The manners and customs of the Malagasy are interesting as being chiefly of native growth, and as showing the strange developments of the human mind when not directed by those moral axioms whose exercise are absolutely essential to the higher order of civilization. Even before the birth of an infant there are ceremonies in anticipation of "the hour of nature's sorrow,” which are as unmeaning as they are unnecessary. After the birth, the friends and relatives of the mother visit her, and offer their congratulations. The infant also receives salutations, in form resembling the following: “Saluted be the offspring given of God!—may the child live long!—may the child be favored so as to possess wealth!” Presents are made to the attendants in the household, and sometimes a bullock is killed and distributed among the members of the family. Presents of poultry, fuel, money, etc., are at times also sent by friends to the mother. A fire is kept in the room day and night, frequently for a week after the birth of a child. After this period the child is taken out of the house by some person whose parents are both living, and then taken back to the mother. In being carried out and in the child must be carefully lifted over the fire, which for this purpose is placed near the door. Should the infant be a boy, the ax, large knife, and spear, generally used in the family, must be taken out at the same time, with any implements of building that may be in the house. Silver chains, of native manufacture, are also given as presents, or used in these ceremonies, for which no particular reason is assigned.
One of the first steps of the father, or a near relative, is to report the birth of the child to the native divines or astrologers, who are required to work the Sikidy for the purpose of ascertaining and declaring its destiny. The Sikidy consists in mixing together a number of beans and small stones, and from the figures which they form, predicting either favorable or unfavorable results. If the destiny is declared to be favorable, the child is nurtured with that tenderness and affection which nature inspires, and the warmest congratulations are tendered by the friends of the parents.
At the expiration of the second or third month from the birth of the child a ceremony called “scrambling” takes place. A mixture of beef tallow, with rice, milk, honey, a sort of grass, and a lock of the infant's hair is cooked together in a rice pan, and when it is done, a general rush takes place upon the pan, and a scramble after its contents, especially by the women, as it is thought that those who are fortunate enough to get a portion may hope to become mothers.
With respect to names for children, these are bestowed without ceremony, and are generally descriptive, as they usually are among uncivilized tribes.
When the destiny of the child is pronounced unfavorable by the Sikidy, it is generally exposed to death, or else murdered outright, although an offering may sometimes avert the evil. The exposure is usually effected in this way: An infant—a new-born, perfectly helpless, unconscious infant—smiling perhaps in innocence, is laid on the ground in the narrow entrance to a village or cattle yard, through which there is but just room enough for cattle to pass; several cattle are then driven violently in, and are made to pass over the spot where the child is placed, while the parents stand by with agonizing feelings waiting the result.
If the oxen pass over without injuring the infant, the omen is propitious, the powerful and evil destiny is removed, the parents may without apprehension embrace their offspring and cherish it as one rescued from destruction. But should the child be crushed to death by the feet of the oxen, which is likely to be the case, the parents return to mourn their loss in the bitterness of grief, with no other consolation than that which the monstrous absurdities of their delusions supply—that, had their beloved infant survived, it would have been exposed to the influence of that destiny which now required its exposure to destruction.
In this sacrifice of infant life the radical idea would not seem to be greatly different from that which led to the worship of Moloch, in which human beings were offered to a god in the form of an ox, the ox being a principal source from which our physical life is derived and maintained. If we derive our life or sustenance from the ox, it seems fair to give to it of our human life in return. Such would seem to be the darkling mode of reasoning that leads barbarous nations to the practice of infanticide.
But there is a gloomier cast still to the divinations by the Sikidy, where the child is doomed to inevitable death, without the possibility of escape. When this inhuman decision of the astrologers has been announced, the death of the innocent victim is usually effected by suffocation, The infant's head is held with its face downwards in the rice pan filled with water, till life becomes extinct. Sometimes a piece of cloth is placed on the child’s mouth, to render its suffocation more speedy. The remains of the infant thus murdered, are buried on the south side of the parents’ house, that being superstitiously regarded as the part which is ill omened and fatal. The parents then rub a small quantity of red earth into their clothes, and afterwards shake them, as if to avert or shake off from themselves the evil supposed to be incurred by their slight and transient contact with that which had been doomed to destruction.
Another mode of perpetrating this unnatural deed is by taking the infant to a retired spot in the neighborhood of the village, digging a grave sufficiently large to receive it, pouring in a quantity of water slightly warmed, putting a piece of cloth on the infant’s mouth, placing it in the grave, filling this up with earth, and leaving the helpless child thus buried alive, a memorial of their own affecting degradation, and the relentless barbarism of their gloomy superstition. Yet such seems to be one of the natural traits of man in his native condition, and wherein does it differ from the unconscious act of the crocodile in devouring its own young? Nature has thus constituted man; and it would seem as if besides the deadly fever, and frequent wars between hostile tribes, she had provided additional means to check the tendency to a superabundant overgrowth of population in one of her fertile tropical islands.
When the Malagasy child has escaped all the dangers to which its infant life is exposed, it is then beloved with additional tenderness by its parents. At a very early age, frequently before the sixth or seventh year is completed, girls and boys engage in the occupations of their parents respectively. The amusements of the children resemble on a smaller scale those of the adults. Bull-fighting is one of those held in the highest estimation among the latter; and children spend many hours in setting beetles to fight, and watching them while employed in destroying each other.
Children are betrothed at a very early age, and they marry at 12 and 14, becoming parents soon afterwards. There are certain degrees of relationship within which the laws prohibit marriage. The marriage ceremonies are very simple, and not very uniform. Great feasting takes place; the betrothed couple appear in their best dress, and their friends and relatives meet at the houses of the parents of the two parties. At the appointed hour, the relatives or friends of the bridegroom accompany him to the house of the bride. These either pay or receive the dowry agreed upon; he is welcomed by the bride as her future husband; they eat together, are recognized by the senior members of the family as husband and wife, a benediction is pronounced upon them, and a prayer offered to God that they may have a numerous offspring, abundance of cattle, many slaves, great wealth, and increase the honor of their respective families.
Polygamy is common among the Malagasy, the only restrictions upon it being that no man shall take twelve wives except the sovereign. There are many more ceremonies attending the taking of a second wife than the first, which it is needless to mention. The very name by which polygamy is designated—famporafesana, that is, “the means of causing enmity,” implies the evils of which it is the fruitful source. It is the chief cause of nearly all the domestic disputes and jealousies existing among the Malagasy; wives become jealous of each other, and the husband suffers from the jealousy of all. In a word, polygamy is a curse to the land, and its final extinction is a consummation devoutly to be desired by all who prefer peace to wrath, affection to bitterness, domestic comfort to domestic strife, and Christian virtues to the jealousy, malice, and uncharitableness of the excited and turbulent passions of depraved human nature. It is a cause, among other evils, of numerous divorces. The divorced woman can marry again in twelve days, though it is possible for the husband to give a divorce of such a character that she can never marry again.
A widow forfeits all claim to respectability of character if she marry within twelve months of her husband’s decease, and would, were she thus to act, be marked and shunned in society.
The ceremony of circumcision has been long practiced in the island, and as no one seems to know whence it came, it may possibly be regarded as indigenous. It dose not appear to have much religious significance, but would seem rather to be a mark of manhood, and to be more assimilated to the ceremony observed on assuming the toga virilis among the Romans, than to the institution of circumcision as practiced by the Semitic race. If the Malagasy are asked why they practice it, their answer is, because their ancestors did. And when asked why their ancestors did it, they reply, “Who can tell that?”
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 may remind the reader of that passage in the Scripture where it is stated that God met: Moses in the way and sought to kill him. When the calabash is filled with water, the bearer leaves the pool, and the procession moves towards the village, decorated with all the ornaments and finery which those who compose it have been able to procure. Stems of the banana-tree, ripe bananas, sugar-canes, bamboos, small canes, and silver chains, with various articles used during the ceremonies are also borne in the procession.
From day-light in the morning those in the village are all astire in preparing to go forth to meet the procession. Both sexes are ornamented with gold and silver chains, trinkets, silken robes, etc. Dollars, strung together by means of a strong line passed through holes near their edges, are worn like bands or fillets on the heads of the females, and over the shoulders of the men. This latter ornament is used as an indication of the wealth of the wearers or their families. In the procession, fathers take precedence, mothers follow, and friends and relatives bring up the rear. At about half a mile from the village they met those bringing the sacred water. |The latter procession advances slowly, singing and dancing, and the leader, with his spear and shield, asks,—“What water is this?” The females then advance dancing, and sing—“Bless the water, the consecrated water that wearies.”
On reaching the village, the whole procession moves three times round the house where the ceremony is to be performed, bearing the holy water and its accompaniments; after which they enter the house and wait till the amusements commence. They consist of bull-baiting, dancing, singing, beating drums, etc., and are kept up by alternate parties with considerable energy and hilarity until about sunset, when the people again enter the house. There, the females employ themselves in plaiting split rushes, for the purpase of forming small baskets. They sing and chant during the time they are thus employed; and the baskets, when finished, are suspended in a line extending northward, the basket intended for the eldest child being placed first.
While the females are employed making the baskets, the master of ceremonies kills a sheep in front of his house. This is called fahazza, “causing fruitfulness.” After cutting off the head of the animal, the body is given to the multitude, who scramble for it, and in a few minutes tear the whole to pieces. The use of a knife or any sharp instrument is forbidden. Every female obtaining a portion is supposed to obtain fruitfulness with it. No sheep, however, possesses this potent efficacy, that is not of a certain kind and color, decided by the Sikidy.
The boys on whom the rite is to be performed are next led across the blood of the animal just killed, to which some idea of sacredness is attached. They are then placed on the west side of the house, and as they stand erect, a man, holding a light cane in his hand, measures the first child to the crown of the head, and at one stroke cuts off a piece of the cane measured to that height, having first dipped the knife in the blood of the slaughtered sheep. This knife is again dipped in the blood, and the child measured to the waist, when the cane is cut at that height. He is afterwards measured to the knee with similiar observances. The same ceremony is performed on all the children successively. The meaning of this, if indeed it has any meaning at all, seems to be the symbolical removal of all evils to which the child might be exposed—first, from the head to the waist, then from the waist to the knees, and finally from the knees to the sole of the foot.A hole is now dug in the northeast corner of the house, in which a stem of the banana-tree is planted, and on it an earthen lamp is fixed to burn during the night. Great attention is paid to the fixing of the stem, that the height may be proper, and the lamp made fast. The stem of the banana is consecrated by water sweetened with honey, being poured into the hole and upon the stem. Large silver chains are placed in a rice-pan, and a portion of the sacred water and honey is poured upon them, by which they are supposed to be consecrated for the ceremony. Rice powder is also introduced. A small quantity of the honey and water is then given to each of the children, and the person presenting it pronounces benedictions on them, the silver chains in the meantime being rattled in the rice-pan. The benedictions are of this kind: “May the children prosper in the world!—may they have spacious houses well filled with silver and slaves!—may their cattle be too numerous for their folds, and may their property be great!—if stones are thrown at them may they not be hurt, and when stoning others may they hit!—if attempted to be seized, may they escape!—and if seizing others, may they catch!—if pursued by others may they not be caught, and if pursuing others may they overtake!—and may they be beloved by the King and people!”
These benedictions are repeated several times; and the people all the while repeat the national sound, "oo, oo, oo," in one continued note, as long as the breath can sustain it. This is a usual expression of pleasure, the significant sound of approbation, and conveys as much to the Malagasy as the heartiest thrice-repeated cheer does to the Englishman.
It is also repeatedly asked during this part of the ceremony—"Is it not well? Is it not admirably well? Is it not good?" with many other equally important inquiries.
Having advanced thus far, some one, accustomed to speak in the public assemblies of the people, then addresses all who attend on the occasion, and charges them to behave with proper decorum during the proceedings, to avoid levity of conduct, and to enter the house with their heads uncovered, lest by any neglect or impropriety they should desecrate what is holy, and so render unavailing the ceremony. The lamp is then lighted, the drums beat, and dancing and singing commence, which are continued during the whole night.
The next morning the fathers of the children who are to be circumcised, fetch the baskets plaited on the preceding day, and in which bananas are placed as offerings to avert future evils. These offerings (called Faditra) are placed first on the children, and are then carried away by the fathers, who prostrate themselves, as they leave the house, at a spot a short distance from the village, where they are cast away. No one dares to touch these bananas; they are deemed accursed, and are devoted to bearing away evil.
The ceremony of fetching the Ranomahery "strong water" now takes place. Early in the morning the double calabash is brought out of the house, a hole is struck through the center, and silver chains are put in. It is then carried to a running stream, and carefully filled by passing the vessel up the stream in a sloping direction, that the water may flow into it. In fetching it, the bearers must run with the utmost rapidity, having first girded up their loins. The leader of this party also carries a spear and a shield. The people collect at the entrance of the village, and await the return of the water-bearers, each one holding reeds and stones in his hands, with which, in a playful manner, they pretend to assault the water bearers on their return. A song is repeated on this occasion, consisting of these few simple expressions—Zana boro mahary Manatody ambato—"the young eagle lays her eggs on the rock;" implying, that in like manner the children will attain places now deemed inaccessible, and deposit their property beyond the reach of danger and spoliation. After walking round the house three times as before, the party enters, bending forward as they approach the door.
A young bullock of red color, selected for the occasion, being now brought into the court-yard of the house, the person who is to perform the rite advances, cuts a slit in the animal's ear, and dips his knife in the blood which flows therefrom. At the dropping of the blood from the ear of the animal, the children are supposed to be placed under a guarantee from future harm. A small drum is then placed near the threshold of the door, and the boy on whom the ceremony is now to be performed, being seated upon it, is firmly held by several men, and his ears stopped by those around him. The father stands close to the door outside, with his spear in his right hand and his shield in the left, performing with them the actions of a warrior; and while at this moment the act is performed, the father exclaims: “Thou art become a man, mayst thou be loved—loved by the sovereign and by the people!—may the sovereign continue to reign long!—may there be mutual confidence between thee and the people!—be of good report among the people!—be facile of instruction, and of a docile disposition!” The father exhorts the child to take courage, declaiming, that now he has become a man, he should have a gun, a spear, and a shield, and should follow the King; that now he belonged to the King, he should henceforth serve him, and do homage to him, but that if he cried, he should not be the child of the King, but would be stigmatized as effeminate, and respected by no one.
The rano mahery, “strong water,” is immediately employed in washing the children. While the rite is performing, the mothers are crawling about on the floor, touching the earth with their hands, and throwing dust and ashes on their hair, as tokens of humiliation on account of their children. Each mother rises from the ground at the moment her child has received the rite, and endeavors to assuage its grief, nursing it beside the fire.
The rite being thus performed, there is usually a distribution made by the chiefs of the district, and by the heads of families, of a number of oxen, to be killed and divided among the strangers and visitors. The parties then return to their several homes, when a fowl is killed, and some bananas are given to the children. In the course of two or three weeks the whole ceremony terminates by feasting, and rude signs of rejoicing, accompanied with dancing and singing.
Another popular institution of the Malagasy is that of forming Brotherhoods, which is a species of masonry, though it does not appear to be based upon secrecy. Its object is to form a strict bond of friendship between two or more individuals, and is called fatidra, i.e., “dead blood,” either because the binding oath is taken over the blood of a fowl killed on the occasion, or because a small portion of blood is drawn from each individual when thus pledging friendship, and drunk by those to whom friendship is pledged, with execrations of vengeance on each other, in case of violating the sacred oath. To obtain this blood, a slight incision is made in the skin covering the center of the bosom, significantly called ambarafo, “the mouth of the heart.”
There are many ceremonies connected with the formation of this bond of brotherhood, all of which are designed to impress upon the minds of those entering upon it the sanctions of the oaths which are taken. These brotherhoods are not sufficiently numerous in their membership to prove dangerous to society or to the government, and are beneficial to the individuals who belong to them. They are specially beneficial to the slaves, between whom the obligations can be formed as well as between their masters.
This engagement of brotherhood, accompanied with solemn oaths and the drinking of each other’s blood, has also been observed to prevail in the Island of Borneo; and this fact furnishes another evidence besides a common language, that the people of Madagascar have some affinity, not understood, with those who inhabit the wide-spread islands of Polynesia.
It is needless to enter into details with respect to the character of slavery in Madagascar, since it resembles in so many particulars the institution as recently witnessed among ourselves. Its mingled guilt, degradation and misery are the same there as they have been among us, and from which, long years, and perhaps still farther suffering and bloodshed, will be necessary to enable us to recover, and to place ourselves once more upon that elevated and Christian ground upon which we began our national career.
Some of the nobles possess several hundred slaves each, and these are employed in all the varied ways, and under similar conditions that they were formerly in the United States.
Like all other barbarous people, the Malagasy are generous and hospitable, their own modes of living being so miserable that they are very willing to share freely with others. Where people rely upon the spontaniety of nature, or upon the labor of slaves for their food and shelter, it becomes an easy matter to manifest the ruder semblances of hospitality; but as for imparting Christian solace and comfort they know nothing. These they rather persecute and expel.
Should one be content to dine on locusts and silk worms, he could be highly entertained. Large swarms of locusts are often seen in Madagascar in the spring and summer. They generally approach from the southwestern quarter of the island, and pass like a desolating scourge over the face of the country, leaving trees and shrubs entirely leafless, and destroying the plantations of rice and manioc, and whatever the gardens contain. Their appearance on approaching is like a dense cloud of considerable extent, the lowest part of which is about two feet above the ground, while the upper part rises to a great elevation. The natives, on the approach of the locusts, fly to their gardens, and, by noises and shouts of the most tumultuous kind, endeavor to prevent their alighting. In the uncultivated parts of the country they often dig holes, of large dimensions, and nearly a foot deep, in which great quantities are collected and taken; or they arrest them in their flight by wide shallow baskets, or by striking them down with their lambas, after which they are gathered up in baskets by women and children. The locusts form at times an important element of food; for this purpose they are caught as above described, slightly cooked, and eaten, after the legs and wings have been picked off; or they are partially boiled in large earthen or iron vessels, dried in the sun, and repeatedly winnowed, in order to clear the bodies from the legs and wings; they are afterwards packed up in baskets, and carried to the market for sale, or kept in large sacks or baskets in the house for domestic use, similarly to the manner practiced by the Indians who inhabit the deserts of Utah.
Locusts are usually cooked by frying them in an iron or earthen vessel; and the natives say that they resemble shrimps.
Silk worms, in the chrysalis state, are also cooked and eaten. Considerable quantities of them are gathered in several provinces of the island, where the tapia edulis grows, the plant on which the silk worms feed, and are exposed for sale in the markets.
How long the art of distillation has been known in the island, cannot be ascertained; but spirituous liquors are made from sugar-cane, honey, berries, and other native productions. French wines are also known; and as a caution to etymologists it may be-stated that the native word for wine is "divray," which one might be slow to expect to come from the French du vin. This native vford hardly resembles its original so nearly as Vazimba would the word Mitzraim, the name for the ancient Egyptians, between which, however, there may be no connection.
The greatest scourges that afflict the island in the form of disease are fever and the small-pox. This latter disease is so much dreaded by the natives that they have been known to drive away and kill with stones one who may first become attacked by it. Thousands have been swept off by it at a time. With respect to the fever, which seldom prevails in the highlands, the best time for Europeans to land upon the island is in the months of July, August and September.
The ceremonials attending the burial of the dead are numerous and interesting; but we confine ourselves to a passing notice. The Malagasy, like the Jews and some other nations, attach ideas of uncleanness or pollution to touching a corpse. No corpse is permitted to be carried to the grave along the principal thoroughfare of the capital, which is thought to be in some measure sacred. Nevertheless the same street is sometimes stained with the blood of human victims destroyed in obedience to false and cruel divinations. No one who has attended a funeral is permitted to enter into the court-yard of the palace till eight days have elapsed, and then he must bathe before he can be admitted. In all cases, a total or partial ablution of the garments of the mourners must take place on return from the grave.
The tombs of the Malagasy are placed sometimes in front of their houses, or occupy a place by the road-side. At others, they are built in the midst of a village, or where two roads meet. Often a person begins to erect his tomb in early life, and makes its completion through a series of years one of the most important objects of his existence, deeming a costly repository for his mouldering remains the most effectual remedy of being held in honorable remembrance by posterity. In constructing a tomb, a large excavation is made in the earth, and the roofs and sides of the vault are made of immense slabs of stone. Incredible labor is often employed in bringing these slabs from a distance to the spot where the tomb is to be constructed. The sides of a vault six or seven feet high, and ten ox* twelve feet square, are often formed of single stones of these dimensions. A sort of subterraneous room is thus built; which, in some parts of the country, is lined with rough pieces of timber. The stones are covered with earth, to the depth of from fifteen to eighteen inches. This mass of earth is faced with a curb of stone, and upon this a second and third mound or mass of earth is formed, each of smaller dimensions than the lowest one, but faced with stone in the same way, and being from twelve to eighteen inches in height, thus forming altogether a flat pyramidal mass, composed of successive terraces, and resembling in appearance the pyramidal structures of the aborigines of South America. They are, indeed, like the rough state of the Egyptian pyramids as they are supposed to have been before the last exterior coating of stone was added in order to render the pyramidal slant unbroken and complete. The summit of the grave is ornamented with large pieces of rose or white quartz. The stone-work exhibits, in many instances, very good workmanship, and reflects great credit on the skill of the native masons. Some of these rude structures are stated to be twenty feet in width, and fifty feet long.
The large slabs used in forming the tombs, as described, are usually of granite or sienite. The natives have long known how to detach blocks of stone from the mountain mass by means of burning cow-dung on the part they wish to remove, and dashing cold water along the line on the stone they have heated. Having been thus treated, the stone easily separates in thick layers, and is forced up by means of levers. Mysterious “odies,” or charms, are employed in marking out the desired dimensions of the slab, and to their virtue is foolishly attributed the splitting of the stone, though they well know that all the “odies” in the island could not split a stone unless heat were applied. Yet this is a species of speculative masonry which appears to belong to the recondite art of stone-work. When the slab is detached, bands of straw are fastened round it, to prevent breakage in the removal. Strong ropes are attached to the slab, and, amidst the boisterous vociferations of the workmen, it is dragged away from the quarry. In ascending a hill, wooden rollers are placed under the stone, and moved forward as it advances.
Sometimes five or six hundred men are employed in dragging a single stone. A man usually stands on the stone, acting as director. He holds a cloth in his hand, and waves it with loud and incessant shouts, to animate those who are dragging the ponderous block. At his shouting they pull in concert, and so far his shouting is of real service. Holy water is also sprinkled on the stone as a means of facilitating its progress, till at length, after immense shouting, sprinkling, and pulling, it reaches its destination.
When the tomb is erected for a person deceased, but not yet buried, no noise is made in dragging the stones for its construction. Profound silence is regarded as indicating the respect of the parties employed. The tombs are occasionally washed with a mixture of lime, or white clay, and thus furnish to the eye of the traveler a pleasing variety in the objects around him. The entrance to the vault is covered by a large upright block of stone, which is removed when a corpse is taken in, and fixed in its former position at the termination of the ceremony. Small native fans are used in driving insects from the corpse, while it remains in the house, and on the road to the grave; these are left stuck in the earth over the grave. High poles are often planted around the tomb, upon which the skulls and horns of the bullocks slaughtered at the interment are stuck, the number of these showing the wealth of the family, or the value of the tribute thus rendered by survivors to the memory of the departed. Sometimes the horns are stuck in the earth at the corners of the tomb, or fixed in the form of a fence around it. This is considered highly ornamental.
Those who are desirous of paying great respect to their deceased relatives, and of preserving their tombs in good repair, keep the ground immediately around the graves in neat and excellent order, preserving it perfectly smooth and level, and free from weds. In the tombs of the wealthy much treasure is often buried.
Though the Malagasy are exceedingly kind and attentive to their sick, and exhibit the most grand and solemn manifestations of respect on the death of noted persons among them, yet they leave the bodies of criminals at the foot of the precipice from which they have been thrown, to be torn to pieces by the dogs, and to litter the earth with their bones.
Some of the amusements of the Malagasy are quite curious. The wife in saluting her husband, or the slave his master, on his return from war or from a journey, crawls on the ground and licks his feet.
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 darkling operations of the human mind when not aided by power from an outer source beyond itself.
The Sikidy, or process of divination, we have already mentioned. It is regarded with the greatest popular favor, and is used on all occasions. It shows how prone the Malagasy mind is to rely upon some power beyond its own reason, and is an indication of the great facility with which they meght be led, if properly managed, to accept the tenets of the Christian religion. Such rank superstition may be regarded as a rich, tropical soil, in which an enlightened faith might be trained to grow in the greatest perfection.
The directions of the oracle called the Sikidy respect two different kinds of offerings; the sorona being intended to obtain favors, and the faditra to avert evils. Both, perhaps, partake more of the nature of charms than strictly of sacrifices, and the sorona especially. The faditra is a thing rejected; and in throwing it away, the offerer believes he averts some dreaded evil. There is, in this ceremony, something analagous to the institution among the ancient Jews, of sending away into the wilderness the scape-goat, bearing on its head the weight and curse of the confessed iniquities of the congregation of Israel. The material of the ceremony differs, and so does the mode, but the spirit and design have a resemblance; and hence the idea which first occurs to a Malagasy, in connection with such texts of Scripture as represent Christ bearing the sins of the world, is that of a powerful faditra — the taking away of evil — the averting of suffering or death.