Madagascar Ancestors Worship
Madagascar Ancestors Worship
Madagascar Ancestors Worship
Madagascar Worship of the ancestors
The complex origin of the Malagasy people created various and particular customs. In spite of many ethnic configurations and concepts of clans, the country conveys the same language and the belief in the power of the late ancestors is widespread through all the island. Although the traditional belief expresses the existence of only one God, omnipresent and omnipotent by the name of Andriamanitra (the Scented Lord) or Andriananahary (the Creative Lord), it is rather towards the venerated ancestors or “Razana” that the worship will go. The worship of the ancestors is a celebration of the “life science”, because the deceased ones are the bearer of power and are
defenders of the life on earth, material as much as spiritual. Each ancestor keeps his family individuality and his family ties. Its power is revealed through “crowned orders” which dictate the political organization, cultural, medical of the family or the community. The belief considers that certain disasters like the accidents, the diseases are the consequences of a failure to the worship of the ancestors. It is a justice inflicted by those who have violated a “fady” (taboo), for example. On each special opportunity marking the lives (construction of a house or a dugout, a marriage, etc) “Razana” will be consulted, called upon. Animals (chickens, zebus) or food (rum, honey, etc) will then be offered in sacrifice or drinking (religious ritual consisting in the presentation of a drink in offering to a god, by reversing a few drops on the ground or an altar). To quote at which point this practice is deeply anchored in all the sections of society the inaugural flight of a Boeing 747 of the Air Madagascar national company, gave rise to a sacrifice of zebus, in order to ensure long life the device like its passengers. Madagascar is often called the island of the Ancestors, so much influence of deaths on the alives remains considerable there. The Malagasy does not dare anything to undertake without having obtained the agreement of old and having asked for the blessing of his ancestors. Any individual is recognized in the company only by the name and the group of his ascendants, called Razana. The deceased are part of the daily life, although they remain invisible.
Raha zaza tsy hilalao, milatsaha ho tanora
Raha tanora tsy hikorana, midina ho isan’ny antitra
Raha antitra tsy hitafasiry, modia ho razana
Ary raha razana tsy hitahy, mifahaza hiady vomanga
A child who does not play, let he passes in the class of the young people
A young person who does not have fun, let he joins the old men
An old man who refuses to palaver, let he descends to the ancestors
Anancestorwhodoes not wantto bless,let herisesto unearththepotatos.
The meaning of life
In the Malagasy traditional beliefs, the world of the ancestors is part of what we call the “life”. Thus, the life consists of four distinct stages, each one with a determined importance and role. The ancestors arrived at the fourth and last stage. Like all other “alives”, they have a specific duty to achieve: It is to give the blessing to their children. Death thus does not mean the end of the existence, nor the final disappearance of a person. It is only a door or a passage to the invisible world.
Today, in 21st century, with the social changes, the emergence of new religions and globalization in all the fields, the worship of the ancestors regresses, especially in the cities. But the fear or the “respect” of the ancestors remains a cultural value of the Malagasy society. The usual current practice of various ancestral customs (circumcision, funeral, etc) is there to testify some, just as the care as we bring to the funerary art.
The spirits of the deceased did not die. Freed from from the material world, they travel in space. But they have the duty to visit the living and to bless them. For Sakalavas, ethnic West of Madagascar groups, the Mijoa bird represents this passage between deaths and the livings. The couple of Mijoa (ibis), only birds which couple themselves like the humans (face to face), symbolizes the continuity of the life. A man who died will not come to disturb his wife, both being from now on the exact symmetry of two definitively opposite worlds.
Out of wood or stones, sometimes decorated, the aspect of the funerary statues varies according to the areas and natural environment. In the West and South-west, the tombs carry human figurines symbolizing the continuity of the life by procreation.
The refusal of death
The non-acceptance of death as an end clearly appears in the funerary rites, particularly if they concern an old man. Since this one fully filled its terrestrial existence, he deserves “to go up” at the higher stage. He arrived at the end of what is called hasina, wisdom or holiness that any person acquires with the years. Thus, at the death of a very old man, it is not necessary to cry (like we do it some time for an young man). On the contrary, it is an occasion of rejoicing: during days and sometimes months, according to the area, we dance, we laugh, we drink alcohol, we eat the meat of the zebus which belonged to rthe deceased and which we cut down for the circumstance. We speak to death, we address jokes to him with sexual overtones. Then the body, carefully covered or deposited in a coffin made of a special wood, is transported in the family tomb among his.
Veneration of the ancestors
Death is a particular passage, because the being changes at the same time state and statute. From body state, he passes to the spiritual one. The transformation which it undergoes corresponds to a rebirth. From where “dared”, unusual remarks, hurled at dead and various “erotic” representations found on the tombs or in the neighbourhoods. The ancestor perfectly integrated in the invisible world becomes a new being, spiritual and eternal. He gains a supernatural power then.
However, in spite of this passage of the deceased to a higher stage of the life, the fear of death does not disappear for the livings. It is the purpose of the worship of the ancestors: The livings claim the assistance of the razana while communicating with them at quite precise times and places, during the sacrifices. Apart from these rites, the separation between the world of livings and deaths are clear: Each one his place.