A young lady from the Sakalava ethnic group of Madagascar

A young lady from the Sakalava ethnic group of Madagascar

A young lady from the Sakalava ethnic group of Madagascar with their beautiful tribal facial panting. The Sakalava are semi-nomadic pastoralists ethnic group of Madagascar who also grow some rice, numbering approximately 1.5 million in population. Their name means "people of the long valleys."

They occupy the Western edge of the island from Toliara in the south to Sambirano in the north. They are related to the Antakarana people, and have a sub-tribe called Vezo and Antaisaka. The island of Antsiranana is a sacred island where their ancestors live, and they believe that any Merina (highland people) who goes there will die.
The Sakalava denominate a number of smaller ethnic groups that once comprised an ancient empire, rather than an ethnic group in its own right. The Sakalava speak several dialects of the Malagasy language, which is a branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language group derived from the Barito languages, spoken in southern Borneo. They were known for their sea-faring skills, and were the first to receive firearms from Europeans in exchange for cattle and slaves. They are popular with their traditional facial painting beautification.


The Sakalava of Madagascar (who will be the focus of this article) are organized into a string of kingdoms located along the entire western coast, extending from the south, at the Bay of Augustin near Toliary at 23°35′ S, to as far north as the offshore island of Nosy Be, the Bay of Ampasindava, and the Mahavavy River, all of which lie at approximately 13° S. Sakalava territory is bordered to the south by the island's arid region; to the east by the central highlands; and in the far north by mountainous terrain, where the highest peak is Mount Tsaratanana at 2,876 meters. The Sakalava inhabit a variety of ecological zones: the far north, in particular, is forested; as one moves south, the terrain turns into grassy savanna and then sandy (and, at times, arid) areas, with palm and baobab trees. The Antakarana are the Sakalava's northern neighbors; to the west are the Tsimihety, and to the south is territory occupied by such pastoral groups as the Bara and the Mahafaly.


Within their own territory, the Sakalava draw distinctions between "southern" and "northern" Sakalava, each exhibiting local variations in dialect as well as ritual activities that focus primarily on their respective royal dynasties and associated tombs. Menabe, encompassing the territory surrounding the city of Morondava, is the seat of the southern Sakalava, and also that of the original Maroserana dynasty, which was founded in the 1600s by the ruler Andrtandahifotsy, his classificatory father Andriamisara, and his grandfather Andriamandazoala. In the northwest is Boeny (or Boina), centered around Marovoay near the city of Majunga. Boeny was founded by the ruler Andriamandisoarivo in the early 1700s. All Sakalava dynasties trace their origins to the Maroserana rulers of the far south, each having moved progressively north following disputes over royal succession. The Bemazava dynasty, based today in the town of Ambanja, is located in the far north and is the youngest of all, having been established in the nineteenth century. Sakalava dynasties are also further categorized as being of one of two dynastic groups: the Zafinibolamena (also abbreviated to Zafin'i'mena and meaning "Grandchildren of Gold"), of Maroserana origin, and the more recent Zafinibolafotsy (or Zafin'i'fotsy, "Grandchildren of Silver"). Today each is represented throughout Sakalava territory.


BY: Kweku Darko Ankrah

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