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7 Malagasy Traditions – Customs in Madagascar

Madagascar is one of Africa’s most exotic countries, here are seven Malagasy beliefs to give you some insight into their culture.

Burying the Umbilical Cord

After a baby is born, the midwife presents the father with the umbilical cord and attached placenta. Traditionally, it is his responsibility to bury them under a flat stone at the entrance of the ancestral home. In modern times in urban areas, it is buried somewhere around the house in an area unlikely to be affected by any form of pollution. When burying the umbilical cord, the father does not turn his head. This burial represents the continuation of family lineage. In Malagasy beliefs, a newborn whose umbilical cord is lost or not buried correctly will grow up to be a forgetful adult.

Cutting a Baby’s Hair After 3 Months

When a Malagasy baby is three months old, it will undergo ‘ala-volo’ – a hair cutting ceremony. A person in the family who has beautiful hair (a ‘tso-bolo’) is invited to cut the baby’s hair and place it on a large bowl or plate. The hair is then mixed with tuberous roots, such as sweet potato, and honey. The family members then eat this mixture. This ceremony is carried out to fully initiate the baby into society.

All Houses Should Face West

When a Malagasy person builds a house, in line with rituals and cultural customs, the house should face west. Belief states that the best sunshine is in the afternoon so houses should open up facing west. In the traditional building process, the eastern side of the house has no windows or doors. Doors and windows face north due to the blessings associated with this direction.

The Head of the Bed must Face North

In order to initiate the flow of positive energies throughout the house, everything has to be in its correct place. The north is the point where power meets holiness. According to Malagasy belief, the north sends happiness and wealth. Therefore, the parents’ bed should be positioned with the head facing north.

Traditional Engagement

Every couple, before getting married, need to have a traditional engagement. The first step of this ceremony is known as ‘vodiondry’ or ‘lamb’s rump’ which is a Malagasy couple’s formal engagement. The groom is invited to introduce himself to the bride’s family and formally ask for her hand in marriage. He also presents gifts to the bride’s parents and siblings.

Picking Up Your Spoon After an Elder

Respecting one’s elders is a Malagasy custom that is still strictly upheld, especially in the rural areas. During mealtimes, no one can pick up their cutlery until the elder does. Once they have started eating, the rest of the family can start eating too.

No Funerals on a Thursday

In Malagasy belief, every day of the week is favourable for a particular purpose. Thursday is the first day in the Malagasy calendar and is considered the best day to start anything you want to last, such as house building. In the same way, Thursday are not considered a good day to have a funeral because it may become the starting point of continuing deaths in the family.

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