Ambohimanga Local Customs

  • Plastic palanquin for the French officials
    Plastic palanquin for the French...
    by Norali
  • Zebu horn is the main material for these !
    Zebu horn is the main material for these...
    by Norali
  • Handmade Embroidery on tablecloth...
    Handmade Embroidery on tablecloth...
    by Norali

Best Rated Local Customs in Ambohimanga

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    Ficus trees as symbols of wisdom and kingdom

    by Norali Updated Apr 23, 2005

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    Fig tree as symbol of noble presence

    Whenever you enter a Royal compound in Madagascar, you'd find a "Royal" tree. In Antananarivo area, the most widespread of these trees are the ficus type: amontana and aviavy (fig tree). Also, the choice of the tree depends on the King or Queen. I know there were other trees that were symbols of royal presence but from Andriamanelo's reign (16th cent., he used to rule some parts of nowadays Imerina region), those ficus species were "hazon' Andriana" or trees of the Princes". Both in Manjakamiadana and Ambohimanga complexes, the ficus types were the last to be chosen for this function.

    It was customary to find in many villages a fig tree that had been grown on a specific place because the village used to welcome frequently the king. Without knowing it, I remember having seen one fig tree that didn't belong to anybody in Malaza, my village. The tree was on a specific location in the village, off the main place. I was told then that this tree was there because Malaza was a frequent halt of the King (Andrianampoinimerina, very probably since our area was predominantly inhabited by Tsimahafotsy freemen which gave full support to this King for his access to the throne. He was then disputing the throne with one of his uncles who was backed by another freemen clan. That happened end 18th century).

    On the picture, trees on Fidasiana place, a big place that was used as a market place but also the very place where King Andrianampoinimerina gathered people and main celebrations took place. It is a place that is in front of the Rova enclosure wall. You'd pass there to begin and finish your visit since the gates look onto this place.

    It was on the sacred stone in Fiadasiana place that King Andrianampoinimerina was (reportedly) intronised. The first Rova (royal compound) used to be located there too. No remains of it but the last compound we have nowadays was the third.

    More to come....

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    Right foot to step in, walk backwards to step out

    by Norali Updated Apr 8, 2005

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    Your right foot.. your left foot.. I'll figure it

    Whenever you enter the palace, one has to enter with its right foot first (or was it left ?)... then, when you want to leave the place, you wouldn't turn your back. You have to walk backwards... mind your step !!!

    OK... I am not very precise, I'll have to review my notes. Still, the guide would be there to give you full explanation about what to do, which foot you'd step in what people use to call "La case d'Andrianampoinimerina" ("Nampoina's Hut")...etc..

    Strangely, the few times I visited Ambohimanga, I was always explained this local custom whenever entering Nampoina's "hut", not the other buildings.

    On the picture, you see on background the other buildings of the complex whilst steps leading to Nampoina's "hut" are in front.

    +++under construction

    just pics, will add text later+++

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    What about the mundane mortals of Ambohimanga ?

    by Norali Updated Apr 13, 2005

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    Was I disturbing him watching a beautiful sunset ?

    For them being located in a country side area, they are more involved in breeding and cultivation (rice cultivaton included). Some big families from the area commute to Tana.

    In the village, around Ambatomitsangana (the main gate with a huge stone discus that used to require 4 men to roll it in order to allow visitors to enter the fort), there are some stalls forming a small market. Poultry products, meat stalls, fruits and vegetables. Then, some Pop and Mom stores (those kind of 3m*2m grocery huts) selling mostly manufactured products (cookies, oil, canned sweet Nestle milk, soap, candles, candies..). There is even a photo lab. I guess you could even buy some films there or have the photographer snap for you if you happen to have forgotten your camera somewhere in your hotel room, in a taxi... whatever ;-) He has a good reflex camera and no, I am not related to him. I just found it was a good idea to base oneself here as a photographer. When I had to renew my idcard, I should have taken idpic at his lab if I hadn't had some on me. It was the closest lab to Ambohimanga mairie.

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    Like anywhere else they sell attractive stalls...

    by Norali Updated Feb 10, 2007

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    Zebu horn is the main material for these !
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    For Ambohimanga being the most visited Malagasy cultural site, you could imagine locals trying to take advantage of that aura... :-)

    Well, I am quite sure those items are overpriced compared to those sold in Andravoahangy handicraft market. Still, I saw some stalls in the nearby selling beautiful embroidered tableclothes and napkins.. If you don't have time to go to CENAM neither Andravoahangy market, you can buy some there. Really! they were beautiful and as a grand-child of a woman involved in the clothing business (my grand-ma in Antsirabe used to wake up at 4am, started her work in her hut/stall in Antsirabe's market and made clothes, embroidery, crochet, knitting), I recognize the value of those hours spent knitting with sore fingers, making embroidery with stinging eyes, sewing whislt selling her produces to shoppers and socializing. I don't say that woodcarving is a joke but well... I could be a little biased sometimes, right ? As collecting sand in a bottle, what is that ? hihihi

    So, I'd advise to buy the tableclothes as well as beautiful ustensiles, necklaces, rings, bracelets, hairpins from zébu horns. One rule: B A R G A I N ! You can reasonably start the bid with half the price announced and negotiate.

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    Filanjana

    by Norali Updated Feb 10, 2007

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    Red Filanjana for Kings and Queens
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    Well, there as a reason I snapped this picture: the red Filanjana.

    The royals used to be transported by Filanjana. It is a chair fixed on two solid rods, topped with an umbrella on which a King or a Queen used to sit and that four men used to weigh/ carry. Just learnt it was a palanquin. :-)

    While visiting the Rova, you'd be shown a white plastic filanjana in the front yard. It was a Filanjana for the French officials. The Royals had theirs, very different, in silky material as shown on the picture (no, the sand bottle is not a Filanjana element ;-). Notice the use of red colour. In kingdom era, only noblemen could wear red. King Andriamanelo (16th cent), for instance, bears his name as "the prince which could make use of umbrella". He was the only one, since he was the reigning king in his area, who could authorize so-and-so to wear the red umbrella (i.e: to be a nobleman). Since then, red used to be worn oly by noblemen. Nowadays, everybody wears it, of course.

    More precision later...

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    Zébus park in a royal compound

    by Norali Updated Apr 17, 2005

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    Zebus were and are still important

    This is amongst most unexpected area in a royal fort: a zébu park. Indeed, in Manjakamiadana (the royal compound on Antananarivo hill), you would not find this.

    Also, this is not a park for all types of zébus, only sacred zébus ("zébu" = "omby" in Malagasy). They are what one used to name "omby volavita", a type that presents a specific feature (black zébu with white patches on forehead, back, tail) and that is used for sacrifice in several circumstances and celebrations. Peasants who happen to have a zébu that has volavita feature doesn't possess this volavita zébu. De facto, volavita zébus belong to the King. The peasants would keep on breeding it but whenever the King needs one, they have to be ready to present their volavita zébus to the King.

    For sure, zébu is really related to our culture. It is used as animal for sacrifice, so is cock. But I've never heard of pigs, ducks being animals for sacrifice.

    Nowadays, though pork meat used(s) to be more expensive than zébu meat, zébu meat presents more value in local customs. For instane, we still talk about "vodihena" (the King had the right to require "vodihena": half of the rear part of zébu, it was an automatic right whenever a zébu was sacrificed). Vodihena is a sought-after part because it is tasty and is a first-choice for Malagasy dishes that requires tasty, tender meat but not too fat.

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    Egg and clay for centuries.. forever !

    by Norali Updated May 5, 2005
    egg+cla+chalk

    Centuries ago, this enclosure wall was made from clay and egg whisk then painted with chalk. It still stands.

    I once had the explanation that eggs served as taxes. They were then collected to allow royal constructions.

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    Royal baths

    by Norali Updated Apr 16, 2005
    We are of the same heights, not tall :-)

    Nampoina's swimming pool had been dug out of a rock. Close to it, another larger pool for his wives (yes.. wives.. he had 12, some married for political alliances, others not).

    It resembles more a jacuzzi tub.

    Annual royal bath festival used to take place on Malagsy New Year (March 11 on 2005) to start out the year pure. Fandroana is customary to two Madagascar tribes: Merina and Sakalava. Both tribes share the aim of emphasizing the santity of Kings ancestors in order to let them bless their descendants.

    Nampoina, however, was not the first to initiate it. It had been set long time before his reign. The first king who *officially* initiated Fandroana, 1 century prior Nampoina's reign, was King Ralambo of Ambohidrabiby (Ambohidrabiby is another royal city/town very near Ambohimanga and one of the 12 sacred hills of Tana). Still, fandroana rituals are reported to have existed long time before in Nunsantara area. Thus, fandroana had been brought to Madagascar by the navigators from S-E Asia, some centuries before the rises of Malgasy kingdoms. In fact, Ralambo's contribution was rather about change in fandroana rituals, introducing a new calendar that started at his birthday (!) and not the old calendar that previous kings used ...

    It is a whole festival, it doesn't only comprehend a bath.. there are rituals to achieve (animal sacrifice, feasting on zebu meat, ancestor worship, pilgrimage...), aspects not to look over. Also, it used to take place during some days, the King and his family start the festival with all rituals and precise timing (so-and-so actions should be done at 6am, 7am, 7pm, not later neither before)... then it's the turn of other noblemen to partake in their own areas (the 12 sacred hills used to celebrate it, plus other less prestigious hills). Then, of course, the man in the street will celebrate, he will celebrate within the area/hill he belongs to. Officials ruling those hills had to organize festivities for the population...
    More to come...

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