Flying With a Fetish

I recently travelled to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. My flight was pushed back a day because a cyclone (hurricane) had just moved through the northern part of the country, wreaking havoc on the east coast of the big island. Even though the giant storm was the equivalent of a category 4 hurricane, I doubt it made the headlines anywhere outside of southeastern Africa. We are in the middle of the rainy season, and cyclones are a fairly common event for Madagascar from January until March. The airline assured me that the cyclone had lost most of its power, and we took off from our tiny airport in the dark, following the same path the storm had taken a day before. I had two pieces of luggage with me; my small suitcase which contained my clothes and toiletries, and a cloth bag full of fetishes and charms for spirit possession.

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Feeling the effects of Cyclone Enawo outside our house

The airline was right after all, and Tana (as everyone calls the capital) received only a much needed day of rain from the remnants of Cyclone Enawo. I wasn’t there to storm chase anyway; I was there to visit our team from Nosy Be. We had sent 4 couples from our group of new believers to Tana for a 2-month Bible training. These couples were identified as leaders and had expressed interest in further teaching. They had already been there for 6 weeks when I arrived, and I was excited to see them and hear their stories. Rosina had also been with them for the duration of their time in Tana, staying at their house and helping them debrief each day’s Bible lesson.

During a debriefing session on spiritual warfare, one of the couples confessed to still having their “tromba” clothes and artifacts. Tromba (pronounced troomba) is the Malagasy word for spirit possession. The Sakalava in particular practice tromba as part of their traditional religion. Many (though not all) people in our village have a tromba; some like having a tromba and some see it as a burden. When it is time to call the tromba, people gather together with singing, drumming, and lots of rum, and then call the tromba to come and possess the body of its host. All of the tromba have names, and they are all former Sakalava royalty. My friends’ tromba bag was full of their clothes they must wear when calling their tromba, as well as random things that are the property of their tromba; pieces of cloth, bundles of sticks, money, and other small trinkets.

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Our team in Tana

Everyone in the group took a turn speaking about his or her involvement with tromba, and everyone had something to say because it is part of EVERY Sakalava family. Our friends, who have publicly expressed faith in Christ, were still holding on to their tromba bag, hiding it under their bed. But it was time; time for them to be rid of these last remnants of their former life. So a decision was made… the husband travelled 30 hours by bus back to Nosy Be, pulled out the tromba bag, gave it to me, and made the 30 hour return trip to Tana (he was afraid to take the bag back himself). That is how I ended up on a plane, at night, trailing a cyclone, with a bag of fetishes.

The day after my arrival, our entire group took a short bus ride to a Lutheran Church near the U.S. Embassy. The Lutheran Church in Madagascar has a ministry specifically devoted to people wanting to rid themselves of tromba. Lutheran mpiandry (literally “shepherds”) are found all across the country and are trained in spiritual warfare and how to confront, exorcise, and rehabilitate people with tromba. Their task on this day was to lead us in a burning ceremony, where we read scripture, sang hymns, prayed, and set fire to our friends remaining physical links to their tromba. One of the verses we read was from Acts 19, where Paul is in Ephesus. In the middle of the chapter we read about the demonic activity going on in the region and how the power of the Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus brought many people out of spiritual darkness. After leaving their old life, some would burn the remaining physical links to their demonic past. This practice is essentially what we were recreating on a small hilltop in Madagascar.

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Mpiandry burning tromba possessions

Our team of new believers in Tana will be returning to Nosy Be soon, and village life will become their reality again. And a big part of village life is tromba; most Sakalava turn to their ancestors and to their tromba when there is an illness, or things are going bad, or when they need  to have a good rice crop or catch of fish. And even though our friends have gotten rid of their physical connections to their tromba, the battle is not over. They need Christ, they need His word, and they need our prayers. Please continue to pray for the new Sakalava believers in Nosy Be, and that God would continue to add to their number, and “so the word of the Lord would continue to increase and prevail mightily.”

Bryan