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.
Latest Prayer Updates:
Surveys here on the island these last few weeks have revealed three other villages open to hearing the gospel. The first village has offered to give a plot for missionaries to build their house on. The second village has offered a house for the missionaries to stay. The third village has openly expressed their desire to have a service held in their village every Sunday. We praise the Lord for these opportunities and need wisdom in organizing our time well. Praise the Lord for these new opportunities of ministry and pray for wisdom for our Malagasy missionaries (Melias, Lebaba, Noel and Jean) as they organize outreach to these villages.
We are so delighted to see many people in our village listening to the gospel of Matthew and songs in Sakalava on their phones. We have given out a few phone cards to villagers and there are still others asking to have it as well. Thank the Lord for this way of getting the gospel into the homes of the Sakalava people. Please pray that many Sakalava will come to faith in Christ through this outreach ministry. People here like playing music loud! May the whole village be filled with the gospel of Matthew and Sakalava songs.