The Sakalava
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The Sakalava

Island Farmers

Island Farmers

They are a Malagasy population originating from the Isaka region (southwestern coast of Madagascar). Together with the Bara and the Betsileo, they are among the Malagasy communities of more African origin. The Sakalava live in a populated area of vast plains and grasslands.


  • Region is Southern Africa

  • Climate here is Tropical

  • The challenge here is Casual

  • This trip has been rated 5 by other travelers



The Sakalava are a people of shepherds and farmers; their livelihood depends on zebu breeding, especially in the inland regions of Madagascar. They are also cultivators of cocoa, coffee, cassava, rice and corn.


The houses are made with plant materials. The types of plants available determine the material and style of construction and the vast majority of homes made with plant materials are rectangular, low houses with a pointed roof and are often built on low stilts. The architecture on the island is highly uniform: almost all traditional homes in this region are built on low stilts and with a thatched roof.


Social Structure

The Sakalava society is strongly hierarchical. The funeral rites are radically different between the nobles, the common people and the descendants of slaves (the lowest caste).


Royal ancestors (Tromba) are the centre of Sakalava religion. Tromba spirits are arranged hierarchically into generations
that correspond to dynastic lineages of Sakalava.


Many elements of the Sakalava culture reveal the African origins of these people. Like other Malagasy populations, they worship the dead; relics like pieces of bone are considered magical objects.

The Sakalava tombs are mainly built of wood and often decorated with wooden sculptures with erotic subjects.

There are two different types of "mediums", through which the ancestors speak: the Mpisoro (which means "master of ceremony" but also fortune-teller) and the Sazoky ("possessed by the kings").

Sakalava people have their way of dressing. Women wear Kisaly and Salovana, while men wear Kitamby. These clothes are a sign of honour or sadness. For example, women dirty their Salovana or Kisaly for funerals.

Both men and women use plants to treat some diseases.


The Sakalava is a dialect of the Malagasi, commonly spoken in Madagascar. Most of its words are from Africa.


Sakalavas are famous for their traditional music, including Salegy, Trotrobe, Kaoitry or Kilalaky. In the majority of their songs, their objective is to let others know that they are descendants of Africans.

Salegy is a particular Sakalava dance that includes both Indonesian and Kenyan influences.

They are known for the architecture of funerary monuments, erected for deceased members of prominent families.

Burial practices still exist today, but they have considerably changed over time. Sakalava burial are rectilinear enclosures of wood fencing, embellished corner characterized with figural sculptures (traditionally bird, men and women)


Every ten years the Sakalava people celebrate their common origins by gathering in Belo, on the banks of the Tsiribihina river, to celebrate the Fitampoha ritual (bath of the king's relics). During this ritual, thy recall spirits of the ancient kings.

Friday (Zoma) is the day consider the most auspicious time to perform celebrations. There's a restriction for some other days or months.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

The majority of Sakalava are hospitable, good and respectable. They aim to communicate with others: you will love talking to them and finding out more about their origins and traditions!

Photo credit Lake by the Baobabs Whelan

Photo credit Woman with her face painted, Sakalava tradition RAMOS

Photo credit Portrait of Malagasy woman

Photo credit Girl with painted face

Photo credit Madagascar village

Photo credit Zebu and Baobab