Fady are a series of social taboos which form a rigid structure around which life happens in Madagascar. Many are ancient and passed down through generations; some are exclusive to certain regions; and some even to individual families. Even the word for sorry/excuse me is azafady – literally “I’m sorry to break a fady/bring a fady upon you”. This is basically the most important Malagasy word to know-just by being a vasaha you will undoubtedly cause some accidental offence!
They usually involve avoiding doing something, lest something bad happens – a very sensible example of this is that it’s a fady to build your house next to a swamp (swamps here = malaria ahoy!). Some common ones in this region are that its a fady to touch money on a Monday (people at the vets will hand me their makeshift purses, I count out the money and hand it back covered); you can’t milk a cow on a Friday; and you can’t eat meat from an omby without horns (not all are as easily “sensible” to the western mind to understand as my first example!).
Fady and the vintana (destiny-based) system of beliefs have strong undercurrents in Mandritsara, and the more remote you are, the more these come to the fore. Sadly some of these can present some tricky situations, as they may prevent treatment of certain diseases and conditions- people have been known to refuse amputation of gravely injured/infected limbs because they would rather die as a “whole person” than be an amputee.
There are many challenges here anyway-but the fady system is a sneaky and sometimes unexpected barrier to communication. Every day is a school day!