The Sakalava of Madagascar

Population: 1.4 million

Location and Background: The Sakalava, who are related to the Antakarana, are semi-nomadic pastoralists who also grow some rice, living along the west coast of Madagascar. 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.

History: Until the start of the 19th c, nearly half of the island was under Sakalava rule. They were known for their sea-faring skills, and were the first to receive firearms from Europeans in exchange for cattle and slaves. During the18th-19th c, the Sakalava captured slaves in the Comores, East Africa and the highlands of Madagascar. Following the Merina conquest and then the French occupation, the Sakalava power and fortunes declined. Their territory is  being encroached upon by other ethnic groups.

Culture: The Sakalava of the south differ greatly from those in the north. But the true mark of Sakalava identity is that one respects, honors and works for the living and dead Sakalava royalty. Their caste system includes the descendants of royalty, then nobles, commoners and slaves. Precise hierarchies and histories of relationships with royalty are known in each class, so everyone knows their position. They are agriculturalists and fishermen, and also keep cattle as a sign of wealth and for use in sacrifices.

Religion: They believe in a remote, Creator God, who was the first ancestor. He can be reached through ancestral spirits and human  mediums. Spirit possession is sought after, often amid much drunkenness. Sorcery and witchcraft are rampant. Fear is a constant companion: fear of punishment, of displeasing ancestors, of death. Taboos are  observed in almost everything to do with their daily life. Everything is geared towards pleasing the ancestors of the royalty. 80% of Sakalava practice traditional religion, but recently Islam and Catholicism are making inroads, as they allow traditional cultural practices such as these to exist side by side, whereas Protestant  teaching does not.

Learn more about the Sakalava at Joshua Project or about Madagascar at Operation World.

Latest Prayer Updates:

Party in Heaven! Rejoice!

Saida came to our house and told me and the leader of our church plant that she is tired of worshipping spirits and wants to come to Jesus and go to church. She wanted to burn her witchcraft equipment. After talking to her and explaining the way of salvation, she accepted Christ as her saviour and the instruments used for witchcraft were burned the next day! She and her husband are now coming to church and worshipping with us.

Grief and Questions

Alexis has faced many challenges since he started Bible School here in Tana in preparation for serving the Lord full time. He left his wife and eight children back in Nosybe which was not an easy thing to do. This past week, Alexis was called back to Nosybe because his two year old daughter was very sick. Sadly the little girl died on Wednesday before Alexis made it back.  Please pray for Alexis and Mbotizara (his wife) in this time of grief, may they find God is sufficient in this great time of loss. Alexis and Mbotizara are the first people to become Christians in their family and village. People in the village do not understand why Alexis has left his family for Bible Study in Tana. Now they have many thoughts concerning the death of his daughter, some thinking it is a curse from his ancestors, others are wondering if his studies are making him rich. We thank the Lord that Alexis is standing strong in his faith, and believes God is in control of everything. Please pray for the people of this village, that they will be challenged by Alexis’ life and testimony and they will come to believe in his God. Also pray for Alexis and his family during these remaining months of studies that they will remain well and that he will be able to focus on his studies.

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