clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Moraingy: Madagascar’s centuries old version of mixed martial arts

Bare knuckle fighting in Madagascar is the subject of Finbarr O’Reilly’s photo-essay for The New York Times.

Moraingy (also known as moringue and morengy) is a traditional martial art that was developed on the west coast of Madagascar possibly as early as the 17th century. The striking discipline, that includes punches and kicks, emerged during the precolonial Maroseranana dynasty. Today moraingy is an important cultural touchstone — and well attended spectacle — for people across the island, as well as in neighboring Mauritius, Comoros, and Seychelles.

Photojournalist Finbarr O’Reilly traveled to Sambava in northern Madagascar to witness a moraingy competition. His words and pictures were published in The New York Times.

“Bouts are a blur of fists, elbows, knees and feet punctuated by the thud of vicious slugs and the smack of bodies hitting the ground. Whirling blows are exchanged for longer than seems possible to withstand,” writes O’Reilly alongside his images that perfectly capture this chaos.

O’Reilly, who interviewed academics and moraingy fighters, explained in his piece how the cultural tradition of moraingy has transformed over time. O’Reilly revealed that modern moraingy sees fighters of all ages, and genders, compete for prizes that include cash, television sets, and stereos. Some events have thousands of spectators, cheerleaders, MCs, and live music.

Moraingy has always been set to music. The soundtrack for today’s bouts is usually salegy; a home-grown folk-pop genre that features electric guitars, accordions, and traditional percussion instruments. In days of yore moraingy thumped to the beat of just djembe drums and shakers.

Traditionally moraingy featured only unmarried men between the ages 10 and 35. The sport was an opportunity for these men to build prestige, respect and possibly fear in their communities. Even though moraingy has become more like a sport in modern times, with successful fighters living off their purses and enjoying celebrity status, adherents say that this African form of MMA goes deeper than competition.

“It is about more than the fighting,” said coach Aboudou Matchimoudini. “It’s our culture and our tradition, our history.”

To learn more about this traditional fighting style, and the people who perform it, read all of Bare Knuckle Bouts in Madagascar? ‘It Is About More Than the Fighting’. The piece includes incredible images of the sport and a short profile of Rocky Ambanza, one of Sambava’s more popular Fagnorolahy (fighters).