Kabary: Traditional Malagasy Speech

Kabary is a highly stylized form of speech delivered in a loud voice in a public gathering which has been a vital part of Malagasy culture for centuries. The Malagasy word ‘Kabary’ comes from the Arab word ‘Kabar’ which means a way of thinking. It has to be accompanied by proverbs (Ohabolana) and sayings so that the listeners can enjoy it. It is not only a speech that touches hearts and souls of the listeners but is also used to send a message– a message to reinforce the value of the national pride and to mobilize people to adapt and change in the face of daunting challenges. Since ancient times, different nations and societies have used the art of oratory to communicate to the general public. Ancient civilizations had mastered this art. Many of them lost this precious art during the course of time. However, in Madagascar, this art is still alive. The master of the art of Kabary enjoys special status in the society.

Kabary enjoys a special importance in the field of Malagasy literature. It helps in preserving Malagasy proverbs and words, mostly the ones which are not used everyday. It is used in all the important ceremonies such as birth, circumcision, wedding, death and exhumation (famadihana).

A real Malagasy Kabary is never read. It is learnt by heart. However, it is not a recitation. It is an art of the moment, context and eloquence. It is most of the time a long speech because the Malagasy people never say directly when they want to say something. First there is an introduction which consists of a foreword or ‘ala sarona’ and an apology, before offering homage to the Creator, the authorities, the army, the fokonolona (a village council composed of village elders and other local notables), and finally the family members. The end consists of showing respect for the audience. Thus Kabary consists of three parts: Apology, Homage and Salutations.

Earlier only the old and learned men could practice Kabary but nowadays everybody is free to practice it. A good practitioner of Kabary does not copy others. He finds his own way with the words to deliver Kabary.

Kabary is an important part of Hira Gasy, a day-long spectacle of music, dance, and oratory performed by a troupe (typically related by blood or marriage and of rural origin) or as a competition between two troupes in the highlands around Antananarivo, the capital city.

(Main Source: Malagasy Engagement Speech by Rabenandrasana Lalao Francois, translated by the author. The ISBN is not available.)

Abhay K. on the Allée des Baobabs, the most famous road in Madagascar

Abhay K. is the author of nine poetry collections including The Magic of Madagascar (L’Harmattan Paris, 2021), The Alphabets of Latin America (Bloomsbury India, 2020), and the editor of The Book of Bihari Literature (Harper Collins, 2022), The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian PoemsCAPITALS, New Brazilian Poems and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems. His poems have appeared in over 100 literary magazines including Poetry Salzburg Review, Asia Literary Review among others. His ‘Earth Anthem’ has been translated into over 140 languages. He received SAARC Literary Award 2013 and was invited to record his poems at the Library of Congress, Washington DC in 2018.  His forthcoming book length poem is titled Monsoon. His translations of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta  (Bloomsbury India, 2021) and Ritusamhara  (Bloomsbury India, 2021) from Sanskrit, have won KLF Poetry Book of the Year Award 2020-21.

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