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:

For healed hearts

A thirteen year old boy has been sick for years with a heart condition. He was pale, always short of breath, and stick thin. They knew he needed to see a specialist, but just didn’t have the money. God provided the money and he has recently gone to see a specialist. They are still working out the exact nature of his heart condition, but already he is eating more, the color has returned to his skin, and he can walk across the room without being short of breath. Praise God he is getting the care he needs! Pray that he would be completely healed and that his healing would show God’s glory to his village.

Studying & Seeking

Mama and Papa Pepe have a lot of knowledge of the Bible. But they still think people need to pray hard and do good things to get into heaven. Mama Pepe told me she reads her Bible in official Malagasy and when there’s something she doesn’t understand, she listens to the Sakalava Matthew on her memory card and then writes in what it means. Praise God that she is reading and thinking about the Bible. Please pray that they would come to know that only trusting in Jesus will save them.

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