Traditional Madagascar clothing: the lamba

Traditional dress in Northern Madagascar involves wearing the ‘lamba’. The word lamba simply means cloth or clothing but usually refers to the two matching pieces of fabric that women wear – one around the waist or chest and one around the head or shoulders.

Traditionally the lamba would have been all that was worn. Now it is usually seen worn over Western clothing.

Lamba for men

Menagisy chief

In Diego, the lamba is rarely seen on men outside of ceremonies such as ‘joros’ (offerings) and ‘burials’ etc. although it is not so uncommon to see old men wearing it in rural areas. In rural areas on the plateau area of Madagascar, I saw more men wearing them as a matter of course. This man is a village chief from the North of Madagascar – he was wearing a lamba but tried very hard to negotiate my friend’s combat trousers off him.

Lamba for women

Unlike the men, about half of women in Diego town can be seen wearing lamba. Older

women and women from the countryside who are visiting the town almost always wear it. Muslim women of Malagasy origin also tend to wear it.

Lambas on ladiesThere are no hard and fast rules to which women wear traditional lamba and which wear Western clothing. Many women wear a lamba one day and not the next or just for part of the day. Younger more fashion conscious women may wear lambas around the house and just for special occasions but not to go into town. On the contrary, other women wear western clothing at home and put the lamba on to go into town.

I live near the main hospital in town and it seems to be common practice (though not universal) for women to wear lamba when visiting the hospital or doctor. I don’t know whether it’s something to do with showing respect either for an institution or for the ancestors at a time when they might be playing a role in life.

Nearly all women will wear a lamba if there is a death or an occasion where prayers are said to the ancestors. If you see a large group where every single woman is wearing a lamba, it almost certainly means there has been a death.

One item, many uses

The lamba serves so many purposes that it’s hard to know how we manage without them. Here I’ve analysed what expensive products we Vazahas buy instead.

Use of lamba

Western product

Shielding sun Sunglasses and hat, parasol, special sun shields in cars
Carrying child Harness / pushchair / pram
Picking up hot things Oven gloves
Blanket when want a nap Blanket
Cloth for emergency cleaning Cloth, baby wipes, tissues
Carrying bundles of things Bags
Mat to sit on Picnic blanket
Pillow Pillow
Wiping noses Hankies
Protect clothing form dirt when doing chores Apron, overall
Protecting clothing from dirt when outside ?
Wind protection ?
Dust protection ?
Covering dignity whilst bathing in streams ?

Can Vazahas wear lamba?

Vazahas can mainly only get away with wearing lambas at ceremonies otherwise you look a bit of a try-hard idiot. However, due to their usefulness, it is always good to have one in your bag And if you will be spending time amongst Malagasys it’s good to have one for bathing – a Vazaha woman, stripped off to her bikini for a wash, causes quite a stir.


32 Responses

  1. > Can Vazahas wear lamba ?

    Vazahagasy, I’m sure you’ll fit it perfectly 😉 it’s only a habit question

  2. Thanks for your confidence in me Tomavana – I always need to tie a sneaky knot otherwise it falls down!

  3. I didn’t say it is easy to fix 🙂 even for local … especially when windy day is playing with 😉

  4. […] Ruth writes about a traditional dress, the lamba, in Madagascar: “Traditional dress in Northern Madagascar involves wearing the ‘lamba’. The word lamba simply means cloth or clothing but usually refers to the two matching pieces of fabric that women wear – one around the waist or chest and one around the head or shoulders.” Share This […]

  5. […] namana Ruth mipetraka any Antsiranana dia manazavazava izay fomba fiakanjoana sy fitafy ampiasana ny “lamba” any amin’ny tapany Ava… : « Traditional dress in Northern Madagascar involves wearing the ‘lamba’. The word lamba […]

  6. Lamba Oany

    Die Lamba Oany ist das wichtigste Bekleidungsstück der Madegassinnen. Keine Frau, die nicht mehrere davon benutzt. Luftig, leicht, flexibel und immer gut an- bzw auch ausgezogen. Wie schnell ist sie auf dem Strand ausgebreitet oder bietet Schutz für …

  7. […] Traditional Madagascar clothing: the lamba […]

  8. How do u pronounce the word Lamba

  9. Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)

  10. Lamba is pronounced as you would imagine – ‘lam’ (pronounced like lamb, the baby sheep) followed by ‘ba’.

    The ‘a’ sound in Malagasy is always pronounced like ‘a’ in apple.

    The Malagasy language was first documented by a Welsh missionary called David Jones in conjunction with the Merina tribe. The decision was made to use English sounds for consonants and French sounds for vowels.

    So a= a in apple, e= ‘ay’, i = ‘ee’. ‘O’ is a bit odd because it sounds most like the ‘oo’ in ‘book’. And there is no ‘u’ in the Malagasy alphabet – if you hear a ‘u’ sound it normally means it’s an ‘o’.

  11. it was so conveniant



  14. Our group is learning about Madagascar. Any help would be greatly appreciated. What is a traditional food of your country. What types of crafts could we do to represent your culture. Any special dances or songs that are part of the culture?

  15. I am doing a project on this and the website will help me!!!!!!!

  16. That is so mean

  17. Sammy, I am studying it to!!!

  18. well this was really helpful thx nd thats not my real name as you would hav guessed lol thx

  19. hey wats up im studying madagascar too hehe

  20. Hi im doing a project on Madagascar and well i have to do right now ,but thanks for all the help that this website has gave me hopefally i get an A going back to work bye bye 3:) 😛 😀

  21. Just to let you know thats not my real name i just made that up and the reason for that is i dont want malagasys to hunt me down!!!! LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!:P 😀 3:)

  22. i lovvvvvve these cloths because of thier usees.You can do alot with these cloths.WOW.

  23. this look so cool

  24. this look so cool.the first one is awsome

  25. doing my worlds fair project! We need to wear tradition clothing of our selected country. This is perfect. thanks

  26. How does religion affect clothes people wear in Madagasca? Specifically women

  27. @Jay: good question. I don’t know the perfect answer to that. I’ve started drafting an answer to you and then realised that I really don’t know! I don’t think there are hard and fast rules but there will be trends.

    I shall contact some Gasy friends and get them to add their comments.

  28. Lamba is a truly funky clothing. I wish I have the guts to wear something like this in Germany.

  29. Well. When it comes to school purposes. Is it optional to wear those lamba skirts, floral skirts for men? or is it a must?

  30. Wow this is really helpfull im doing a project on madagascar

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