Evening in Fianarantsoa

It is six o’clock p.m. The churh bells just rang, calling for evening mass in the Catholic churh on the hill above us here. Three churches are visible against the skyline. Churches are a prominent feature of every town and city in Madagascar. There are many different denominations, the Catholic is probably the largest in terms of numbers. The Lutheran church is also a big church. Most of the people of Madgascar are church members.

A reflection: These churches were established here at a time when European cultural dominance and influence in other parts of the world was not seen as a problem, at least not from a European point of view. The church bells are a sign of that. As are the hymns with well known European melodies. One of the churches in Antsirabe demonstrates this. They have installed very powerful loadspeakers in the church tower. Every morning at six, and every evening at six, they play the melody of Blessed assurance, prerecorded and sounding like church bells, at full blast so that it is heard all over the town.

Malagasy people are good singers, and have a rich tradition of indigenous music. How is this tradition taken care of along with the strong foreign influence in the churches? On the other hand, it is probably me who see the European hymns in the churches as foreign. It may be my own sensitivity to this issue from my background in Kenya that comes to play here. To people here the European hymns may be just as Malagasy as the music that was here before the missionaries came. The same goes for other outside influence too. What is really Malagasy, and what is imported? Is it a point at all in distinguishing? In Norway we discuss what is Norwegian culture. Can traditions from Africa or Asia be part of the Norwegian? Every society receives impulses from other traditions, and may grow richer by it. Perhaps we should rather look for the authentic, what is meaningful for us, what brings us forward both as individuals and as fellowship, and judge it from there? I think so, though I don’t like the early morning loudspeakers in Antsirabe. But I am not Malagasy.

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