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In a study published in the Bulletin of Madagascar (October-November 1970), Lotte Schomerus-Gernböck gives some of his observations on betrothal marriage and divorce among the Mahafaly of Ampanihy West. According to him, in rural areas, marriage remains customary “for lack of identity papers and not for attachment to
Traditions “.
It is the parents of the girl, “rarely those of the young man,” who arrange the marriage. This rule is no longer respected today because, in principle, the union “is never concluded against the will of the future spouses”. The child is often engaged at the age of 6 to
8, but all expect her to be “adult” (15-18 years) to organize the wedding.
During this long period of engagement, the “valy folo” or fiancée remains close to her parents. Her fiance or stepfather visits her from time to time and brings her food, clothes, jewelry, and all kinds of gifts to her parents. But sometimes the father of the bride rejects these gifts by saying that her daughter is not lacking, that she is capable of taking care of her, of feeding and dressing her. “This has the advantage that the bride’s father owes no compensation to the boy’s family in case of engagement breaks. “
Indeed, the father of a large and poor family, who accepts the gifts of a suitor, often for years, can no longer break the betrothal, even at the request of his daughter, because he can no longer reimburse the gifts Of the fiancé. “That is why wealthy parents prefer to wait until the girl’s reasonable age for the engagement. Unless she prefers to remain single until she finds herself a suitor.
When a teenager becomes “adult”, like her unmarried brothers she receives from her father a hut for herself. “At this point, a control of the girl’s conduct is more difficult. For if a “sakaiza” (lover) visits him at night, he does not knock at the door. When, despite all the precautions, this visit does not remain unnoticed and if she is not yet engaged, she is sent to relatives in a remote village.
When the parents have only suspicions without any evidence of their daughter’s misconduct, they try to get her married as soon as possible to her fiancé or the presumed lover. If the latter is already married, they try to convince him to take her for second wife (vady
Masay) in order to avoid the birth of an illegitimate child, “which is still a shame for a family in the country today”.
On the other hand, in the city and in some quarters, many parents no longer meddle in the private life of their children, “and an illegitimate child is no longer a shame but a burden”. The author observes that in some families an illegitimate child is adopted from birth by the elder brother of the young mother. She loses all rights to her child. This is not the case if it is the maternal grandmother who takes the child in charge.
When a girl gives birth to a child whose fiancé is not sure of being the father, the latter “may cancel the engagement and claim the reimbursement of the gifts”. If he is “soa fanahy” (good character, generous), he agrees to take care of the child, but he is forbidden to ask for the name of the father.
It often happens that men from other ethnic groups, such as single civil servants, live with Mahafaly youths for years. If children are born, they remain in charge of their mother when the man goes to other heavens and refuses to recognize them.
When she marries, her husband usually refuses to take home all the children who must stay with the maternal grandparents. “A man wants to have children, of course, but it is his own children and not those of another. For if we often hear in Madagascar that a woman with children is more desirable than a woman without children, such a consideration is not valid among the Mahafaly