A look at the Antemoro people of Madagascar, who were natural astrologers before the arrival of Europeans

Stephen Nartey January 06, 2023
Stars/Photo credit: Adventure Journal

Until the fall of the Antemoro kingdom in the late 19th century, the inhabitants were revered for their knowledge of astrology. This art by the Antemoro people of Madagascar was largely attributed to their knowledge of a writing skill known as “sorabe”. The “sorabe” are Arabic texts that provided instructions for teaching astrology and documented historical accounts of their customs and traditions.

Due to this ability to read stars and predict future occurrences, the services of Antemoro astrologers, who were traditionally referred to as “ombiasy,” were in high demand in many localities in Madagascar, according to 101last tribes.com.

There came a period where almost every king had an ombiasy in his court who served as an adviser. It also became a pattern where every village in Madagascar had an ombiasy stationed in the locality to offer insights and understanding before major decisions were taken.

It became a culture where Antemoro astrologers would travel out of their homeland for six months to a year to consult on behalf of people who were in need of good fortunes for their harvest or marriage or wanted to resolve a misfortune that had befallen them.

This periodic exodus of the ombiasy created a network of spiritual advisers across the Madagascar region. Today, the Antemoro paper, which is decorated with fresh flowers and traditionally used to record secret knowledge using sorabe, has become a source of income for many inhabitants who either sell it to tourists or export it to international markets.

The origins of the Antemoro people are not clearly known but some historians trace their origins back to settlers who arrived from Somalia in the 15th or 16th century. The Antemoro kingdom came into being during the 16th century replacing the Zafiraminia people, who were traditional seafarers.

The Antemoro have a population of 500,000 and are situated on the southeastern coast of Madagascar between Manakara and Farafangana. When they settled in Madagascar, they converted to Islam. They soon adopted the traditional religion but many still upheld the tenets of the Islamic religion by refraining from eating pork.

Their mainstay is farming, producing rice and coffee. They also mine salt. Those with knowledge of the sorabe manufacture charms and practice divinity. The kingdom witnessed a decline following the emergence of the Europeans in Madagascar and their subsequent colonial exploitation.

The Antemoro people are largely endogamous and consider marriage outside their clan a taboo. In the past, those who broke this code were mourned as if they were dead and later ostracized from the community.

The poor and the rich are given the same burial rites. All community members are expected to mourn the departed for a week and during this period, they are prohibited from washing or changing their clothing.

On the eighth day, they break the mourning, wash and put on clean clothing. But, a widow continues with the mourning until the parents of the deceased declare it done. A widower stays indoors for one or two weeks. During this period, the parents of the deceased will send a female family member to take care of the widower and keep him company.

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