Malagasy Traditional Marriage Customs (Part two)
Step 4: Wedding ceremony (continued)
Once the speech and the dowry rituals are over, the parents of the bride offer refreshments mostly local-made alcoholic drinks like Ambodivoara, Betsabetsa, Galeoka, and Toakagasy. The party then starts and the youngsters usually sing traditional songs like vako-drazana, accompanied by dancing and making merry. There could also be an orchestra or a DJ who plays a mix of both traditional or modern songs. In the later case, the vako-drazana, which is a cappella singing of traditional songs, leave the place for choreographies on the tunes of the Queen B’s and the B-Boys of this planet.
A grand wedding feast, called hanim-pitoloha (litterally seven courses meal), is then offered. Seven is a sacred number in Madagascar along with three. A meal with seven course is used to describe a feast where every kind of food desired is to be had. As a matter of fact, even the traditional Malagasy wedding cake had seven layers.
Traditionally, the bride and groom were served food on a fandambanana – a woven plate. This woven plate signifies a wish to have a long and healthy life. It also signifies how fragile the relationship is. The couple eat from a spoon that is carved from black horn – significance of the fact that they are one or united. Black color signifies a long life. This wedding meal used to be made of milk, honey and rice.
Families, even entire villages, gather under a decorated tent or venue and all eat together. This meal can be either a buffet or served at a table. There used to be only traditional cuisines but nowadays, there are more and more modern dishes in the wedding meal. The main goal is to show off ones wealth and impress the guests.
After the meal, the guests offer the newly wedded couple gifts comprising of utensils, clothes, mattress and other things that the newly wedded couple require to begin a new life. These days, money has replaced the traditional physical gifts for convenience and practicality reason.
Step 5: Orimbato (acquiescence)
The next morning, when breakfast is over, both the families once again unite at the bride’s parents’ home or venue. Here the spokesman or woman delivers the orimbato wedding speech. Following this speech or kabary, the groom takes out money and places it on a porcelain plate which contains clean water. This is traditionally placed in front of the newly wed. The elder most person in the family also places money in the plate. Then, with the branch of a sacred plant from Madagascar (Hasina or Dracaena), the elder most sprays the water over the new couples’ heads while praying to God to bless them. The bride’s parents follow by giving their blessing. First, they spray the newly wedded bride and groom. After that, the couple also drink the blessed water. The audience attending at the time, including the children that are present, now take turn to spray the blessing water on the couple. Needless to say that the more soaked they are, the most blessing they received.
All of this is followed by a traditional delicious Malagasy meal for everyone invited. No Malagasy party without food.
Step 6: Farewell (Veloma)
At this stage, the bride and her family are closed in a room where all her baggage is ready. Just outside the closed door are the groom and his family singing typical merry Malagasy song like Osika or Hiragasy. While continuing to sing, the door to the room where the bride is kept is opened and the bride’s family throw the baggage outside. The interesting ritual is when the groom’s family does not let any baggage fall on the floor. This is symbolic of the bride starting a new journey to her husband’s home. The ceremony continues with a procession up to the husband’s house.
Step 7: Welcome (Tonga soa)
The final step is when the procession arrives at the husband’s house. His mother leads the bride to tour around the house thrice as a Madagascar wedding custom symbolizing the bride turning into a Queen. After this, the eldest in the family welcomes the newlywed and blesses them to give birth to boys and girls and be happy and rich thereafter.
The ceremony ends with a grand wedding party with all the groom’s family and friends.
Each Malagasy ethnic group sometimes have different wedding customs. For the Bara‘s ethnic, in the southern part of the central plateaus of Madagascar, cousins are allowed to marry each other. Here, a grandfather or a grandmother can arrange a wedding by decree between their grandchildren. However, once they pass away, to make the ancestors happy, a wedding ritual has to be performed. For Bara people, a wedding is recognized only after the sacrifice of a cow.
For Betsileo people, a highland ethnic group of Madagascar, arranged marriages still exist. And they make sure both families are all satisfied before they agree to the wedding. Also, they scrutinize a minimum of three generations of the family of the bride or groom. Having done that and after being satisfied, an astrologer is consulted to fix a date for the wedding.
On the western and northwest region of the island, Sakalava people do not proceed to any marriage ceremony other than the couple moving in together.