Malagasy Traditional Marriage Customs (Part one)

Malagasy kids are known to live at their parents’ home until they get married or want to move out. The legal age limit to get married is 18 for both girls and boys. However, in remote villages, kids can get married as soon as they are physically able to procreate. One time, I’ve assisted to a 12 year old girl getting happily married to her 14 year old husband. Both Moms and Dads were delighted to have had a successful parenting.

There are three marriages that are recognized in Madagascar be it a church, civil or traditional wedding. Thankfully, these days marriages take place by joint consent. The arranged marriage method , which used to be the only way Malagasy people would get married, is fast declining. 


Traditional weddings in Madagascar or a Malagasy wedding is surrounded by fascinating and unique traditions and rites. Depending on the regional customs and beliefs, the whole process can vary a lot. It also varies over time. In this article, we will bring to you the most popular rituals currently practiced.

Step 1: Fisehoana (the showing)

Before the wedding preparations can begin, there is usually a meeting called fiantranoana between the bride-to-be and groom-to-be’s families. The groom-to-be needs to have a spokesman or woman, called mpikabary  who delivers all the messages from his side to the bride-to-be’s family. The main purpose of such meeting is to show up to the other family, thus the fisehoana step, and to get to know each other better. This is also how the groom’s family seeks permission from the bride’s family members to officially ask for her hand and to make sure if they agree for the marriage or not. After this both the families offer their blessings to the bride and groom.

It has happened that the two families did not find any agreements together which cancelled the wedding altogether. But those are rare cases. 


Step 2: Fanapahan-Draharaha (decision making on the marriage arrangements)

Here the Malagasy families gather together on a stage to decide the wedding date. The logistics and division of expenses for the wedding are also discussed. The amount of the dowry or gift, also called Moletry, is determined. The latter is meant for the bride-to-be’s parents from the groom’s side before they go their own way. This symbolizes a consolation to the bride’s parents who would be parting with their beloved daughter. Some even call this tradition as buying the bride.

The most significant Madagascar traditional wedding gift and ritual is the slaughter of a lamb along with a number of live zebus (a humped cattle). With the passage of time and as customs evolve especially in the highlands, instead of Zebus and lamb, money is given as dowry. 

Step 3: Fanateram-bodiondry (gifting the lamb’s rump)

Vodiondry means lamb’s rump. It is the most priced cuts of lamb meat in a traditional Malagasy society. It is always given to the most respected people in the society, usually the elders. That is why this is also given as a gift to the bride’s parents by the groom. This is to show respect to the bride’s parents and thank them for raising his future wife. It is a big deal because the more you offer, the more you show that you value your future wife.

At this stage, the bride’s brother(s) is(are) also offered a gift called tampi-maso (eyewear) to forget the loss of his sister. It is also meant to show respect to the brother(s) and to be considerate towards him/them.

Fanateram-bodiondry is also another name for the engagement ceremony where the engagement ring is exchanged.

Step 4: Wedding ceremony

The wedding takes place by participation of both the bride and groom’s side.

On the wedding date, the groom with his family and friends, dressed to impress, arrive at the bride’s house or venue. Lamba is the Madagascar traditional wedding dress worn both by the bride and groom. Sometimes, a silk stole is gifted by the groom to the bride as a symbol of their union through marriage.

A lamba is essentially one or two pieces of fabric to wear. If two, one is worn around the chest or waist and the other piece is around the shoulders or head. Long ago in Madagascar, lamba was all that was worn. However, in modern times it is worn over western clothes.

The spokesman or woman appointed from each family should know the nuances of kabary or speech to be appointed. They begin  the wedding speech by apologizing as it is customary to be humble in public. The mpikabary then presents the ancestral history and end up praising the bride and groom. This is almost like a verbal match between two parties where they literally show off the success and notoriety of their respective families. It is a speech battle where they use fancy and mostly fun sayings, words and figures of speeches. It is very entertaining to watch if you ever have a chance to attend one. Of course, there ain’t no battle without a prize. The bride’s side praise their kid to have the most gifts/dowry/money possible; while the groom’s side praise theirs to stop the bleeding and pay the least possible so to speak.


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