In Madagascar, hand woven silk and cotton textiles remain potent symbols of authority, wealth, status and identity. Textiles play a prominent role in ceremonies, particularly in rural areas, and serve as a sign of respect for local, ancestral custom. This connection between hand woven cloth and the ancestors is emphasized in the widespread use of textiles in burial and reburial ceremonies throughout Madagascar.
There is great variety in Malagasy burial ceremonies, but throughout the island cloth plays a major role. Siblings, children, grandchildren and other relations are required to offer cloth to wrap or bury with the body. By dressing the dead, descendants ensure the deceased's continued social existence in the next life. Elaborate funerary rites acknowledge the ancestors and their mystical powers that hold the key to an individual's fortunes and misfortunes. When pleased, ancestors bless the living with prosperity and fertility.
Eminent symbol of their wealth and dedication to the deceased, individual descendants often conspicuously parade their cloth offerings into the ceremony or display it for the assembled community to judge. Close kin are eager to search out the best, most expensive burial cloth they can afford, preferably silk. The finest cloth a weaver will make in her lifetime, however, is never for sale, for it is the cloth she makes as burial wraps for her own mother and father.
This cloth was made for a second burial ceremony that never took place. Its cloth's richly dyed bands of reddish-brown and black accented with thin strips of orange, green and white make it a fine example of the popular arindrano striped pattern. It was made by stitching together two separate panels, the ends of which were decorated with distinctive, white, floating weft designs called akotso. The finished cloth displays a different pattern in each corner.
Two-panel, hand-woven textile of wide bands of reddish brown and black stripes and thin strips of brown, orange, green, black and white. Imported white cotton weft design embellished the two ends of the cloth. The weft float designs, which are distinctive for each end of the two panels, are composed of rectilinear, hexagonal, zigzag and diamond patterns bordered on each side by a horizontal band of small diamond designs. The edge is hemmed.
Purchased from Felicite Rasoazanany, Madagascar, 2000
Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue - From the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, November 7, 2014-January 24, 2016 (deinstalled June 29, 2015)
Gifts and Blessings: The Textile Arts of Madagascar Malagasy, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, April 14-September 2, 2002
Fee, Sarah. 2002. "Cloth in Motion: Madagascar's Textiles Through History." Objects as Envoys: Cloth, Imagery, and Diplomacy in Madagascar, edited by Christine Mullen Kreamer and Sarah Fee. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 72, no. 35.
Kreamer, Christine Mullen and Adrienne L. Childs (eds). 2014. Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue from the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 180-181, pl. 87.