Tombs, Landscape and Society in Southern Madagascar - Part III

Mike Parker Pearson

Tombs and Sacred Forests


Many palisade tombs and some stone tombs are located within sacred forests. These taboo forests are, in large areas of southern Androy, the only islands of woodland within a cleared landscape. As such, they will remain as wildlife refuges and reservoirs of biodiversity within an impoverished semi-arid environment. In central Androy there are other, large stretches of primary forest which are not protected by taboo. Here the forest has been reduced since 1950 by only 20% (a loss of 200 sq km) whereas there has been a 60% reduction in southern Androy (380 sq km).

Our satellite remote sensing study of forest composition (funded by the Natural Environment Research Council of Britain) identified surviving primary forest and potentially different grades of regenerated woodland (Clark et al. forthcoming). Our initial 'ground-truthing' results suggest that the semi-arid primary forest is diverse in species (about 200 per 100 sq m) though the majority of trees belong to between four and eight species only. If left undisturbed, cleared areas can regenerate within 150-200 years, even in this dry environment, and may return to the same main species composition as primary woodland.

The Political Geography of the Early Tandroy Kingdom

One of these sacred forests is the residence of the ancient king, Andrianjoma, who settled near Ambaro and became the founding ancestor of the Tekonda line of Andriamañare. He probably reigned in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (Heurtebize 1986). Our 1993 surface finds from this forest site are probably 18th century. This is probably Fenoarivo, the royal capital visited by the ill-fated crew of the Degrave, and Andrianjoma is likely to have been Drury's Tandroy king, Dean Crindo [Andriankirindra], personal names changing after death. We were unable to excavate within the forest but dug six trenches within its 18th-19th century successor, immediately to the east. The finds of gunflints, metalwork, local ceramics, imported glass and unusual white stone pipes could be dated no closer than the 18th-19th centuries.

Excavations at one of the early royal centres at Laparoy

Although Drury identified six 'towns' in early 18th century Androy, we have identified only two (Ambaro/Fenoarivo and Angavo). However an important discovery was the more ancient royal centre of Montefeno, a "grand village" where Flacourt records that Dian Mififarive [Andrianmififarivo], the king of the Ampatres, lived in 1649 (Flacourt 1661). This village name still survives and, either side of the modern village in southern Androy, we found remains of a large 16th-17th century settlement and a late 17th century settlement. Not only were Flacourt's people of the Ampatres the same as the Tandroy, but this latter settlement is sacred to the Tekonda Andriamañare, whose direct royal descendents still return to their origin here to deposit their newborns' umbilical cords.

This unexpected direct link with the Tekonda at Ambaro indicates that they previously lived here, immediately prior to Andrianjoma's migration to Ambaro. Some 15 km to the east of Montefeno is the sacred burial forest of Anjampanorora, used by other Andriamañare. According to oral traditions this is the place of origin of the royal clan. Although we could not enter the forest, we found a large 16th century site just east of it.

The burial cave of the kings, on the west slope of Angavo not far from the hilltop 'town' visited by Drury, probably contains only one interment. This was associated with 18th century pottery. This area is still used for Andriamañare burials and nearby is the grave of a 19th century king. Other royal burials are found along a northwest frontier zone between Angavo and the Manambovo river. It now seems likely that the Tandroy kingdom expanded in the 16th-19th centuries by the resettlement of cadet lines within the royal dynasty on the edges of the kingdom. Drury's story of internal warfare well describes the power struggle between rival lines over the royal succession.