Tanindrazana is a sacred land for the Malagasy. It is their origin. It is their history. It is their heritage. It is their terminus. When a Malagasy sells her/his tanindrazana, it is considered a bad sign and a curse for the person’s life. The expression “mivarotra tanindrazana” means treason. As we wrap up Black History Month, we discuss the importance of the Malagasy tanindrazana, our ancestral land.
There are national anthems that praise or pray for their leaders (England, Japan, …), there are those which talk about revolution, fight for freedom, or praise their heroes (China, France, Brazil, Algeria, Panama, Thailand…), there are the ones without lyrics (Spain, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, San Marina), and there are the ones which talk about the country, the land, or praying for it (Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Russia…), in which category, Madagascar fits. The Malagasy anthem “Ry Tanindrazanay Malala o” (Our beloved country) is rather a prayer for the country. It starts with “Ry tanindrazanay malala o” and the chorus is asking the Creator to bless the island of the ancestors “Tahionao ry Zanahary, ity Nosindrazanay ity…”. So, every time the Malagasy sing the national hymn, they are praying for their country, their “tanindrazana.” But what does “tanindrazana” mean to the Malagasy?
“Tanindrazana” (tany=land + razana=ancestor) literally means land of the ancestor. For a Malagasy who lives abroad, tanindrazana would generally mean Madagascar. If a foreigner asks her/him the question “where are you from?”, she/he will reply “I am from Madagascar” because she/he pertinently knows that her/his interlocutor does not really care whether she/he is from Maroantsetra or Morondava, Vohipeno or Maintirano, Andilamena or Antanifotsy, for example. The reaction to that answer depends on how good the person is in geography, on her/his general knowledge level, or on his/her interest in animated movies, because it could be “where is that?”, “what is that?” or “I have seen the movie.” Rarely, that reaction will translate to “and where in Madagascar are you from?”.
For Malagasy people who live abroad, the tanindrazana, Madagascar, is good enough to connect, socialize, undertake projects together for the country, and to invent many other occasions to meet. But if you are a Malagasy who lives abroad, and if someone who knows that you are from Madagascar asks you where you are from, that means “I want precision…give me some details!“😊.
For the Malagasy who live in Madagascar, tanindrazana takes another meaning. It is still the land of the ancestors, but more precisely where in Madagascar your ancestors are from. Generally, tanindrazana is where your ancestors are from and your family tomb, “fasan-drazana”, is located. That is, the location, the village, where normally you will be buried when that fateful time will come. In many cases, there is a “tranon-drazana” (house of the ancestors), usually a house that the family refuses to take down or will regretfully destroy if they do not have the choice, because of its meaning. So, if you are asked that question and you say for example “I am from Manjakandriana”, people may still ask “and where exactly in Manjakandriana are you from?”
“Taiza ianao/ianareo?” means “where were you?”, but “avy aiza ianao/ianareo?” means, depending on the context, “at what place where you before you got here?” or “where is your tandindrazana?”, and a more direct question is “aiza ny tanindrazanao/nareo?” (where is your tanindrazana?) or “aiza ny ambanivohitrareo?” (literally, where is your countryside). People may say for example my dad is from Ambilobe and my mom is from Antalaha, but it is usually the dad’s tanindrazana that prevails.
Tanindrazana gives an idea of what tribe the person would belong to, but belonging to a specific tribe does not tell the person’s exact tanindrazana. For instance, if someone says she is from Fandriana (the town, fandriana means also bed), that means she is Betsileo; but if she says she is Betsileo, you cannot tell if her tanindrazana is Fandriana, Ambatofinandrahana, Ambalavao, or other places in the region. The Malagasy are very proud of their tanindrazana to the extent that there are associations relating to their origins. There are for instance Terak’Amohitromby-Havana (Native of Ambohitromby-Havana), Terak’i Mandritsara…There are even some families who would recommend their children to marry people from the same tanindrazana only, the case of Fandriana for example.
The Malagasy would visit their tanindrazana as much as they can during their lifetime because it is a connection to their roots and it strengthens the feeling and pride of having a known origin. For those who live in large cities, these visits also are an opportunity to breathe some fresh air in ambanivohitra. It is a great honor, a pleasure, and sometimes a lifetime objective to contribute to the development of one’s tanindrazana, it could be by participating in the construction of a church, building a school, renovating a public office, fixing the road, …
In the ancient days, people were born in or around their tanindrazana, lived there and were buried there. Nowadays, people are born in different places and work and live afar, move from a place to another, but they will still rest in their tanindrazana. When, for multiple reasons, someone cannot be buried in her/his tanindrazana at the time of her/his death, the family will be proud to “bring her/him home” even if it is 10, 15, or 20 years later.
Final question: for the Diaspora and those living abroad, will you return your razana and spend your after life in Madagascar?