Celebration in the Village

I was about to participate in another traditional Sakalava ritual. The ground was swept clean and covered with grass mats, the mango and guava trees had been cut back, and a beautiful entrance had been created using mangrove wood, banana leaves and hibiscus flowers. People were beginning to climb the hill behind the house and find their places on the mats. A small bowl of clean, clear water with a single, green Mango leaf had been placed on one of the mats. This was for the spiritual patriarch of the family to sprinkle on people as he talked to Zagnahary (God). This will be my first time to attend a “Magnaboaka Tsaiky,” which means “bringing out the child,” and I am anxious because the child we are bringing out is my own.

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There are two parts to this particular ceremony. The first is done in a ritualistic manner where the spiritual patriarch, facing the east, speaks to God and the family ancestors, asking them to bless the new child, and sprinkling new water on the baby, parents, and others as a symbolic form of that blessing. Then comes the party, where food and alcohol are served, all depending on the financial means of the parents. Many people are invited to the party, and some bring gifts, mostly cash, to the parents. This is done when a new baby is one month old.

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Everyone in our village was wondering when we were going to “magnaboaka tsaiky…” they were looking to see how we would introduce our baby to the village. Our team decided it would be a good idea to take this ritual and give it new meaning and context. Along with our gatherings and individual conversations, this would be another chance to subvert the current understanding of God and the spiritual world that permeates our villages. We created a new liturgy, giving thanks to the true God for his gift of our spiritual brother, Jesus Christ. We talked about the covenant family, and what that means for Hudson as a child born into a family of believers. And we talked about his sin and his need for the only savior, Jesus.

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When we finished deciding what we were going to say, tradition dictated we should have asked my grandfather to perform the ceremony… except he was thousands of miles away. Thankfully our teammate stepped in and represented my family as our spiritual patriarch. Rosina also helped out, giving the biblical context for the words of the ceremony, as well as translating the liturgy into Sakalava.

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As the ceremony was about to begin, I realized that more people had come than expected, some of whom would never have come to one of our team’s gatherings. We were grateful that everyone was able to hear a small amount of God’s truth, and witness a celebration of God’s blessing within a proper understanding of His revelation. The band showed up and sang their new version of The Lord’s Prayer from Matthew. There was even a little dancing…

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The party afterwards was great, and the first time we have had that many people at our tiny hut! Pray with us that our friends and neighbors would embrace “new life” in Christ.

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Here is a link to the entire liturgy (in English) if you’re interested:

1Magnaboaka Tsaiky

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– Bryan

* All photos on this page by Tori Alverson 2015