“Madagascar is a large island 400 km off the shore of Mozambique. It has a central spine of high dry plateau and is noted for its tropical climate. It was first inhabited during the 7th century by people related to the Polynesians who lived along the Swahili coast of Africa, but they were eventually driven away by Islamic traders. In about 1500, kingdoms began to appear  the Sakalava occupied the west coast of the island; the Betsimisaraka empire, which means ‘the many inseparable’, was located on the south-east coast, although in was in fact an association of villages isolated within a dense forest; and by 1830 the Merina kingdom, which originally occupied the central highlands and eventually expanded over the entire island, absorbed the Sakalava and Betsimisaraka kingdoms. Towards the end of the 19th century, the island was colonized by the French, but it had gained its independence by 1960.

The Sakalava occupy a region along the west coast of the island and unlike the Mahafaly, they bury their dead in the forest, far from the village, in wooden rectangular tombs. On each corner and in the middle of the longest sides are large figures of birds, men or women – with or without a child – or most notably, copulating couples. The latter are sometimes called ‘Sari Porno’ by the natives as tourists take a particular interest in them. These figures can be distinguished from those of the Mahafaly because they lack the plank placed above the head of the figure.

The north-east corner of each grave has a figure representing the deceased. The sun rises in the north-east so it is associated with dawn and rebirth. In the opposite corner a figure of the opposite sex is placed which reinforces the idea of sexuality, inherent in Sakalava beliefs. Some scholars have suggested that these figures may in fact have been produces by the Vezo people, a group of fishermen living on the southern coast of Madagascar.”

Baquart, Jean-Baptiste. The Tribal Arts of Africa. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc. 1998. Print.

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