A rite of passage

Malagasy people have a rich culture built around a strong sense of community. A key step in a boy’s life is circumcision, which usually takes place after the age of two. It is just one of many festivals and ceremonies celebrated across Madagascar and each clan marks the occasion in its own unique way.

In the video, the Merina people of the central Antananarivo area take part in a riotous and exciting celebration as boys prepare for their circumcision. The operation is accompanied by a dance portraying a symbolic battle over sugarcane. This ceremony happens every seven years amongst the Merina people and, as you can see, it is a time of great jubilation for all concerned.

Circumcision is a significant rite of passage in Malagasy culture. In fact, it is so important that a baby who dies before the operation is performed may not be buried in the family tomb.

A moveable feast

Malagasy New Year now takes place on 26th June. Originally, it was celebrated in March, but the French moved it to 14th July, the date when the French Protectorate was established. After the French left, New Year's Day changed again, becoming the date of Malagasy independence.

Becoming Malagasy

Another important occasion in a child’s life is the very first cutting of a baby’s hair. This is called ala volon-jaza, and the ceremony is performed in different ways all over the island. Like circumcision, ala volon-jaza signals a child’s entrance into society. Among the Merina people from the video, the haircut may only be performed by a man whose parents are still living.

An important ceremony in the culture of the Antanakarana people, who live on Madagascar's northernmost tip, is called tsangatsaine. Tsangatsaine involves the tying together of two tall trees growing near the house of a noble family. This represents the union of two tribes and the binding of past and future, as well as the connection between living and dead.