Bara people

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Isambo, king of the Bara people (1906)

The Bara people are a Malagasy ethnic group living in the southern part of the central plateaus of Madagascar, in the Toliara Province, especially in the Ihosy-Betroka area. They are estimated to account for 3% of the overall Malagasy population.

Ethnic identity[edit]

Along with Sakalava, Bara are one of the two Malagasy ethnic groups of clear bantu descent. They live principally in the southern part of the central plateaus of Madagascar, in the Toliara Province, especially in the Ihosy-Betroka area.[1]


Bara society is structured into clans. They are polygamist.

Religious affiliation[edit]

Distribution of Malagasy ethnic groups

While some Baras are Christians, most retain their traditional religious beliefs. They believe in natural spirits such as the helo that are believed to appear beside trees.


Bara are traditionally nomads, living on cattle (zebu) farming. A great deal of Bara traditions and habits revolve around cattle farming. Cattle raiding (dahalo) has a symbolic meaning in wedding rituals, as the groom-to-be is expected to raid cattle to prove his strength and to give the raided cattle to the bride-to-be family as a payment of bride price.

Zebu wrestling is a sport practiced by Bara communities and involves Zebu being penned into an arena and whipped into frustration. Once the zebu is angry, players sneak up behind the Zebu and jump onto its hump, attempting to 'ride' as long as possible without being injured by the beast. It is seen as a rite of passage for young boys.

Bara are also known as dancers and sculptors. Their wooden statues have long eyelashes that are implemented using human hair.

Funeral rites[edit]

Bara burial site, Isalo national park

They bury the dead in natural caves, and cut their hair to express mourning. The spirits of the dead are regarded as dangerous, and in the past Bara communities have been known to relocate after someone's death to leave the dead's spirit behind.


They speak Bara Malagasy, a dialect of the Malagasy language, which is a branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language group derived from the Barito languages, spoken in southern Borneo.


  1. ^ Bradt, Hilary; Austin, Daniel (2007). Madagascar (9th ed.). Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press Inc. pp. 113–115. ISBN 1-84162-197-8.