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
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.
There 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
|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|
|Protect clothing form dirt when doing chores||Apron, overall|
|Protecting clothing from dirt when outside||?|
|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.
Filed under: Dress