Local traditions and culture in Madagascar

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Most Viewed Local Customs in Madagascar

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    Natural Sunblock

    by Orchid Updated Apr 28, 2013

    You will see many women with a yellow paste on their faces. This is a natural facial mask, used to protect and beautify the skin. I doubles as a sunblock and mosquito repellent! It is made from a special type of wood (the Tsiambara root).

    Some women will use it for decoration as well.

    It is reminiscent of the Thanaka used in Myanmar.

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    SLASH & BURN - NOT A GOOD THING

    by DAO Updated Oct 18, 2012

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    Slash & Burn agriculture is just like it sounds. In Madagascar this traditional way of clearing land is called ‘Tavy’. Local farmers mark of a few acres of, often rain forest, and literally burn it all to the ground. They do this to plant rice field mostly. Rice is harvested for 1-2 year from the now cleared land and then left alone, or fallow, for 4-6 years. The process is repeated through 2-3 more cycles until the soils nutrients are destroyed. Then little can grow on it except scrub and rains bring erosion and further damage to the land. As poor farmers exhaust the flatter land, they then move up increasingly steep slopes over the years and this causes even worse environmental disaster. Why do they do it? It is illegal and poor land management. Unfortunately this quick & easy process has been handed down for generations. The government has stopped this in some areas through education of more productive methods, but not every area of Madagascar has received the message.

    SLASH & BURN - NOT A GOOD THING SLASH & BURN - NOT A GOOD THING SLASH & BURN - NOT A GOOD THING SLASH & BURN - NOT A GOOD THING SLASH & BURN - NOT A GOOD THING
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    Language

    by Helga67 Written Dec 22, 2009

    Malagasy is derived from the Indonesian origin. It is the official language but for outstanders very difficult to speak. At least learn some words like

    Hello = Salama
    Goodbye = Veloma
    Thank you = Misaotra

    You will make them smile when you say these words :-)

    French is spoken amongst the educated people and in tourism there are some people that can speak English.

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    People

    by Helga67 Written Dec 22, 2009

    It is said that the first people arrived in Madagascar some 2000 years ago from Indonesia, later people came from Africa and Arabia. Now there are about 15 tribes, of which the Merina tribe is the most important. They live in the highlands (around the capital) and are descendents from the Indonesians. In the South you will find the tribes of African origin and at the east coast are the tribes coming from Arabia.

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    ELECTRICITY

    by DAO Updated Dec 24, 2007

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    Madagascar uses the standard ‘European’ 2 round pin plug and operates on 220 V 50 Hz. You may come across the safer plug with a male grounding pin, but not very often! British visitors can use a standard adapter like they do for Spain.

    Then there’s the weird bit. Some electrical items sold here and made in China have a flat 2 pin plug like those in America (pictured). You need to buy a cheap adapter in the market for about 50 US cents. Don’t worry, they are 240 volt appliances, just DO NOT take them back to the USA!

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    Partying

    by Norali Updated Jan 9, 2007

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    Malagasy people are amongst real partyers. I don't even talk about official, planned parties.

    Rather talk about the ability of getting it to party while few people are together. It happens so often that when you have a family meeting, one decides to play either live music either a Cd or even.. a cassette (!). Some begin dancing then one suggests to throw a party... After pushing up furniture in order to improvise a dancefloor, partying till dawn.

    It's easy to heat up the ambience with just some guitar and harmonica as well. Audience claps hands and sing acapella, accompanying instruments. Traditional songs, ballads are then reviewed... Families use to have some amateur music players so it's always useful in those cases.

    Off course, alcohol, cooked meat, meatballs, kebabs and sambos help... But one dish is really welcomed when partying till dawn: vary amin'anana. This is a dish made of soft rice cooked with diverse leaves and diced beef meat with onions and ginger. Eat it with kebabs or sausages. With this, the night is yours ... and those beers... and these rums (Vieux rhum is for rum lovers, white rum is mostly for who only seek for some binge drinking)... and this whisky (don't be surprised to see some whisky à table, it's how they have it here) !

    This feature is imported in Europe as well. Malagasy communities are used to that simple gatherings ending up with parties. It takes one hour to buy food and drinks, find the room, push away furniture... if you have a chance to be invited to a Malagasy party, go!! It's such an ambiance...

    Famadihana open-air parties You're in a rum country, ya know !
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    Whilst men use to pull and drag buckets, ricksaws

    by Norali Updated Jan 9, 2007

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    ... women use to carry things on their heads. Be it water buckets, large baskets, women don't usually drag them, they weigh them on their head. I even saw women in the markets weighing their baskets with geese in them. They were browsing the marketplaces to sell their produce, the heads of the geese pending from the baskets. In brick-baking areas, it's very common to see women carrying baskets with sands, bricks, clay on their head, from a post to another. Nothing better to grant them with this gracious manner of holding their head. ;-)

    [Note to self: should have insisted on training with big books on my head and not give up at first attempts... Should put it on the 2005 to-do list]

    By the way, the photo is OK, don't change the settings of your monitor. It was taken when sun was right above our head, meaning light was at its brightest.. hence the sharp constrast between the green ricefields, the red earth of my countryside.

    Life scenery in countryside
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    Rural villages

    by no1birdlady Written Mar 23, 2006

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    The rural villages we saw on the south end of Madagascar were made up of huts which were small and built of sticks with a thatched roof. In the Isalo Massif area the huts were made of clay with thatched roof and here we saw men wrapped in blankets carrying a spear walking down the clay roads. All of the villages have a market where things are traded.

    Stick hut with thatched roof.
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    Central Malagasy Farming Areas

    by no1birdlady Written Mar 23, 2006

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    In the central area of Madagascar, farming in the mountains uses terraces which seems more oriental. There is one photo of this posted here. Also, the farm houses here were larger and constructed much differently than houses (huts) we had seen in other rural areas. These were made of red clay and were 2 story with a thatched roof. They have windows that have wooden shutters that close. Other houses were even nicer versions of the 2 story clay houses. They have brick columns in the front and have gray wood shingles rather than the thatch. I made sketches of some of these houses. I also made a sketch of a pretty little church perched on a hill down in a village with the mountains behind it. But the farming here still seems to be all by hand. It's quite primitive.

    Local church in central mountain area. Terraced rice fields in the central farming region
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    People are Very Friendly and Helpful to Tourists

    by no1birdlady Written Mar 21, 2006

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    The local people especially out in the countryside of Madagascar are quite poor as far as having material possessions. Yet they are friendly and kind. One evening at dusk our van broke an axle. We were over 100 km from our town. Our guide finally decided that we would have to try to flag down some vehicles and catch a ride with them back to the city. Obviously we could not all go together. Most of the vehicles who came by were full of people already but they were willing to help us. We finally got a ride in the back of a small truck with 3 guys crammed into the front seat. There were bags of rice hulls piled in the back but they let 4 of us(our guide and my husband and I and another woman) sit on those and took us back to town. The drivers were very considerate, slowing down for potholes and bridges. They even took us to our hotel.
    When I packed for this trip, I packed an extra suitcase of good clothes we no longer used, baseball caps, stuffed animals, and other things such as yards of cloth and table cloths I no longer used. This was 10 years ago when you could take 2 suitcases each on an airplane. I took bags of these things with me each day and gave them away to the people. We did not speak the language but they seemed to appreciate them. I'll never forget a little girl clutching a teddy bear or our driver with his Ga. Tech cap grinning from ear to ear.

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    Food Served in the Field for the Tourists

    by no1birdlady Written Mar 21, 2006

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    When we were at Ankarafantsika Reserve, we were a long way from any civilization when lunch time came. Instead of having a bag lunch, I was surprised that the staff from the hotel in Mahujunga came down and cooked lunch for us in the field. They set up tables overlooking Lake Ravelobe complete with white table cloths and china. They cooked fried chicken, and fried potatoes for us. They also made a delicious salad. You are told not to eat uncooked vegetables because they often are not washed or are washed in unsanitary water but I ate some of it and was ok. We had bottled sodas to drink followed by the cup of coffee that is always served after the meal. After the meal, the staff from the hotel took the dishes down to the lake and washed them in the edge, then packed up and headed back to Mahujunga. This was repeated many times throughout the trip. It seemed so strange to be served a sit down meal at cloth covered tables out in the wilderness. But that is what many of the hotels do for tourists when they are too far away to come back to the hotel for lunch.

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    Religion- Belief system

    by Norali Written Mar 1, 2006

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    Although I've never been aware of this, not all Malagasy are Christians. It took me a stay in Brussels to meet a Muslim Malagasy woman for the first time (beside the Pakistani & Comoro communities, that is). The Moslem community accounts for 4% of Madagascar population.

    What surprised me lately was that the Christians don't even make up for half of the whole population. I used to think we were all Christians since my Malagasy acquaintances were all Christians. Wrong! Only about 40% of Madagascar's population are Christians. The remaining still maintain our traditional belief system. It is based on the ancestor worship & the belief in Zanahary = Creator.

    One has to say that the traditional Malagasy belief system does have a stronghold even on us Christians. Being Christian is not uncompatible with Famadihana (turning of the bones) for instance, neither with geomancy. We use to ask an astrolog when is best for a Famadihana, for laying the first stoneblock for a house, a tomb...

    Ambohimanoro Anglican cathedral (La Haute)
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    Grinding Rice

    by Norali Updated Feb 24, 2006

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    A local custom that is closely related to food tips. For it to be rarely seen in urban areas, I present it here as local custom, that it accurately is.

    Every Malagasy diner is likely to include rice as staple food. In countryside, families cultivate their ricefields & store their harvests in their basement. Then, periodically, they bring some kilos of rice to the mill of the village. They leave the rice there to be ground. Then fetch the products afterwards: rice for diner & the bran for the poultry.

    However, when the rice grains still contain the rice envelopes (even after the mill), women in countryside use to manually ground it in a mortar. That is shown on the picture. Then afterwards, rice is sifted, to get rid of remaining rice envelopes... then only they wash it and cook it. See? Mrs chicken is hanging around, waiting for the bran and some rice seeds escaping from the grinding...

    You won't see this scene in urban areas (a mortar in an apartment?), you will have to visit the countryside villages round 11 am an 5pm to see that.

    You'll find in the following pictures some stages in rice cultivation. First, the seeds are sown in a plot. When the seeds have grown into young plants, the latter are transplanted into another plot. Then, you have the ricefields with rice plants growing in lines (or rows). It is not a low maintenance culture, one has to get rid of parasits (wild herbs) that may hinder the growing. Then, wait for the plants to grow till the grains get ripe. Finally, one has to harvest. This is the most joyful moment in rice cultivation. People tend to gather each harvest and do the work: cut the plant, gather them then tie them to ease transportation. More and more, people bring a barrel in the field and start beating the bunches of ricestraws to collect the ripe grains. Then, all they do is transporting the crops whilst in the past, one tended to transport the straws to one's yard then beat the straws there. It got simpler.

    Just read the captions to see which step the pictures represent.

    Grinding rice (b) Transplantation (a) Young plants waiting to be transplanted (c) Harvesting with the help of a barrel & friends
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    No office neither shop opens on June 26, March 29

    by Norali Updated Feb 11, 2006

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    No office neither shop neither museum opens on June 26, it is Independance day.

    If you go there in 2010, do expect a huge 50-anniversary celebration. Well, I hope.

    Same thing as for March 29. In March 29, 1947 MDRM (Mouvement Democratique de Renovation Malgache) executives undertook a strike in order to actually apply an existing text in French Constitution that would give freedom to Malagasy as for their government. This led to a 21-month guerilla against France and 100 000 Malagasy citizens are reported to have died. This is an important day in Madagascar history and is seen as important as June 26. We use to commemorate the event.

    This is, off course, beside Jan. 1, Easter & its Monday, May 1, Ascension, Pentecote (Whit Sunday) & its Monday, Aug. 15, Nov 1, Nov. 11 (not sure about this one, though.. an evidence I don't past-copy online diaries ;-)), Xmas, Dec. 30 (another local day.. not sure it still exists though)

    If then, go browsing the countryside You may choose to relax somewhere A pity you wouldn't find locals working, though
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    belgianchocolate's Local Custom Tip

    by belgianchocolate Updated Nov 23, 2005

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    Every journey has to have it's priceless moment , right?
    This was one of ours. When we visited the national parc of Mantadia , we also went to see Andasibe. A little loggers village , where the train station is still a witness of it's former glorie. These kids came shy after us and asked Frederik if he wanted to take a picture of them. Of course he did that? Soon a bunch of other kids came running to him...now , what was the meaning of all this? They had seen a digital camera before and they wanted to see themselves. That was just such a funny moment. Their faces and the pleasure seeing themselves.

    (pictures are by star-photographer Frederik , B-free)

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Madagascar Local Customs

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