The Awakening Of The Sikidy

Like many systems of divination the practice of sikidy was often prefaced by an invocation to the gods or earth spirits, designed to ensure an accurate response. One such formula quoted by Dahle reads:1

Awake, O God, to awaken the sun! Awake, O sun, to awaken the cock!

Awake, O cock, to awaken mankind! Awake, O mankind, to awaken the sikidy, not to tell lies, not to deceive, not to play tricks, not to talk nonsense, not to agree to everything indiscriminately; but to search into the secret; to look into what is beyond the hills and on the other side of the forest, to see what no human eye can see. Wake up, for thou art from the long-haired Mohammedans from the high mountains, from [Anakandriananahitra, the almost mythical founder of the art in Madagascar, whose name is followed by those authorities who passed the art on to the people and their present diviners, thereby establishing an historical line of legitimacy] . . . Awake! for we have not got thee for nothing, for thou art dear and expensive. We have hired thee in exchange for a fat cow with a large hump, and for money on which there was no dust [i.e. good value]. Awake! for thou art the trust of the sovereign [the ruling house of pre-colonial Madagascar used court diviners literally dozens of times a day to decide the advisability of even the most everyday actions, from matters of state to the timing of matters of personal hygiene] and the judgement of the people. If thou art a sikidy that can tell, a sikidy that can see, and does not [only] speak about the noise of the people, the hen killed by its owner, the cattle killed in the market, the dust clinging to the feet [i.e. uninteresting commonplaces], awake here on the mat!

But if thou art a sikidy that does not see, a sikidy that agrees to everything indiscriminately, and makes [false statements, as if] the dead [were] living, and the living dead, then do not arise here on the mat.

Of course the invocation varied from practitioner to practitioner, but the message was the same: to constrain the earth spirits/gods to tell the truth. The emphasis is upon the trickiness of the communicating entities, who misled if they could.

Anthropologists certainly rationalize this tendency by explaining it in terms of the psychology of the 'primitive' mind, which has a supposedly infinite capacity for belief, despite any number of disappointments; each time avidly rationalizing the cause of the fault rather than discarding the belief. Those with practical experience of the system worked by a competent practitioner will be more inclined towards the native explanation that there really is a perversity in the agency of divination, be it external spirit in turn, fills the figures of Harena, Fahatelo and Vohitra columns, in that order. For example:

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