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The animal which brings death

There is no other animal in Madagascar from which people tell so much myths and legends like the Aye-Aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). It is fady in the whole northern part of Madagascar, which means taboo. Unfortunately, this fady does not mean – like in chameleons – that Malagasy people must not touch the animal. On the contrary: Many inhabitants of Madagascar believe that meeting an Aye-Aye brings bad luck or even death. If villager see an Aye-Aye inside their vilage or outside on the fields (these animals have a preference for corn, sugar cane, coconuts and mangos), they will try to catch and kill it. This is the only way to prevent the bad luck from coming over the people. Most people are familiar with the wise saying “Mangatambo hita, miseo tsy tsara“ (= seeing the animal brings no luck).


But there are big differences between tribes, villages and regions, about what exactly happens if seen an Aye-Aye. In the most northern part of Madagascar, many Malagasy people believe an Aye-Aye to bring misfortune for the whole community if it entered the village. To escape it, people have to leave their homes and move to an other place. This seems to be an older belief, but in 1960s, such left over empty villages were documented. Occasionally, Malagasy of the North still believe Aye-Ayes to be man-eaters – that is why one should never leave the village in the dark.

North-west of Amber Mountain national park, there are few villages, where the encounter of an Aye-aye was associated several times with the death of a villager. Consequently, people thought that if an older Aye-Aye enters the village, an older villager will die, if it was a younger Aye-aye, a child will die soon. In coastal regions of the north and along nearly the whole east coast (Sambava, Antalaha, Maroantsetra, Mananara), people convince others that meeting an Aye-aye inside the forest will have no bad ramifications, because it is in his home and natural environment there. But if it leaves the forest and climbs on a house’s roof, this will be a bad omen for the regarding family. During the following week, something evil will happen. Near Andasibe, somewhat more south at the east coast, a local myth says that you die or get ill even when an Aye-Aye looks or points its prolonged middle finger at you.

Nearly in all places where the bad luck of an Aye-aye can only be prevented by killing it, the dead animals are hung up on poles upside down at the roadside. There are different opinions to justify this rite: Some say passing strangers will take the bad luck of the animal with them. Others tell you that the bad luck only has to be brought outside the village to lose influence on the villagers.

Totes Aye-Aye, Foto: Thomas Althaus
Dead Aye-Aye,
picture: Thomas Althaus

Here and there in north western Madagascar and near Toamasina (Tamatave), there are villages, where people even eat Aye-ayes on special occasions. This is only possible if villagers dispel the bad luck before by magical customs, e.g. siniging certain songs or let all children of the village cry at the same time. An unsuccessfull “exorcism” poisons the revelers after consumption.

Well, each region has its own, small legends and myths about the Aye-aye. Sadly, most of them are negative ones. But it is interesting to know that Malagasy people in Ranomafana (south of Tana) did not know the animal at all when the Aye-aye was discovered for the first time there years ago. Accordingly, they did not have fadys for it yet. In general: In areas, where the animal is seen more often and where is more knowledge, people are less afraid of the Aye-aye.

No other lemur of Madagascar has such a bad reputation. At latest, this is easy to comprehend, because the night active forest troll with its glowing yellow ayes, the protruding teeth, the extremely prolonged middle finger and its grey, rough fur can really send a chill down your spine at night. All the more in a country like Madagascar, where many people have no or difficult access to education. To make matters worse, Aye-ayes are completely nocturnal and solitary in contrast to all other lemurs. Therefore they deflect from the image of a friendly family animal, which adheres most other lemurs. Additionally, many Malagasy people only know the animal from legends, because most Malagasy still live very simple and comply their activities with the sunlight.

Take a look at these long middle fingers

But those who go to sleep with the sunset will only meet an Aye-aye in exceptionel cases, if ever. And if they do, it is of course terrifying this animal does not leave or run away, but comes closer curiously. In some regions of Madagascar, Ramy nuts, a prefered food of the Aye-aye, can be found often near graves and tombs, where the belonging tree must not be cut. It is entirely possible that people therefore saw a connection between death and the Aye-aye since the first discoveries of this strange animal. And to add a last one, black colour is worldwide known to be the colour of bad luck or evil. This does not make a black lemur with odd body proportions more sympathetic among local people, too.

We can only hope that Malagasy people will recognize soon their natural, unique treasure with increasing education and ecotourism on the island. Maybe the Aye-aye will be saved instead of catched and killed somewhen. Hopefully it will not be too late then.

More information about the topic:

  • Découverte d’une dépouille de Aye-aye
    Lemur News 10, p. 6-7 | Madagascar 2007 | Author: Paul König
  • Et le massacre continue
    Lemur News 13, p. 6 | Madagascar 2008 | Authors: Paul König, Agathe Zavasoa
  • Killed Aye-aye exposed on the gallows in northeastern Madagascar
    Lemur News 13, p. 6-7 | Germany 2008 | Autoren: Frank Glaw, Miguel Vences, Roger D. Randrianiaina
  • Folklore and beliefs about the Aye-Aye
    Lemur News 6, p. 11-16 | USA 2001 | Autoren: Elwyn L. Simons, David M. Meyers

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