BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC NEWS
 You are in:  World: Africa
Front Page 
World 
Africa 
Americas 
Asia-Pacific 
Europe 
Middle East 
South Asia 
-------------
From Our Own Correspondent 
-------------
Letter From America 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 


Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

SERVICES 
Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 20:57 GMT 21:57 UK
Kung fu spirit runs deep in Madagascar
A kung fu class in Madagascar
Madagascans practise different styles of the martial art
test hello test
By the BBC's Jonny Donovan
Antananarivo
line

Madagascan kung fu is a visually stunning martial art, drawing inspiration from the movement of the elements and the animals.

At times it appears more like a dance than a lethal form of combat.

There are tens of thousands of registered students of the complex martial art across the island, practising a variety of different styles.


Kung fu is so popular in Madagascar because it successfully marries oriental mysticism and the spiritual way of life of the Madagascans.

Tantely Rakotobe, kung fu fighter
But there is more to it than meets the eye.

In modern Madagascar, this one-time recreational sport has come to mean different things to different people - from priests to politicians.

Kung fu primarily appeals to Madagascar's middle class youth of both sexes, with some students beginning as young as four. But it also has a following in the older sections of society.

"Ministers, doctors, lawyers, and especially priests all practise kung fu," explains Charles Andriamihaja, the president of the AAKUFUMA Kung Fu Society of Madagascar.

Spirituality

The kung fu movement has always had open links with the Church in Madagascar and every physical session is preceded by rigorous group meditation and prayer.

"For us, God is the grand master," says Lezo Andrianmizo, 27, pointing at a framed engraving of the crucifixion on the wall of his club house.

A Kung-fu teacher in Madagascar
Madagascan kung fu now symbolises more than just a martial art

But kung fu in Madagascar symbolises much more than just a martial art.

"The most important element is its spirituality," says Tantely Rakotobe, who has practised the martial arts for five years.

"To be good you must first conquer the mind, only then can you fully control your body.

"Kung fu is so popular in Madagascar because it successfully marries oriental mysticism and the spiritual way of life of the Madagascans.

"Even before kung fu arrived on the island, the Madagascan philosophy was similar in many ways.

"Both ideologies stand for truth, righteousness and justice."

Terror gangs

However, since kung fu arrived in Madagascar from China in the 1970s, it has been at the centre of numerous political controversies.

In the late 1970s and 80s, kung fu symbolised a widespread vigilante movement that was created in response to government-controlled terror gangs.

The gangs were wreaking havoc in the capital city.

Kung fu sword
Since the 80s, the kung fu movement has been at the centre of political controversies

More than 50 people were killed in violent clashes between the army and the kung fu groups in 1985 after the Ratsiraka regime mounted an attack on the movement's headquarters claiming it was trying to overthrow the state.

The movement was consequently forced underground.

Psyche

"The kung fu movement was about protecting people," says Ellie Rajaonarison, one of Madagascar's best known poets.

"Kung fu fighters today occupy something of a mystical space in the Madagascan psyche because of their strength and power and for what they stood up for during the 1980s."

Now, the kung fu movement has once again become politically active on the island, charging itself with the personal protection of self-proclaimed president Mark Ravalomanana.


Kung fu fighters today occupy something of a mystical space in the Madagascan psyche because of their strength and power.

Ellie Rajaonarison, poet

"Ravalomanana reflects the ideology of the kung fu and that is why we must protect him," explains Tantely.

Today, the kung fu provide security at Mr Ravalomanana's political meetings.

They also man the numerous security checkpoints in the towns, and only last month a contingent of 200 kung fu warriors was sent to destroy the economic blockade at Brickaville being run by the incumbent regime.

"We are ready to die for our cause and fear nothing except God," says Tantely.

See also:

17 Apr 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Madagascar
19 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar's flawed accord
18 Apr 02 | Country profiles
Timeline: Madagascar
15 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar violence spreads north
Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories