Thursday , 1 December 2022
The Alahamadibe and Asaramanitra, are nowadays more alike symbolic remembrance celebrations and tourism product than original rituals basically supposed to connect the sovereign to his subjects. The events' political and sacred relevance belong to the past, now that Christianity and democracy haven taken over as major social values. On March 31st, 2014 , who would ever dare to wish a " Happy New Year " to his neighbors or relatives?

The new Malagasy New Year; celebration or reenactment ?

” Arahaba tratry ny Asaramanitra” , the saying, which basically used to announce the first month in a calendar based on the moon and the sun, has found new use on every January 1st. and turned into a lose equivalent to the ” arahaba tratry ny taona ” more suited to the Gregorian calendar’s first day of the year. It technically does not matter much since both sayings are announcing a new year anyway. The word Asaramanitra suffered a massive alteration of its original meaning, and describes nowadays whatever possible celebration on national scale. Its original meaning was referring to an agrarian ritual in which royal relics used to be ceremonously bathed on every first day of every first month of the year.
The first major changes occured much longer ago than we believe though. King Ralambo, supreme ruler of the Merina kingdom from 1575 to 1610, somehow personalized the formal event. The king order to turn the day of the moon’s Alahamady (Aries ), its first crescent, into the firs day of the year, and brought by so doing the local calendar in line with the Arabic lunar calendar. As for the ground to this, selfishness would also be the leading option: this day was His Majesty’s birthday!
After all, Ralambo is not dumbed the first great king of Imerina for nothing, is he? King Ralambo introduced higher standards to the Fandroana or royal bath, which was ever since celebrated as a dynastic ritual to the royal ancestors’ glory, as an opportunity to sanctify and invoke them in sacred prayers.
Andrianampoinimerina, the next major King of the Imerina, kept following in his grandfather’s footsteps by giving even more importance to the sanctification of the ancestors. He ordered zebu sacrifices to be carried out over each of the 12 sacred hills, where his 12 wives were living. The sovereign received a whole piaster or ” hasina ” from each of his women, and the same amount from his subjects, for each social class was expected to repay him their right to live.
The Fandroana found entry in many oral legends continuously revived into the Malagasy culture. The rituals may belong to a past era, keep however deeply anchored in local beliefs . On the last days to the major celebration, the king’s subjects were no longer allowed to kill an animal but poultry. Two days before the new year, the king used to sacrifice a red cock to ward off death and evil through the ” faditra .” The blood will be spread all over the sovereign’s body parts. The bath itself will serve as a purification vessel.
King formally declared himself as sacred. His half divine dimension was marked bythe prayers addressed to the king’s ancestors when proceeding to sacrifices and offerings. Concerning this particular matter, Andrianampoinimerina recalled that his subjects’ prayers were first and foremost addressed to the royal ancestors : “When you call upon your ancestors, do keep in mind that mine are standing high above yours .” In the run of these ceremonies, the king used to become a priest as well as a divine figure, a sacred being to which his subjects owe but total submission.
In 2014, the celebration program on Malagasy New Years has distanced itself from the old legends of Fandroana . Everlasting fire, rice and honey, shared out meat as a pledge for good relationships, party, all of these have taken over nowadays … as remnants of the past rituals into little more than a dim reenactment. Anything more would meet a major problem : who is going to be sanctified in the royal bath ?
The Fandroana event basically used to be a major event. On the Alahamadibe day, impunity used to allow almost everything, libertarianism as well. Sexual orgies used to be conducted as a ritual. Things have changed ever since. No king does rule any longer, so these rituals and sacrifices have become alien to the majority of our Malagasy fellow countrymen. Impunity and lust are off the point nowadays, are they not?  … So do the Alahamadibe and the Asaramanitra remain Merina nation’s past tradition deemed to sanctify Merina royal ancestors.