Accepted paper:

The time of Sakalava place


Michael Lambek (University of Toronto)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines the curation of sacred places in northwest Madagascar and specifies how notions of temporality shape the restoration of place.

Paper long abstract:

Among Sakalava in northwest Madagascar the most continuous places are ancestral shrines and cemeteries. Their curation is the responsibility of reigning monarchs, aided by a corps of spirit mediums and people devoted to ancestral work. Sakalava ideas of conservation or preservation have been based on a different form of historicity than the one associated with modernity, in which "everything that is solid melts into air" and the angel of history can only look disconsolately back at the ruins or try to objectify them as 'heritage.' What is lost in such a modernist framework is not merely objects, buildings, or scenes of life but the very quality of a historicity in which continuity is more salient than loss, reproduction than preservation, and labour than work. This paper discusses a living community that maintains a continuous relationship with the past, such that the past moves forward together with the present into the future. This has implications for the way places can change while remaining 'authentic' and gives rise to a distinctive kind of politics of placement and architectural replacement.

panel P121
Spirit of place