Tombs, Landscape and Society in Southern Madagascar - Part II

Mike Parker Pearson

Tandoy Funeral

Origins of Monumental Stone Tombs

Those buried in these early stone tombs were not powerful clan leaders but men renowned for their wealth in cattle. As Afomarolahy, they were members of a clan subordinate to the royal clan but ranked above other clans. The tombs were built within an expanding frontier zone on the rock massif, previously uninhabited and largely forested, in new territory away from the constraints of traditional authority. Whereas the palisade burials were located in forest cemeteries a short distance from the settled and cultivated areas, these stone tombs were built in almost exclusively male-occupied cattle grazing areas far from the settlements. These grazing lands were contested with the hostile Bara (the group to the north). Also around this time the political power of the royal dynasty was declining. Whilst the first men to have been honoured with this new style of burial had neither political office nor marriage connections with the royal clan, their monuments may have served to legitimize new divisions within the Afomarolahy clan. These early stone tombs were similar in shape, size and form to the Tandroy wooden house and may have been metaphorical representations of ruined houses. Later on, they came to embody cattle pens in stone.

Tandroy funeral: erecting a standing stone

Monumental stone tombs and the mortuary rituals surrounding their construction are the foci of exchange relationships, wealth consumption and kinship ties. Yet this building tradition is just over a century old. It was begun not by the royal clan, the Andriamañare, but by the Afomarolahy clan (Heurtebize 1986). By combining archaeological survey with the anthropological skills of Georges Heurtebize and Retsihisatse (himself a member of the Afomarolahy clan), we were able to locate early stone tombs attributed to specific individuals and to place them within detailed genealogical lists of Afomarolahy lineages, thereby dating them to c. 1860-1880.