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6. Questioning “Restitution”: Oral Literature in Madagascar

Brigitte Rasoloniaina and
Andriamanivohasina Rakotomalala

© 2017 B. Rasoloniaina and A. Rakotomalala, CC BY 4.0


This chapter argues that the restitution of oral heritage in Madagascar has a long history, and reveals itself in different ways through various research agendas over time. This is influenced by the socio-political context and the available recording technologies. The Malagasy language was written in Latin characters from an early date in the nineteenth century, so traditional oral literature (such as tales and proverbs) was mainly circulated by written works. These were originally published by missionaries, then by scholars and academics. Schoolbooks that reproduced these texts for young generations have a limited impact at present. Today, the production of documents with sound and pictures (documentary films, etc.) might be a way to recover these texts for the local population.

Researchers in anthropology and oral traditions often pose questions about the “restitution” or the “return” of data from field recordings to the communities where they were collected and where the producers or authors live. The debate about“restitution” has recently received a lot of attention (Glowczewski 2005, 2009; Bell et al. 2013). We aim to illustrate, on the basis of oral literature research in Madagascar, that many of the issues raised are not new; some of the questions even date back to Evans-Pritchard’s research in the 1950s (Evans-Pritchard 1969: chapter 6).

Oral literature in Madagascar is a valuable case study for an examination of these topics, particularly given the history of literacy, of the collection of traditional heritage, and of book publishing in this country, which has a longer history than publishing in other formerly colonised countries in sub-Sahara Africa.

To describe the modalities of this “restitution” to the people responsible for literary production in Madagascar, as well as the ways in which restitution itself has evolved over time, we begin with the work of the first Malagasy scholars and European Christian missionaries who brought forth a system of writing. These groups were followed by colonial intellectuals and, later, the initiatives of academic researchers. The collection and transcription of oral literature was originally limited almost uniquely to the central region around the capital, Antananarivo, but then spread to all regions of Madagascar (see Appendix). Most recently, the use of film recording has considerably increased the means to archive this rich oral patrimony. This chapter explores the impact of these new documentary formats from the perspective of restitution.

Collecting Data in the Nineteenth Century
and the Colonial Period

In the 1820s, Latin script was introduced to the capital city of Antananarivo, when King Radama I was expanding his power over the small region of the central highlands to create a larger kingdom in Madagascar. Radama’s project was recognised and supported by Great Britain, which was the hegemonic political power in the Indian Ocean at that point. Protestant missionaries belonging to the London Missionary Society (LMS) introduced this technical innovation,2 seeing in it a useful means of evangelisation. It complemented the King’s ambition to provide a program of modernisation and territorial conquest. The literacy campaign that rapidly ensued had definite consequences. It made the standardization of a literary Malagasy language possible, originally based on the dialect of central Madagascar, and it established a small literary group in the midst of the royal court.

The first generation of missionaries concentrated on the massive project of translating the Bible and composing the first dictionary, which were both published in 1835; they showed no particular interest in literary oral traditions (Raison 1977; Raison-Jourde 1991: 574–577). However, their educated pupils, the first Malagasy intellectuals, began the collection of this material. It was under Ranavalona I, the queen who succeeded Radama, that Malagasy scholars accumulated the first collections of proverbs (ohabolana), poetical content rich in metaphors (hainteny), tales (angano), and historical narratives (tantara) comprising the memorization of public discourse (kabary) by the most famous kings of the past. The paradox is that, although Ranavalona had cut ties with the Europeans and expelled missionaries, it was precisely during this period that the educated elite used their new skills as writers to publish their works. The manuscript notebooks they filled were discovered after the re-opening of the Kingdom to Europeans in the 1860s, by a new generation of missionaries who were well aware of their importance.3 It was then that the first printed collections of oral traditions were published and became the classics of Malagasy literature. Notable collections of tales from that era include those edited by the Norwegian Lutheran missionary L. Dahle (1877), the proverbs edited by the British missionaries W. E. Cousins and J. Parrett (1871), and the History of the Kings, a set of manuscripts collated and completed using oral research by the French Jesuit F. Callet (a first edition in 1873 was followed by several others). Malagasy authors also contributed to these publications. They included Rabezandrina, who printed a brochure in 1875 containing the tale of the tricksters Ikotofetsy and Imahaka, which is still one of the most popular traditional stories to date. The same author was later known as Rainandriamampandry, a pastor and minister in the Royal government. On the eve of his execution, by order of Gallieni, the first Governor General of the colony of Madagascar, he published a collection called History and Traditional Customs (1896).

The status of Malagasy as the language of communication and education was thus reinforced by this rich literature. In this period, only texts in Malagasy were published, and the classical collections mentioned above were not accompanied by a translation in a European language, their editors not judging it useful. Father Callet explicitly addressed his historic book to the Malagasy public, including this warning at the beginning:

Oh Merina, often examine and read the history and the customs of your ancestors. History, if it is read slowly and with attention is beneficial, it provides trustworthy thoughts for what must be undertaken. […] History is impartial: let it be said, acts which were acceptable and those which were not, if it is not today it will be to-morrow, whatever may be those who committed. So, read the history that relates to the reigns of your ancestors. (1973 [1908]: 3)4

Callet insisted that these injunctions — characteristic of an early concern for restitution — were taken from a manuscript written by “an old Malagasy” i.e. a student of the first schools. On the other hand, the Protestant missionaries, who had published proverbs (Cousins and Parret) and tales (Dahle) declared that they targeted an exclusively European public: they wanted to provide texts for study by their missionary colleagues who had to preach and write in Malagasy. Regardless, their books turned out to be bestsellers for Malagasy scholars and later editions were distributed widely among the public.

Scholars of the Colonial Period (1885–1960)

The intellectual attitude of French colonial researchers was very different. This generation published remarkable collections based on oral tradition, but their general tendency was to publish only translations, usually in French. The original texts in Malagasy were either never written down or have been lost. Material was generally collected directly in French from bilingual informants. This is the case with the collection of tales by Gabriel Ferrand, a French consular government official, orientalist, and folklore specialist, which were published in 1893 when Madagascar was still a French protectorate. The translations by Ferrand are remarkable from a literary point of view; they were in some instances based on Malagasy originals previously published by missionaries, and, in some instances, on Malagasy texts which have since been lost.

Charles Renel, Director of Education in Madagascar in the early twentieth century, held an important position in the management of the colony. Through his position he was able to motivate teachers to collect a great corpus of tales. They collected manuscripts in the Malagasy language, but the publication provides only French translations Contes de Madagascar (1910–1930). A similar case held true for Daudouau who served as a director of a teachers’ training college. His 1922 collection Contes populaires des Sakalava et des Tsimihety de la région d’Analalava (côte Nord-Ouest de Madagascar), which likewise contains only translations, was collected by his students (he called them “youngsters with open spirit” in his preface, and, contrary to the habitual practice of colonial scholars, he cites the names of the most important among them). Similarly Raymond Decary, a colonial administrator for the first half of the twentieth century, published an important volume of tales collected in French from school children Contes et légendes du Sud-Ouest de Madagascar (1964).

A remarkable exception in this period is Birkeli. His collection of tales Bulletin de l’Académie Malgache (1921–1923), and other traditional texts contain the Malagasy original versions. A Norwegian Lutheran missionary, Birkeli continued the tradition of his predecessors of the preceding century. Here, however, the tales were accompanied by a French translation. My last case, Jean Paulhan, is very particular. Although a scholar of the colonial period, his profile is very different: as a young teacher he took advantage of his appointment at the Lycée of Antananarivo to explore the Malagasy literary genre of the hainteny, which he made known to the educated French public Hain-Teny merinas (1913, 1939). The first edition of his collection is bilingual. In our view, he represents a transition into the group of academic researchers whom we discuss next. In fact, before undertaking the career of writer and editor that made him famous, Paulhan had planned to write a thesis on this Malagasy oral genre, a project he never completed.

All of these authors, in one way or another, addressed a European public with the object of making Madagascar known, from an ethnographic perspective for some, linguistic or literary for others. We shall see, however, that these efforts did not exclude a certain form of restitution aimed at a local public.

Malagasy Oral Literature in Contemporary Research

Academic researchers from many disciplines — linguists, literary writers, folklorists, and anthropologists — continued the work of collecting oral literature after the colonial scholars. They were interested in the various regions of Madagascar and deliberately set out to cover the whole of the country.

Otto C. Dahl can be credited with linking this generation to the great missionary tradition, as he arrived in Madagascar to serve in the Lutheran mission in 1929. He was also a university professor who prepared a thesis in linguistics. Quite late in his career (1968) he published a collection, Contes malgaches en dialecte sakalava, which although small, was remarkable for its very careful accuracy. The texts are published with a French translation. With Jaques Faublée we see the arrival of the professionally trained academic. His Récits Bara (1947) made known the traditions of a region rarely frequented by researchers until then. The publication is comprised of the original text and a French translation. However, in the hopes of capturing the language exactly, Faublée transcribed the texts using his own phonetic rendering rather than the historical Malagasy orthography fixed in the nineteenth century. This choice greatly hindered the distribution of the contents to the local population. Some of these tales were used later in school manuals, but first had to be retranscribed in standard orthography.

From that time forward, there was a large number of university researchers who collected oral literature. Since we are not able to discuss all of them in this chapter, we shall limit ourselves to a few representative scholars whose work exemplifies a wide variety of the formats of published oral literature. Beaujard’s Mythe et société à Madagascar (Tañala de l’Ikongo). Le Chasseur d’oiseau et la Princesse du ciel (1991), gives a concentrated corpus of the mythology of a small region, the country of the Tañala of Ikongo. On the other hand, Gueunier’s Contes de la côte ouest de Madagascar (1991) presents a sample of the tales collected all along the West coast of the Great Island, in several Malagasy dialects, even including the near-extinct languages of small Bantu-speaking minorities (who use dialects of Swahili and Makhuwa).

Varying approaches can be found in the works of Fulgence Fanony and François Noiret. The four volumes of Fanony (2001, 2011a, 2011b) offer a vast survey of several literary genres of the Betsimisaraka country: tales, proverbs, courting conversations and some hainteny, poetic pieces that he calls “circumlocutions”, a rather different definition from that of the genre of the same name that we mentioned above in the Merina tradition. Noiret, alternatively, presents a comparison between a heroic account that was featured in one of the most ancient collections we have mentioned (the Specimens of Malagasy Folklore edited by Dahle 1877) and numerous versions of the same tale collected in several regions of the island (and even in the Comoros) in Le Mythe d’Ibonia.

Unlike those of the colonial period, all of these studies carried out in academic settings adopt the principle of an edition of the text in the original language, accompanied by a translation in a European language, generally French. Others have gone back to the tradition of collecting in Malagasy only, without translation. This is the case, for example, in the great undertaking of the Awakening of Tales (1994) by Moks Razafindramiandra that brings together 210 tales collected throughout numerous regions of the country. The aim is certainly to ensure a return to the original storytellers (whose names, moreover, are carefully listed). Unfortunately the conditions of the publication and the distribution of the volume have severely limited the spread of the work.5

School, a Privileged Place for Restitution

Madagascar presents a very particular case among the French colonies due to the fact that a public schooling system has existed since the 1820s, seventy years before French colonization. The tradition of an erudite elite that was literate in the local language persisted and was even further developed during the colonial period. In this context we can say that the recovery of Malagasy tales and legends in school textbooks, which were published especially for students in the colony, contributed to the return of this literature to the younger generation. It was perhaps even the most successful form of restitution. But school and children’s literature has, in general, been neglected by the scholars of oral tradition. It is true that the inventory of this literature is rather difficult: it consists largely of pedagogical reviews and manuals that have not always been well-conserved by libraries.

Yet it is clear that it is the schoolbook that has ensured the return of learned collections to the people: almost all Malagasy people know the tales, often by oral transmission, but also often because they have read them, not in the great collections of the authors whom we mentioned previously but in school books.

The first known Malagasy reading book, Angano (Tales), published before 1834 and often reprinted, contained the translation of old European fables (such as Æsop) but also five Malagasy folk tales. This collection of short stories was rapidly distributed in school books and via oral recitations, which ensured the “restitution to the people”. In the 1890s, Ferrand had already discovered the oral recitations of some these tales in his survey of the storytellers on the eastern coast of the country. He was astonished that these European fables were known to illiterate people. As Gueunier has shown, fables had passed from the schoolbook into oral tradition (Gueunier 2000: 147). There is no doubt that the local Malagasy tales in this collection Angano (pre-1834) had the same success. We find proof of this in the scholarly books of the following era. In the textbook L’Enseignement du Français par le texte de lecture. 1ère année, which was in use in the 1930s, we find the famous tale of Rabotity, “the Little Tiny Boy”, a version of the international chain-tale6 Who is the Best?. This time the text is given in the French translation. But it is easy to distinguish Renel’s version, published in the collection destined for a learned public, from other renditions, due to the differences in the story’s ending. In Renel’s tale, at the end of the chain, it is not God who is the strongest of all (as expected) but instead it is Man (Penot 1934: 143). The schoolbooks have taken up this reading from generation to generation, to the point that the name of Rabotity is a reference known more or less by everyone in Madagascar.

The same mode of circulation can be seen with the reading book by Rajaobelina, Tsingory (1956, many reprints), which many adults today still recall nostalgically. It comprises many texts originating from oral tradition. The story which gives its title to the book was taken from the collection of tales in the Sakalava dialect from Birkeli (already quoted 1921–1923), but it is entirely rewritten in contemporary literary (standard) Malagasy. In this story of a dancer, who is a perpetrator of a crime but forgiven by the king due to the perfection of his art, a subtle adaptation in the rewriting introduces a musical instrument (the drum) that does not feature in the original text. The illustration of the book extends the reinterpretation: it represents a group of folkloric singer-dancers with drums and flutes, hira gasy (which we will discuss in the next section). It is not surprising that, today, questioned about the origin of their art, the hira gasy artists refer to a “form of tale perpetuated through oral tradition — on the mythical origin of the evolved form of Hira Gasy […] the story of Tsingory the Dancer’s first appearance at the Court” (Mauro 2001: 32). Thanks to the schoolbook, the old Sakalava story from the Birkeli collection became an original myth with a modern style, as well as a reference for contemporary artist groups (as it was probably a legend originated by a clan whose ritual specialty was dance). It is impossible to cite all of the school textbooks that have played a comparable role. We will only mention the Joies et travaux de l’Ile heureuse from Inspector Carle (1952), a bilingual book in two volumes, where the same lessons are translated from one language to the other, with the same typographic disposition and illustrations. Once again popular tales are involved, including a version of the tale of the two tricksters Ikotofetsy and Imahaka. The restitution ensured by the reading of this story within schools has certainly helped to maintain the story in popular memory.

Unfortunately, current school manuals — preoccupied with applying pedagogic theories such as a “Competency-Based Approach”, or “Educational Objective Approach”, seem to have abandoned the idea of using the richness of traditional literature to introduce children to the world of reading. This abandonment is only partially counteracted by the initiatives of authors or associations that publish books for children. These selections are diverse, since the texts included vary from the translation of foreign tales, the creation of new tales, territory-specific compilations, and the translation of older collections.7 But no matter the value of this new literature for Malagasy children, it will reach a more limited audience than the older schoolbooks did, because of costs and distribution problems.

Restitution through Anthropological Movies

For a long time it was thought to be necessary that broadcasting and restitution occurred through written publication, which only reached a restricted audience (researchers and teachers). But the book is not the only media able to insure the preservation and transmission of traditional oral texts — see, for example, the earliest stage of Malagasy literature discussed earlier. Film recordings allow tales to be updated, as well as the inclusion of elements involved in ritual: invocations, prayers, song lyrics, and texts of the ritualised speeches like the kabary. All of these, without a doubt, belong to contemporary oral literature. Film can ensure reproduction while still being mindful of the writing, since the transcription can be done in the moment or later on.

We can use hira gasy, a “kind of show from the Central Highlands of Madagascar, combining dancing, singing, speeches and music” (Rakotomalala et al. 2001: 495) as an example.8 Three noteworthy productions (Paes 1989; Mauro 1996; Rakotomalala 2014) show the style of this kind of theater — rural theater, according to Mauro. In these movies, we see artists in costume, on an open stage, putting themselves on the same level as the spectators and talking to them directly, not afraid to be spoken to themselves. Randrianary explains:

The show is divided in several hira parts or songs with musical interludes. […] However, the main point is to emphasise the importance of the art of speech. Applauding and screaming match the verbal formulas — sung, obviously, and received as preemptory words of truth. By moving in circles, each singer has the privilege to hear the personal appreciations from the spectators and reciprocally. (2001: 67)9

The hira gasy, while originating in the royal era of the nineteenth century, continues to develop today throughout all of the territories of the Antananarivo province, each of which has its own troupe or troupes (Randrianary 2001: 64). The lyrics of the songs illustrate different themes, and troupe chiefs, often poorly educated peasants, frequently include daily news and current events in their scenographies.

In his movie Ranavalona’s Worship in Anosimanjaka (Le culte de Ranavalona à Anosimanjaka), Andriamanivohasina Rakotomalala (2014)10 shows a troupe performing on the closing day of a ritual that happens once a year at Anosimanjaka. This village in a Merina province houses the tomb of the Princess Ranavalontsimitoviaminandriandehibe (“Lady-of-calm-with-no-equal-among-the-great-nobles”). Descendants and followers of the ancestral cult gather for the new year of the Malagasy calendar, in order to obtain the blessings of the deceased Princess. As we can see in the following lines, the artists remind us in their song of the need for the respect of parents: the artist sees the performance as a continuation and realization of an ancestral tradition, while the producer/cinematographer is concerned about issues of restitution.

Hira gasy shows the musical troupe ZanatSahondra performing on an open stage. Extract taken from the first movie of the trilogy Le culte de Ranavalona à Anosimanjaka, 290 minutes, 2014, shot between 1996 and 2009 in Anosimanjaka, Madagascar. Producer: Andriamanivohasina Rakotomalala. Duration: 7.40 minutes.11

(Third day, closure of the ritual)

(Singers in chorus:)

Miala tsiny e ry dada sy neny,

We present our apologies, Dad and Mum,

Mangata-tsodrano e fa zaza no miteny,

We ask for your blessing, for we are young and we dare to speak,

Dada sy neny,

Dad and Mum,

Afaka ny tsiny fanalan’ny vava,

Wrongs having been removed,

Mazava ny hizorana sy lala-kombana.

The road we will follow is clearly traced.

Isika olombelona dia zava-boary,

We the living, we are creatures

Teo am-piandohana dia nataony sarisary,

At the beginning we were formed,

Fotaka isika no novolavolaina,

From clay we were fashioned,

Nomeny hery ary koa fofon’aina,

We were given the force and the breath of life,

Nanjary vatana ka nisy fanahy,

Having become a body and given a soul,

Nisy vehivavy ary nisy lehilahy,

There were men and there were women,

Koa izay indrindra tsy hadinoiko ilay Nahary,

For this I can not ignore the Creator,

Andriamanitra mpanjakan’ny zava-boary,

God, King of creation,

Ka hidera sy hankalaza ny anarany.

So let us praise and glorify his name.


Dia mangata-tsodrano izahay ry dada,

So we ask for your blessing, Dad,

Dia mangata-tsodrano izahay ry neny.

So we ask for your blessing, Mum.

Ny votoatin’ny tantaranay anio dia ny manaja ray sy reny,

The theme of our words today is the respect of parents,

Satria izay nateraka hiaina dia tsy maintsy manam-piandohana,

For every living being has of necessity an origin,

I Abrama razan’ny Vazaha fa tsy an’ny Gasy velively,

Abraham is an ancester of the Whites but not of the Malagasy,

Isika tena gasy pirsàn Vazimba izao no niandohana,

We are Malagasy of pure stock stemming from Vazimba,

Ireo Malagasy teraka taloha dia nivavaka sy pôlitika,

The Malagasy of yore were religious but political too,

Ilay fiangonana ivavahany FJKM sy katôlika,

They frequented the Reformed Church or the Catholic,

Saiky tsy nataony ambanin-javatra ny razanay andriananahary,

But they did not neglect our venerable ancestors,

Isaky ny misy ataony dia tsaroany Andriamanitra sy razanay,

On every occasion they think of God and the ancestors,

Fa raha misy tsy salama dia tsabony amin’ny rano sy ny ravinkazo,

The ill, they care for with water and plants,

Dia mangataka mba mora hiala koa ny aretina sy tony tazo,

Then grace is asked so that fever and illness cease,

Miaraka amin’izany dia misotro ary dia matanjaka salama,

As soon as the potion is drunk strength and health are recovered,

Ary ity mba tazanina ireo mpivavaka masirasira,

Let us see those lukewarm believers,

Lazainy fa tsy misy hasina ireo razana sy ny vazimba,

Who say that neither ancestors nor Vazimba are sacred,

Lazainy fa manompo sampy ianao raha mba manasina ny anao,

They say you are “idol worshippers” when you honour your own,

F’angaha hono tsy mba razana ndry Maria mbamin-dry Josefa?

But Mary and Joseph are they not also ancestors?

(The Public)


That’s true!

F’angaha hono mbola velona any ndry Jakoba sy ry Abrama?

Because they are still alive Jacob and Abraham?

Nahoana ireny no lazaina masina fa ny an’ny tena ananan-doza?

Why do they say that those ones are saints while blaming us for our own ones?

Tandremo tsy hanary ny fomban-drazan ô f’aleo mizara e ry Malagasy!

Malagasy! Beware! Let us not lose our ancestral traditions! Let us share them, they express the best of our values

Dia azy ny hasina tsara indrindra eee!

Let us give them the best consecration!

Eo !

So be it! There!

Why is there such an interest in filmed records? Apart from the undeniable attraction of the viewing itself, there are other assets. It is a restitution that takes into account the context of the piece: recording on film is the best way to restitute the performances of the informants. It is documenting an “act” that is part of the oral ritual (“speech act”, cf. Austin 1962). Voices and gestures (head, eye, hand and foot movements) are also a part of that “speaking”, as well as clothing styles, geographical and sociological contexts, etc. which all intertwine to create meaning. In short, for the complete restitution of oral literature, these contextual elements are essential.

In addition, the movie causes us to consider ourselves and our practices. Without getting into details on self-directed informants and on the behavior called “profilmic” (Souriau 1953: 8), the receiving local audience sees itself as a character, or as close to the characters. We can question the meaning that they give to the images when they watch the movie: do they see them as a reflection, similar to how they look at themselves in a mirror, or, on the contrary, do they think that they are watching a show?

Finally, the movie allows multiple viewings. This practical aspect isn’t negligible in the context of archiving and broadcasting. However, the broadcasting of an anthropological movie isn’t easy. The example of the Marie-Clémence and Cesar Paes movie, Angano, angano… Nouvelles de Madagascar (1989) is interesting in this respect. This movie features raconteurs from various regions in Madagascar as they tell their tales, as well as enactments of them. It was written and produced with the help of ethnologists, researchers, historians and literary scholars, but the basis of the scenario, which establishes the relationship between traditional narratives and filmed parts of daily life, is the directors’ innovative, intimate and profound comprehension of the local setting. The original lyrics — in different Malagasy dialects — are translated using subtitles in French, English, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Italian, and another version in literary (standard) Malagasy. It was screened in France during the Malagasy movie retrospective to an audience mainly composed of researchers; in California in 2008 to different schools (the institutional rights having been purchased by an association); and in Canada and Morocco by the directors, for the purpose of Master’s-level classes. It is sold online in different languages.

In Madagascar, this movie is available at the French Institute, which purchased its rights and offers screenings in urban settings depending on the program. It has been presented at the Malagasy movie retrospective at the Antananarivo University, as well as in some venues around Middle West Madagascar, along with another movie from the same director about a group of Malagasy artists. A touring movie association has also screened it in three villages. Overall, however, this movie has not been shown in most of Madagascar, although it is fairly known outside the country.

The difficulties in reaching a large audience with the archives, in addition to this limited distribution, mean that screening the film is rarely possible. The administrative process (government-sponsored showings, for example) is often complicated and the equipment needed is non-existent in a rural setting. Internet access, when it is available, is not free in Madagascar, so watching the film on websites, webdocs or YouTube is almost impossible for those without means. As we know, circulation is the requirement for reception (cf. Bell et al. 2013).


We ask ourselves, if restitution isn’t merely an issue for the academic scholar, who should archive the material in order to share and transmit it? It may be useful here to return to the reflections of Glowczewski (2005: 14), who asks: what exactly constitutes the “restitution” that we are looking for? People don’t ask that their dances, songs, etc. be returned to them. It is more that the knowledge attached to those productions might be seen as “stolen” by the researchers (foreign, most of the time), given that their performances are now recorded in a medium that the artists don’t understand. What is taken is not the content (lyrics, music and choreography), but rather the right to talk with authority about a practice that is not the researchers’ own.

These ideas are strikingly similar to those of the traditionalist Randriamahatsiaro in the Paes movie Angano, angano, cited above:

May what I say be transmitted, so it can be heard in the future history, by all the descendants, by all the sons, by all the grandsons. Take this with you; there may be a resemblance with other countries. Tales are the ears of inheritance. There might be ideas to take from all of this. I will probably end it like that. I’m thanking you to take my voice for others to remember. May […] each nation preserve its oral tradition, so it can be heard by all the other nations.12

The traditionalist modestly but firmly defends an ambition: what he produced mustn’t only be used to reveal to spectators the Malagasy heritage, it must also be part of an exchange where the “indigenous” (in the words of the old folklorists) aren’t subsumed into an interpretative work, but become actors in this work. This way, the restitution would encourage live research, i.e. an active and permanent involvement of social actors, thus including the transmitters of the traditional project in a collaboration, and avoiding a partial process that would only satisfy scholars.


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Raison, F. (1977) “L’Echange inégal de la langue. La pénétration des techniques linguistiques dans une civilisation de l’oral (Imerina, début du XIXe siècle)”, Annales. Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations 32–4: 639–669.

Raison-Jourde, F. (1991) Bible et pouvoir à Madagascar au XIXe siècle. Invention d’une identité chrétienne et construction de l’Etat (1780–1880) (Paris, Karthala).

Rakotomalala, M., Blanchy, S., Raison-Jourde, F. (eds.) (2001) Usages sociaux du religieux sur les Hautes Terres malgaches. Les ancêtres au quotidien (Paris, L’Harmattan).

Randrianary, V. (2001) Madagascar. Les chants d’une île (Paris/Arles, Cité de la Musique/Actes Sud) [includes CD-rom].

Searle, J. (1969) Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Souriau, E. (ed.) (1953) L’Univers filmique (Paris, Flammarion).

Video references

Mauro, D. (1996) Madagascar, la parole-poème. Chronique de l’opéra paysan (Movimento Production, 56 minutes),

Paes, M. C. and Paes, C. (1989) Angano, angano… Nouvelles de Madagascar (DigiBeta/Latérit Productions, 63 minutes) and

Rakotomalala, A. (2014) Le culte de Ranavalona à Anosimanjaka (trilogie, Production Andriamanivohasina Rakotomalala, 290 minutes): Film 1: Alahamady. Rituel du nouvel an, rituel politique, rituel religieux. Film 2: Mythes et identités. La princesse Ranavalona et le village. Film 3: Valeur et tradition. Culte de Ranavalona et devenir de la noblesse locale.

Extracts from the trilogy are available on YouTube at:

Appendix: Selected Bibliography
of Malagasy Oral Literature

This selected bibliography represents the main stages of the collection, publication, and circulation/distribution of Malagasy oral literature as it was presented in the chapter.

1. Forerunners, Missionaries and First Malagasy Scholars, Pupils of the Missionaries

Callet, F. (1873–1902) Tantara ny Andriana eto Madagascar. Documents historiques d’après les manuscrits malgaches (Antananarivo, Presy Katolika) (4 vols.).

Cousins, W. E. and Parrett, J. (1871) Malagasy Proverbs (Antananarivo, LMS).(A critical edition and French translation of this text was published by B. Domenichini-Ramiaramananana in 1971).

Dahle, L. (1877) Specimens of Malagasy Folklore (Antananarivo, A. Kingdon).Domenichini-Ramiaramanana, B. (1968)Hainteny d’autrefois, poèmes traditionnels malgaches recueillis au début du règne de Ranavalona Ière 1828–1861. Haintenin’ny fahiny… (Tananarive, Librairie Mixte).

Rabezandrina (1876) Ikotofetsy sy Imahaka, sy Tantara Malagasy hafa koa (Antananarivo, John Parret).

2. Colonial Period

Birkeli, E. (1921–1923) “Folklore sakalava recueilli dans la région de Morondava”, Bulletin de l’Académie Malgache, nouvelle série VI: 185–423.

Dandouau, A. (1922) Contes populaires des Sakalava et des Tsimihety de la région d’Analalava (côte Nord-Ouest de Madagascar) (Alger, Jules Carbonel).

Decary, R. (1964) Contes et légendes du Sud-Ouest de Madagascar (Paris, Maisonneuve et Larose).

Ferrand, G. (1893) Contes populaires malgaches (Paris, E. Leroux).

Paulhan J. (1913) Hain-Teny merinas (Paris, Geuthner).

Renel, C. (1910–1930) Contes de Madagascar (Paris, E. Leroux) (3 vols.).

3. Academic Researchers. Recent Trends

Beaujard, P. (1991) Mythe et société à Madagascar (Tañala de l’Ikongo). Le Chasseur d’oiseau et la Princesse du ciel (Paris, L’Harmattan).

Dahl, O. C. (1968) Contes malgaches en dialecte sakalava (textes, traductions, grammaire et lexique) (Oslo, Universitetsforlaget).

Fanony, F. (2001) Littérature orale malgache. I. L’Oiseau Grand-Tison… II. Le Tambour de l’Ogre… (Paris, L’Harmattan) (2 vols.).

― (2011) Öhabölaña Betsimisaraka. Proverbes Betsimisaraka (Antananarivo, Trano Printy Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy).

― (2011) Fankahitry (Propos galants) et Hainteny (Circonlocutions) Betsimisaraka (Antananarivo, Trano Printy Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy).

Faublée, J. (1947) Récits bara (Paris, Institut d’Ethnologie).

Gueunier, N. J. (1991) Contes de la côte ouest de Madagascar (Paris/Antananarivo, Karthala/Ambozontany).

Noiret, F. (2008) Le Mythe d’Ibonia, le Grand Prince (Madagascar) (Paris, Karthala).

Razafindramiandra, M. N. (1994) Angano malagasy nofohazina. Nangonina niaraka tamin’ny Fikambanana mikarakara ny Angano Malagasy (FIMIAMA), (Antananarivo, Embassy of Germany).

4. School Textbooks. Children’s Literature

Angano (pre-1834) (Tananarive). One booklet in twelve. Only known from the catalogue of a private library. The booklet was often reprinted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries under the title Angano voadikan’ny Mpianatry ny Misionary taloha (Tales Translated by the Pupils of the Earlier Missionaries).

Babity, L. (2014) Cent sous de sagesse. Mivanga fanahy (S.l., Editions Dodo Vole).

Birkeli, E. (2015) Voaimena, le Crocodile rouge (S.l., Editions Dodo Vole).

Carle, R. (1952) Joies et travaux de l’île heureuse (Cours élémentaire)/Eto Madagasikara, Nosy malalantsika (Paris, Classiques Hachette) (2 vols.).

Pénot, S. (1934) L’Enseignement du Français par le texte de lecture. 1ère année (Tananarive, J. P. F. Imprimeurs-éditeurs).

Rajaobelina, P. (1956) Tsingory, Boky famakian-teny. Cours préparatoire 1ère année (Tananarive, Salohy).

Vaviroa, M. (2014) Takalo (S.l., Éditions Dodo Vole).

1 We would like to thank Sarah Fee, Melissa Metcalf and Madeleine Tesseraud for their assistance, including translation from French. The bibliographical references on Malagasy Folktale (see Appendix) are mostly taken from an unpublished paper “Bibliographie du conte populaire à Madagascar”, presented by Serge H. Rodin, Noël J. Gueunier and a group of students, at the International Symposium “Contes, mythes et traditions populaires de Madagascar et des Mascareignes”, 5–7 September 2005, University of Antananarivo, Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences.

2 Writing was already present in Madagascar in the form of the Arab alphabet introduced several centuries earlier. But the script had only been used for very limited social purposes, the scribes being recruited from small aristocratic groups. Although the manuscripts they produced (known as “sorabe”) occasionally included transcriptions of oral traditions, their very limited dissemination excludes them from our study.

3 Some remained unpublished and reappeared only later, sometimes as result of recent research. It was only after independence that the oldest collection of hainteny was published. This manuscript originated from the early days of the reign of Ranavalona, and was previously kept in a private family collection (Domenichini-Ramiaramanana 1968).

4 Our translation.

5 The publication of this book was financed by the German Embassy in Madagascar. Copies were freely distributed in an administrative network but it was impossible to buy it through the normal channels.

6 Chain-tales or cumulative tales are types of folk narrative that require repetition.

7 These include the remarkable collection of “Dodo bonimenteur”, that Editions Dodo Vole published, a series of books of tales which included this entire range of textual varieties, with pieces like Takalo gathered from the mouth of a raconteur (Vaviroa 2014), Cents sous de Sagesse transcribed by a teacher and ethnographer (Babity 2014), and Le Crocodile Rouge, which was originally published in Birkeli’s collection (2015).

8 The expression means literally “song, or game (hira) Malagasy (gasy)”.

9 Our translation.

10 See the next page for an excerpt from this movie. Further extracts can be viewed here: and here:

11 This video is also available on YouTube at

12 Our translation: “Ary hañitatry ny zavatra izay voalazako iñy, mba ho heno tantara, ho henon’ny taranaka faramandimby, ary ho entinareo koa any… kasy, raha misy itovizany amin’ny firenen-kafa izany, raha misy itovizany, aminareo izay man… anay izany tantara sy lovan-tsofina izany, ary asa koa misy hevitra tianareo tsoahina amin’izany zavatra izany. Izay angamba no amaranako an’azy, ka dia misaotra anareo izay naka feo anay niany fa mba ho tadidy sy rakitra amin’izany antony rehetra voalazako izany, ka dia […] hitadidy tsara [anie] izay rehetra mipetaka ary samy hametraka ny lovantsofina amin’ny fireneny isany avy mba ho henon’ny firenena rehetra rehetra fa tsy ho anay ihany”.