How to make a lamba

lambasFollowing on from a comment received to my previous post ‘Traditional Madagascar clothing: the lamba‘, here’s a quick guide to making your own lamba. Even a total beginner at clothes making could make this.

The lamba is made of two parts; the lamba oany, which goes round the body, and the kisaly which is draped around the shoulders or head.

Making the lamba

Lamba oany: this is a long tube of cloth sown down the drop. It’s 2metres wide around the body before it’s sown (so 1 metre wide when you step inside it). The standard drop is 1.50 metre – but this can be adjusted. It needs to be roughly armpit to ankle. Simply sow down the drop to make a tube.

Kisaly: this is a piece of material of the same cloth 2 metres by 2 metres.

Choice of material

red lambaLambas tend to be made out of 2 types of material – neither of which I have precise information on (maybe a reader can help here).

One is close to cotton and is thus not transparent.

The other is more transparent and very soft. It’s closest to a transparent sarong or scarf but has a bit of weight to it so it hangs well but is still breathable.

Wearing the lamba

To wear around the chest, step inside the tube of the lamba oany and hold it wide at the top between both hands. Then fold it around you like a towel – taking head lamba each hand under the opposite armpit. Many women just manage to tuck it in – you can also tie a knot in the ends at the middle of your chest and then cover the knot by pulling a bit of fabric over it.

To wear around the waist just wrap it round and tuck it in. Any way you manage to keep the lamba staying put is acceptable – and will be slightly different depending on the shape of your body.

The kisaly can be wrapped around the head in any way you like, or draped around the shoulders.


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.