Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/41

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MADAGASCAR.

39

The time of performing this ceremony does not depend upon any particular age of the child, but upon the will of the sovereign, who, in consequence of an application from parents and friends of any number of children, appoints a time and orders the observance of the rite.

Great preparations are made for the occasion; the women plait their hair and ornament their persons, oxen are slayed for a feast, and chanting and singing and feasting are observed for a week preceding the ceremony. A calabash or gourd, for holding the holy water used on the occasion, is taken to the king or his representative for consecration, in which a large procession in the fullest ornament and dress is formed. In consecrating the gourd, the King, holding a shield in his left hand and a spear in his right, imitates the action of a warrior, and exhorts the fathers of those children who are about to undergo the rite, to enforce upon their attention the duty of loyalty and devotedness to their sovereign, that they may serve, honor, and do homage to him.

The vessel having been duly consecrated by the King’s striking off with his spear the top of the gourd and binding it with plaits of a particular kind of grass and herbs, it is borne in procession, amidst dancing and shouting to the fields whence the water is to be taken. A stem of the banana-tree is planted there in the earth, and a tent is erected, wherein the party remain for the night. A fatted ram, purchased for the occasion, is killed and eaten with bananas, sugar-cane, etc., during the time the party is waiting for the sacred water.

While one party is procuring the holy water, another party is preparing the house in which the chief part of the rite is to be performed. Ali the furniture, the cooking utensils, and the mats, are removed, and the inside of the house hung with new mats to the very roof. A distribution of bullocks, sheep, poultry, rice, fruit, and vegetables is also made to the strangers who may be visiting at the time, and thus the day on which the party goes for the holy water ends.

As soon as the morning dawns, those lodging in the fields proceed to the pool whence the water is to be taken, and when they reach its margin, one of their number whose parents are both living descends into the water with the gourd in his hand and lowers himself in the water until the vessel is filled. Another standing opposite to him poising a spear, hurls it as if intending to kill him, but takes care merely to strike the earth near the place where he stands. This part of the ceremony