The oral tradition of Kabary, a veritable verbal contest and rural theater in Madagascar!
If the Nobel prizes for oral philosophy had existed three centuries ago, the Malagasy would have won them all. They are very gifted in the art of displaying their cultures through speeches. During the exchange of words in the Kabary (traditional speeches) the speakers use puns and proverbs. No repetition is allowed. Otherwise, you lose face in front of your emulator and all the assistance.
The role of Kabary with the Malagasy
À Madagascar, il est d’usage de commencer et d’assaisonner n’importe quel événement ou cérémonie par des kabary. Dans ces occasions, les orateurs sont forts éloquents lorsqu’on leur donne la parole. Les échanges de mots entre les Mpikabary (orateurs) peuvent prendre de longues heures, mais ils ne discutent pas dans le vide. Expressions tellement recherchées, citations et proverbes de toutes sortes sont usités par les orateurs pour leur permettre d’étaler leurs arts de converser et leurs connaissances. Leurs misions consistent à sauver leur honneur et celui de ceux qu’ils sont chargés de représenter. Dans tout cela, aucun dérapage n’est permis.
Le kabary et l’éducation des jeunes
In Madagascar, traditions, knowledge and instructions are transmitted from father to son through tales, proverbs and kabary. Thanks to the oral instructions inherited from their elders, the majority of adults of all social categories are very skilled in the art of analyzing facts and discussing matters relating to daily life.
Previously, community dialogues in the shade of century-old trees and evening talks between various generations forged the art of making kabary among Malagasy people. During these almost daily occasions, the patriarchs instilled in future generations the art of choosing the words to pronounce, the expressions to utter and the proverbs to utter for each circumstance. For any context, all gestures are carefully thought out.
A self-respecting mpikabary is required to be perfectly persuasive. He must have a well-measured repartee for each statement made by his opponent and know how to measure his statements without shocking anyone. He must not deviate from the subject discussed at the risk of losing face.
The mpikabary, a role dedicated to men
Among the Malagasy, a man who does not know how to express himself in public is grotesque. At any meeting or ceremony, it is customary to give the floor to the patriarch, preferably to a male speaker. The fairer sex is required to be silent. The one who allows herself to speak is called “akoho vavy maneno” (gossiping hen).
Today, this is no longer the case. The love of Kabary has grown for a few decades among young and old. Now, we meet a good number of Malagasy speakers in all regions of the Red Island. Thanks to their passion for traditional speech, they are able to keep an audience spellbound for hours.