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 particular cloth was made from two narrow panels of undyed mulberry silk, which were then sewn together. It is a demonstration cloth, as burial shrouds are usually made from two or three wider cloth panels. The especially rough texture of this piece is caused by traces of yellow gum, which remained in the threads after it was boiled. This type of cloth is referred to as lambamena landikely, the latter a term from mulberry silk.
Two narrow silk panels hand-sewn together; natural off-white or light beige color with no decorative motifs or striping. The cloth has a rough, nubby texture, due in part to the fact that the "gum" from the mulberry silk was not washed off, and a looped fringe at either end.
Purchased from Mr. Razafindrafidy, Madagascar, 2000
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. 76, no. 40.