A Joyful Adventurous Life Together

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Antananarivo, Madagascar
VAZAHA = foreigner VAO VAO = news

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fombas and finoanas

Today, I went to a funeral in my slippers.

Saturday night's all-night party at the neighbors, and the singing I disparaged in my Facebook post on Sunday, were to mourn the death of our neighbor. Mourning involves an all-night singing session. This morning, Madame Bernadette, the self-proclaimed 106 y/o nun (maybe 86 but who am I to say), asked me to meet at the end of our street at 6:30 pm. The 'gasy custom (= fomba), it seems, is for neighbors to stop by to offer condolences and a collection. I was immersed in editing octopus when she came to get me -- I darted out the door only to realize that I had fuzzy feet. No problem on the dark street, but when we were in the family living room, all in a circle, with eyes cast downward, praying, well, I thought I might die. (Maybe they think it is a vazaha custom?!)

What other customs might there be? My favorite so far is the ingrained belief (= finoana) in ghosts and witches. Witches, in particular, are a real problem. So much so that our language/'gasy culture teacher did not want to teach us about them. Eventually,she capitulated, but we had to plan the lesson to avoid Wednesdays because that day is when you can/are more likely to see them. I'm not sure anyone has ever seen a witch, but the say, "They say that witches..." and continue the rumor. Witches are often possessed and suffer greatly, and if you allow them to touch you, they can pass on the evil spirit to you. They dance on graves (of course). If you see a witch, you much talk first or you will be turned into a horse. Luckily, you can identify witches by their messy hair and "alternative" clothing. And you can keep them out of your house by putting some voangabory (my favorite bean here) on the doorstep and window sills. You can also indirectly accuse someone of being a witch by feeding them voangabory -- apparently witches can't eat them, so you know right away. (Much nicer than Salem!) But now I know to make a joke when I ask Juliette to make us voangabory -- she was minorly offended the first time.

Witches are kind of handy when you think of it -- when things go missing or creepy things happen (someone breaks into your hut, for instance) -- you can blame a witch. This way, you don't need to confront anyone. It fits in well with the tendency of 'gasies to avoid conflict.Witches can be male or female, and are different from witch DOCTORS, who can cast nasty curses to, for example, kill your competition for your paramour. Witch doctors are a legit business. Um, calling. They use herbs and spells...and have immense power. (I wonder if I can give nasty peer reviewers bad diarrhea??)

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