Tandroy people

Tandroy / Antandroy

Tandroy / Antandroy / Androy

The Tandroy are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group of Madagascar inhabiting the arid southern part of the island called Androy. Tracing their origins back to the East Africa mainland. In the 17th century however, the Tandroy emerged as a confederation of two groups ruled by the Zafimanara dynasty until flooding caused the kingdom to disband around 1790. The difficult terrain and climate of Tandroy protected and isolated the population, sparing them from subjugation by the Kingdom of Imerina in the 19th century; later, the French colonial authority also struggled to exert its influence over this population. Since independence the Tandroy have suffered prejudice and economic marginalization, prompting widespread migration and intermarriage with other ethnic groups, and leading them to play a key role in protests that sparked the end of President Philibert Tsiranana's administration in 1972.

The Tandroy may also be called the Antandroy, but it is technically redundant: roy means thorn; the prefix an means place of; and the additional t means from.

The Antandroy of Madagascar are numbering 1,180,000 (Peoplegroups.org, 2024),

Tandroy people map

While the Tandroy share many common cultural features with other ethnic groups in Madagascar, such as respect for the ancestors, a common language and complex funeral rites, certain practices set them apart. They are particularly known for their distinctive dances, cotton woven clothing, elaborately decorated tombs, and unique use of plank architecture in the construction of their houses. Also unlike most Malagasy ethnic groups they rely more heavily on tubers, yams, millet and other crops that are less dependent on water for cultivation than the rice so prevalent elsewhere on the island. The herding of zebu remains the principal economic activity of the Tandroy, and their tombs are commonly decorated with numerous zebu skulls as an indication of wealth.


Ethnic identity

The name Tandroy means "people of the thorns" in reference to the spiny thickets of endemic plants that characterize the southwestern region of Madagascar. Their traditional homeland forms the modern Androy Region, which is roughly located between Amboasary and Beloha and between the ocean and Bekily; the population is most concentrated around Ambovombe. They tend to bear stronger East African than Austronesian facial features. The Tandroy trace their ancestry back to the Sakalava people.

There are around 600,000 Tandroy as of 2013. They constitute the fifth largest ethnic group on the island.


Linguistic Affiliation

Although Madagascar lies only 382 kilometers from the East African mainland, its native languages are considered to belong to the Indonesian subgroup of the Malayo-Polynesian Family. When and how this designation came about is as uncertain as is the question of the peopling of Madagascar itself. Even though it is often said that the languages spoken in Madagascar are relatively homogeneous, preliminary glottochronological studies have established shared cognate rates of between 61 percent and 69 percent for Tandroy—considered to belong to a dialect family with Vezo, Bara, and Mahafale—and Merina, a dialect of the highlands and now the official language of Madagascar. More extensive research on Tandroy syntax and phonology, as well as on diversification between so-called Tandroy speech communities, is required. The existence of dual vocabularies to indicate a person's status in the social hierarchy also merits attention. The transcription of Tandroy, which is taught nowadays in school, is based on the official orthography of the Merina dialect, which has four vowels and twenty-seven consonants, to which the velar n was added by official decree in 1962.


History and Cultural Relations

It is generally accepted that Tandroy is a composite ethnicity and that its many clans, which are of diverse origins (including Sakalave, Bara, Mahafale, and Tanosy), arrived in the Androy no more than several centuries ago. Sites of the "pre-Tandroy" habitats dating to the eleventh and twelfth centuries have been reported, the first at Talaky, on the coast. Prior to the eighteenth century, the southwestern Androy was known as the pays de Caremboules, which has led some authors wrongly to suppose that the clans that are known today as "Karembola" are autochthons. In fact, all the evidence shows that the whole of the Androy has been settled and resettled by never-ending waves of migrants. Although this evidence would seem to imply that cultural boundaries must be rather fluid, most authors have represented Tandroy culture as remarkably homogeneous. According to tradition, this mosaic of clans was dominated from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century onward by the Andriamañare (Zafimanara) dynasty. The origins of this dynasty and the extent and nature of its dominion are uncertain, but by the late nineteenth century its power had declined, as the southwestern Androy had been annexed in the early eighteenth century by the Maroseraña dynasty on the Menarandra. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Androy remained independent of the Merina military installations at Fort-Dauphin, but it was conquered by the French between 1901 and 1903. Resistance, however, kept the Androy in a state of emergency until 1917. The year 1928 was notable in the Androy for the destruction of the cactus by the cochineal beetle. Madagascar became independent in 1960. A popular uprising erupted in the Androy in 1971 against the power of Tananarive (currently spelled "Antananarivo"). Harshly repressed, the uprising was followed by various administrative reforms.



The average population of rural settlements varies from a few persons to a few hundred. Settlements are divided between two contrasting types: those with a recognizable center, in which the closely juxtaposed houses and cattle pens are aligned to the cardinal points, according to the seniority and relative ranks of the village members, and those in which the houses and cattle pens of individual families, each enclosed by cactus or agave, are widely dispersed. At the same time, the mobility for which the Tandroy are renowned is reflected in a shifting pattern of settlement. Human settlement in the Androy involves both centripetal and centrifugal processes, although the exact nature of the environmental and sociopolitical factors that determine these processes is not yet known. The villages are connected by footpaths, some of which are accessible by cart. The Tandroy house is rectangular, its walls between 2.5 and 3.5 meters long, constructed mostly of timber planks but sometimes of thatch, and with a gabled roof of thatch. Oriented to the cardinal points, it generally has two doors and little furniture, save for the bed. The interior is usually furnished with mats. In the towns, one finds houses of cement with corrugated iron roofs.



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Tandroy economy is based upon a mixture of pastoralism and horticulture, supplemented by gathering. The transhumant herding of zebu cattle has been described as the basis of Tandroy religious and social life. As well as supplying milk, meat, and leather, their herds are an important determinant of status and wealth. The Tandroy are renowned, moreover, for their hecatombs. Sheep, goats, and chickens are also kept. Crops include maize, manioc, sorghum, sweet potatoes, legumes, groundnuts, and cucurbits; the dry climate of Madagascar prohibits rice agriculture. Although most villages now possess at least one plow, the triangular spade remains in extensive use, particularly in districts such as the southwest, which are least touched by socioeconomic change. Cultivation is mostly for subsistence: besides extensive sisal plantations in the lower Mandrare region, only groundnut production is commercialized on any large scale; the decline in traditional export crops, such as cotton, has been accompanied by an increasing dependence upon imported rice. What remains of the forest is a source of charcoal and house timbers, as well as supplies to pharmaceutical companies, and there are some localized fishing industries. Despite the provision of government wells, the shortage of rain remains a serious problem, and the periodic famines, which in the past led to migrations within the Androy and into the neighboring regions, now fuel the rural exodus to Toliary and the north. Between 16 percent and 30 percent of the Tandroy are reckoned to live outside the Androy. Nearer at hand, many work as agricultural laborers in the sisal concessions.

Industrial Arts. Part-time or seasonal silversmiths, sewing-machinists, and cobblers and carpenters who specialize in the manufacture of carts and coffins are found among the Tandroy; blacksmiths nowadays are few. In the villages, basketry and raffia work are still common, but the weaving of dyed cottons is now more or less restricted to the production of loincloths and shawls for ceremonial use. Most other traditional crafts, such as silk weaving and pottery making, have fallen into disuse. The weaving of goat's wool, which was introduced in the colonial era, particularly in the southwest, was not an indigenous craft and has since declined.

Trade. Stores, mostly under the control of Indo-Pakistanis, Chinese, and Malagasy from the highlands, are found in the urban centers, which also have weekly markets at which rural Tandroy sell homegrown produce in small quantities and purchase soap, pots, material, and other goods. Traders on foot hawk tobacco and other contraband in the villages.

Division of Labor. In addition to the important dual symbolic classification of religious activities, manual labor, too, is organized by age and gender. Collecting water and firewood, preparing and cooking food, raising poultry, child care and household duties, sowing, weeding, harvesting, mat making, weaving, and spinning are all classed as female activities, whereas herding, milking, slaughtering and butchering, collecting honey, constructing houses, burning the forest, and preparing the fields are classed as male. This classification is modified somewhat in ritual activities and also by demographic factors, status, and wealth.

Land Tenure. The greater part of the land is still unregistered. Although it is conceptualized as clan territory, in which individuals enjoy customary rights, the settlement of people is subject to local government controls. Reports differ as to whether tenant farming and sharecropping are known in the Androy; this lack of agreement may reflect political and demographic variation. Individuals work variable combinations of shifting and permanent fields, but only a very small part of the land is cultivated (estimated at less than 5 percent), the rest being pasture. Land use today is in a critical state, with deforestation, population pressure, overgrazing, and the accelerating stabilization of the south. Conflicts, which previously led Tandroy either to extend their territory or to migrate, are not infrequent, particularly over cultivable fields, transhumance, and grazing rights. If a conflict cannot be settled by the communities concerned, then government officials intervene.



Kin Groups and Descent. Ancestry is very important to the Tandroy. Scholars have distinguished three types of group: named clans ( firazana, kopabe ), whose numerical strength and territorial importance vary considerably but whose members (between 100 and 10,000 in each clan) claim a common origin and share transhumant pasture and cattle earmarks; the patrilineage ( famosora ), which may or may not have a residential component but whose several hundred members share a known ancestor and a sacrificial cult; and the sublineage ( tarira, tarike ), which, either as a hamlet or a village quarter, is the localized residential group, whose members, under the authority of an elder, are close kin who share cattle pens. The divisions at each level are normally ranked. All authors stress the importance of agnation in the composition of these groups; patrilateral parallel-cousin marriage ensures that the children of female agnates are often group members. Matrilateral kinship also involves extensive ties. The mother's brother/sister's son relationship is particularly important. Among some groups, it is the idiom in which relationships between dominant and vassal groups are expressed.

Kinship Terminology. Tandroy terms reflect the importance that is attached to both lineality and generation as indicators of either hierarchical or equivalent status. How they are used is determined partly by the political context.


Marriage and Family

Marriage. The literature differs on the question of marriage preference. In the southwest, marriage is a group concern, and an ideology of patrilateral parallel-cousin marriage is pronounced, whereas for northern Androy it has been reported that all types of marriage are practiced indifferently. Nonetheless, all accounts agree that agnatic and village endogamy are common, but that they coexist with intergroup alliances. Tandroy marriage is often polygynous, and divorce and serial marriage are common. Ideally, perhaps, marriage is patrilocal for both parties; otherwise virilocality is preferred. A negative political value attaches to a man who contracts an uxorilocal union. Marriage involves a series of gifts between both parties, including agricultural assistance and mortuary duties on the part of the son(s)-in-law.

Domestic Unit. The house ( traño ), in which a married couple and their unmarried children reside and to which fields and granary attach, is the basic unit of agricultural cooperation and consumption. The same term, however, extends to all coresident agnates, emphasizing the fact that the boundary between the domestic unit and the local descent group is at best unclear; this lack of distinction is also true of arrangements of the ownership and herding of cattle.

Inheritance. In principle, a man's cattle are distributed among his children before his death, while he retains ritual ownership. Although the oldest son often receives the most, he is obliged in turn to give cattle to his brothers. Married couples do not normally inherit from one another, save in the case of the first or chief wife. Outmarrying women and their offspring receive livestock, money, and household goods, with the amount of each generally depending on the standing of the parties and the sociopolitical importance that is attached to their alliance. Cultivable land stays in the ownership of the local descent group. In the past, personal and household effects were sent to the grave or burned with the house of the desceased, but this custom is changing, particularly in the urban centers.

Socialization. Infants and children are raised by members of the household and the village. The main emphasis in their training is upon observing ancestral custom and developing honor and fortitude; admonition is normally verbal, although physical punishment may be employed. Although education is provided by the state, many Tandroy children are unschooled.


Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. An independent republic since 1960, Madagascar has a president and an elected assembly. Tandroy society, in contrast with those of other Malagasy groups, has been described as markedly egalitarian. Permanent social hierarchy has been absent since the decline of the Andriamañare and Maroseraña-Nonetheless, traditional sociopolitical organization in the Androy is based on the clan, and the size, territory, wealth, and ritual importance of the clans vary considerably. Moreover, hierarchical values order many of the relationships within and between clans. Social differentiation based on ancestry, residence, and wealth is therefore important but unstable, owing to several environmental and sociopolitical factors. The development of markets and new local power structures, together with a reported decline in cattle raising, are said to have brought changes in ceremonial and group structure.

Political Organization. Madagascar is divided into six provinces ( faritany ). The provinces are divided into prefectures, and the prefectures into fivondronam-pokontany (subprefectures). The Androy is in the prefecture of Faradofay in the province of Toliary, with five fivondronam-pokontany (Ambovombe, Amboasary, Bekily, Tsihombe, and Beloha). Each fivondronam-pokontany is composed of several firaisampokontany (equivalent to cantons), each of which is composed in turn of smaller fokonolona (village communities). Little is known of the relationship of indigenous political organization to the colonial and postcolonial local administrative structures.

Social Control. Social control is maintained largely by respect for "ancestral custom" ( lilin-drazañe ) and for the traditional authority that is vested in the elders, on the one hand, and by highly developed values of honor and shame, on the other. Extensive exchange networks also act as mechanisms of social control, as do gossip and the threat of prison. Local councils of elders deal with village and intervillage affairs; wherever possible, external intervention is avoided.

Conflict. In the past, raiding of neighboring groups was common. The endless wars over cattle, land, women, tribute, and succession, in which military alliances were forever changing, have been linked to the political fragmentation of Tandroy groups. Some authors have suggested that segmentary organization developed as an adaptive response to attack. The colonial administration put an end to war, although disputes remain.


Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Each clan has its own hazomanga ("blue" or "sacred wood") and its own type of funerary cults. There are relatively few Christians outside the towns and the southeastern coastal strip. The Tandroy believe in a sacred efficacy ( hasy ) and in moral blame ( hakeo ), which are conceived as largely determining prosperity and power. "Indigenous" spirits ( kokolampoñe ) and "foreigner" spirits ( doany ), both maleficent and benign, are, together with dwarfs, all important.

Religious Practitioners. The priest ( mpisoro ), who is the spiritual and moral head of the group and who officiates at its sacrifices, is the senior male of the senior generation; various adjuncts assist him in his offices. Funerary ritual among certain groups is directed by a priest drawn from uterine nephews or a vassal group. Diviners, exorcists, and spirit doctors, employing incantations, charms, and possession, are also found throughout the Androy.

Ceremonies. Marriage, pregnancy, birth, circumcision, naming, harvests, death, and the inauguration of the priest are all occasions for ritual. In addition, the Tandroy hold incest and curing rites. Most ceremonies involve extensive gift exchange among kin and allies, as well as ritual performances.

Arts. The most notable work of art among the Tandroy is the tomb, which, in its size and construction (often between 12 and 15 meters long and built of stone), contrasts sharply with the Tandroy house. Quadrilateral and oriented to the cardinal points, the traditional tomb ( valavato ) has walls of flat stones (which can be decorated with cut stones and can also incorporate standing stones) and a stone-filled interior, sometimes surmounted by wooden carvings ( aloalo ) and a central edifice. Since World War II, tombs with cement-finished sides and painted designs have become prevalent, but the expense involved in their construction has prompted a traditional revival.

Tandroy musical instruments include the conch shell, fiddle, calabash-resonated cordophone, rattle, and drums of various styles, together with the accordion and marovane, a type of zither, both more recent arrivals. Singing, dancing, wrestling, and cattle stampeding are common pastimes; the Androy is known for its semiprofessional traveling entertainers. The arts of skin tattooing and plaiting of men's hair have declined.

Medicine. Illness is attributed to various combinations of the following: intervention of the ancestors, spirit possession, infringement of a prohibition, witchcraft, or an imbalance of elements in the body. The services of diviners and healers are sought, and remedies include herbal medicines, sacrifice, exorcism, possession, and curing rites.

Death and Afterlife. The funeral is the most important of all Tandroy ceremonies. Before burial, the corpse remains in the house for a period of several weeks to several months. The tomb, which can take the community over a year to complete, is built upon the grave; stages in its construction are marked by cattle sacrifice and ceremonial exchange, culminating in the placing of cattle horns upon the completed tomb. The more prestigious and senior the deceased, the more elaborate the tomb and the mortuary rites, and the more extensive the slaughter and the ceremonial exchange. Among certain groups today, but probably at one time throughout the Androy, the services of a funerary priest are employed. Relatively little is said of the afterlife, other than that cattle accompany the deceased's soul.



The Tandroy consume less rice than the average Malagasy because of the extreme aridity of Toliara province. They have rather subsisted on a traditional diet of maize, sweet potato, manioc, and zebu milk and curd. Other staples include yams, taro root, and millet, generally boiled in water and occasionally served in whole milk or flavored with crushed peanuts.

Whereas most dwellings in Madagascar are traditionally constructed from pliable plant materials, the Tandroy are one of the few ethnic groups to use wood plank to build their homes. Tandroy homes are traditionally square (not rectangular, as elsewhere on the island), raised on low stilts, topped with a peaked roof and constructed of vertically-hung planks of wood affixed to a wooden frame. These houses traditionally have no windows and feature three wooden doors: the front door is the women's entrance, the door at the rear of the house is for children, and the third door is used by the men. Fences are often constructed around Antandroy houses using prickly-pear cactus (raketa) or lengths of indigenous succulents from the surrounding spiny forests.

As the southern arid region of Tandroy is hot much of the year, clothing among the Tandroy is often minimal. Traditional clothing is mainly made of hand-carded and spun cotton which is woven to form lamba wrappers and loincloths. Weaving continues to be done uniquely by women, who use a wooden spindle rolled against their thigh to twist the cotton into threads for weaving. Before the thread is dipped in a stiffening solution it is called fole velo ("living yarn") and is believed to be imbued with spiritual power. For this reason, fole velo is used in numerous Antandroy rituals such as the circumcision ceremony, and is tied around others' wrists by an ambiasa (healer) to offer protection. Raw silk (landy) is also sometimes used to make clothing.



The Tandroy adhere to a variety of fady (taboos) established by elders and ancestors. Antandroy women are prohibited from milking zebu. There is a general fady in Antandroy society against killing the radiated tortoise, and a particular Tandroy king was forbidden to so much as look at one. It is also fady to mention the name of a deceased king.


Funeral rites

Upon the death of an Tandroy, family members organize a communal funeral feast. Zebu are sacrificed and their meat given to the community. After laying in state for several days, the deceased's body is placed in a coffin, and more zebu are slaughtered. The mood at this ceremony can be celebratory, and among some Tandroy, community members will pick up the coffin and run into the sea with it. Afterward the coffin is placed in a tomb for the male head of household and his immediate family members. Like the neighboring Mahafaly, the tombs of the Tandroy are called fanesy ("your eternal place"). These are large and rectangular - the larger the tomb, the more wealthy the man - and are decorated with colorful paintings. Tall stones are traditionally placed on each side to represent male and female; in recent years, towers are often constructed in lieu of the stones. The skulls of the zebu slaughtered for the funeral feast are placed on top of the tomb to indicate the deceased's wealth.

Transfer of the coffin to the tomb may take as long as several months while the building is completed. During this period of construction another two-day mourning ceremony takes place; zebu sacrifice and ritual wailing may again take place upon placing the coffin in the tomb. Once the coffin has been placed, stones are heaped over it to fill the tomb. The deceased's house is then destroyed by fire to complete the funeral rites. Family and community members will not return to visit the tomb.


Dance and music

Stringed instruments are common among the Tandroy. They construct marovany (box zithers) from pine planks, using unwound bicycle cables as strings. The mandolina and gitara are the Antandroy names of a popular Southern chordophone similar to the kabosy but with nylon fishing line for strings and five or seven movable frets that facilitate modification of the instrument's tuning. The lokanga is a stringed instrument popular with the Tandroy that has a gourd resonator and is played with a bow, much like the jejy voatavo played further north, but with the resonator carved to resemble a three-stringed fiddle. Tandroy vocal music features rich polyharmonic melodies. The unique traditional dances of the Tandroy are performed with spears and accompanied by distinctive music punctuated with shrill whistles and fipple flutes.