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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Quotes from Ten Favorite Books

In no particular order.

Fox in Socks, Dr. Seuss
“When these beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles and the bottle’s in a puddle … they call this a tweedle beetle bottle puddle paddle battle.”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver
“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”

“It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power.”

13 Clocks, James Thurber
“He was six feet four, and forty-six, and even colder than he thought he was. One eye wore a velvet patch; the other glittered through a monocle, which made half his body seem closer to you than the other half…”

“What’s the Todal?”
A lock of the guard’s hair turned white and his teeth began to chatter. “The Todal looks like a blob of glup,” he said. “It’s made of lip. It makes a sound like rabbits screaming, and smells of old, unopened rooms. It’s waiting for the Duke to fail in some endeavor, such as setting you a task that you can do.”
“And if he sets me one, and I succeed?” the Prince inquired.
“The Todal will glup him,” said the guard. “It punishes evil men for doing less evil than they can.”

Something very much like nothing anyone had seen before came trotting down the stairs and crossed the room.
“What was that?” the Duke asked, palely.
“I don’t know what it was,” said Hark, “but it’s the only one there ever was.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“It’s enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment.”

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”

“Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”

A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter Miller
“You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.”

“Bless me Father, I ate a lizard.”

Love and Rockets, Jaime Hernandez
“That night the animals talked. I was speaking in tongues. My dad up in heaven? He glanced up from his paper.”

The Princess Bride, William Goldman
“I am Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam… And wuv, twoo wuv, will fowow you foweva… So tweasure your wuv.” (OK, from the movie, not the book!)

Lord of the Flies, William Golding
“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”

“The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist.”

1984, George Orwell
“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”

“If you want a keep a secret, you must hide it from yourself.”

“Nothing is your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.”