Kin Groups and Descent. At the time of French conquest, Sakalava were organized into a loosely defined caste system composed of royalty, commoners, royal workers (Sambarivo), and slaves. Royal descent assumes the form of truncated patrilineages that preserve primarily the names of former rulers. Today royalty maintain with care written records of genealogies that extend back several centuries.
Several principles guide commoner kinship, although they are being forgotten in some areas, particularly where there is pronounced urbanization and the in-migration of non-Sakalava. The first is the village-based clan ( firazaña or fi razanana ), the membership of which is often sentimental. That is, individual affiliation depends upon choices made in response to where one has spent much of one's life. Clans are organized hierarchically in reference to their royal-work responsibilities, their names reflecting as well the nature of such work. Commoner kinship tends to be bilineally conceived. The second guiding principle of Sakalava commoner affiliation is the tariky, or kindred, composed of an individual's matri- and patrikin. Again, personal residence patterns typically determine tariky affiliation. A third principle distinguishes paternal and maternal kin, respectively, as the "children of men" ( zanakan'lahy ) and the "children of women" ( zanakari vavy ); these are particularly important categories of reference in ritual settings because both must be represented at circumcisions and other important rites to be performed. Sakalava also distinguish the children "of one belly" ( kibo araiky ) from others because they are united by their common links to maternal kin. In the past, this final principle placed restrictions on the children of sisters and excluded fostered and adopted children from full participation in their adoptive clan's royal-work activities.
Kinship Terminology. Sakalava use classificatory kinship terminology. As with other Malagasy groups, kinship terms distinguish between the age and gender of the speaker relative to other kin. Thus, for a male Ego, "brother" is rahalahy and "sister" is anabavy. For a female ego, "brother" is anadahy and "sister" is rahavavy. Zoky serves as an additional term of reference and address for older siblings, zandry for younger ones. Parallel and cross cousins are labeled and addressed as siblings. Ego's parents' siblings are also differentiated by age and sex. Thus, the terms used for the father's kin are: baba (father), bababe ("big father," or father's older brother), babakely/babahely ("little father," or father's younger brother), and angovavy (father's sister). For the mother's kin: nindry or mama (mother), nindrihely/mamahely ("little mother," or mother's older sister), and zama (mother's brother). The spouse of one's angovavy is referred to as zama (and vice versa); the spouses of Ego's parents' same-sex siblings are addressed as nindry and baba. Ego's spouse's siblings are ranao; and, in turn, their spouses are referred to structurally as Ego's siblings. The relationship with one's ranao is restrained. A joking relationship exists between agnates of the opposite sex; for a female Ego, this individual is called the rokilahy; for a male Ego, the rokivavy. The classificatory term for "child" is zanaka t although the children of Ego's opposite sex sibling are referred to as asidy. The classificatory term for "grandchild" is zafy. As a result of the impact of colonialism, in some regions these kin terms have been replaced by others, of French origin.
Fictive kinship is also common, the most elaborate form being fatridra, a ritual that links nonkin as blood brothers and blood sisters (between men and women as well as between the sexes).