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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Painful Memories
Author:Graeber, David
Periodical:Journal of Religion in Africa
Geographic term:Madagascar
Subjects:ancestor worship
folk tales (form)
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Religion and Witchcraft
Abstract:Imerina (the northern half of the central plateau of Madagascar) is a place where people attach much importance to the memory of their ancestors and the lands on which their ancestors once lived. About a third of the Merina population, however, is made up of the descendants of slaves, and in Madagascar, slaves are by definition people without ancestors, 'lost people'. This paper examines the question of what forms historical memory takes for such people. It argues that Merina slaves did, in fact, develop a ritual idiom with which to reflect on their history and their condition. The argument is illustrated with a story (the story of Rainitaba) the author heard during fieldwork conducted in 1989-1991 in the community of Betafo. Unrealized promises, currents, dispersal, disappearance ... the traditions surrounding Rainitaba seem to echo the sense of loss and displacement inherent to the experience of slavery, and to make it a figure for the lineage's own eventual dispersal, its withering away in Betafo. It is a story which draws together a series of old ideas and images into a narrative so powerful that it has become an essential part of the historical consciousness of the community. Part of how it could do this was by seizing on the richness of the term 'Vazimba' (ancient aborigines, lost ancestors, or dangerous spirits of the water). Bibliogr., notes, ref.