As in much of Madagascar, the Mahafaly bury their dead in tombs. The tombs of family members were historically located in sacred forest areas far from the houses of the living, although due to deforestation and other factors this is no longer always the case. Tombs are typically clustered together and laid out according to the rank and role of the family members, with the eldest ancestor's tomb the furthest south, his descendants to his north, and wives and unmarried family members to his west. Funerals consist of several ceremonies, and zebu are sacrificed at each; their skulls are placed on top of the tomb. The first ceremony is one of preparation for the following events and the ombilahy zebu sacrificed at this ceremony is particularly important because the meat is shared with all those gathered as a gesture of unity and friendship.
The Mahafaly also decorate their tombs with aloalo, tall wooden posts carved with geometric patterns and occasionally topped with carved zebu or other figures that hold significance for the deceased. These posts are meant to indicate that a person has died and attained the status of "ancestor" (razana), which serve as intermediaries between the living and God; the tomb is the ancestor's new home, as death is not seen as an ending but as a transformation into another phase of life. Aloalo today are considered an iconic symbol of Madagascar, and the Mahafaly homeland encompassing its semi-arid ecosystem and wealth of tombs and funerary art has been added to the Tentative List of World Heritage Sites. Tomb sites may only be visited during funerals or to retrieve wandering cattle but are otherwise strictly off limits.
Households are not allowed to produce their own aloalo or coffins or make use of their own tomb construction materials or ombilahy zebu - all must be purchased or commissioned from a specialized clan that the household has historically relied on to produce these items, and the household must pay for them in zebu and food. Carrying out the various ceremonies and tomb construction can take a year or more, during which time the wife of the deceased must stay with the corpse in the deceased's home. His oldest son is responsible for procuring the vatolahy - upright stone markers up to two meters tall that form part of the tomb structure - while his daughters are responsible for procuring the aloalo and sacrificial zebus; the remaining family members and friends procure the stones required for the construction of the tomb. The tomb's size is consequently dependent on the size of the family and the deceased's social standing.
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