Tabataba bé | WWF
Tabataba bé

Posted on 25 July 2015

Tabataba was one of the first words I learned in Malagasy. It means ‘’noise” in English, and has become quite useful in the everyday use of my broken Tsimihety, as I don’t think there has ever been a moment of silence longer than ten minutes since living in Doany for over a month now. One of the first and most marked memories for me is of the first night spent in our home, the bureau of WWF in Doany. The first night in a strange place is always difficult, but this was an especially memorable one.

After the 8 hour hike from Andapa to Doany, all five members of our group were exhausted, and we flopped onto our mattresses all laid in a row on the floor in the largest room of the office. Laura and I could not sleep, however, because besides being terrified of the many, many cockroaches occupying the room with us (we have since discovered the virtues of insecticide), there were the very loud snores of Andry after not more than five minutes of being in bed.  In unison with his snores, a cacophony of at least twenty dogs, along with roosters, chickens, and cows began issuing their respective cries in an almost deafening symphony. It was so ridiculous that Laura and I could not help but laugh before eventually falling asleep.

Everyday life has continued to be just as interestingly noisy as this first night.  Each morning begins with the toc toc of little hands frapping on the doors and windows followed by little voices calling my name and asking "Aiza mo Alexa?” (Where is Alexa?). The little hands and voices belong to the students of the primary school next door making their way to school in the morning. They have not yet realized that I am usually still in bed at 6:30 AM! But I’m sure that being woken up in this way every morning is something that I will miss after I leave.
The choruses of students reciting their language lessons in unison, the ruckus and laughing of children playing basketball, and the whistles marking the beginning and end of each recess period—all sounds coming from the school next door, the College Privé de Doany or “La Pepiniere” –have become part of our routine during the days when we work from home.  But at night, a different type of soundtrack has become standard.  

Each and every night, tropical Malagasy music blasts from every working stereo in the surrounding area. Louder music shows the neighbors that you can afford a higher quality sound system, so the entire neighborhood is entertained during this friendly competition. The music is an often frenzied blend of indiscernible instruments playing at beats which can reach alarming speeds, fast enough to make you nervous if you are not accustomed to hearing it.  Our neighbor has proudly installed his first set of solar panels, and has begun playing music from 6AM to 9PM as a result!

This, however, is nothing when compared to the nights when tsaboraha (tsah-boo-rah) is celebrated. From September to November, the tsaboraha is celebrated on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday during a non-stop ceremony including music, food, and dancing for three days. During these nights, you are out of luck if you are hoping for a good night’s rest!  

The tsaboraha is a traditional ceremony taking place every few years after the death of a relative, where the body is exhumed and the entire family and friends from surrounding villages gather to view the changing of the coffin. Guests usually number in the hundreds, with some travelling for days on foot to attend. The belief is that the spirit of the deceased lingers on until the physical remains have completely disintegrated, so there is a continued responsibility of the family to take care of these remains. The body is exhumed, and the bones are cleaned and wrapped in a new cloth to eventually be placed a new, smaller coffin each time. The ceremony can be repeated two or three times for each person.

Although it is centered around death, this is not at all a sad occasion, but rather a chance for the entire family from near and far to reunite. The guests eat and drink together merrily, and even dance in a conga-line fashion around the coffin which rests in the center of the tent. At the closing of the ceremony, on Monday, the coffin is paraded through town one last time before being brought to be placed back into the tomb. All of the guests follow the coffin in a procession of singing and dancing which is so full of energy that it is almost stampede-like. If a procession passes while you are in town, it is best to take cover in a shop to wait it out, or else you risk getting carried away!

There has been at least one tsaboraha almost every weekend that we have been here, and as a result we have had to reschedule certain meetings and classes on more than one occasion. During two weekends, after visiting a nearby village to give classes, we had discovered that almost all of the inhabitants had left for the party which was being held in Doany! We have learned that taking into account the cultural calendar is a very important aspect of planning events and projects with groups of villagers.

Alexa Markel (Madagascar 2014) 
Our home: the WWF office in Doany (the primary school in just behind the house on the left).
© Alexa Markel
Doany in the morning mist.
© Rindra Randriandimbimahazo
One of the many tsaborahas to take place in Doany during our placement.
© Rindra Randriandimbimahazo