The Mada-Indo Connection

by Tabitha Kidwell

Check out this article:

This is just further proof of the bizarre but well-established link between Indonesia and Madagascar, all the way across the Indian ocean. This was one of the reasons I was interested to come to Indonesia – I knew that Malagasy culture had a lot of influences from its Indonesian heritage. I thought I might be like a cultural detective, searching out little similarities. Turns out, no searching is necessary – it’s so darn similar that sometimes I feel like I am still in Madagascar. Really, 1,200 years ago is not that long for the two cultures to have diverged. By that point in western history, contributions of Greek and Roman civilization were well in the past, most of France was already united, and vikings were already sailing around wearing funny hats. So it makes sense that Madagascar and Indonesia should be culturally similar. That entire last post about rice, for example, could have been about Madagascar as easily as Indonesia. Some other similarities:

If you go on a trip, you are sure to arrive back to neighbors and colleagues good-naturedly, or a little impishly, asking for their voandalana or oleh-oleh – gift or souvenir. I especially like the Malagasy, which translates literally as “silver of the road.”

You can’t walk down the street without running into an old lady selling fried goodies – but, no matter how many you eat, you cannot be full since you did not eat rice!

Indonesia may not have a drinking culture thanks to Muslim influences, but you can still find arak, potentially fatal or blinding home-brewed liquor, AKA toaka gasy.

Though Madagascar is predominately Christian and Indonesia is predominately Muslim, there are strong animist beliefs. The elaborate funerals and burial rituals in Toraja rival Madgascar’s famadianas, where the dead are exhumed and entertained at week-long parties in their honor. And ghosts and witches definitely still are roaming at night in both countries.

The languages have lots of similarities: merah is red, ribu/arivo is 1,000, and most or all verbs begins with m (but you can change it to a p sound to make it a person, i.e. menulis/manoratra to write and penulis/mpanoratra writer). There are no real verb tenses to speak of, beyond a general sense of past, present, and future that mostly comes from context, but there are labyrinthine uses of active, passive, and relative voice (bet you didn’t know that one existed, huh?). I’d probably know even more similarities if I could remember more Malagasy!

Lastly, both cultures never cease to give me reasons to wonder. Sometimes people seem to do things that don’t make sense to me as a foreigner living there, but it always seems to work out in the end. I think academics studying what the article calls “one of the strangest episodes in the human odyssey” feel the same way about the two cultures. Why and how did Indonesian people end up in Madagascar? Who knows, but it seems to have worked out pretty well.

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