Get to know the Bara

Betroka is a small village in southern Madagascar, surrounded by beautiful mountains. This place has been the land and home of the Bara people for centuries. 

The Bara belief system is animistic; the worship of their ancestors is a priority for them. To honour the ancestors, they must follow rules which control everything: eating, behaviour and sacrifices. In Bara society it is the Ombiasa (witchdoctor), who dictates the rules and the direction of the community. The Ombiasa are deeply respected and feared; they are the mediator between the people and the ancestors, as well as having the power and wisdom to prepare medicine. The Ombiasa also communicate with the demons that oppress the Bara. The Bara live in fear of these demonic spirits. 

In the centre of every Bara village is the razomanga, a stone or a piece of wood that is used for sacrifices. This is a holy place, where the Bara worship and pacify the spirits. There is also a tree, the votokiny, where offerings are given to the spirits. Food, alcohol, and clothes are put in this tree to receive a blessing, to cause harm, or to honour ancestors. The Bara believe that the spirits of the dead dwell within trees and rocks. 

Honour and fear 

Bara economy is based on agriculture, with cows playing a central role. Cattle represent respect, honour and wealth. The importance placed on cows means that the Bara face the problem of cattle thieves (Malasos). Villagers are fearful of cattle thieves because they have killed those trying to stop them. However, cattle stealing is part of the Bara worldview and culture; it’s a lifestyle that not only brings fear, but a certain amount of honour and praise within your own community. You are viewed as becoming a man when you successfully steal your first cow. The Malasos use witchcraft to help them in their endeavours and as a form of protection.  

Life for the Bara is hard; poverty, sickness and death are part of their lives. Women play an important role, not only caring for the house and children, but planting rice and managing crops. However, men will value their cows more highly than their wives.  

Despite being known for their faithfulness to their culture and resistance to the gospel, some Bara admit to a sense of hopelessness. Faced with cattle raiding, diseases that witchcraft can’t cure, and their fear of the spirits, many are searching for another kind of life.  

To pray for the Bara, you can find prayer information here.

Janaine Basso

Janaine Basso

Janaine Basso lives in Betroka, southern Madagascar, among the Bara people, with her husband, Fernando, and her children.

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