Rituals of possession and exorcism in Madagascar
In Madagascar, the interpretation of the smallest everyday events through dreams, sacrifices and possessions ensures a constant dialogue between the deceased and their descendants.
The phenomena of possession, known by the generic name of Tromba, have always occupied a primordial place in royal institutions, therapeutic rituals, and certain descent ceremonies.
This term from the Sakalava origin denotes the state of possession, the invocation ritual, the invoked spirit and the subject it inhabits.
It is an adorcism (beneficial possession). One consults a spirit to submit to it an individual or collective problem....
On the other hand, the bilo (a term from the Betsileo) is an exorcism ritual: it is about curing a sick person by freeing him from the spirit that inhabits him.
Possession and kingship
Possessed spirits are most often deified ancestors, usually of royal blood - whose genealogy can be traced. Possession of commoners by the spirits of deceased kings was once one of the most effective instruments of power.
These rituals took on a special glamor during certain "dynastic" festivities - such as the Fitampohana Festival at Land Sakalava.
These institutions experienced a relative decline with the disappearance of kingship at the end of the 19th century.
Reconquest of the "Tromba" and the crisis of society
Despite the importance of the Christianization movements and the collapse of the old political systems, possessive cults have continued.
We are even witnessing the proliferation of "brotherhoods" or families of the possessed, to which a large clientele, recruited from all social classes, comes to seek advice on the most diverse problems.
In the face of the collapse of the old economic balance, the breakup of lineage organizations, and the consequent weakening of traditional religious solidarity and values, each brotherhood appears as a new place for speech, mutual aid, and conviviality.
In their quest for a better future for themselves and their loved ones, each of them often vacillates between these communities and the Christian churches.
Ritual of the "Tromba
The ceremony, surrounded by many "dubious" (forbidden) people, lasts from half an hour to several days, depending on the problem treated.
Offerings are made to the invoked spirit according to his personality (cloth, bottle of rum, money).
It is called by singing and clapping hands.
The spirit manifests and gives its advice through the voice of the possessed person, who should not remember anything after the session.
Ritual of the "Bilo
An exhausted, melancholic, even desperate patient, driven by evil and resisting all treatment, is said to be inhabited by an evil spirit.
The ancestors of the lineage will manifest in a dream with one of his parents and the sick person will be declared "bilo" (in great danger).
To save him, he must be "elevated" to the rank of ancestor by placing him on a platform made for the occasion.
Drive out the evil
The "bilo" chooses an ox from the herd of the lineage, a sign of affection from his ancestors and a guarantee of his survival, which will remain his lifelong companion. Then a statuette is made, the image of the "bilo" to which the evil that inhabits it is transferred before being abandoned at a river.
The affection for healing
Southern ritual in Madagascar
The week-long Bilo ritual brings the whole family together. The patient dances day after day to the sounds of an accordion or zither, a drum and women's songs. He is honored and celebrated like a prince. He does not have to do anything, everyone is at his service.
Healing and restoration of the order
On the last day, an ox is sacrificed to the ancestors and its cooked liver is given to the "Bilo" on the platform sacrificed.
He eats part of it and distributes the rest to the family members gathered at his feet, as the living do at the feet of their dead relatives at the time of prayer.
The family gathered around the "bilo", the ancestors were honored.
As the social rules were reaffirmed, the disease of "bilo" - an expression of the tensions that troubled the lineage - dissipated and the balance of the group was restored.