At a certain phase of their history, almost every society and civilization in the world is believed to have seen witchcraft and sorcery practices in their communities. Witchcraft was seen as harmful to society and therefore those who were accused of sorcery were killed, beheaded, or burnt alive. While witchcraft/sorcery seems to have disappeared from the modern societies especially in the developed countries, it is still very much present in some nations, including Madagascar.
In Malagasy, sorcery is “mosavy”, and the practitioners are called mpamosavy, shortened “mpams” in the familiar language. Mosavy is defined as doing harm to people by means of black magic or poisoning. According to Mrs. Sitraka, a Malagasy traditional healer, there are three types of mpamosavy: the “mpivoaka alina”, the “mpamorika”, and the “malemy”.
The “mpivoaka alina” (mivoaka = going out, alina = night) are the ones that go out at night, usually to practice some rituals like dancing on a tomb or just for the pleasure of scaring people. They are believed to go out naked, their bodies covered with ointment to make it difficult to catch them. In most cases, they became mpamosavy because they used an ody fitia, a product prepared by a witch to seduce and attract a lover, or they used something else to attract wealth or glory. They are called “aingain’ody” (lifted by the ody), that’s why they go out in the night. They usually go out at 11PM and go home at around 3:30AM. They might also go out as a group.
The “mpamorika” are the ones who directly harm people and may even cause death. Their practices consist of directly attacking people by poisoning their foods (“voan-kanina”), turning people crazy (“adala kely”), or the “ambalavelona” (a sort of trance). This is usually triggered by jealousy or is the continuation of some conflicts, fights, and hatred. This type of mosavy may also be directed to the victims’ belongings: their cattle could be poisoned, and their plantations could be sabotaged in different ways. They mpamorika can strike at any time, may it be in the morning, in the night, during a reception, during a meeting, etc.
The “malemy” are not necessarily the ones who are involved in witchcraft, they are called mpamosavy malemy (weak mpamosavy) because they do harms to their own family by stealing from their home, or doing other bad things to them.
There has been a general conviction that the mpamosavy are always women, but such is not the case. According to the testimony of a former male mpamosavy, we shall call Mr. X who requested to remain anonymous, divulges how he belonged to a group of witches with 15 men and 41 women.
Mr. X explains: “We were children of a gendarme, and we had a quite good life. But after the death of our father, my brother and I were trying to find ways to fight poverty because our standard of living had regressed dramatically”. He adds that someone took them to Ambatondrazaka (a city located 170 miles North East of Antananarivo, and known to be home to the “best” witchcrafts in Madagascar) to get some “fanafody”.
“The witch put us in an empty tomb, seven days, seven nights…he doesn’t stay with us but every morning he gives us a potion: dog’s eye that has not seen the sun, powder of a cadaver, juice from a cadaver and many other things…”
Mr X says. He and his brother had to drink that 7 times in the morning, 7 times at noon, and 7 times at dinner time. And they could not have anything else, neither water nor rice. He continues that “on the 7th night, there was fog in the tomb, and someone appeared from behind it. I thought it was because of the fatigue and the thirst but my brother and I saw the same thing: a very handsome man…a human in the half upper body, and a crocodile in the lower part. He has given us the power, saying ‘you will be far from death and far from being caught’”
Mr. X and his brother's commitments were to seek money by any means and went back directly to Tsiroanomandidy (130 miles East of Antananarivo) to start their “job”.
“My duty at the time was to visit hospitals and homes and call the spirit of death for those who are gravely ill or having problems giving birth. And when someone died, we had a feeling of happiness and this is the feeling that pushes us to go out at night…”, Mr. X concludes.
The Malagasy proverb “mpamosavy milevina amoron-dalana, mahatantesa ny valin-kitsaka” literally means a sorcerer buried at the side of the road, bearing the backfire of the stepping. That is because the mpamosavy step and dance on people’s tombs. But the greater meaning of the proverb is simply: Whatever you do may backfire on you some day.