Madagascar: Serious Business
Tuesday, May 17th was the day of the long awaited symposium. One of the purposes of the symposium was to provide a platform for an idea which is commonplace in Madagascar, but virtually unknown anywhere elsewhere (i.e. the Israelite ancestry of the Malagasy people). The panelists were a distinguished group which included Pastor Tolatra Ratery, Prince Nidriana Rabiolina, Heri Manantsoa Rariojosen, Professor Tudor Parfit, Henri Randrianasolonjana, Professor Harmon the head of the Ellie School and MM Vololoniaina Razobe.
The first speakers were especially impressive in both their demeanor and in what they had to say. They looked distinguished wearing the sashes which are a sign of Malagasy nobility. Heri wore traditional Malagasy clothing. They cited their own careful research which showed amazing similarities between Malagasy and Jewish cultures. They pointed to language, legend and practices.
They pointed out similarities between traditional Malagasy life and Judaism. For example traditional Malagasy culture places the great emphases on circumcision. The seventh day was a traditional holy day. According to the Malagasy lunar calendar the new year came out in what in our secular calendar would be March-April corresponding to the month of Nisan. According to the Torah Nisan is the first month of the year which reflects the idea that the world was created in Nisan. They told of the numerous linguistic similarities, for example Maariv the Hebrew word for the evening prayer means evening in Malagasy. There were also similarities of what may be called taboos. Parts of traditional Malagasy society prohibited pork and crustaceans as well. A Malagasy ceremony corresponding to the biblical Bikkurim the offering of the first fruits was discussed as well. There are numerous traditions connecting Madagascar to the biblical Ophir from which King Solomon fetched material needed to build the holy temple. There are many stories of Israelites or even Jews in Madagascar. Indeed it was surprising how many people told me about villages of Jews or other encounters with Jews that seem to be unknown to anyone but the Malagasies.
Dr. Tudor Parfit distinguished Professor at Florida International University delivered the keynote address. He encouraged the other in their research and spoke of the importance of their quest neither denying or confirming the theory of the Israelite origins of the Malagasy people.
The other speakers addressed social issues of Malagasy society such as the need for unity and the importance of practical steps to bring about progress as well as the role of women in Malagasy society. Distinguished scholars connected by Skype also gave their greetings. There was also a musical presentation of beautiful Psalms sung by a a recent convert and his wife.
It was a full day and a beautiful event. Though the theory of the Israelite origin of the people of Madagascar is not not generally accepted in academic circles the material presented gave all of us food for thought and raised questions which will require considerable examination.