The « tromba » or the manifestation of the survival of royal ancestors in Madagascar

Tromba, Madagascar

Tromba, or the cult of possession, is a ceremony in which the spirits of the royal ancestors of the great Sakalava tribe are invoked by the living.

Faith in the survival of the souls of the dead is not just a belief among the Malagasy. It’s a veritable culture, with all that this implies in terms of customs, rituals and folklore. Tromba » (or the manifestation of the survival of royal ancestors) is one of the traditional rites still practiced today. Through mediums, deceased kings transmit messages to their descendants or to the entire country.

The « tromba » phenomenon

Tromba » is an ancestral custom still practiced to this day by the populations of northwest Madagascar, the Imerina and the south. It usually takes place in the evening, either in the open air or in a specially designated area, and can be attended by anyone. The main actors are musicians, whose drum and accordion rhythms encourage the mediums to enter into a trance. The audience may be one or more family lines, or an entire tribe. Throughout the ceremony, complete silence is required on the part of the spectators.

The tromba always begins with slow or plaintive musical tones, then cadenced. At first, the mediums sitting on the floor in the middle of the audience seem to be elsewhere. They concentrate. As the rhythm quickens, their behavior changes. Next, they convulse and jerk like horror movie actors. Then they can no longer control their bodies. Their eyes roll back and their voices gradually change to sound exactly like those of the dead person or persons inhabiting them. This is followed by short or long messages from the ancestors.

A medium may be inhabited by one or more spirits. During the tromba ceremony, a succession of male or female voices, children or adults, may emerge from their mouths.

Messages from the tromba

Tromba devotees believe that messages emitted by mediums really do emanate from the deceased, whom they worship. Whether they’re beautiful words, favorite messages or warnings, there’s no point in transgressing them. The dead have issued them and we must respect them. The souls of the dead live on, and they manifest themselves through the tromba. Even though they are no longer among the living, they still care about their descendants and loved ones. They are worried about the future of their compatriots and their country. For this reason, it is essential to consult the deceased from time to time through the tromba to ask their advice.

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