Malagasy mythology

Malagasy mythology is rooted in oral history and has been transmitted by storytelling (angano, "story"), notably the Andriambahoaka epic, including the Ibonia cycle.

Traditional mythology in Madagascar tells of a creator deity referred to as Zanahary, and the division of Heaven and Earth between Zanahary and his son, Andrianerinerina, a rebellious hero and frequent theme of their worship as the son of God,[1] or between Zanahary and earth deities such as Ratovantany which crafted human bodies from clay; in these myths Zanahary gave life to humans, and their souls return to him on the sky or on the sun while their bodies return to the earth deities.[2] In contrast to Andrianerinerina, the word Andriamanitra (the Merina term for "Fragrant Lord") is used to refer to revered ancestors.[3] Malagasy cultures were generally polytheistic, and worshiped a variety of entities that straddled the line between god and revered ancestor.[4][5]

Ancestors are generally viewed as a benevolent force in the life of the living, but among some Malagasy it is believed that the spirits of ancestors may become angatra (ghosts of the dead) if they are ignored or abused.[6] Angatra are believed to haunt their own graves and bring disease and misfortune to those living who offended them. A particular type of angatra is the kinoly: beings which look like people but have red eyes and long fingernails and disembowel living people.[6] Rituals such as the famadihana—rewrapping the bodies of the dead every 5–10 years in fresh lamba (handmade cloth)—are believed by some to prevent kinoly due to the traditional association of the lamba with hasina, the mystical and sacred life force.[6] Beliefs relating to the powers and activities of the ancestors vary greatly from community to community within Madagascar.

The declarations or actions of ancestors are often the source of fady (taboos) that shape the social life of Malagasy communities. Across Madagascar, lemurs are often revered and protected by fady. In all of the origin myths of the Indri (in Betsimisaraka dialect: Babakoto), there is some connection of the lemur with humanity, usually through common ancestry. There are numerous accounts of the origin of the Indri in particular, but all characterize lemurs as sacred, and not to be hunted or harmed.

Malagasy mythology portrays a pygmy-like people called the Vazimba as the original inhabitants. Some Malagasy believe that these original inhabitants still live in the deepest recesses of the forest. In certain communities (and particularly in the Highlands), the practice of veneration of the dead can extend back to veneration of the Vazimba as the most ancient of ancestors. The kings of some Malagasy tribes claim a blood kinship to the Vazimba, including the Merina dynasty that eventually ruled over all of Madagascar. The Merina claim Vazimba ancestry through the royal line's founder, King Andriamanelo, whose mother, Queen Rafohy, was of the Vazimba.

List of mythological figures

  • Zanahary: The creator sky deity and generally most revered deity. Breathed life into beings, and their essence returns to him to the heavens upon death.[2]
  • Andrianerinerina: The son of Zanahary, folk hero and ancestor of the royal line.
  • Andriambahomanana: The first man[7], and a lunar deity.
  • Mahaka and Kotofetsy: A pair of trickster deities.[4]
  • Ratovantany: Creator earth god. Shaped the physical bodies of beings, and claims their remains upon death.[2]
  • Rapeto: An earth deity/mythical hero credited with shaping the land.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Ottino, P. (1983). Ancient Malagasy Dynastic Succession: The Merina Example. History in Africa, 10, 247-292.
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Lee Haring (2007). Stars and Keys: Folktales and Creolization in the Indian Ocean, Indiana University Press.
  5. ^ Virginia Thompson, Richard Adloff (1965). The Malagasy Republic: Madagascar Today, Stanford University Press.
  6. ^ a b c Littleton, C. Scott (2005). Gods, goddesses, and mythology. Marshall Cavendish. p. 74. ISBN 9780761475590. Retrieved 2010-06-19.
  7. ^ Cotterell, Arthur (1979). A Dictionary of World Mythology.
  8. ^ Zoë Crossland (2014). Ancestral Encounters in Highland Madagascar: Material Signs and Traces of the Dead, Cambridge University Press.
  • Paul Ottino (1982). Myth and History: The Malagasy "Andriambahoaka" and the Indonesian Legacy, History in Africa.
  • Colleen J. McElroy (1999). Over the Lip of the World: Among the Storytellers of Madagascar, ISBN 978-0-295-97824-6.
  • Yves Bonnefoy, Wendy Doniger (1993). Asian Mythologies, University Of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-06456-7, pp. 187–201.
  • Lee Haring (1994). Ibonia: Epic of Madagascar, Bucknell University Press, ISBN 978-0-8387-5284-5.
  • Peter Tyson (2000). The Eighth Continent: Life, Death and Discovery in the Lost World of Madagascar, ISBN 978-0-380-97577-8.
  • C. Renel (1930). Contes de Madagascar.
  • A. Dandouau (1922). Contes Populaires Des Sakalava Et Des Tsimihety.
  • Didier Randriamanantena. Le Roi et Ifara (graphic novel retelling thelegend of Razafimbolamena, the prodigal son).

External links


Andriambahomanana is the first man in Malagasy mythology.

Zanahary saw that Andriambahomanana and his wife Andriamahilala had lots of children and their children had children. Death was needed. Zanahary asked what kind of death they wanted. Andriambahomanana chose to die like the banana plant. On its death it puts forth new shoots. Andriamahilala choose to die like the moon, dying and being reborn every month.


According to some versions of the genealogy of the Merina people of the central Highlands of Madagascar, Andriandravindravina is the name of the first sovereign of the Highlands. He was not Merina but rather a vazimba, the mysterious first inhabitants of Madagascar that successive waves of settlers encountered upon arrival there. The Tantara ny Andriana eto Madagasikara, the famed genealogy of the Merina aristocracy, states that Andriandravindravina ("Prince of the Leaves", an allusion to the eastern forests he would have needed to traverse to reach the central plateau) ruled over Ambohitsitakatra in northern Imerina where he was reportedly buried. His three sons were:

Andrianoranorana ("Prince of Constant Rain"), the oldest, who settled on the seaside at Maroantsetra.

Andriamanjavona, who settled at Angavo, where he married the goddess Andriambavirano ("Princess of the Water," who is said to have drifted down from the heavens into the lake at the summit of Angavo incarnated as a fragrant leaf).

Andriananjavonana, who settled at Anandribe, west of Angavo.As the first sovereign of the Highlands, Andriandravindravina would represent an ancestor of Queens Rangita and Rafohy, themselves antecedents of King Andriamanelo, commonly viewed as the originator of the Merina royal dynasty in Imerina. As such, this Malagasy origin myth can either complement or compete with the genealogy that traces the origins of the Merina aristocracy back to the god-king Andrianerinerina.


According to one of several competing origin myths of the Merina people of Imerina in the central Highlands of Madagascar, Andrianerinerina is the incarnation of the son of God (Zanahary) from which the line of Merina rulers is said to have descended.According to the legend, the son of Zanahary descended to Earth at a location named Anerinerina (north of Angavokely) – source of the sovereign's Earthly name – to play with the Vazimba, the reportedly primitive original inhabitants of Madagascar. The Vazimba were specifically warned not to cook Andrianerinerina's sheep because he couldn't consume their flesh, but one was nonetheless butchered and cooked in a stew that was served to him. By unwittingly eating the forbidden mutton, Andrianerinerina was no longer able to return to the heavens to rejoin his father. As a consequence, Zanahary gave the Vazimba a choice: to "untie the threads of their lives" or to accept Andrianerinerina as their lord and master. They chose to accept to serve Andrianerinerina rather than be destroyed by Zanahary, who then sent down one of his daughters, Andriamanitra, as a wife to Andrianerinerina, and the royal line was begun.

List of goddesses

This is a list of deities regarded as female or mostly feminine in gender.

List of lunar deities

In mythology, a lunar deity is a god or goddess of the Moon, sometimes as a personification. These deities can have a variety of functions and traditions depending upon the culture, but they are often related. Some form of Moon worship can be found in most ancient religions.


Ratovantany, also known as Andriantompo, is a self-creating Malagasy deity associated with the earth. He is most prominently featured in the Malagasy creation myths, where he makes a deal with the sky god Zanahary to create humanity; having crafted human beings from soil, Ratovantany reclaims the corpse upon death and decomposes it, while the soul belongs to Zanahary and thus the sky or the sun. Unlike Zanahary, Ratovantany appears to not have been a prominent deity to any Malagasy peoples, though this creation myth is ubiquitous in Malagasy cultures.


Religion is a social-cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.Different religions may or may not contain various elements ranging from the divine, sacred things, faith, a supernatural being or supernatural beings or "some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life". Religious practices may include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration (of deities), sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trances, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture. Religions have sacred histories and narratives, which may be preserved in sacred scriptures, and symbols and holy places, that aim mostly to give a meaning to life. Religions may contain symbolic stories, which are sometimes said by followers to be true, that have the side purpose of explaining the origin of life, the universe, and other things. Traditionally, faith, in addition to reason, has been considered a source of religious beliefs.There are an estimated 10,000 distinct religions worldwide, but about 84% of the world's population is affiliated with one of the five largest religion groups, namely Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or forms of folk religion. The religiously unaffiliated demographic includes those who do not identify with any particular religion, atheists, and agnostics. While the religiously unaffiliated have grown globally, many of the religiously unaffiliated still have various religious beliefs.The study of religion encompasses a wide variety of academic disciplines, including theology, comparative religion and social scientific studies. Theories of religion offer various explanations for the origins and workings of religion, including the ontological foundations of religious being and belief.


The Vazimba (Malagasy [vaˈʒimbə̥]), according to popular belief, were the first inhabitants of Madagascar. While beliefs about the physical appearance of the Vazimba reflect regional variation, they are generally described as smaller in stature than the average person, leading some scientists to speculate that they may have been a pygmy people (and therefore a separate Malagasy ethnic group) who migrated from the islands that constitute modern-day Indonesia and settled in Madagascar over the course of the period between 350 BCE–500 CE. Scientific evidence confirms the first arrival and subsequent increase of human settlers on the island during this period, but the pygmy theory has not been proven. Stories about the Vazimba form a significant element in the cultural history and collective identity of the Malagasy people, ranging from the historical to the supernatural, inspiring diverse beliefs and practices across the island. They have analogs in some other Austronesian cultures, including the Menehunes in Hawaii.


Zanahary is the personified sky of Malagasy mythologies and folklores. He (usually male, but sometimes considered genderless) is considered a creator god, having collaborated with the earth god Ratovantany to create humanity; upon death, the soul migrates to the firmament, while the body returns to the earth. For this reason, Zanahary is closely associated with the soul in the indigenous theology as well as ancestor worship. He is a national god of the Merina people, and frequently henceforth appealed to by Malagasy nationalist groups; most notably Ranavalona I promoted the worship of this god over Christianity.

The Bara people and Betsimisaraka people possess a myth in which the role of Zanahary is taken by the personified sun, which accepts souls after death; however Zanahary is typically assumed to be devoid of solar characteristics. Similarly there is an "earth Zanahary" in contrast to the sky.


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