H: 140 cm (approx. 4’ 7”)
Estimated age: End of the 19th century or early 20th century
Provenance: Austrian private collection
Estimate: € 12.000 – 14.000
The Mahafaly people live in the southwest part of the island of Madagascar. The Mahafaly honor the deceased members of chiefly and royal lineages by creating burial sites of imposing grandeur. Each tomb is a solid boxlike stone sculpture that may be surmounted by as many as thirty wooden sculptures. These wooden tomb sculptures commemorate deceased individuals while addressing more abstract concepts concerning the nature of existence after death and the relationship between the living and the dead. Funerary sculpture is understood not as a direct or literal portrait of the deceased, but as a locus of connection with the ancestral realm. The Mahafaly have adopted the term aloalo to refer strictly to the works that are used at royal burial sites. Aloalo is derived from alo, which implies a sense of an intermediary or messenger; the term therefore refers primarily to the work’s function and not necessarily its form. Alo also relates to the creation of linkages and, in the context of funerary sculpture, may refer to the visual interlocking of abstract forms integrated into a harmonious design as well the work’s role as an intermediary between the worlds of the living and the dead.
This example follows an established design in which a standing female figure is represented at the base. It has a typical geometric structure consisting of openwork carved rectangular and crescent-shaped elements extending upwards from her head, crowned by two birds. There is a slight modeling of breasts on the figure. The left hand is holding a big knife. An elegant and rare Mahafaly figure; the top part is carved separately.