The Possessed and the Dispossessed [spirit-mediumship in Ambanja, Madagascar] (p. 35 Ambanja is in "the territory of the Bemazava, the northernmost branch of the Sakalava speakers", on the west coast, along the strait across from Mozambique)

[p. xv /o/ is pronounced as /u/; /n^/ is a writing for /n/]



title of chapter



Political oeconomy of the Sambirano valley



World of the Spirits



Sacred knowledge



Spirit Mediumship


pp. 283-286 terminology

















baka andrano

‘coming from the water’ (of spirits)


baka atsimo

‘coming from the south’ (tromba spirits that are entombed near Mahajanga)



‘grandparent’ (the oldest generation of the tromba spirits)



‘bedcover, blanket’ (mistress)



‘royal residence’ (form of spirit-possession among the Antandroy)



(term of endearment between women)



(term of endearment between men)












customs, culture



caerimonies which honor ancestors



"A nature spirit that lives in the forest and eats raw food. ... Mediums for kalanoro must capture them".






"Spirits of lost souls, ghosts."



royal tomb



royal residence






wooden staff (tipped with embossed silver) held by tromba spirits



female tomb guardian






witch, sorcerer






male tomb guardian



interpreter for a tromba spirit



official spirit-medium abiding in village nigh royal tomb of the spirit



nature-spirit associated with a sacred tree



royal ancestral spirits; spirit-possession experience; medium for possessing-spirit {The term /TROmba/ for ‘possessing-spirit/ is praesumably etymologically cognate with the Ewe-Togolese term /TRO/ (of identical meaning) : the <ibri^ name YiTRO^ would likely be likewise cognate.}












strangers, foreigners






‘progeny’ (the 2nd generation of tromba-spirits)



‘grandchildren’ (the 3rd generation of tromba-spirits)




pp. 48-50 spirit-fomented resistance-movement against Christian oppressors

p. 48

"The Ramanenjana or "dancing mania," which occurred in the Merina capital of Antananarivo in 1863, is perhaps the most large-scale resistance movement against foreigners involving ... hundreds of people possessed by the dead Queen ... . The possessed often ... attacked ... Protestant missionaries". ... In the Sambirano, ... Sakalava ... appealed to ... herbalists (moasy), diviners (mpisikidy), and tromba spirit mediums, making use of Malagasy ... magic (fanafody, fanafody-gasy).

... at the time of the 1947 revolt in the Sambirano, dead and living forces united against the colonial government; ...

p. 49

the French were victims of "occult forces" (forces occultes) including tromba and other spirits, and fanafody."

p. 50

"tromba possession also provides mediums with a means through which they may resist wage labor".

pp. 116-117 tromba in royal contexts

p. 116

"In the strictest sense, tromba are the spirits of dead Sakalava royalty (ampanjaka) whose lineages are based throughout western Madagascar." ["the royal Bemazava lineage has several female spirits." (p. 300, n. 5:1)]

p. 117

"From a precolonial point of view, the key figures of the Bemazava spirit world are those that only appear in mediums on the island of Nosy Faly, in the village that guards the royal tombs (zomba, mahabo). These ... are often referred to as the tromba maventibe, or the "greatest tromba." Each of these spirits possesses only one medium, who is referred to as a saha ("valley" or "canal"). Saha live full-time at Nosy Faly ... . ... it is forbidden for rulers to approach the royal tombs when they are alive". A royal spirit genuinely possessing a candidate, who is being tested in order to become a saha, must be "able to pick out personal possessions from a pile of paraphernalia presented to it by the ngahy {this is also a test administred to a candidate in order to be recognized as a divine redincarnation, in Tibet}, and it described the appearance and location of an item that was in a private area of a witness’s house."


The southern Sakalava of Menabe "use the term dady to refer to the royal cult of ancestors and tromba to refer to other Sakalava possessing spirits."

{The practice of spirit-medium to become possessed by dead members of the royal family is also Vietnamese.}

pp. 120-121 the 2 descent-groups of northern Sakalava royalty : whence come the royal exemplars of the 2 sorts of pretious metals

p. 120

Zafin-i-__ (‘Grandchildren of __’) = Zafin-bola-__ (‘Grandchildren of money __’)

mena (‘red’) : "red money" = gold

fotsy (‘white’) : "white money" = silver

p. 121

baka __ (‘coming from the __’)

atsimo (‘south’)

andrano (‘water’)

p. 301, n. 5:3 /A-tsimo/ : "Some ... say that the name is derived from tsimo, which means "wind.""

pp. 122-124 attraction of spirit to person of opposite gendre as spirit-medium

p. 122

"the spirits of dead royalty come to life and interact with the living ... by possessing mediums, the majority of whom are female."

"each spirit has its own style of dress, behavior, and body of fady, making it easy for the trained observer to identify the spirit once the medium has entered trance."

"women are more susceptible to possession because ..., since

p. 123

most spirit are male, they are attracted to women. ... male spirits and female mediums ... are said to be each others’ spouses (vady)."

"The majority of mediums and observers at ceremonies are ... women, while the musicians and spirit interpreters (rangahy) are men. {cf. Delphic Pythoness with male prophetes-interpreter}

This division of duties along gender lines replicates what occurs at the royal tombs, where the saha for the most powerful royal tromba are female, and male tomb guardians (ngahy) ... serve as the spirits’ interpreters".

pp. 123-124 onset and development of spirit-mediumship in one’s lifetime-experience

p. 123

"Should a person show signs of tromba possession, she must accept it ... . Most often possession is precipitated by an onslaught of chronic symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, persistent stomach pains, or a sore neck, back, or limbs. Typically, the victim has consulted ... indigenous healers, including tomba mediums, herbalist-healers (moasy), and diviners (mpisikidy). Eventually it is suggested to her that perhaps it is a tromba that is making her ill, the spirit being angry because she is resisting possession. ... If it is indeed a tromba, she is expected to undergo an elaborate series of ceremonies to permanently install the spirit within her.

Once established, a tromba spirit remains active in the medium throughout her lifetime, and although it may become dormant once the medium has reached old age, the spirit departs only after she is dead. The spirit does not constantly reside within her. Indeed, the spirit lives in the royal tomb, which it leaves temporarily in order to possess a medium; she in turn serves as a temporary "house" (trano) for the spirit whenever she goes into trance. When the spirit enters the medium’s body (or head, since it is often said "to sit" [mipetraka] here), her own spirit departs and remains absent throughout possession."

p. 124

After a spirit-possession episode "has ended she does not remember what came to pass, so that a third party is required to serve as a witness ... for her.

One medium may have several tromba spirits, and often the older the medium the greater her spirit repertoire, since she collects increasingly powerful (and older) spirits as she herself ages. A medium can be possessed by only one spirit at a given point in time."

pp. 124-125, 301 musical instruments & timing for tromba performances

p. 124

"Spirits love music, and it is the lively sound of an accordion or stringed valiha ["a type of zither made from a large piece of bamboo. It is held vertically in the lap and the strings are plucked with the fingers and thumbs." (p. 301, n. 5:6)] which generally alerts passersby to the fact that a ceremony is taking place inside someone’s home. The tunes of these instruments are complemented by faray, wooden rattles made of bamboo which are shaken and thumped on the floor ... . There ceremonies ... are often large-scale social events, sometimes attended by as many as twenty mediums (and their spirits), as well as kin, neighbors, and other friends. Tromba ceremonies generally begin in the daytime and run throughout the night into the next day. The time when a tromba ceremony is held is

p. 125

chosen with care so as to fall within auspicious, complementary phases of the solar day and the lunar calendar."

301, fn. 5:4

months wherein spirit-possession is forbidden for certain categories of spirits :

month __ is forbidden

for __ spirits

mid-June to mid-July


mid-July to mid-August


"if there is an eclipse, no tromba possession may occur during that month."

pp. 127-133 social debut of a tromba : a specific caerimony of initiation into spirit-mediumship

p. 127

"a powerful spirit named Ndramarofaly ... will officiate at the ceremony. ... a man ... will serve as the rangahy or interpreter for her spirit. ... four other mediums arrive. ... All five mediums carry small baskets that hold the costumes for their respective spirits. The mediums sit down in the house and face the eastern wall. This direction is associated with the ancestors and the location of the royal tombs. [The principal female spirit-medium] occupies the northeast corner. [A man,] her rangahy, is seated slightly behind her and to her left, and the other mediums are to her right. In front of the mediums is a short-legged table ... set up to serve as an altar for the spirits. On this she has placed items needed to summon the spirits : an incense burner ... issuing a sweet aroma ...; ... burnt honey and water ["this is a form of mead" (p. 301, n. 5:9)]...; and ... a small vial of honey ... . ...

p. 128

Out of respect for the ancestors all present are barefoot, have their heads uncovered ... . ... [Women performers] untie their knots of hair ... . This is a gesture they make in deference to the royal spirits that will soon arrive. ... while facing east, they hold their palms up in deference to the ancestors; ... members of the audience do this as well. The rangahy first addresses the Zanahary, or Gods on High, and then those spirits who have been requested to attend this ceremony. ... When the musicians begin to play, ... women each pick up a rattle (faray) and beat out the rhythms of the tune. ... [The principal female spirit-medium] trembles slightly and then, abruptly, she stands. She is now possessed and has become the male spirit NDRAMAROFALY. ... the spirit puts on an old peasant-style white shirt and two ... pieces of red cloth, one of which he wraps around his waist, draping the other over his shoulders. Then the rangahy hands him a wooden baton ...

p. 129

that is tipped with silver. ...

Tromba spirits are arranged hierarchically in relation ... to their positions in the royal genealogies. The order in which they arrive ... reflects these positions :

the Grandparents (dady; dadilahy), who are the oldest and most powerful spirits arrive first, followed in turn by

the younger generations, the Children (zanaka) and Grandchildren (zafy). ...

Two other young women ... emerge as two brothers, RAOVOAY ("Crocodile Man") and RALEVA, who are both young affines of Ndramarofaly. ... Upon arriving these spirits must greet the elder, and so they approach Ndramarofaly ... . Typically, a Child or Grandchild will ... greet members of the audience with a special tromba handshake; this is just what Raovoay and Raleva do. ..

p. 130

An hour later one of the two youngest mediums ... starts to go into trance. Grunting, she violently spins her head from side to side, so that her tresses fly. ... All know now that this is the spirit of MAMPIARY, the cowherd and son of Raleva, who is trying to make his entrance. ... Meanwhile [the remaining youngest medium] is possessed by ... BE ONDRY ("Big Fist"), who is the brother-in-law of Mampiary ... . ... they, to, wear lambahoany, although [Mampiary]’s is green and [Be ondry]’s is orange ... . Once dressed, they greet the other spirits and then turn to the audience and playfully shake each person’s hand. ... When clowning ..., it is the dead who are the life of the party. ...

p. 131

Since tromba spirits are powerful healers, ... clients ... bring small children by for treatment. Periodically there are breaks in the ceremony; at these times the musicians pause to rest or to eat ... . ...

p. 132

[The female spirit-medium who had been possessed by Mampiary] then becomes possessed by another spirit, MAPIAMIN^Y ("Limpness"), Mampiary’s brother. ... he wears a purple cloth ... and ... he is quiet, sitting limply on the ground ... . ...

p. 133

The neophyte may remain possessed for less than an hour ... . In [this woman neophyte]’s case, it leaves quickly, but soon she shows signs of being possessed by yet another spirit. ... The spirits and her kin confer and determine that [she] is possessed by a second spirit ..., the brother of Be Ondry. ... After this second spirit departs ..., the ceremony is nearly completed. The spirits that remain must depart in an order that mirrors their arrival, the youngest leaving first, the most powerful departing last. ... As the younger and more active spirits depart, unpossessed members of the audience run to catch each medium, massaging her arms and back with quick slaps and jerks in order to relieve her somewhat of the pains and stiffness she will feel afterward. All mediums are in a daze when they reenter their own bodies and the ask for a summary of what happened, since they do not recall what came to pass."

pp. 134, 189 later developments

p. 134

"Anytime that a major change occurs in [her] life – if she bears a child, or if she moves to another residence, for example – she must hold a ceremony to officially inform her spirits of this. ...


Throughout her life she may accumulate several other spirits, and generally the stature and power of these new spirits increase as she herself ages."


A female spirit-medium’s "rangahy ... is usually her husband".

p. 189

"Whereas the rangahy is geranlly a spouse, in cases where the spouse is uncooperative or nonexistent, close kin (often female) fill in."

pp. 135-141 other divine members of the spirit-world

p. 135

"In Sakalava cosmology, the Zanahary, or Gods on High, are distant ... creator spirits or deities ... . Ancestral spirits especially serve as intermediaries between the living and the Zanahary."

p. 136

"Like royalty, Sakalava commoners have their own personal ancestors (... razan^a ...), but, in contrast to tromba spirits, razan^a do not possess mediums ... . Instead, they communicate with the living through dreams ... . ... an ancestral spirit may be angry ... because it was never placed in the family tomb. ... Perhaps the person died while traveling, or the body was never recovered, or the body was intentionally neglected ["individuals with leprosy could not be placed in the family tomb." (p. 302, n. 5:13)] ... . The healer, most often a tromba medium, will then instruct living kin how to placate the troubled spirit, explaining where to find the remains ... . ...

p. 137

Lolo are the ghosts of people who have died in tragic or violent ways ... . ["among the Vezo lolo means "tomb" (p. 302, n. 5:15).] Lolo haunt the scenes of past accidents, such as regions of the sea where people have drowned or under bridges where there have been automobile accidents." {cf. trolls}


"In addition to tromba, there are two categories of nature spirits that also possess mediums. These are tsin^y and kalanoro. A tsin^y is a nature spirit associated with a specific location where it is said to live, such as a sacred tamarind tree (madiro) or a rock. ...

p. 138

In addition to being periodically possessed by their spirits, tsin^y mediums also serve as the exclusive guardians or caretakers of the spirits and their habitats ... . ... Since a tsin^y’s dwelling is sacred, people may wish to leave offerings for the spirit ... . In order to do this, however, one must acquire permission from the spirit’s guardian. The location of a tsin^y is easy to recognize, since it generally has a fence built around it for protection, and pieces of white cloth, left as offerings, will be draped ... . ...

Kalanoro are by far the most mysterious ... and bizarre (hafahafa) of the Malagasy spirits, having a quality ... as "surreal" [as that] of the duende [‘owner’] spirits of Panama. Kalanoro are found throughout Madagascar, and in other regions of the island they go by names as kotoky and vazimba. ["For the Highland Merina, vazimba are the spirits of little people who are said to be the island’s original inhabitants." (p. 302, n. 5:16)] Kalanoro are rarely seen, because they live deep in the forest. They are short and ... have long fingernails and red eyes. Their hair is long and possesses magical qualities. ... The most striking aspect of kalanoro is that their feet point backward, so that if one wishes to track a kalanoro, it is important to remember the follow the footprints in the direction they appear to be coming from, rather than where they seem to be going. Kalanoro eat raw food and may leave evidence of a meal – such as the cracked shells of a crayfish on a rock in the middle of a river. ...

Unlike tromba and tsin^y possession ceremonies, ... the client is not permitted to view a kalanoro when it possesses a medium. Instead, during a consultation, the medium sits behind a white curtain. ... Although I was never able to consult a kalanoro, I was told by informants who had done so that when a kalanoro arrives it can be heard walking and banging on the ceiling {on the island of Bali, a spirit can sometimes be heard walking noisily on the roof of a house} and walls of the house and that its speech is quick, choppy, and

p. 139

high pitched, so that it is difficult to understand. It is taboo to have a dog present during a kalanoro seance, because dogs can see them."

"Njarinintsy possession ...

p. 140

was brought by Tsimihety migrants. Cases of njarinintsy are ... clowning spirits. ... Njarinintsy possession is ... with symptoms that include shaking and chills (this is reflected in the spirit’s name, which is derived from manintsy, which means "coldness") ... . [The Malagasy "translates Njarinintsy as "Mother Cold"" (p. 302, n. 5:17).]


"A masoantoko (lit. "group of eyes" [?] from maso, "eye," and antoko, "group" [?]) {cf. the Polynesian a divine group of eyen, Hawai>ian /makali>i/ bailers, Mangaian /matariki/ star behind a stream which became drained (HM, p. 368) – the bailing or draining alluding perhaps to a "dry" interval in the "dark night of the soul" in Christian mysticism} disturbs its victim while she sleeps, giving her terrible nightmares. ... Some informants say they are Chinese spirits".

p. 141

"A final form of possession ... found in Ambanja is bilo. Bilo does ... occur ... in ... peoples who have come from the south, such as the Betsileo and Antandroy. ... Some bilo spirits are animals, such as snakes, and they cause their victims to crawl on their bellies while they are possessed." {In Morocco, when undergoing spirit-possession by rijal al-Gaba, "men become ... other wild animals" (TSM, p. 68).}

p. 302, n. 5:19

Bilo is a "form of possession among the Antandroy." There is likewise "bilo among the southern Sakalava of Menabe" and "among the Masikoro" {The word /Bilo/ is cognate with the name of the Maori god /Whiro/ (‘Thread’).}

HM = Martha Beckwith : Hawaiian Mythology. Yale U Pr, 1940.

TSM = Deborah Kapchan : Traveling Spirit Masters. Wesleyan U Pr, Middletown (CT), 2007.

pp. 148-149 spirit-medium’s clothing for performances

p. 148

"When a medium dies, her family is expected to take her tromba clothes to the living ruler, who will then take care of them or redistribute them to mediums who have the same spirits. A medium who has inherited her mother’s spirits will also inherit the spirit’s clothes. In the context

p. 149

of royal tromba possession, saha wear the clothes that rulers wore during their lifetimes. These are kept by the tomb guardians when they are not being used."

pp. 152-153 specific Grandparent-spirits

p. 152

"Ndramarofaly (full name: Andriamarofalinarivo;[5] in Ambanja, this name is translated to mean "the King who is always happy" [faly, happy]) ... died by hanging. ... While lost in a forest, he went mad and hanged himself from a cashew tree {cf. the Yoruba god S^ano, who was a king who died by hanging himself from a tree}; as his body putrified, it was surrounded by guinea hens. Another fady is a perfume called sakona, which is made from the cashew."


"Ndramandenta (full name: Andriamandentarivo, "the King who slit the throats of many") ... is a spirit that ... died by having his throat slit, and so when he arrives he coughs up blood ... . (According to [another account] he was a mighty warrior who was stoned to death."


"Kotofanjava, Kotomena, and Kotovazaha are representative of the baka andrano ("coming from the water") spirits of the Zafin>i>fotsy descent group. These spirits are from Analalava, which lies to the south of Ambanja near the mouth of the Loza River. They and an assortment of other spirits of the same generation chose to commit suicide by drowning ... . ... Other fady include shark and an assortment of other fish that feasted on their corpse".


"Zaman>i>Bao ("Bao’s Uncle") or Ndramiverinarivo (full name: ...

p. 153

"the King to whom many return") was among the first of the popular spirits to possess mediums in any great number in the Sambirano. ... Zaman>i>Bao died as a young man when he was enrolled as a student ... . ... When this spirit arrives in a medium he coughs uncontrollably; ... an important fady is cashews. ... His wife mourned terribly ... . But Zaman>i>Bao then rose from his tomb to comfort her. Today he consoles Sakalava women."

pp. 153-154 specific Progeny-spirits

p. 153

"Raleva worked for Zaman>i>Bao as his secretary, and he was married to Zaman>i>Bao’s sister.…The two men were inseparable : they worked together and inhabited the same house. When Raleva heard that Zaman>i>Bao had been killed, he was so distraught that he committed suicide. This he did by climbing up in a tree, and then he jumped ... . ...

p. 154

Although Tuesday is a taboo day for all baka atsimo spirits (in reference to activities that occur back at the tomb), Thursday is also taboo for Raleva, since he died on this day."


"Raovoay ("Crocodile Man") ... was eaten by a crocodile (voay) while trying to cross a river, and for this reason a medium’s motions imitate this animal when this spirit arrives and departs."

pp. 154-155 specific Grandchild-spirits

p. 154

"Mampiary was a cowherd or "cowboy" ... who died in an ... accident when he was young. This happened when he was intoxicated and driving across a bridge in an oxcart filled with coffee."


"Djao Kondry and Be Ondry were both young men who ...

p. 155

can not eat ... certain types of hot peppers."


"Mampiamin^y. This spirit’s name means "to make limp" or "limpness," and when he possesses a medium he sits quietly and slumped over. ... Mampiamin^y, as with an assortment of other Zafin>i>mena spirits, wears a purple waist wrap (soboya) ..., along with a white, four-pocketed shirt and fedora hat. ... his taboos include a kind of duck (drakidraky), milk, and french bread."

p. 173 prostitute-spirit

A female spirit-medium who "herself had worked as a prostitute" for many years had "a prostitute spirit named Mbotimahasaky, who ... had had serious conflicts with her father, brother, and lover, and she had killed her first and only baby as a result of neglect."

pp. 123, 229, 238 spirit-spouse : spiritual polyandry & polygyny

p. 123

"Marriage provides the idiom for expressing the relationship between male spirits and female mediums, who are said to be each others’ spouses (vady)."

p. 182

"In Ambanja ... a medium’s spirit is her "spouse" (vady) ... . ... If a tromba medium is possessed by numerous male spirits, all these spirits are her husbands. If she has a living husband, when she is not possessed, he, too, is her spouse. ... The ranking of spouses is also important. ... All spirits, in turn, are regarded as being superior in rank to the living husband. ...

Since one spirit may

p. 183

possess many mediums, ... all these mediums are co-wives."

p. 229

"a spirit is said to be the medium’s spouse".

p. 238

a female medium’s male possessing "spirit wanted her to be his girlfriend or sipa".

pp. 184-185 tromba as fictive kinship

p. 184

"If a medium is possessed at a ceremony, then it is likely that she is surrounded by tromba spirits who are related to her own possessing spirit. When she is possessed, she becomes that spirit, and so she addresses all other related spirits by their proper kinship terms ... . ... As should be clear by now, the terms of address shift constantly, depending on whether the medium (and others around her) are in or out of trance.

p. 185

... through fictive kinship, she is incorporated into a network of established mediums who are not only her friends, but who are defined, for example, as her "sisters," "co-wives," and "mothers," bonds that carry with them the obligations of kinship."

pp. 190-191 time & spirit-possession : the tromba calendar

p. 190

"There are auspicious and inauspicious times for possession, determined by the lunar calendar and the solar day. The period between the new or ascending moon (fanjava tondroen^y, "mounting moon") and full moon (fanjava bory, "round moon") is the best time to perform a tromba ceremony. This period is associated with life, vitality, growth, and well-being. The period marked by a descending moon (fanjava maty, "dead moon") and no moon (fanjava fady, "taboo moon") is a time of death and danger. This is when, for example, royal funerals are held. No spirits may be called up in a medium (and thus, out of their tombs) during these lunar phases."

p. 191

"similar meanings are assigned to the positions of the sun in the sky. Morning is associated with well-being, growth, and life, whereas the afternoon, when the sun is descending, is less auspicious. ... It is just after dawn that a new spirit often arrives in the neophyte."

p. 195 feeding by client of a spirit within the body of a spirit-medium

"A client is expected to bring gifts of ... food to the spirit to encourage it to arrive and to ensure it will be pleased and will then cooperate. ... Once the spirit has arrived, the client offers goods for consumption which are appropriate for that spirit ... . These items are for the spirit, and the medium must consume all during trance."

Lesley A. Sharp : The Possessed and the Dispossessed. U of CA Pr, Berkeley, 1993. {authoress, mentioned in Recollecting from the Past, p. 186};brand=ucpress