I have lived with the Tsimihety tribe for more than one year and a half, I think its about time that I say a little bit about them. Their name literally means people “who do not cut their hair”, Tsy mihety. This is due to their refusal to cut their hair after the death of a Sakalava prince, which traditionally was done by the population to show deference towards royalty. They are known to be stubborn and rebellious in nature. They refuse to submit to anyone, and are the only group in all of Madagascar who have never been dominated by a king or have a monarchy imposed upon them. They are said to be born from the intermarriages of two tribes, the Sakalava and Betsimisaraka, groups who both inhabit the coastal areas of the island. Most of the Tsimihety can be found in the north central area near Mandritsara but are moving West and can be found as east as Tamatave and mostly found in the northern region of Sofia.
The women in particular play an interesting role in this society. I spoke to Madame Norline, the daughter of the first president of the republic Philibert Tsiranana, and her views of Tsimihety feminism. The Tsimihety women sexually are very free, up to the point where their sexuality is extolled and has become an expectation, otherwise they are considered frigid. The Tsimihety traditionally are allowed to move out of their parent’s home after one year of giving birth, with or without a husband, to where they please to start a life there. No one is to stop her on her way. In the past, when a man wished to marry he would be put in a room with his prospective spouse and she would push him against walls and bruise him a bit to see if he can withstand the abuse, a test to see if he can protect her and her future offspring.
Their stubborn character, which has proved to benefit them in the past, has rendered them as a difficult group to work with most NGO’s and other international organizations. I have found this to be true in my own attempts to work here during my service. NGO’s come in with a Western methodology towards work and are highly results oriented. When coming in to this region one must consider the fact that these are free people, they will fight you directly or indirectly to maintain this freedom. Even though the suggestions made and the resources of outside organizations are meant to help they are viewed with suspicion.
This is my tribe. I am proud to have the opportunity with these energetic, loud, vibrant, and perhaps even a bit flashy people. I’ve been asked on a few occasions whether I’m from Tamatave because of the large mixed Chinese/ Malagasy population there and because I speak this dialect. This of course is very flattering. Even though frustrating to work with at times I am so grateful I’ve had the opportunity to live amongst the Tsimihety people.