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Culture in Madagascar
 
 
 

General

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.

Architecture

Houses in Madagascar are typically four-sided with a peaked roof, in a style commonly seen in Southeast Asia, rather than the circular style of hut construction more commonly found in Eastern Africa. Malagasy architecture varies widely from region to region dependent on locally available materials and practical needs. Most traditionally, homes are built from plant materials; this form of construction remains prevalent outside of the central Highlands and major urban areas. In the Highlands, houses are most often two-story brick structures, occasionally with pillars supporting a front veranda. Tombs are culturally significant in many regions and tend to utilise stone in their construction.

The orientation and interior layout of homes in traditional communities often followed certain cosmological norms. This tradition has been increasingly abandoned over the past century, as has the use of traditional building materials among the upper classes for whom imported materials and foreign construction styles are associated with modernity and prestige.

Oral Traditions

The country has rich oratory traditions in the form of hainteny, kabary and ohabolana. An epic poem showcasing these traditions, the Ibonia, has been handed down over the centuries in several different forms across the island and offers insight into the diverse mythologies and beliefs of traditional Malagasy communities. Storytelling and proverbs enabled traditional communities to express and preserve their histories and world view and transmit it to future generations. The supernatural feature highly in many of these stories, including witchcraft, the intercession of god or the ancestors, and the existence of a variety of fantastical creatures. Chief among these are the vazimba, the supposed first inhabitants of Madagascar who have in popular memory been transformed into capricious spirits that, if angered, will interfere in the lives of the living.

Music

Madagascar has a distinctive and rich musical heritage. The early Austronesian settlers brought with them the predecessor to the bamboo tube zither known as the valiha as well as other instruments that would form the basis for traditional Malagasy music in the Highlands. The influence of Africans is evident in certain drumming and poly-harmonic singing styles, particularly among the western and southern coastal communities, while the tendency toward minor chords in these regions reflects an Arab musical influence. Europeans likewise contributed to Malagasy musical traditions, importing the guitar, accordion, piano and the instruments used in hiragasy performance including the violin, trumpet and clarinet.

Zebu

The zebu, or humped cattle, occupies an important place in traditional Malagasy culture. The animal can take on sacred importance and constitutes the wealth of the owner, a tradition originating on the African mainland. Cattle rustling, originally a rite of passage for young men in the plains areas of Madagascar where the largest herds of cattle are kept, has become a dangerous and sometimes deadly criminal enterprise as herdsmen in the Southwest attempt to defend their cattle with traditional spears against increasingly armed professional rustlers. Where African influences are strongest, as in the Southern region around Tulear, wealth and social status are measured in cattle, and the zebu can outnumber the inhabitants by two or three to one. Zebu are a popular motif on aloalo, the carved wooden poles that decorate tombs among some tribes in the southwestern part of the country.