The Betsileo

The Betsileo, Madagascar’s third-largest tribe, inhabit the hauts plateaux area around Fianarantsoa and Ambalavao. They only began viewing themselves as a nation after being invaded and conquered by the Merina in the early 19th century.

The Betsileo are renowned throughout Madagascar for their rice-cultivation techniques – they manage up to three harvests a year instead of the usual one or two, and their lands are marked by beautiful terracing and vivid shades of green in the rice paddy fields. Betsileo herders are famous for their trilby hats and the blankets they wear slung in a debonair fashion around their shoulders. Betsileo houses are distinctively tall and square, constructed from bricks as red as the earth of the roads.

As well as the famadihana, which was adopted from the Merina after the unification of Madagascar, an important Betsileo belief centres on hasina, a force that is believed to flow from the land through the ancestors into the society of the living. Skilled traditional practitioners are thought to be able to manipulate hasina to achieve cures and other positive effects. The reverse of hasina is hera, which can result in illness and misfortune.