Recollecting from the Past [Betsimisaraka (on the northeast coast of Madagascar) & Antandroy (on the far south coast of Madagascar)], 5-11

pp. 89-91 musical instruments

p. 89

"Most Malagasy ceremonial music ... relied upon some form of kaiamba percussive shaker. Sometimes the sound of the kaiamba itself is considered to be a particular mode of maresaka especially conducive to persuading tromba spirits to enter the body of a medium. In Betsimisaraka villages the kaiamba is sometimes called tsikatrehana. This particular instrument is usually made from a length of bamboo, ... which is filled with hard, round seeds from the abaradeda plant (close relative of Canna X generalis). These seeds are forced through slots cut the length of the bamboo tube – the slots also act as sound hole through which the instrument’s voice can escape. ...

p. 90

The holes punched in Antandroy kaiamba serve not only to allow sound to escape but also to replicate specific formations of sikidy seeds, thereby stamping this instrument with readable signs of spirit presence and meaning.


The accordion – called ... gorodora among Antandroy – and the valiha are the most desired instruments for tromba practice ... . A small guitar-like instrument, kabo^sy among Betsimaraka, ... is also less frequently used ... . The body of the kabo^sy is often rectangular ... . The Betsimaraka kabo^sy generally has six strings, two lower pitched single strings and two higher pitched courses of stings, each of these courses consisting of paired unisons. Its tuning, from lowest to highest pitched string, is usually i-i`-iii`(doubled)-v`(doubled)."

p. 91

"Antandroy ... were fond of another instrument, the lokanga, a three-stringed bowed instrument probably borrowed initially from neighboring Bara people in the south of the island. [a bowed-played instrument in use in Madagascar in the 17th century Chr.E. : "the instrument ... was made from a very beautiful wood. The string of the [instrument] was of mahaut and that of the bow was of a plant called ‘pitte’ (a type of aloe) which the Malagasy call ‘ahitsa’; it is white" (p. 208, n. 5:2).] ... its accompanying breath-song/chant, another very powerful vocal mode of communication with ancestral spirits ... is called ndrimotra, from the verb midrimotra, to heal.


Antandroy ... often adjust the lowest pitched string on the ... valiha to the sixth scale degree below what in Western terms would be the tonic degree, the next highest pitched string. This allows them to freely emphasize different modalities without retuning."

pp. 93-95 construction of the valiha

p. 93

"Betsimaraka valiha players ... consistently reorient and invert the ascending order of the ones of the scale, introducing varied "interruptions" in this diatonic order. {Are these "interruptions" introduced at the specific commands by possessing-spirits?} ...

p. 94

Betsimaraka themselves choose to^le, a modern foreign construction material, over their own bamboo to construct their valiha. Acoustically, the metallic valiha projects a voice with more intensity of mid- and high-range frequencies and more, different audible harmonics than the bamboo instrument. ...

Merina favor bamboo for the construction of their valiha, a material that is more difficult to obtain from the central Haut Plateau region. ...

Antandroy valiha are built from sapay wood (... pine) ... having to be brought from the Haut Plateau region. ... [Sapay wood] is chosen by Antandroy because its feo, or voice, can best miresaka amindrazana, converse with Antandroy ancestral spirits.


Antandroy valiha generally have twenty to twenty-four strings. ...

p. 95

The pine resonant chamber has two square-ish round holes cut ... . ... As they are the two points of most concentrated sound wave emission from the valiha, these sound hole are also sacralizing points. Toaka (rum) ... [is] commonly dropped into the sound holes to please and honor tromba spirits. ... In addition, other valued objects are commonly placed in these sound holes while music is being produced through them. ... As sound brings spirit-forms into the present, it also transfers physical items to the razana to be blessed and enjoyed by them."

pp. 96, 98-102, 104 tunings of the valiha; retunings of the gorodora

p. 96

"one standard Antandroy valiha tuning consists of the tempered major mode diatonic scale with sixth degree as lowest pitch. Scale degrees of this tuning alternate between right and left hands; though unlike those of the Betsimaraka instrument, these scale degrees ascend sequentially (with the exception of the sixth) ... .

Two other Antandroy tunings employ either augmented fourth degree or diminished seventh degree. Antandroy valiha players, when in the "standard" tuning often shift "tonic" to the fifth scale degree, contrastively modulating to a scale with diminished seventh degree.

A fourth tuning ..., mira feo, ... combines augmented fourth scale degrees with a doubled fifth scale degree that replaces the expected fourth degree in the left hand. In this tuning the performer can create a sustained drone or ostinato-type effect by rapidly alternating between two unison fifth scale degrees as played by left and then right hands. ... Mira feo refers to the "doubled voice" of the fifth scale degree."

p. 98

"Antandroy accordionists ... commonly retuned their Vienna-style accordions. ...

p. 99

These Antandroy also specified that they did not want the ... Corso model, for it could not mahatavy resaka, produce thick conversation. ... The Corso’s triple-reed wet tuning in the right-hand buttons produces sonorities specifically ineffective for calling upon and conversing with Antandroy ancestral spirits."


[alterations effected by Antandroy on Vienna-style accordions :] "From the pairs of reeds in the right-hand rows of buttons in the to-be-played accordion (recall that the Vienna-syle model has only two reeds per right-hand button ...), [the alterer] removed the "wet" reeds, those tuned in the factory slightly above each "pitch" reed. These wet reeds contribute to an acoustic interference between out-of-phase wavelengths and thus a tremolo effect. He would ten match each pitch reed in the lower pitch register of the to-be-played accordion with a reed one octave above it, a "dry" tuning. ...

For the higher register, [the alterer] would retune each wet reed (the one

p. 100

tuned slightly above pitch) of the to-be-played accordion to the unison of its pitch reed. He would accomplish this retuning by delicately adding a slight amount of wood resin to the tongue of the reed, ... so lowering its resonant frequency to match that of the pitch reed. Therefore, the higher register would be tuned in unison, also a dry tuning".

p. 101

"The new tuning was conducive rather to playing drones or ostinato-like patterns. For instance, by alternating from pushing in on button 1 to drawing out on button 2, [the musician] could maintain the same harmony while changing direction with the bellows."

p. 102

"Antandroy accordionists ... would occasionally snap or slap the bellows on both draw out and push-in motions to create a syncopative percussion, ... would often rapidly and repeatedly jerk the bellows to produce a quavering voicing. ... In addition, Antandroy played their accordions at an unbelievably rapid tempo ... . Indeed, I had never heard of any diatonic accordion anywhere pushed to such extremes of rhythmic and improvisatory intricacy at such rapid tempos."

p. 104

By the new tuning, "the two-row diatonic buttton accordion was transformed into an instrument of Antandroy virtuosity, capable of producing music beyond the scope of its European designers. Both Antandroy and Betsimisaraka musicians cleverly and dexterously exceed French-conceived limitations on ... instruments and materials".

p. 102 "Antandroy ... commonly asserted that non-Antandroy ... Malagasy musics from around the island could not miresaka amindrazana, or converse specifically with Antandroy ancestral spirits."

pp. 98, 100-101 accordion-reeds retuned



p. 98, Fig. 12 as set in factory

p. 100, Fig. 13 as retuned



chord, sub-dominant of inner row

chord, neutral 6th of inner row


bass, 6th of outer row

bass, 2nd of outer row


chord, major 6th of outer row

chord, minor 6th of outer row



chord, dominant of inner row

chord, tonic of inner row


chord, dominant of outer row

chord, tonic of outer row


(same as push-in)

(same as push-in)

p. 101 "This transposition and modalizing of a major sonority then allows button 6 to be harmonically compatible for instance with the minor second sonorities of the push-in and draw-out of button 7.

Button 6 is also harmonically compatible with the push-in of button 8, ... transformed ... to a minor sixth harmony.

The factory-set major sixth triad contains a pitch, its third scale degree, not within the diatonic scale ... . By lowering this accidental pitch ... a half-tone, [the alterer] actually returned to and reclaimed the pure diatonic scale for his accordion."

pp. 106, 108-109 behavior of tromba

p. 106

"Some Malagasy on the east coast say that in tromba ceremonies they and their ancestors miso^ma or mido^la, dance or play joyously together in the present. ...

Recall of the past, especially in Betsimisaraka tromba ceremonies, often involves playing with or upon the sometimes odd, humorous, or flamboyant behavior of different foreign personalities."

p. 108

"In the present time, spirits of Sakalava royalty return to inhabit mediums in tromba ceremony to heal the sick, foretell the future, advise the living, and intercede in everyday disputes and problems."

p. 109

"A Betsimisaraka medium possessed by a child spirit once became very agitated by my presence at a tromba ceremony and began to throw a disruptive tantrum, screaming in a high-pitched voice and stomping throughout the tromba house. ...

In a more extreme instance, once ... during a tromba healing ceremony ... an Antandroy woman ... became possessed by a bilo ... . Bilo ... are a sort of dangerous disembodied force that comes largely to cause illness. ... Bilo ... often come uninvited, to inflict an injury or illness upon someone by possessing them."

p. 138 "Antandroy tromba would commonly place the head of their mediums upon or very close to the accordion or valiha, or they might rest the whole body on the valiha".

pp. 116-117 amulets; mirrors & sunglasses

p. 116

"Antandroy ombiasa construct amulets called aoly (aody in Betsimisaraka speech) for healing purposes, protection, or good fortune. Such a device consists of a cow’s horn filled with a curative mixture of herbs and ground tree barks (a mixture called aoly aby)."

p. 117

"tromba-istes, both Antandroy and Betsimisaraka, would sometimes hold small hand mirrors outward over the tromba altar, sometimes to reflect to the tromba spirit its embodied form ... . Mirrors pointed outward thus serve as clarifying ... devices, through which tromba could better visually regard this embodied world, which they only temporarily visit from afar.


Sunglasses are worn by mediums to protect the vision of certain spirits who find the external world too brightly illuminated, even visually painful, without its being shaded or polarized."

pp. 130-131, 134-135, 139-140 sexual gendre of tromba

p. 130

"Among the Betsimisaraka the majority of tromba mediums are women ..., while most tromba spirits are male. ...

Among Antandroy there is a greater percentage of male mediums as well as femle spirits."


"Andre`a, a Betsimisaraka woman and a spirit medium in Tamatave-ville,

p. 131

commonly became possessed by some of the most powerful Sakalava and Merina royal tromba. Andre`a’s tromba ceremonies are especially noteworthy because few men ever attended them. Andre`a also preferred to hire ... a woman accordionist, to play for her ceremonies. ... Just above her tromba altar Andre`a had placed a collage of magazine cutouts of nude or seminude European women, professional models posed and gazing seductively back at the viewer ... . ...

p. 134

The foreign model cutouts ... bespoke a seductive control over a desirous male gaze. ... Andre`a photo arrangements ... were also snares with which to capture male attention. But ... male tromba spirits took control of Andre`a, enticed in part by her photo nudes".


"Detty, a Betsimisaraka medium once became possessed by a spirit that had been a viavy makorely, a Malagasy prostitute, while her sister Jenny simultaneously became possessed by a Sakalava king who had come into the present specifically to search for women. ... There was also

p. 135

much "womanly" discourse between Clarissy, the prostitute, ... over ... the oddities of men ... . For her part, Clarissy reacted ... to self-consciously check her appearance in a small hand mirror ... . ... Jenny and Detty were in part re-enacting common encounters between ... wealthier Merina and Malagasy prostitutes. Such encounters occurred each evening on the main street of Tamatave-ville". ["Prostitution ... was often viewed simply as the Malagasy supply for a ... wealthier Merina demand ... . ... Gambian men who sexually entertain European women tourists see themselves as capitalizing on an opportunity" (p. 211, n. 7:5).]

p. 139

"Antandroy men are as likely to be tromba mediums as Antandroy women ... . ... Also, Antandroy women often take specific musical roles in Antandroy ceremonies ..., as vocalists or kaiamba players ... . ...

p. 140

For instance, in fahavoazana or Antandroy burial ceremonies, women sing specifically to incite men to dance." ["When an Antandroy dies, we dance." (p. 211, n. 7:8)]

pp. 144-145 triple pulse

p. 144

"In Antandroy tromba practice, emphasis upon a triple pulse is also articulated by handclapping or with the kaiamba ... . This pulse is often intensified during moments in which tromba spirits are particularly active, dancing ... and conversing, and also when an obstinate spirit is being coaxed into the present." ["Interestingly, a triple pulse was not called upon in instances ... in which an obstinate tromba was refusing ro depart from the body." (p. 211, n. 7:9)] ... By deploying a fervent triple pulse at emotionally charge moments of contact with ancestral spirits, Antandroy ... draw upon an acoustic sign of spirit power known to be effective among ... Betsimisaraka ... .

p. 145

... when Antandroy emphasize a triple pulse, it is much more rapidly and ardently articulated than by Betsimisaraka. Antandroy applications of the triple rhythmic pulse are so rapid".

pp. 153, 159 tromba-spirits which possessed a Betsimisaraka woman spirit-medium

p. 153

"Her tromba spirits had a wide range of varied personalities, including that of

an ill-mannered child of a Sakalava king,

a sometimes arrogant French colonial administrator from Mahajanga in the northwest of the island, and

a Frenchwoman who liked to wear six separate barrettes in her hair".

p. 159

Another of her possessing-spirits said : "I live in the ocean near the coast of Greenland." {cf. Eskimo goddess Sedna, dwelling on the bottom of the ocean}

pp. 167, 171 virtuoso performances on a Corso accordion in Morondrano (‘Water’s Edge’)

p. 167

"Melodically, it was extremely ornate and elaborate."

p. 171

The accordionist "frequently elaborated melodically, for instance, with rapid sixteenth- or thirty-second-note diatonic runs over an extended pitch range ... . He occasionally employed a technique in which each eighth note of a melodic motif was doubled, forming pairs of sixteenth notes, a sort of tremolo; he also used a very fast alternation between two adjacent notes for a vibrato effect. Betsimisaraka Corso accordions come from the factory with sets of reeds wet-tuned – in this case that means there are three reeds per pitch, each tuned only a few cycles away from each other. ... With his method of note doubling and rapid alternation, [the accordionist] was effectively quoting and intensifying the tremolo-effect voicing built into his accordion".

pp. 180-181 cures

p. 180

"The spirit, not the medium, most often possesses the knowledge and skill to heal difficult illnesses. Sometimes ombiasa are also able to mix herbal remedies for some ailments, a skill commonly facilitated by sikidy divination (which according to some Malagasy ... is another mode of communication with ancestral spirits)."


[spirit-possession as cure for madness in a woman, accomplished by "an accomplished Antandroy musician and a powerful spirit medium and healer" :] "Her behavior was erratic – one moment she would be sullen, unresponsive, gazing off distantly; the next moment she would be agitated, incoherent, even violent. ... this was a viavy minegny, a woman out of her mind ... . ... After four sessions, [the curer]’s royal tromba himself decided that he would need to inhabit the body of the afflicted woman to affect {effect} a cure. After three more ceremonies, in which the patient herself became possessed, her psychosis-like symptoms disappeared, and she became timidly communicative and consistently personable. This was the first time in my experience that a tromba had needed to possess a person with an illness not initiated by that particular tromba to be able to effect a cure."

p. 181

"As part of a remedy, fagnafody (medicinal mixtures of herbs and tree barks) are commonly mixed by the healing tromba while in the medium’s body (or by the unpossessed ombiasa) and given to the afflicted person to be ingested".

p. 184, 188-189, 215 spontaneous dancing mania (a form of anti-government protest during the colonial period)

p. 184

"called in Merina territory "ramanenjana," ... and "Menabe" among Sakalava" : "consist of frenetic dance movements -- ... a burning in the abdomen that rises toward the throat {Taoist internal heat rising from the Lower Cinnabar Field toward the Upper Cinnabar Field; with its aequivalent in Vajra-yana; in Saha-jiya yoga this rising it limited upward by the throat}, accompanied by shivers and chills in the extremities, then trembling of the body and the head while the limbs move ... rhythmically ... to dance, often on the ancestral tombs. The participants clap their hands, sing, ... or they play drums while the dance heightens.

p. 215, n. 10:7

"dancing mania in 1958 in Vohemar in the north, in which the spirits of Malagasy soldiers who had died overseas fighting for the French army returned with the intent to overthrow the colonial government. Young men and women apparently became possessed by these spirits and began to dance publicly and wildly."

pp. 188-9

"song with clapping, a bottle of plain glass half full with cold water ... placed on the head while dancing – a sign of bodily control exercised by the tromba".

Antandroy women sexually

p. 193 "Antandroy women ... are rough, even violent sexual partners; they like to bite".

{In the Gita Go-vinda, "Kr.s.n.a’s lips are bitten by an unknown gopika." (KCSL, p. 117)}

KCSL = Kamashastra in Classical Sanskrit Literature. Delhi, 1988.

pp. 196, 217 excellent quality of Antandroy music

p. 196

"The extremely fast tempo and unusually intricate rhythmic, melodic, formal, and processual dimensions of Antandroy musics ... were seen ... to step beyond other limitations upon form, articulation, and sheer musical speed, to possess a musical acuity that translates directly into ancestral communicative power."

p. 217, n. 11:6

"I have witnessed numerous friends back in the United States, especially musicians, respond with awe upon listening to tapes of Antandroy musics, particularly the accordion playing".

Ron Emoff : Recollecting from the Past : Musical Practice and Spirit Possession on the East Coast of Madagascar. Wesleyan U Pr, Middletown (CT), 2002.