found in pens everywhere around the village.  As the thieving clan attacked the village in the night the geese were startled and sounded massive alarms with their honking and the village was able to wake up in time to defend itself from their attackers.  This being said, the village to this day does not eat goose as it is considered a fady.

From region to region I have briefly encountered other fady some with similar taboos against eating a particular animal and others with deeper and stranger even at times disturbing practices like that of consuming the bodily fluids of the dead to absorb their characteristics they developed while alive.  The Malagasy people are greatly in touch with death and have a great respect for those who have died whereas death is considered to be the most important part of life.  When you leave this world your spirit continues into a better place where you will exist as long as you are remembered here on Earth.  If you are forgotten here then you no longer exist in any realm and your spirit forever vanishes.

In the northeast where I was staying last month I have learned about funeral practices where the dead are uneartheed something like one or two years after death and the bones and cleaned and reburied in a new vessel.  There is actually a holiday to commemorate the dead in this region which is vaguely similar to something like Dia de los Muertos in Mexico where the dead are also celebrated.  On this day the lives of the deceased are remembered with both joy and sorrow and at night there is a great feast accompanied with rum, khat and large amounts of marijuana as it is considered sacred to transform your mind into deep and personal memory of the dead in an altered state.  I have even heard before that in particular parts of this region all of the women of the village spontaneously and simultaneously fall into deep mourning and crying and immediately after they change into laughing and dancing as tribal drums change the direction of emotion.

Another form of fady comes with certain days of the week.  In some villages people will wear colors specific to days of the week and in others the village is named after the day of the week upon which the marketplace is open.  I'm not too sure about the details to which day is which.  On some days it is fady to have a funeral and on others it is appropriate to have a wedding.

Circumcision is an imporant part of a young man's life here and it is usually performed by the grandfather.  In some parts of the island the foreskin is eaten by the grandfather and in others I have heard the foreskin is placed in the barrel of a shotgun and fired into the sky as it is the best way to reach heaven.

In places I have passed through surrouned by thick jungle there are many beliefs concerning spirits of nature.  One place believes in a small forest man who enters your house when your not looking and steals your rice while another place believes that certain trees are sacred and they are to be decorated with artifacts belonging to former deceased village chiefs. 

Some fady do not fit into sanitary favor as in certain parts of the island it is fady to urinate in the same place more than once thus leaving a foul smell in the air when it is hot.  As anyone who has traveled in Madagascar would know it seems that public urination is not really frowned upon so long as it is not done on a walking path.  I have actually seen countless times people urinating in front of me while in mid conversation.

It seems that while many traditions still hang on many have been lost in meaning perhaps due to the many years of occupation from various different countries.  I've been intrigued for a long time about the bold white facepaint found on young village women and sometimes men however nobody seems to know the meaning of it anymore, they simply tell me it is a Malagasy tradition.  Perhaps the faicepaint comes from a tradition similar to other parts of Africa where mating rituals were performed and faces were painted as a sign of beauty and those with the best designs attracted the best partners. 

I spend my nights watching the sun fall into the rolling green mountains like an egg cracking her yoke onto the nothingness of things.  Perhaps overly poetic, yet the beauty of this island is absolutely incomprehensible.  I never in a million years imagined that I would be spending so much time wandering the forests and coasts of Madagascar in search of wisdom and beauty yet here I am halfway through my exploration and busting at the seams with marvel.  I know deep inside that my experience here will never be able to find its way into conversation appropriately and even as I write these words I feel that I have only scratched a tiny percent of the surface to all that I have seen here.  As I say that I realize that these experiences are for me to enjoy for the rest of my life and I know that my travels have taken a whole new definition as I wander deeper through the far corners of this amazing planet. 

1 comment:

  1. Awesome info. Will definitely use this in my classroom today.
    Chux. enjoy your journey through the unknown world.