The Walking Dead: Madagascar’s Zombies

Ancestor worship, magic, and superstition are omnipresent in Madagascar. Most Madagascans fear and revere the dead at the same time. Many believe that the souls of the deceased still live among them. These spirits of the ancestors, in Malagasy Lolo Vokatra, are able to see, guide, and protect families, friends and acquaintances, and even the entire community. However, unlike classic zombies such as those in the famous series The Walking Dead, they are not malevolent creatures. Although the Lolo Vokatra are the living dead, they are considered peaceful and harmless.

Belief in the Lolo Vokatra differs in the different regions of Madagascar. In the southeast, it is believed that only people of certain descent rise from their graves. They then return to the living and lead an outwardly normal life. Only their complexion is said to be a little paler than that of the living. And sometimes they exude an unpleasant odour of decay. The living dead never return to the villages from which they originally came – for there they would be recognised and identified as dead. Instead, they look for new places of activity until, after many years, they are buried again as supposedly deceased. Some people in Madagascar are said to have lived up to seven times as a result.

In the south of the island, they are called Tanalasoa, good spirits. The Sakalava in the northwest, on the other hand, call the living dead Lolo ratsy, evil spirits. There are eyewitness reports from many villages in Madagascar of seeing the living dead. Some claim that they are simply doubles, a person very similar to the deceased. But the doppelgangers cannot be approached; they disappear as soon as a living person gets too close to them.

So the legend of the living dead remains alive in Madagascar. And in many places, people prefer to put a little more food and more rum in the tomb or grave. Who knows which relative will become the next Lolo vokatra?


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