A Malagasy Primer

Ahy means me. It also means mine. As a verb, it means “to be a cause for worry”.

Ba means knitting. It also means a measure in music, or a kiss. (There are many, many words for kiss.)

Dia means wild. It also means a step, a journey. It also is used for emphasis; Tsara dia tsara is literally “good wild good”, which is very very good.

Entina means “to be carried”. It also means to be ruled over, or to be lead.

Fahangidiny is soul-sickness. It is often used to describe bitter and sarcastic people.

A famama is a poisonous plant used to stun fish.

Fihimamba is the attitude of a person who refuses to let things go. “Fihi” is a grasping, a clutching, and “mamba” is a crocodile, so a Fihi-mamba is a person who holds on like a crocodile.

Fomba is the nature of a person. It can be used to refer to a personal quirk or habit they have.

Fitsingerenana is the return of something that comes around periodically.

Fotsy is white. Fotsy bobo is the white of leprous skin. Fotsy rora is a person who speaks, but is not listened to (rora is spittle).

Gasina (say ga-SHEEN-a) means “adapted to Malagasy ways”.

Gaigy means “clever in a destructive way”.

A gidro is a monkey-like creature.

Hay as a verb means, “is something I’m capable of.” As a noun, it means heat, or fire. As an interjection, it means Really?!!

A haron-doa-body is a basket with a hole in it. It is also what you call a person who wastes things.

White foreigners think indry is the name of the island’s largest surviving animal, which looks like a cross between a four-year old kid, a dog, and a panda. When Europeans first visited the island, the Malagasy pointed up into the treetops, where these things were sitting, and said “Indry!” which means “Look, there it is!” The Europeans thought they were being told the animal’s name. Malagasy call the indry a “babakoto”, which means something like “Little boy’s father”.

A jejy is a guitar made from a stick and a gourd.

Kibo is belly. A kibokibo is a joke.

Kobaka is the act of stirring water. Kobaka ambvava is flattery and vain promises (vava is mouth, so it literally means “churning the water with your mouth”)

Lozotra is an adjective meaning “something that isn’t done, even though you cooked it.”

Mazoto means, “He (or she) is a fine human being.”

Manga means “blue”, and also “beautiful” or “excellent”. An “omby manga” (blue ox) is a wild zebu.

Misasasasa is the sound falling rain makes.

Ndao means, “Let’s go!”

A piliavava is something that is learned by heart, and often repeated, but not understood.

Valala are locusts. Rakotra valala ny tany means “The ground is covered with locusts.” Valala-bemandry is a crowd of common people.

Ronono is milk. “Ro” is juice, and “nono” is breast.

Saona is mourning for the dead.

Sary is either a photograph or a bastard son or daughter. “Maka sary” means to take a photograph, or…

Sarotiny means “difficult to please, due to being overly sensitive about something”.

Tay (TIE) is shit. Meteors are tay-kintana (star-shit). Stuff stuck between your teeth is tay-nify (nify = tooth).

Tangena is a fruit used for the ordeal by poison.

A tonta is a trap. It is also one side of a quarrel.

A topy is a lingering glance. It is also having a dash of cold water thrown at you.

Volo is hair. Volo also means feathers, or bamboo. Lava volo (“long hair”) is untouched rainforest.

Velona is to live, to be alive. Mamy fo velona (“sweet heart living”) means to be centered only on one’s self; to care only for one’s own life.

Vovo is the barking of a dog.

Zanahary is God.

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