Eating the dead in Madagascar
Cannibalism has been poorly understood and has seldom been studied, since it was often suppressed by missionaries and colonial administrators, and very few societies still practise it. Cannibalistic practices are more complex than was originally thought. They may be supported in societies under stress or in times of famine, to reflect aggression and antisocial behaviour (in cases where the bodies of enemies killed in battle or people who have harmed the family are eaten), or to honour a dead kinsman. It was, for example, noted in Madagascar during the imperial campaigns of Ranavalona I in the period 1829 - 1853. Two types of cannibalism have been described: exocannibalism, where enemies were consumed, and endocannibalism, where dead relatives were eaten to assist their passing to the world of the ancestors, or to prolong contact with beloved and admired family members and absorb their good qualities. This article reviews some of the beliefs and motivations that surrounded the cannibalistic practices of the people of Madagascar in the 19th century.