Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/51

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MADAGASCAR.

49

One of their common amusements is to form themselves into two parties in order to abuse each other in the most violent language that their imaginations can invent; and those who excel in the most abusive vituperation, obtain the plaudits of the spectators.

Another game is called Mamely dia manga, “kicking backwards,” or, what may be literally translated, “striking blue with the sole of the foot.” The game consists in two parties kicking each other in the same manner as horses, asses, or other animals. This accomplishment is sedulously cultivated, from youth to manhood, and many become desperately expert at it, broken ankles and legs often being the consequences. Hundreds at a time occasionally join in this rude sport, forming themselves into parties on opposite sides and driving at each other with amazing force, each seeking to maintain its advanced position and repel its antagonist by kicking backwards.

One of the most abhorrent customs of the Malagasy is the administration of a poison called the tangena, for the purpose of expelling wickedness and witchcraft. The tangena is an exceedingly poisonous nut of the Tanghinia Veneniflua which grows in the island. In order to ascertain whether any one is overwicked, or practices witchcraft, three pieces of skin from a fowl's back are taken, and the nut scraped into them in a fine powder; they are then rolled up, and the suspected person is made to swallow them. The poison acts as a powerful emetic; and if all the pieces of skin are thrown up the accused is acquitted; but otherwise he is condemned and executed. Sometimes permission is granted by the sovereign to administer it to the persons of a whole district at a time, and it is performed with a degree of barbarous and absurd ceremony, with an air of mysterious solemnity, and at the same time with such a horrid destruction of human life, as to cause one to contemplate it w4th a shudder of the deepest disgust. So savage do the people become under the influence of this abominable ceremony, that they shun their own relations who become accused, and not unfrequently the unfortunate victim who fails to vomit up the three pieces of skin, is hurried while yet alive, to his grave, and is thrown in and there crushed by the stones that are piled upon him. Nothing could compare with the monstrous deformity of this custom, in civilized countries, unless it was the ante de fe of Spain, or the incidental burning of slaves in the United States; and one looks on in wonder at the dark-