Merina Religion

Doctrines The inhabitants of the Imerina region of Madagascar believe that life, fertility and, therefore, blessings come from their ancestors. The importance of the place of ancestors in the beliefs of the Merinas has led them to make a distinction between the free Merinas, those who have descended from the ancestors, and those who have descended from slaves imported into the Imerina kingdom in the 19th century. Blessings come from belonging to a deme, the name of a mythical group that in the past was given land, and which is associated in perpetuity with a particular ancestral land. Tombs, therefore stand for the permanent unity of people and land, and they affirm the actual presence of the ancestors in the land. However, while the strong belief in the relationship between the ancestors and the land permeates all ritual practices, it is God who stands as the ultimate creator of all ancestors of the Merina.

History The Merina conquered land in Madagascar, previously inhabited by the Vazimba, a name that is also associated with the vitality of nature, and a name given to anybody who is not in relation to the ancestral lands. In oral history, the Merina king Andriamanelo, is the hero who drives away the Vazimba, and at the same time becomes the founder of the royal line. The actual origins of the Merina is, however, still a subject of speculation; although their land is geographically close to Africa, their language and social interaction reflect links with western Indonesia, the southern Celebes and Borneo.
While written accounts describe a state that was already well organised by the end of the 18th Century, a form of centralized political authority existed before that date. Merina expansions coincided with the reign of the Merina king Andrianampoinimerina (ca. 1780-1810), and the increase of the slave trade from Madagascar to Mauritius and other lands. The slave trade provided weapons, and an expansion of the army, which also coincided with the development of literacy, provided by the Antaimoro people of Madagascar, who had retained some Arabic script.
The following monarch, Radama I, son of Andrianampoinimerina reigned in a period when the British controlled Reunion temporarily, and Mauritius permanently. A treaty was signed in 1817, and as a result, two of Radama's sons were sent to study in Britain, and missionaries from the London Missionary Society arrived in Madagascar. In 1895 the French conquered Madagascar, and systematically turned the inland into a colony.

Symbols Water is the primary symbol for a blessing (tsodrano), which literally means blowing on water. The 'blowing of water' takes place when a young person asks a grandfather to bless him because he is going on a foreign trip, or because things are not going too well. Water is kept at the ancestral tombs, and after putting it in a container together with a coin, the elder blows water onto the person to be blessed saying 'May you be rich, may you be strong, may you have seven boys and seven girls'. The coin (or silver) is a symbol of the mystical force of primacy (hasina), associated with the power of blessing, and the number seven stands for good fortune. Tombs are the main symbols of blessing, as they symbolize the presence of the ancestors, and their concern for the living Merina.

Adherents No official figures available.

Main Centres
 Central Madagascar.