Hira Gasy performers use acrobatics, dance, poetry and songs to entertain audiences in the highlands of Madagascar. It was encouraged by King Andrianampoinimerina who ruled the island from 1745 to 1810.
The Rasoalalao Kavia company is led by Pâquerette Rasoalalao. A woman in her seventies who began performing Hira Gasy as a child.
Her parents were also traveling performers. Paquerette and her siblings would entertain the audience during the intervals of her parent’s performances.
“We didn’t quite finish school because I traveled a lot with my parents,” Pâquerette told RFI during a recent tour of France, arranged by Collectif 12 and Maison des Cultures du Monde where they performed at Quai Branly museum.
No sibling rivalry
Paquerette’s father founded the Rasoalalao Kavia company. When he was too old to continue performing he asked Paquerette to take over the company.
“There’s no rivalry between me and my brothers. They help me with the artistic direction of Hira Gasy,” explained Pâquerette.
Performers of Hira Gasy wear brightly coloured costumes influenced by their forefathers contact with Portuguese traders in the 16th century. Their instruments are also Western: male members of the troupe play snare drums, trumpets and violins.
Historians have yet to make a link between minstrels who roamed the Iberian peninsular between the 12th and 16th century and the modern-day performers in Madagascar, but they play a similar role in society.
What distinguishes Rasoalalao Kavia is that they use some of their performances to name and shame bad apples within a given community.
“We tell stories…about cheating husbands or wives, or lazy people or divisive people. All social ills are addressed through in Hira Gasy,” said Paquerette.
Pâquerette and her troupe negotiate contracts with the communities they perform in. Some elders are open to using Hira Gasy for social change. Those named and shamed in a performance react in a variety of ways.
“Some people can’t stand being exposed in this way. Others acknowledge what is being said is true,” explained Pâquerette.
On the road
Hira Gasy performers travel for several months at a time. They are popular at Madagascar’s numerous country fairs. Eighty percent of people live in rural and semi-rural areas according to the World Bank.
Over 50 percent of Madagascar’s population are animists. The spirit world is ever present in the cultural practices of people in the island nation.
Hira Gasy troupes often perform at burial ceremonies helping to ensure the dead pass over into the spirit world, according to indigenous beliefs.