Happy Sunday! Caution! This article will cause many nostalgic emotions so be wary! If you have the opportunity, give your parents, family, and loved one a major hug for us today!
Most Malagasy kids at 3rd and 4th grades respectively used the books “Talaky Mandeha” and “Isambilo”, both written by Regis Rajemisa-Raolison and J.A Lala-Rakotoson Raolisoa. There, they have learned the poem titled “Ny valim-babena”, starting with “Dada malala sy Neniko izay, Dia fola-damosina ery taminay…” (My beloved father and mother, Broke their backs for us…)
What is the meaning of Valim-babena to the Malagasy?
“Valy” means “return” or “response”, and “babena” is the act of carrying someone or something on the back. It comes from the word “baby” (nothing to do with the English word baby). Mibaby zaza means carrying a baby on the back, Babena ilay zaza means the baby is being carried on the back.
The Malagasy mother did not leave her child in a cradle, she did not lock her child in a baby gate or a play yard, nor did she push her baby in a stroller. With the help of a mere bedsheet, or a “lambahoany” (as seen in the photo below), or a simple lamba, she has her baby with her all the time…almost. This baby carrying technique is also seen in Central and Southern America and in Africa. In the Western world today, the baby is carried on the back with a more sophisticated tool; in Asia, the baby is put in a sort of basket.
But with this technique, the mother has the chance (or the misfortune, but it surely is a blessing for the baby) to have her child with her whether she is cooking, she is working in the rice field, she is having lunch or doing any other activity. Most of all, she could carry something else on her head; this technique is called “miloloha”, “loha” means “head”. While it is believed that it strengthens the affection from the mother to the child, it can be painful for the back, and that is why the poem says “fola-damosina” (twisted back; folaka = twisted, lamosina=back).
The “valim-babena” goes beyond just recognizing that your mother carried you on her back when you were a baby, it consists of acknowledging all the effort, the energy, and the sacrifices that your parents put in to raise you, and when you get a chance to do so, you “return” it. How? Everyone has many means to do the valim-babena: some would build a house for their parents, some would pay for their vacation, some would pray for them…the form of the valim-babena does not matter, what is important is the recognition for what the parents have done.
While it is quite common in the Western world to send the parents to a nursing home, making such a decision is still unthinkable for the large majority of the Malagasy. And it is not even a question of cost and expenses, it is just that you do not “throw away” your parents. Just like your mom did not leave you in the cradle, you do not send her into a nursing home. Even wealthy families who can afford to pay for expensive nursing homes do not send their parents there. And guess what…there are two or three nursing homes in the whole country.
On other occasions, the concept of ‘Valim-babena” goes beyond the relationship parents/children, it is extended to whoever helped you in your life. That is why the Malagasy has the proverb “aza mitsipa-doha laka-nitana.” (Do not kick away a pirogue that you used to cross [the river]).
Here is the entirety of the poem (the author is unknown):
Dada malala sy neniko izay – My beloved father and mother
Dia fola-damosina ery taminay – Broke their backs for us
Neny nitaiza, nibaby, nanasa – Mom raised, carried on her back, washed (showered)
Dada isan’andro torovana niasa – Dad everyday were tired of work
Zaho no tomady sy tena salama – I am in good shape and healthy
Dada no vizana be nikarama – [Thanks to] Dad was exhausted working
Zaho no olom-banona sady hendry tsara – I am a good and wise person
Neny no sasatra nikarakara – [Thanks to] Mom was tired taking care of me
Mba inona kosa no avaliko ireny – What can I do in return of all that
Fitiavan-tsy ritran’I Dada sy Neny? – Endless love of Dad and Mom?
Manaraka tsara izay anatra omeny – I will follow their teachings (advices)
Mivavaka ho azy ho valim-babena – I’ll pray for them as ‘valim-babena’