Madagascar Customs and Traditions

Etiquette, taboos (fady), and prohibitions

If you intend to go on a Madagascar trip you should know the Malagasy population is known for being pacifist and tolerant. They are strongly attached to their customs and practices, namely in villages and rural communities. Travellers should be respectful of Malagasy traditions; in particular those relating to elderly people, high-ranking members of society, and respect local “fady”, i.e. taboos and prohibitions.

It is advisable to prepare yourself in advance of the main customs of Madagascar if you want to go in a Madagascar trip. Some examples include communities who do not like their children’s heads to be caressed, asking permission before taking photographs of a person or group. Lastly nudism is not allowed on beaches so take care to cover up while walking around town after visiting the beach. A sarong and top for ladies, and a T-shirt and shorts for men should be sufficient.

Socio-cultural situation

Although anchored at 400 km off the eastern coast of the African continent, the Malagasy are a melange of Southeast Asian civilization mixed with Bantu, Arab and European cultures. Madagascar’s foundation, as attested by several navigators’ stories and certified by archaeologists, would go back as far as the first decade of the Christian era. The Malagasy language is common to all the country’s inhabitants, in spite of its dialectal variants. Although Madagascar’s population is divided into 18 “ethnic groups” they hold common traditions and beliefs such as: rice as a dietary staple, farming of zebu and circumcision.

Tipping

Whilst on a Madagascar tour, tipping is not obligatory but is expected for services obtained from people like tour guides, drivers, waiters etc.

Languages

In spite of a few dialectal variants, Malagasy is the national language and the one spoken by the Merina (from the Highlands) and is the official language. While travelling to Madagascar on a trip French is the administrative language, and although French listening comprehension and speaking have significantly declined in rural areas, it remains the language of trade in big towns.

Bargaining

Bargaining is a tradition in Madagascar; it is always practiced at the market, with street vendors, and for taxi fares. If you’re on a Madagascar trip it is necessary to reach an agreement with the driver concerning the fare before taking a taxi. Bargaining should be accompanied with smiling!
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