Mahafaly totem poles

Sunday 2 December 2007 by Brad

The Mahafaly (Mahafaly mean ‘the ones who make taboos’) inhabit the South of Madagascar and practise an ancestral funerary art...

This ethnic group, who make a living from light farming in the arid region south-east of Tulear, is known for its painted tombs (valavato) which are richly decorated with the skulls and horns of zebus. The number of skulls and horns is equal to the number of zebus sacrificed during the death ceremony, showing therefore the social importance of the deceased. The sepulchres are also decorated by some sculptured totem poles (aloalo) representing zebus, carriages, people and different other elements of the life of the deceased (see picture n° 1 and 2).

The ancestors (razana) are the mediators to God (Zanahary) whom guarantee happiness on earth to those still living. They have their tombs on a sacred land corresponding to the original territory of each of the Malagasy peoples. The organisation of the tombs, which is very ritualized, their decoration and their caring is given priority as is the worship of the ancestors.

The spatial organisation of the cemetery (fasambezo) follows the same patterns as the village’s rules : the placement of the tombs respects the social hierarchy in the clan or the community and the height and number of totem poles and objects testify to the richness of the deceased.


Photo n°1 Photo n°2
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