Malagasy 101: Taboo

One of the more, shall we say intriguing, aspects of Madagascar is the profound trust and adherence to taboos. Malagasy culture revolves around taboos. In fact, Mahafaly (the people group we are headed to) means “those who make taboos.” Taboo in our society roughly means something not sanctioned by common opinion or etiquette. Taboos in Madagascar are much different. Taboos are laws. They create the natural order for the Malagasy. Break them and you incur the wrath of the ancestors and are immediately ostracized from friends and family. A Malagasy breaking a taboo would be the equivalent of a Catholic priest committing suicide. Breaking taboo is just not something you do.

Because Madagascar can be so isolated, many of the tribes have different taboos. However, many also carry the same taboos. There are many other aspects to the taboos that run much deeper and would take much more to explain. In its simplest form taboos are the governing rules for everyday life: follow them, you live, break them and you die.

My sources tell me if you understand of these taboos then you’re on your way to understanding the people. So shall we? I’ll be posting some of the more interesting taboos before I head out to training. Let’s say a taboo a day. This will by no means be a complete list. All together there are thousands. Almost all of them seem strange to us (like not hunting a bird because it supposedly saved your village from destruction or a son having to buy his beard from his father) but some you will find appalling. Many English missionaries ran or were very afraid when they first saw these “savage practices.”

Please, read, pray and understand the darkness we are entering.

Next: Family Taboos

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