The Malagasy people have some very unique traditions and customs one being getting married. Its tradition for children to live at home until they get married (or want to move out) because the families always have very strong bonds… and it doesn’t matter what the age is when they move out…. One of the more unique Malagasy traditions revolves around “engagement and marriage”.
When two people are in love and are ready to get married, they must first get engaged. That doesn’t sound too different from other cultures, right? Except in Madagascar, there are some unique meanings behind the engagement and marriage traditions.
So what is it like to get married in Madagascar?
The first and most important tradition is called the “vodiondry” (literally meaning ‘lamb’s rump). Without this ceremony, the couple would not be considered married and if they were to appear in public it would bring disgrace to their friends, family and community. What is the vodiondry (you might be asking yourself)?
Vodiondry is a gift given by the groom to the bride’s family. It is offered as a consolation to the parents who are loosing their cherished daughter. While some might think that the groom is ‘buying’ his bride this is not the case. Vodiondry is a sign of respect and a way for the groom to thank the bride’s parent for raising such a beautiful and wonderful daughter. Often, the groom will offer a gift to the bride’s brother as well, called “tampi-maso” (meaning ‘eyewear’). This is traditionally meant as a decoy to distract the brother so that he forgets its sorrow at loosing his sister.
The wedding ceremony takes the form of verbal jousting or “kabary” between representatives of both parties. Each family will choose a spokesperson or “mpikabary” who is well versed in kabary. The spokesperson begins the ceremony by apologizing profusely from his or her inadequacies (anytime you speak in public you have to be humble) and then presents the history and genealogy of the family and then begins praising the bride.
Once the families have given the bride and groom their blessings, the bride’s family receives the vodiondry. A lamb is slaughtered for the occasion and a number of live zebus are given as a dowry. In highland areas, money now takes the place of both the zebu and the lamb. The groom also offers a gift to his wife; generally a lamba (a silk stole) which is a symbol of their union. Finally, the oldest and most respected family members give the couple their blessings.
During a grand wedding feast, the newly weds enjoy a meal together. Originally, the meal of newlyweds was served on the “fandambanana” or on a clay plate. This has special significance, and signifies a wish to live a long and healthy life. It is also a reminder of the fragility of relationships. The couple are must eat from one spoon carved from black horn, which expresses that now they are one. The colour black also signifies a wish for long life. The meal is usually made up of a mixture of rice with milk and honey.
After the meal, guests offer the newlyweds gifts such as a mattress, wardrobe, bed and other various utensils. Once the ceremony is over, the newlyweds travel to their home with their gifts and begin their life together.