Fomba or Fady? A Guide to Antandroy Culture and Taboo


Turtles are friends, not food!

Turtles are friends, not food!

While trying to integrate into a new village on the opposite side of the world, it is important to become aware of the customs of its people. Even more important is to adapt quickly and understand what is appropriate behavior and what is not. The Antandroy culture (fomba) largely concerns respecting one's elders. Along the same lines, many of their taboos (fady) involve disrespecting someone. In order to keep these rules straight and avoid an embarrassing and/or offensive slip up (you don’t want to have to sacrifice a cow, do you?), here’s a go-to guide on the fomba and fady in the Androy region.  

Fomba (Culture)

1.     When a man and a woman are wedding, the family of the groom must give a goat to the bride’s family.

2.     When someone dies, the family of the deceased must provide a cow to be killed at the funeral. This tradition is called magnenga-agnomby.

3.     When attending a funeral, it is culture to bring a monetary offering, called basimena. The money is posted to sticks which are then held high in the air and presented to the family of the deceased. 

4.     In return of giving basimena, it is common to receive meat hena or a goat osy. This is called fomban-drazagne.

5.     When attending a funeral, it is culture to bring white cloth lamba foty or red cloth lamba mena in addition to your basimena, to the family of the deceased.

6.     When dinner is served, it is culture for the oldest man to be served first.

7.     When adults are squatting or mitsatake, it is polite to squat to their level when addressing them or speaking with them.

8.     When many adults are sitting on the ground on a straw mat or tihy, it is polite to bow in respect when passing them and say “excuse me” or “ajafady.” It is known as milokoloko.

9.     When a man plans to marry a woman, he must ask her parents for their blessing. This is known as tso-drano.

10.  Polygamy or mampirafy is culturally accepted in the Antandroy culture.

11.  When a man dies, he must be buried in his hometown. His wife must be buried with him.

12. When an Antandroy person dies far away from the Androy region, a large rock will be placed on open land for them in their hometown. It becomes a sacred place.

13.  When someone steals something, the thief must sacrifice a cow to be forgiven. However, the Antandroy are very forgiving people, so you may be able to dodge that penalty. If not, cows can be bought at the cow market every Saturday, ranging between 200,000 to 500,000 ariary ($70 to $175) depending on its size. 

14.  When entering a house, a classroom or church it is polite to remove your hat. The same goes for your shoes, if they are sandals (other shoes can be kept on). However in the countryside, all shoes should be taken off before entering.

Fady (Taboo)

1.     Do not step over a pot or spoon if they are on the ground. It is considered impolite. Also, if a hat is on the ground, make sure to step around it.

2.     Do not eat a turtle. There are many stories that explain why is it taboo in Antandroy culture to not to eat turtles or sokake. In one account many years ago, people tried to eat a turtle but when it was placed in the pot to be cooked over fire, the turtle did not die. Instead, it survived the heat and the pot shattered into many pieces.

3.    Do not eat snakes, cats or dogs. There is no history behind this taboo, just don't do it.

4.    Do not eat bananas or akondro. For some people, specifically those living in the commune called Antsotry Faliakondro, bananas are sacred. This stems from a story of a family long ago that found an abandoned baby in the trunk of a banana tree, floating down a river. In the Antandroy culture, it is common for people to use astronomy in order to determine ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days and when a baby is born on day that is considered ‘bad’, some parents will abandon their newborn. The couple decided to rescue the baby and care for it as their own. From then on, they regarded the banana tree as sacred, as it had given them their child. The story was passed on for generations.

5.     Do not pee near a grave. Funerals are elaborate events for the Antandroy. Often tombs or kibory are decorated with wooden ornaments to commemorate the deceased, known as aloalo. 

7.    Do not eat the beef at a funeral if you are a family member of the deceased. Only attendees of a funeral may eat the meat served.

8.    Do not compare anyone to a dog or amboa. Its extremely insulting and if you do so, you'll be forced to sacrifice a cow. Interestingly enough, it is acceptable to say amboaboa, meaning ‘cute’ when referring to a small child.