Sakalava - Marriage and Family



Marriage. Indigenous marriage patterns reflect differences between individuals of royal and nonroyal descent. A generation or two ago, royalty exhibited a preference for caste endogamy; some marriages, deemed incestuous, are recorded as occurring between classificatory siblings who shared parents that were kibo araiky. Although outlawed by the French, royal polygyny is still practiced in some areas. The marriages of Sakalava rulers often operate as forms of political alliance.

A generation ago, commoner marriages exhibited a pattern of clan endogamy: particular clans were grouped hierarchically as appropriate marriage partners, based on the royal services they performed. Endogamous unions could occur if purification rituals were performed. Virilocality continues to be the norm for commoners; the derogatory term jaloky is used to describe a man who takes up residence with his wife's kin and farms her father's fields. Only high-status commoner groups practiced uxorilocaltty.

Sambarivo continue to practice endogamy as well as virilocality. Until slavery was outlawed at the turn of the twentieth century, slave marriages were endogamous. Although slave origin continues to be an important marker of low status in other regions of Madagascar, this factor is not as relevant in Sakalava territory: the label "Makoa" more closely resembles an ethnic rather than a caste distinction.

Today Sakalava marriage is a flexible institution, whereby one may have a series of partners over the course of one's lifetime. Married men and women also take lovers. Literature by Christian authors in particular identifies such behavior as a sign of sexual laxity that has sprung from Western contact, an opinion that runs contrary to the evidence found in historic documents. Most often, cohabitation signifies marriage, its permanence confirmed by the subsequent births of healthy children. In the past, bride-price was paid in the form of cattle. Some Sakalava also opt for Muslim or Catholic weddings, or they obtain a marriage license through the state. When marriages are troubled, typically it is the wife who leaves her husband and returns—with or without her children—to her parents, hoping to be cared for by her mother and protected by her father. Ideally, parents in such circumstances serve as advocates for the wronged wife, and the husband may be required to pay stiff penalties (in the past, in the form of cattle) to win his wife back. A father, however, may insist that his daughter return to her husband, and, if so, she has little recourse but to obey.


Domestic Unit. A marriage blessing heard throughout Madagascar is "may you have seven sons and seven daughters." A generation ago, peasant households of this size were not uncommon; today, however, one of this size would struggle to survive. Sakalava households assume a variety of forms, the most common being the nuclear family, extended family, and female-headed household. Household membership size is extremely flexible, particularly where children are involved. Short- and long-term fostering is common: children sometimes move on a daily basis among the houses of their parents, parents' siblings, and grandparents. A woman may bear and give a child to a sister who is having difficulty conceiving; one or more children may be sent to assist grandparents in the fields; and either boys or girls may be offered to siblings who require assistance in commercial activities. If the siblings live in a town, they may take in the children of village kin so that they may continue their schooling. Single and married adults likewise move in and out of different households, especially if they are involved in labor migration or commerce. The rice-harvest season leads to the migration back and forth of individuals or even entire households from their permanent dwellings to temporary structures near their fields, if they are more than a few kilometers away. Sakalava prefer to live near kin ( havana ), which is thought to ensure social and economic security. In both towns and villages, a house occupied by aging parents will be surrounded by separate dwellings, which are occupied most often by married sons with children. If a daughter lives close by, she will try to visit on a regular basis, and she will send her own children to visit, acquire agricultural produce, and provide her parents short-term labor in the home or in the fields.

Socialization. Many persons are actively involved in the socialization of children. Infants remain in close proximity to their mothers throughout the first year of their lives. They are often breast-fed for two years or so, with solid foods being introduced when their first teeth appear. The ingestion of rice is an important first meal. Fathers play an active role on a daily basis in caring for children, as well as teaching them proper behavior; they return an infant to its mother when it needs to breast-feed. Even men who do not cook often assume the responsibility of feeding solid food to toddlers. Children learn at an early age (before they are 10 years old) how to care for their younger siblings, and, by the time they can walk and talk, they are allowed to roam freely with their playmates. By this age, they are also assigned household tasks, and they run errands for adults. As boys and girls grow older, their duties shift: girls assist female kin in food preparation; boys hunt or fish with older male kin. Boys and girls are equally likely to be sent to the market or local epicerie to buy food and other supplies or to the well to fetch water. Although both are assigned daily domestic chores, in towns, girls are more likely to be hired out to do part-time housework or child care, assisting households where the parents work and the children are in school full-time.

Several rites of passage mark the progress of a child's life. During a forty-day postpartum period, a Sakalava mother and her child are secluded. Throughout this time, the mother and infant must be bathed several times a day with either warm or cold water, depending on whether the mother follows "hot" ( mifana or mafana ) or "cold" ( ranginalo ) restrictions. The day that the child emerges is one of celebration: it is coddled and played with by all who come to visit. The eating of the first mouthful of rice and the first hair cutting are also important events in an infant's life. Circumcision is an important ceremony for boys; preferably, it is performed during the cooler months of the year (June to August). A healthy child is generally circumcised at about the age of 5, although some boys may wait until they are 10 or older. If a child is a member of a Muslim household, the ceremony will reflect this affiliation. Circumcision celebrations are more elaborate for royal children than those for commoners: they involve special public dances, such as the rebiky, and spirit mediums will be invited so that the royal ancestors ( tromba ) can give their blessing. There is no equivalent rite of passage for girls. Other ceremonies that mark the progress of a child's life may include baptism and first communion, if the family is Christian. To mark changes in status, an individual's name may change throughout the course of his or her life: children often are not named until after the postpartum period, and, once they are baptized, they may take on another name.

Marriage is another important transition in an individual's life, although it is the birth of the first child that truly marks the passage to adult status and that often cements the relationship between two adults. Upon the birth of the first child, parents change their names and assume teknonyms, such as "Maman'i'Soa" and "Baban'i'Soa" ("Mother" and "Father" "of Soa"). They bear these names until their own children are adults and have offspring. If this child should die, the parents are quickly assigned another name, either taking the name of another child or reverting to nicknames or terms that designate that they are the aunt or uncle of a sibling's child. Once adults attain elder status (most often marked by the birth of grandchildren), their names change again, either to a name they had when young, or to a nickname that makes note of their abilities, temperament, or physical appearance. This name will often be preceded by the honorary "Mama" or "Baba" (without the possessive i). Elders are also typically addressed by kin and nonkin alike by the honorary forms "Dady" and "Dadilahy," or "Grandmother" and "Grandfather."

Special naming rules apply to rulers. At the onset of his or her reign, a ruler is given a new name; when the ruler dies, this name becomes taboo and is replaced with a praise name ( fitahina ) that makes note of events or achievements during the ruler's lifetime. This name is usually preceded with the prefix Andrian- or the variant Ndram-, meaning "royalty," and ends with the suffix -arivo, meaning "thousands" or "many." Thus, Andriamandentarivo means "the king who slit the throats of many," whereas Andriamarofalinarivo is "the king who has many taboos." Praise names are also used when addressing the tromba spirits of dead Sakalava royalty.


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