Malagasy refer to themselves and their language as Malagasy and their country as Madagasikara. French speakers refer to the people and the language as Malgache and the nation as Madagascar.
Identification. The official name of the country is the Republic of Madagascar ( Repoblikan'i Madagasikara ). The extent to which Malagasy from different regions view themselves as sharing a unified culture is context dependent. In terms of international politics, they see themselves as Malagasy unless they are recent immigrants or members of one of the minority populations (i.e., Chinese, Indo-Pakistani, and Comorian). Domestically, however, in the political arena, there is a significant degree of regionalism that is loosely based on ethnicity.
A common regional division is between those ethnic groups living on the high plateau and the côtiers , who inhabit coastal areas (or live outside of the high plateau region). Historically, the largest ethnic group is the Merina located on the high plateau. The traditions of this group (e.g., turning the bones of the dead) represent many Malagasy, and are often portrayed in tourist documents as the primary island traditions. However, people who live in some outlying coastal regions do not identify with or observe these traditions. The highland/ côtier division can be understood in terms of the historical domination by the Merina Empire, which was originally centered on Imerina (the current capital Antananarivo).
There are some common cultural practices that all Malagasy share. Consulting with, and reflecting upon, dead ancestors ( razana ) guides the living in making choices about social, moral, and religious aspects of everyday life. The building and maintenance of tombs and observance of religious ceremonies related to ancestors are central to the way of life for most Malagasy. Another important commonality is that kinship terminology is consistent across different ethnic groups.
Location and Geography. Madagascar is located off the eastern coast of southern Africa in the Indian Ocean along the Mozambique Channel. It is the fourth largest island in the world with a landmass of 226,498 square miles (586,889 square kilometers) which includes its offshore islands. It is one thousand miles long (1,609 kilometers).
Regional ethnic divisions loosely coincide with geographically distinct locations. To some extent internal migration has resulted in sharing some customs such as spirit possession ( tromba ). The West Coast is characterized by deciduous trees on dry, open savanna grassland sloping toward the sea. It was once, like much of the island, thickly forested. Sakalava is the dominant ethnic group in this region. They are involved in agriculture fishing, and cattle herding. The East Coast consists of several narrow bands of lowlands that lead to an intermediate zone of steep bluffs and ravines abutting a 1650 foot escarpment which provides access to the central highlands. The Betsimisaraka, the second largest ethnic group, is the most numerous group pursuing trading, seafaring, fishing, and cultivation. The Southwest is defined by the Ivakoany Massif to the east and by the Isala Roiniforme Massif to the north and includes the Mahafaly Plateau and the desert region. The arid southwest is inhabited by Antandroy and Mahafaly who pursue cattle raising and limited cultivation. The northern end of the island features the Tsaratanana Massif with an elevation of 9,500 feet. The coastline is very irregular. The Antankarana inhabiting this region are involved in cattle raising and tropical horticulture. The High Plateau (Central Highlands) contains a wide range of topographies: round eroded hills,
Demography. Madagascar's total estimated population in 1998 was 14,462,509. In 1998, the age structure of the population was 45 percent between 0-14 years; 52 percent 15-64 years; and 3 percent over 65 years. The annual population growth rate is 2.81 percent. Life expectancy at birth is 51.7 years for men and 54.1 years for women. The fertility rate is 5.76 children born per woman. The average population density is 36 inhabitants per square mile. Over 18 ethnic groups live on the island including: Merina 26.1 percent; Betsimisaraka 14.9 percent; Betsileo 12.0 percent; Tsimihety 7.2 percent; Sakalava 5.8 percent; Antandroy 5.3 percent; Antaisaka 5.0 percent; Tanala 3.8 percent; Antaimoro 3.4 percent; Bara 3.3 percent; Sihanaka 2.4 percent; Antanosy 2.3 percent; and Mahafaly, Antaifasy, Makoa, Bezanozano, Antakarana, Antambahoaka (less than 2 percent each).
Linguistic Affiliation. The official language of Madagascar is Standard Malagasy (Malagasy Official). This language can be traced to the Malayo-Polynesian language family. Standard Malagasy taken from the Merina dialect was the first dialect to be written in Latin characters and is considered the literary dialect. The most similar language found outside of Madagascar is Ma'anyan, a language spoken in Borneo. Both Malagasy and Ma'anyan are similar to languages spoken on the western Indonesian archipelago. There are twenty-two dialects of Malagasy. Many of the dialects borrow from Bantu languages, Swahili, Arabic, English, and French. The government claims that all Malagasy can speak the Standard dialect because that is what is taught in schools. However, given the multiple array of dialects, and varying levels of literacy depending on the degree of isolation of an area, one cannot assume that the Malagasy from one region can understand the dialects spoken in other regions.
French emerged as the dominant language during the colonial period (1896–1960) and Malagasy became secondary. In 1972 Malagasy returned to prominence in education and related cultural changes led to the rejection of French influence. However, by 1982 it was evident that the "Malagachization" of society was failing and the government began to use French again. Today both Malagasy and French are used in government publications. Comorian, Hindi, and Chinese are also spoken by some immigrants.
Symbolism. The flag, divided into three colors, is considered a national symbol and is found in all government buildings. A white rectangle, representing purity, is located on the left horizontal axis. Smaller red and green rectangles, signifying sovereignty and spirit, are placed on the horizontal axis, red over green. The motto is "Fatherland, Revolution, Freedom." The president is a symbol of national unity or ray aman-dreny (father and mother of the nation). The national anthem, Ry tanindrazanay malala ("Oh, My Beautiful Country that I Love"), is written in Malagasy Official. The song is intended to inspire sentiment and loyalty.
Emergence of the Nation. The Malagasy people are of mixed Malayo-Indonesian and African-Arab ancestry. It is generally accepted that the first migrants appeared between 1,500 and 2,100 years ago. One migration theory asserts that what is considered the Malagasy mix arrived already blended having followed a coastal route over a long period with stops in India, the Arab peninsula, and eastern Africa. Another theory contends that the common elements the people share were developed from interactions over a period of time after the arrival of various immigrants groups.
National Identity. Malagasy history has been marked by both international and domestic tensions, some of which are present in contemporary society. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century there were four main kingdoms: Merina, Betsileo, Betsimisaraka, and Sakalava. Friction between the Merinas, the largest ethnic group, and the other ethnic groups during the pre-colonial period eventually resulted in domination by the Merina Empire. Ethnic groups that controlled regions outside of the high plateau were classified as a single group called côtiers even though they were made up of unaligned kingdoms. Two Merina monarchs were responsible for establishing political dominance over the island: King Andrianampoinimerina (reigned 1797-1810) and his son Radama I (r. 1810-1828) who succeeded him upon his death. Radama I was forward-thinking with an interest in modernizing along western lines. He organized a cabinet and invited the London Missionary Society to establish schools. The latter action was to have far-reaching effects. Successive Merina rulers embraced or rejected advances made by France to control the island. In 1894 France declared Madagascar a protectorate, and a colony in 1896. The colonial period was marked by the vacillating popularity of French influence over Merina elites. Nationalist sentiments against the French emerged resulting in various concessions made by France to give the Malagasy people greater control. This eventually led to independence on 20 June 1960. Political tensions between the main Malagasy groups (high plateau and côtier) still exists today and are characterized by the perception that the central government does not meet the needs of the côtiers. Each of Madagascar's presidents has struggled to achieve a viable cultural balance between the acceptance of western ways of life, most notably French, and the safeguarding of traditional Malagasy customs. That which has emerged as quintessentially Malagasy in the national sense is a constantly evolving product of all of these influences.
Madagascar has a primarily rural population, with fewer people living on the west coast and more in the high plateau. The most crowded city is the capital, Antananarivo.
There are several distinct styles of architecture. A vast majority of government buildings in the capital and regional urban centers were built during the colonial period showing a French influence. However, there are two distinct traditional architectural styles evident in the country. The style of homes built on the high plateau differs markedly from homes found elsewhere due to a heavy reliance on local materials. Homes on the high plateau tend to be multistoried and are constructed of mud bricks that are plastered with a hard drying mud coat that is then painted. Verandas are often made of elaborate scrolled woodwork. The countryside in this region has homes enclosed by ancient mud walls and newly constructed brick walls. Homes in coastal regions are often built on a raised platform in areas with high rainfall and on the ground in drier areas. These homes tend to be much smaller with one or two rooms and are made of bamboo-like materials. The type of materials used signifies a past or present economic status. In most cases, manmade materials such as corrugated metal or cement are more desirable than natural materials as they last longer and signify greater prestige.
The situational aspect of homes and important buildings are considered very important. The most desirable direction for the primary roof line is north-south. Homes, cattle pens, family tombs, and the village are aligned in relation to this orientation. As recently as the 1950s it was common to find the
Food in Daily Life. Rice is the staple of the Malagasy diet. It is usually accompanied by some form of kabaka (a protein dish such as fish, meat, chicken, or beans). In some parts of the island a side dish ( romazava ) made of green leafy vegetables in broth is common. Generally, side dishes serve to add flavor to the rice rather than provide nutrients. Most Malagasy entrees are prepared in one of four ways: fried, grilled, boiled in water, or cooked with coconut juice. A spicy condiment known as lasary in Malagasy and made of chili peppers, green mangos, or lemons can be added to enhance flavor. Food is generally prepared in a kitchen that is physically separated from the main house for fire safety. Meals are served in the house, on the veranda, or on mats placed on the ground outside the house. Lunch and dinner leftovers are warmed for breakfast the following morning. Breakfast consists of rice and a tea made of local herbs or leaves and sweetened with sugar. Some alternate breakfast foods include boiled manioc, maize porridge, or fried cakes made of rice flour. Water is the usual beverage served with meals. Rano ampango (water boiled in the rice cooking pot) is sometimes served.
Food taboos ( fady ) tend to be passed down within family groups and along ethnic lines. Some fady apply to daily life and some are observed during special circumstances such as pregnancy and lactation. Fady indrazana , taboos related to ancestral lineage, link Malagasy to their ethnic groups. For example, it is fady for most Sakalava to eat pork or eel. For Antandroy, sea turtle and cows without horns are taboo. When a man and woman from different ethnic groups marry, it is common for a woman to observe both her and her husband's fady indrazana as well as the fady which apply to both ethnic groups during pregnancy and lactation.
Vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, peppers, and zucchini are available year round. Fruit such as pineapples, coconuts, oranges, mangoes, bananas, apples, and leeche are subject to seasonal availability. Although improved transportation in recent years has increased the availability of such foods to isolated regions, they are generally unaffordable on a regular basis. Therefore, although a wide variety of foods is available, a significant portion of the population remains undernourished.
Traditional Malagasy restaurants ( hotely ) offer a plate of rice with a scoop of one of several kinds of stews. The geographical location of the hotely is often an indicator of what is offered. For example, hotelys along the coast will offer fish more frequently than those in the highlands. Restaurants in most major urban centers serve European-style Malagasy, French, Chinese, and Italian cuisine. French-style baguettes, pasta, and other non-traditional Malagasy cuisine can be found in villages near urban centers.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. For ceremonial meals and special occasions, extra meat is added to stews. Depending on a family's financial ability, traditional ceremonies such as burials, reburials, circumcision, tomb building, first hair cutting, and the coming out of the house of a newborn often involve the sacrifice of at least one zebu, a local breed of hump-back cow. Many families will serve one of several local alcoholic beverages such as palm wine, grain alcohol, rum, or beer. Family and friends assemble and participate in some aspect of ceremonial preparations. A person or family's adherence to ceremonial protocol pays respect to one's ancestors. The ultimate show of prestige is the ability to provide sacrificial cattle for ceremonies. The number of cattle slaughtered indicates the level of prosperity and the intent of honoring ancestors.
Catholics attempt to observe traditional practices and Muslims observe Ramadan.
Basic Economy. Agriculture is the basis of the economy providing approximately 80 percent of exports in 1993, which in turn constitutes 33 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The other two-thirds of the GDP were comprised of industry at 15 percent and services at 52 percent. Eighty percent of the labor force was employed in the agricultural sector in 1993. The majority of the population exists at subsistence level growing rice. Just over one-half of the total landmass supports livestock but only 16 percent of land under cultivation is irrigated.
Imports from France, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United States included intermediate manufactures, capital goods, petroleum, consumer goods, and food.
Land Tenure and Property. There are two types of land tenure regimes in Madagascar: a customary system and a state system. Customary tenure systems are generally comprised of holdings and commons. Holdings consist of rice paddies or agricultural land, individual trees, and irrigation canals. Commons include pastureland, water resources (in some instances irrigation canals), and selected forest lands. State tenure systems are governed by written laws and regulations. Communities have clearly defined rules and procedures which resolve civil conflicts as well as disagreements over access to and control of resources. It is common in some places for customary and state tenure systems to be simultaneously applied. A right of passage law gives people the right to pass through private land. Recently there has been government movement toward creating local security teams to supervise adherence to land tenure laws.
Only Malagasy may own land. It is possible to lease land through either formal or informal channels. A formal lease can be short or long term and confer the indefinite right to occupy and use the land. Informal leasing commonly consists of a verbal agreement giving the user rights to the land. In return, the lessee gives one-third of the harvest or something of equivalent value to the owner. In 1984–1985, the average farm size was three acres.
Commercial Activities. Commercial activities in Madagascar vary by region. Although a significant proportion of the population lives at the subsistence level, many of these people sell modest surpluses of agricultural produce to purchase basic necessities, such as matches, soap, and petrol. Agrarian production includes coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava, beans, bananas, peanuts, and livestock.
Major Industries. A European embargo on shrimp and fin fish production in 1997, resulting from concerns about adherence to internationally approved standards of hygiene, had a devastating impact on this relatively new and growing industry.
Major industries include meat processing, soap, beer, leather, sugar, textiles, glassware, cement, automobile assembly, paper, petroleum, and tourism. Tourism was one of the fastest growing industries in the 1990s with a significant increase in the number of hotel beds available in the capital, Antananarivo, and tourist destinations. Natural resources include graphite, chromite, coal, bauxite,
Trade. Commodities exports to France, the United States, Japan, and Italy include coffee, vanilla, cloves, shellfish, sugar; and petroleum products.
Division of Labor. The division of labor by formal sector relative to gross domestic product is agriculture, 33 percent; industry, 15 percent; and services, 52 percent. The informal sector is focused primarily in agriculture.
Classes and Castes. Society consists of a small elite class whose wealth, power, and influence is several generations old; a small bourgeois class; and a large lower class. The gross national product per capita was $250 in 1997. Madagascar experienced a negative growth rate in the latter part of the twentieth century which resulted in its decline in World Bank ranking based on GNP from the thirtieth poorest country in 1979 ($290 per capita) to the tenth poorest in 1991.
Changes in society since independence have resulted in the establishment of an elite class that overlaps with the pre-independence elite (based on connections to royal lineage and French patronage). Increased importance has been placed recently on access to state power for self-enrichment, resulting in an increase in the number of people who have acquired wealth through association with government. Distinctions between the old Merina elite whose wealth was generated from private industry and the new state based côtier elite is becoming blurred.
Malagasy identify themselves in large part by their ancestry. Numerous kingdoms populated the island prior to colonization by the French. Early Merina society was divided into four cast groups: andriana (nobles), hova (commoners), and mainty and andevo (slave groups). The Sakalava kingdom included a royal caste ( ampanzaka ) and descendants of African slaves ( makoa ). During French colonial rule attempts were made to undermine the royal power of the Merina and Sakalava. Prior to colonial influences, hereditary leaders had both social and political power, but this has softened in the post-colonial period. Although living royalty is recognized in some ethnic groups such as the Sakalava, their power is now limited to the local social sphere with political power managed by state-appointed functionaries. There is a basic split within most ethnic groups between those who are descended from free men and from slaves. The closeness of specific clan groups to royalty is a highly valued form of social prestige.
The differential access to education found in Madagascar dates back to imperial times. Descendants of nobles and key common families who controlled their land, slaves, and trade dominated nineteenth century Merina society. This "Merina bourgeoisie" has been perpetuated in contemporary society as slaves became sharecroppers, investments were made in land and small business, and favored access to education was transformed to preferred placement in high government position in colonial and post-colonial governments. This bourgeois class now includes the families of highly-placed politicians of non-Merina ethnic groups involved in post-colonial politics. A key focus of the 1972 uprising was reform of the educational system. Discontent focused on a structure of privilege. Some attacked the principle of privilege while others objected to being excluded from it.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Styles of dress vary by region but primarily follow western norms with males wearing pants and shirts and females wearing dresses or skirts and blouses. It is common for women to cover their lower outer garments with a traditional wrap ( lamba ). Often an additional matching cloth will be used as a shawl to cover shoulders and head. Men may also wrap their lower half with a lamba rather than pants. A distinguishing feature of people of the high plateau is a white wrap worn for special occasions that both men and women drape over outer garments on their shoulders. Straw hats vary in style, indicating either where the hat was made or where the wearer is from.
Government. Since independence from France in 1960, Madagascar has been a democratic republic. Since independence, while the country has struggled with economic and political insecurity, Madagascar has moved from post-colonial democracy, to a transitional military government, to a socialist regime, to a parliamentary democracy. The current constitutional framework was approved on 19 August 1992. Currently the president is elected by universal suffrage to a five-year term with a two-term limit. The bicameral parliament is comprised of a senate and national assembly. The prime minister is nominate by the parliament and approved by the president. The system is one of proportional representation which has resulted in many independent
An unwritten law regarding government relates back to the côtier -high plateau split. It is understood that when a president is elected from one group, then the prime minister will be appointed from the opposing group.
The country is divided into six provinces ( faritany ) which serve as administrative subdivisions. The provinces are further divided into counties ( fivondronana ), which in turn are divided into villages ( fokontany ). The village is the smallest administrative unit, with a state-appointed president (usually already a state functionary such as a schoolteacher or nurse). The village president serves with locally appointed village elders ( rayamandreny antanana ) on a local security committee. This system of government is called the fokonolona and handles all matter of civil concerns allowing for a limited degree of self rule. Tension continues between those wanting to maintain a centralized government and those wishing to give greater power to provincial administrators in an effort to decentralize.
Contemporary political connections can be traced back to pre-colonial monarchies ruled by Merina and Sakalava kings and queens. The only kings and queens who ruled over all of Madagascar, as compared to regional kingdoms, were Merina. This "old" power was confronted with the "new" post-colonial authority of Madagascar's three presidents since independence, all of whom are côtiers born of one of the minority ethnic groups found along the coast. This resulted from a political maneuver originally influenced by the French and Merina politicians who believed that a Merina president would never survive long in office given the historical ethnic tensions between Merina and most other ethnic groups which when combined outnumber the Merina population.
Leadership and Political Officials. There are two established parties that have adequate infrastructure and financial support to gain island-wide influence. The Vanguard of the Malagasy Revolution (AREMA) was initially represented as a coalition of pro-government parties. The Committee of Living Forces (CFV) is an opposition group composed of approximately sixteen parties.
Social Problems and Control. The Malagasy Penal Code is based on the French system and has been influenced by Malagasy customary law. The most severe punishments are death and forced labor for life.
There are three levels of courts. The lower courts oversee civil and criminal cases with limited fines and sentences. The supreme court is the highest court. The court of appeals is responsible for criminal cases with sentences of five or greater years. The constitutional high court reviews laws and monitors elections. A military court oversees cases involving national security.
Conditions in the national prison system are harsh. Cells that were built for one house as many as eight prisoners. The families of prisoners must augment insufficient food rations. Street crime in larger cities, including muggings and purse snatching, is on the rise. Penalties for drug trafficking are strict and involve jail sentences and fines. Local security counsels are the focal point of smaller village level crimes where self-policing is important.
Military Activity. In 1994 the military budget was an estimated $37.6 million (U.S.) which represented approximately 1 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The military consists of about twenty thousand army, five hundred navy, one hundred marine, and five hundred air force personnel. Military service begins at 20 years of age.
A social security system reserves a portion of earned income for the retirement of every person who participates. Unfortunately, due to the subsistence nature of the economy, 96 percent of the labor force does not receive money wages, and only a small percentage of the population participates.
Since the liberalization of the economy and the strengthening of ties to the West in the early 1990s, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of foreign aid programs. A vast array of organizations have focused on environmental, health, and development issues. Environmental organizations such as Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund have dealt with the loss of habitat and species extinction through educational programs and improvements to the management of protected areas. Social welfare organizations such as Care International, Catholic Relief Services, and the Red Cross have focused on educational efforts to improve, for example, the utilization of oral rehydration salts and family planning, and provide feeding programs to the nutritionally vulnerable. Bilateral organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other foreign agencies as well as multilateral organizations such as those funded by United Nations programs (e.g., UNICEF, UNDP, and UNESCO) are also involved in similar efforts.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. Recent laws have begun to emphasize the importance of equal treatment of men and women in certain spheres. Women are to receive the same wages as their male counterparts for the same work. In the political arena, an increasing number of women from the high plateau are entering politics. Although new laws improve the rights of women, men are still given greater consideration in social and religious roles. Men are generally the primary money earners. Although women frequently engage in petty commerce to supplement their household budget, they rely upon their husband's earnings. Even though men and women are capable of participating in all forms of activities, men focus
Marriage. Traditional, civil, and church-sanctioned marriages are recognized, with one or more types applying in any given case. Regardless of the form of marriage, most unions today are formed by joint consent with the institution of arranged marriage decreasing in frequency. When a family does arrange a marriage, it is generally with the purpose of securing or strengthening familial and social relationships. Marriage patterns vary according to socioeconomic status and have political implications in that they are intended to preserve or increase wealth, power, and prestige. However, the majority of marriages are traditional in nature as are most divorces. Long after a union may have dissolved the children of that union give continued meaning to familial obligation.
Specific customs may differ by ethnic group. The Betsileo, for example, will arrange a marriage only after scrutinizing at least three generations of the family of the potential spouse. If satisfied with their findings, the family will then consult an astrologer to set a date. In the Bara, where it is common for cousins to marry, a grandmother can arrange a marriage by decree between the children of her children. Once she has died this marriage must be performed to avoid angering ancestors. For Bara a marriage is established after the sacrifice of one cow. Among some Sakalava in the northwest there is no ceremony to mark the marriage aside from moving in together.
In precolonial times polygyny was viewed as a sign of success. The institution of men maintaining more than one wife and household varies across the island and is generally refereed to as deuxieme bureau (second office) or vady aro , telo , or efetra (second, third, or fourth wife). It is estimated in some areas that more than 50 percent of adult men simultaneously maintain two or more wives and households at some point in their lives.
Divorce is a common occurrence. By the age of forty, most Malagasy have been involved in several successive marital unions. Reasons for the dissolution of marriages are fairly specific, including the infidelity of either spouse (although this does not always lead to divorce); neglect of duties as a husband (he does not provide adequate food); or neglect of duties as a wife (she does not care adequately for those in her charge or does not spend household money wisely). All property acquired during a marriage is considered the property of both and is divided equally if the union terminates.
Domestic Unit. Nuclear households usually are comprised of a male and female household head and the children from their union as well as any children fostered by either the man or woman. It is common to find single female-headed households but single male-headed households are extremely uncommon. Extended family households usually are comprised of an elder male and/or female household head, their unmarried children, and any number of grandchildren who are fostered to grandparents. When marrying, a woman tends to leave her natal home to live with her husband and his family. Some extended families may live in fenced compounds or clustered housing arrangements that house multiple family units.
The division of labor within a household is determined by age and, to some extent, by gender. Children begin playing at doing household tasks such as carrying water and collecting firewood at an early age and generally begin making modest contributions to household work by the time they reach age five. Both men and women learn to do all household tasks; however, women tend to dominate the domestic sphere, caring for family, meals, laundry, and shopping, while men dominate the professional sphere, often farming or fishing away from the home.
Inheritence. Customary inheritance practices pass land and household to male children and the contents of the household such as furnishings and jewelry along to female children. Although current law states that male and female children have equal rights to all of the family resources the cost of taking this to court is too prohibitive for most.
Customary land tenure practices traditionally resulted in land being passed from father to son. Daughters and other relatives inherited land only in the absence of sons. Although current law states that male and female children have equal rights of inheritance, it is still common for land to be given to male children.
Infant Care. Although child-rearing practices may vary somewhat by region, there are common themes between most ethnic groups. Newborn children are kept inside the house for a period of approximately seven days after birth, at which time a small ceremony is performed to celebrate the "coming out" of the child. It is common for mothers to provide foods such as tea to supplement their breast milk. To facilitate easy feedings, an infant sleeps with or near his mother and father until they are completely weaned. At that time the child begins to sleep with siblings. Children are carried on the back of their caregiver, attached by a traditional cloth ( lamba ).
Child Rearing and Education. Primary caregivers for small children are the mother and/or father. However, many children will be fostered to other family members such as a grandparent, an aunt, or an uncle from a few months to a few years or for the child's whole life. Older children in a household are generally assigned the task of looking after younger children when an adult is not available. Children are taught from an early age what they are not allowed to do. They are told stories of disobedient children who are cursed by their parents. This preserves ancestral understanding in future generations.
Ceremonies specific to childhood that are focused on life events include the first hair cutting and circumcision. An astrologer will be consulted to choose an auspicious date for these ceremonies.
Education is compulsory from age 6 to 14. This can be difficult to enforce in more remote areas where children make important contributions to the agricultural work force of the household. Education is not seen as separate from other aspects of life. Learning the wisdom of one's elders is often as highly valued, if not more so, as school-based knowledge. Children are expected to be respectful of their elders and their ancestral customs ( fomba ). Parents frequently attribute children's personality, particularly when misbehaving, to nature. Destiny, or vintana , a form of cosmology, is used to explain certain aspects of one's personality or future. It is dependent on time, days of the week, and month for interpretation. If one is born with a bad destiny, a diviner must be called upon to change it.
Higher Education. The degree to which higher education is emphasized is relative to its attainability and usefulness. There has historically been an unequal distribution of educational resources over the island which results in unequal representation in administrative and professional positions. The gradual expansion of educational opportunities has resulted in a rise in literacy from 38 percent in 1966 to 80 percent in 1991. Prior to the educational reform resulting from the 1972 uprising, a stratified educational system allowed a small proportion of students to attain a university education. Of these, many were not able to find work. As of the early 1990s, about 5 percent of the student population was able to pursue higher education. In spite of basic improvements, national spending on education has declined from 33 percent in the early 1980s to less than 20 percent in 1993, 95 percent of which was devoted to salaries.
There is some variation in etiquette between ethnic groups but there are idealized behaviors shared by many ethnic groups. With the exception of honored guests, when male and female family members eat together elder men are served first and tend to be given the choicest food. If male and female family members eat in separate groups, the eldest member of each group will be served first. These behaviors are easily identified during ceremonial meals but are much more relaxed in daily practice. Often the youngest children are served before older more dexterous children, so that they will have adequate food. Traditional social norms for interaction such as eating from a common pot that were prevalent as recently as the 1960s are beginning to give way to more Western behavior.
Religious Beliefs. An estimated 52 percent of the people hold indigenous beliefs; 41 percent are Christian (evenly divided between Roman Catholic and Protestant); and 7 percent are Muslim. However, many people hold a combination of indigenous and Christian or Muslim beliefs. The traditionally accepted supreme god is Zanahary (God on High) while Andriamanitra (the King of Heaven) is the Christian god. At the most fundamental level of traditional beliefs and social values is the relationship between the living and dead.
Religious Practitioners. A variety of traditional practitioners provide the functions of diviner, traditional healer, and/or astrologer. Clergy from either the Catholic or Protestant church are consulted alongside traditional practitioners. Illness, misfortune, financial hardships, and relationship problems are frequently connected to the discontent of ancestral spirits, making healers of all traditional practitioners.
Rituals and Holy Places. Burial tombs are a prominent feature of the landscape. The materials used vary depending on region, but the time and money used to construct and maintain them is significant and in many cases more costly than one's own household. The degree of elaboration of tombs reflects the level of privilege of the dead. People often live and work quite a distance from their ancestral tombs ( tanindrazana ) with the latter maintaining strong sentimental attachment and a desire to be buried in their natal tombs. Among the Merina and the Betsileo of the high plateau, the ceremony of famadihana is an opportunity to reaffirm one's link with ancestors. Often the deceased are buried temporarily near where they lived. Later, sometimes after many years of planning, the bones are removed from the tomb, wrapped in a new shroud, and transferred to the ancestral tomb. At that time the family decides whether to place the bones in the tomb of the mother or the father depending on group allegiance regarding descent.
Ancestral tombs are considered sacred places— particularly royal tombs. In the northwest, as elsewhere in the country, sacred places are abundant. Most villages have a sacred tree or other sacred place nearby.
Death and the Afterlife. Ancestral spirits are regarded as intermediaries between the living and either of the two supreme gods. The dead are viewed as having the power to affect the lives of the living. They are considered the most important members of the family, influencing lives on a day-to-day basis. Razana (ancestors) are the pulse of the life force and the creators of customs ( fomba ).
There is one major government hospital and at least one private hospital in each of the main provincial cities. There are health clinics staffed by nurse midwives in rural areas. In 1993, the average distance to a health clinic was at least three miles; consequently, UNICEF determined that 35 percent of the population did not have adequate access to health resources. Although there were a number of new hospitals and health care centers built during the 1970s and 1980s, economic decline has lead to a deterioration of services between the late 1980s and early 1990s. As of 1994, only 2 percent of the national budget was allocated to health care. The decline in the adequacy of the health care system, coupled with a resurgence in some traditional healing practices due to the post-colonial Malagachization movement, has resulted in increased popularity of traditional healers, particularly in rural areas. Reliance on traditional healers is further motivated by economics because their fees are generally a fraction of the cost of Western treatment.
Traditional herbalists provide a wide array of local remedies for the treatment of specific illnesses. In cities, the local pharmacists may serve this niche. Many Western-trained doctors attempt to support the use of traditional healers, sometimes simultaneously with Western medicine, and focus on educating their patients to recognize when Western medical treatment would be most beneficial. For many Malagasy there is often a connection between ill health and ancestral discontent. A diviner may evoke the power of the ancestors to effect a cure. Sorcerers use amulets, stones, and other objects to cure. Astrologers understand destiny ( vintana )so they are consulted to establish auspicious dates for important activities. There are also witch doctors who practice a form of black magic involving poisons and misfortune for one's enemies.
The first of January is New Year's Day. Memorial Day is celebrated 29 March for those who died in the French Malagasy War of 1949. International Women's Day, when women are honored for their contributions, is 30 March. The third Thursday in May is Labor Day, an important holiday for workers. The unity of the Organization of United African Countries is celebrated on 25 May. Madagascar's independence from France in 1960 is celebrated on 26 June. The Celebration of the Dead is held on 1 November and is a day devoted to ancestors and their burial grounds that can involve the building of elaborate tombs. The Anniversary of the II Republic, which began in 1975, is celebrated on 30 December.
Support for the arts is understandably limited due to the poor economic conditions of the country. The Centre de Culture Albert Camus in Antananarivo hosts local and international performances and exhibits in the fine arts. Although there is little public funding for the fine arts there are many excellent individual artists. There is a growing market both internally and internationally for artisan goods. Hand-crafted objects are made in wood, leather, horn, metal, stone, mineral, clay, cloth, and feathers. Kabary is an elaborate and poetic form of discourse in which the speaker makes a critical point in a indirect fashion.
The unique flora and fauna, coupled with a rapid rate of environmental degradation resulting in loss of habitat, has made Madagascar a popular focus for international physical and social scientists from the United States, France, and other European countries. The University of Madagascar has six main independent branches in Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Toamasina, Toliara, and Mahajunga. Degrees are offered in law, economics, sciences, and letters and human sciences. Of importance is the Institute de Civilisations–MusJe d'Artetd'Archeologie at the University of Antananarivo. The Institute publishes the journal Taloha which includes articles by Malagasy and international social scientists. In addition, there are numerous schools that specialize public administration, management, medicine, social welfare, public works, and agronomy. An excessive number of university students in relation to capacity has resulted in an increasing number of degrees attained at foreign universities for those who can afford it.
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—L ISA L. C OLBURN