Fihavanana, a reflection of the spirit of mutual aid and sharing in Madagascar

Fihavanana, Madagascar

Fihavanana in Madagascar: the social and economic bond of rural communities.

Despite the invasion of revolutionary civilizations from overseas, the Malagasy are still anchored in the customs of yesteryear. This is reflected in the preservation of « fihavanana ». This typically Malagasy rule of life has governed local community life since the dawn of time. In this concept, the spirit of sharing, mutual aid and solidarity flows naturally to all. It instinctively brings people together in times of joy or sorrow, whatever the region.

Malagasy fihavanana

In Madagascar, preserving fihavanana is everyone’s concern, no matter what. Family members in the broadest sense of the term, immediate and distant neighbors, and the entire entourage form a large community bound together by fihavanana. Everyone joins hands to live together in harmony. Every circumstance in life, whether happy or unhappy, requires the assistance and contribution of everyone.

In return for a plate of rice or manioc, each household takes it in turns to call on the others to do the work in the fields. Everyone attends births, weddings and deaths. Failing to notify or invite one or more individuals for any event or ceremony is inadmissible. Shirking an adidy (social obligation towards others generated by fihavanana) means setting oneself apart from others. This is a real offence to the spirit of social cohesion.

The spirit of sharing, mutual aid and solidarity in fihavanana

When a baby is born, it’s customary to visit the mother as soon as possible. Some bring essential childcare items for the newborn, while others offer the famous ro-patsa (langoustine broth), renowned for its ability to promote milk production. Everyone is quick to donate a little sugar, seasonal fruit, kitoza (smoked meat) or money to buy food, thereby boosting the mother’s appetite and enabling her to feed the baby sufficiently.

On hearing of a death, everyone rushes to the home of the deceased to offer condolences and inquire about activities to ensure a dignified burial. In many village communities, there is already a pre-established division of labor. The men are in charge of providing firewood and cooking food for the deceased’s family and visitors. The women and children take care of the provision of drinking water and the donation of equal quantities of rice and coffee. In addition to the collective famangiana, where everyone makes a monetary contribution, each family offers a few banknotes to the bereaved household, to relieve it of as much grief as possible.

Thanks to fihavanana, the entire hamlet is united by a solid bond of sharing, mutual aid and cohesion. As the saying goes: « velona iray trano, maty iray fasana » (as long as we’re alive and living together in the same household, when we die we share a single grave). In any case, newcomers are always welcome in community life in Madagascar.

Main photo credit: Public Domain Image – Jules Bosco