Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Malagasy experience is much more than mouse lemurs

A few days ago we received an invitation from our Rendrirendry villagemates--they were about to host a ceremony in the nearby village of Andratambe. We were grateful to be included in the celebration, an important event that involves family and community remembering and honoring the deceased. This particular celebration did not involve exhuming and moving of the bodies, or the “rotating of the bones,” or famadihana, which occurs in another typical Malagasy custom, but it did involve one heck of a party and a whole lot of cow. Villagers up here on the mountain live primarily on rice, beans and some vegetables such as manioc and greens, therefore eating beef (omby), is a rare and important occasion. A cow was purchased and brought up the mountain to the center of the village, where nearly every man, woman and child from the surrounding areas had gathered. (….stop reading here if squeamish…..) It was immobilized and left in the center of the village as the main attraction for a good while. Then suddenly a few men ran out and quickly ended the cow’s life there in the center of town under a couple hundred watchful eyes. Words to the dead were discreetly presented, much betsa and toka gasy (locally-produced sugar cane alcohol) was poured, and the distribution of the cow commenced. About 30 men gathered round the cow and worked together to begin the cutting process, placing each smaller piece on a large traveler palm leaf on the ground. We watched as this huge cow was slowly but surely cut into smaller and smaller pieces, enough so that the entire village was able to take some home for their family for the next several days. I’ve never witnessed a more local, more community-based sharing of a resource before, and I may never again.

To read more about Malagasy ceremonies, check out Bethany’s descriptions of a famadihana in Madagascar on her blog.

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