In 2021, I had the privilege of documenting the ancestral ritual of Sambatra, also known as circumcision, among the Antambahoaka ethnic group of Madagascar. This ritual is of paramount importance in the culture of this community, symbolizing the passage from childhood to adulthood and marking the entry of young boys into adult society.

The Sambatra is much more than a simple circumcision ceremony. It’s an event that brings the whole community together, uniting families and friends around an age-old tradition. Preparations begin weeks or even months in advance, with meticulous preparations including the building of special structures to host the festivities and the organization of traditional dances and songs.

Mananjary, Madagascar, October 2021. The people proceed to the manenatra (“procession”), a great march along the sea towards the confluence during the Sambatra. This march represents the warlike expedition against the invisible powers. (iAko Randrianarivelo)

On Sambatra day, a celebratory atmosphere reigns throughout the village. Young boys are prepared for their initiation, receiving teachings on the responsibilities and expectations that come with adulthood. The circumcision itself is performed with precision and ritual, often by a community elder with deep knowledge of the traditions.

The Sambatra ceremony is also an opportunity to strengthen intergenerational ties. The elders pass on their wisdom and experience to the younger generations, perpetuating the customs and values that make up the richness of Antambahoaka culture.

But Sambatra is not limited to circumcision day. The festivities often extend over several days, with dancing, singing, feasting and traditional games. It’s a time of joy and festivity for the whole community, when differences are put aside and unity is celebrated.

Documenting the Sambatra was a deeply enriching experience for me. It allowed me to delve into the heart of a rich and vibrant culture, to witness age-old traditions and to befriend members of the Antambahoaka community. It’s an experience I’ll cherish forever, and one I’m honoured to be able to share with the world.

By sharing these stories and images, I hope to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of Antambahoaka culture, while raising public awareness of the importance of ancestral traditions in an ever-changing world.

Sambatra is much more than a simple ceremony; it’s a living cultural heritage, an expression of a community’s identity and cohesion. By documenting and sharing these precious moments, we contribute to preserving cultural diversity and promoting mutual respect and understanding between peoples the world over.

A few photos taken during this great event