Malagasy Kabary, the Malagasy oratorical art


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Inscribed in 2021 (16.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Televiziona Malagasy, Madagascar, 2020

Malagasy kabary is a poeticized speech performed in front of an audience. It is highly structured and consists of proverbs, maxims, rhetorical figures and wordplay. The ritualistic style of speech was originally used by leaders to inform the community about social life and administration. Over time, communities started using it to communicate and for social events. It thus became inseparable from social life in Madagascar, used for festivities, funerals, official ceremonies and popular events. Its function is to express values and thoughts that give collective meaning to material facts. In practice, Malagasy kabary takes place as a conventional dialogue, usually involving two orators, or mpikabary, in front of a gathering. It can last several hours, but in certain circumstances (such as during funerals), the structure is simplified to last around ten minutes. Although traditionally performed by older, elite men, today it is increasingly performed by young people and women. At the family level, it contributes to cohesion when performed at meetings where all generations are present and partake in the performance. In the public sphere, it is viewed as a means of strengthening relationships between groups and communities, creating an atmosphere of sharing and cohesion.