Indiana University Bloomington IU Bloomington IUB

Grave Post in the Form of a Bird

Occupying the western part of the island of Madagascar, the Sakalava traditionally bury their dead in box-like tombs surrounded by wooden fences. Carvings of male and female figures and birds, such as this one, are typically placed on the corners of these fences, with birds positioned to the northwest and southeast. Birds are believed to have a special connection between the living and the dead, and their custom of returning to the same roost at the end of the day is considered an example for the spirits of the deceased to follow in adjusting to their new “home” at the grave. Since the wooden figures are exposed to the elements, they deteriorate over time; on this bird, the weathering and splintering of the wood has created a surface that resembles a depiction of feathers, adding a new dimension to its appearance.

Sakalava peoples, Madagascar
Grave Post in the Form of a Bird
20th century
H. 27 7/8 in. (70.8 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 80.16