Blog by Prolemur simus Volunteer, Blake
Sambatra was easily one of the more prominent cultural experiences I have had the opportunity to partake in. Sambatra is a holiday which happens every 7 years in Mananjary and is centered around the circumcision of young boys. Yup. The whole town of Mananjary transforms for Sambatra because it attracts tourists and Malagasy people from all over. The town went from a sleepy beach town to a lively little city overnight. There were tons of shops setup everywhere and a stage had been constructed for famous Malagasy musical artists to perform on. The Sambatra festival started in about the 4th century and has persisted since then through all changes in rulers and governments. I arrived in Mananjary with a large group of other volunteers and Malagasy people from KAFS and we had no idea what to expect. All we knew at this point was that there was some type of event and several rules which governed how we could dress and such. When it came time for the actual event, we discovered it was actually a parade celebrating circumcision which had several chants that had ritualized responses. The men would all hold up sticks and chant one thing while the women, dressed in lambas – large ornate sheets constructed of thin cloth, wrapped around them as skirts and shoulder covers – would respond with certain responses. They were separated such that the men faced the women and the men would walk backwards while circling specific houses in town 7 times saying various chants. Somehow, one of our Malagasy friends, Hary, talked some of the elders into letting us join in the parade. It was crazy. We were a group of about 10 ‘vazaha’, white foreigners, placed in the middle of about 600 Malagasy people and people would just use hand motions to communicate with us what we needed to do. The parade went on for about 4-5 hours.
The manner in which everything built up to the parade and just the history surrounding the event made the whole experience absolutely surreal for me. After the parade, there was a concert each night which made for some great nights of dancing and enjoying some of the local Malagasy artists. There were a ton of peace corps volunteers (PVCs) which had arrived to observe the festival and enjoy the parties afterwards. I met a guy named Zach who has been working as an English teacher central Madagascar for Peace Corps. I spent the better part of the weekend hanging out with him and just learning about Madagascar and all the different places that he liked around the region. We met up at one of the concerts on Saturday which was an absolute blast. A couple of highlights from the weekend would have to be the following: getting a picture with Rasy (Rossy) and ‘The Big MG’ who were 2 of the headliners for the weekend, dancing in front of a crowd of 600 Malagasy with nobody else on the dance floor and having everyone erupt in cheers for me, and crowd surfing in the Rasy concert. The concert on Sunday night was a TON of fun because a rainstorm started and there was heavy lightning/ rain. This deterred absolutely no one at the concert and it helped keep things a little cooler for everyone. After this, we headed home and the taxi brousse broke down for 2 hours on the side of the road; we eventually were able to repair it and made it back to KAFS to start work the next morning.