France Faces New Request for Restitution of Sakalava King’s Skull from Madagascar

Soukaina Sghir
Soukaina Sghir
3 Min Read

The celebration of the Malagasy New Year on Monday brought to the forefront the issue of the restitution of King Toera’s skull by France, as descendants of the king gathered in Antananarivo. Two great-granddaughters of the Sakalava king, who was beheaded in 1897 by colonial troops, publicly appealed to the French ambassador during the festivities, urging French authorities to expedite the restitution process.

At the Coliseum esplanade in Madagascar, amidst the Taombaovao festivities of the Malagasy New Year, French Ambassador Arnaud Guillois received a letter from two of King Toera’s great-granddaughters.

While the initial request for restitution was made by the current Sakalava king, Magloire, in 2003, this recent appeal on March 11th holds significance, according to Princess Julia Georgine Kamamy. She explains, “Under President Andry Rajoelina’s administration, this is the first time it’s been done so directly.”

Princess Marie Francia Kamamy, eldest daughter of Queen Georgette Kamamy (herself the daughter of King Toera’s son), elaborates on the importance of restitution: “According to Malagasy traditions, if our ancestor’s body is incomplete in the tomb, his soul wanders ceaselessly. He cannot fulfill his role as a protective ancestor to his people and descendants. That’s why we, the family, request the return of his skull. It would be a sign of reconciliation between the Malagasy and the French,” she asserts.

Restitution Law on Human Remains

The French representative publicly acknowledged the importance of the request, emphasizing that the future of the relationship between the two countries “can only be built if we are aware of our shared past.” Meanwhile, the French Embassy in Madagascar confirms that the letter, personally handed over and signed by Malagasy Culture Minister Augustin Andriamananoro, was promptly delivered to the French counterpart, Rachida Dati, on the same day.

On December 26th, the French law regarding the restitution of human remains from public collections was enacted. This law is part of a broader ethical reflection on the contents of museum collections in France.

Establishment of a Bilateral Committee

The restitution by French authorities to Madagascar of three skulls, including the one attributed by Malagasy to King Toera, though not fully confirmed by DNA tests, aligns with this initiative.

A bilateral committee is to be established to decide the fate of these skulls. While the Malagasy members have already been selected, suspense surrounds the composition of the French team, as the Ministry of Culture has yet to finalize it. A first meeting was supposed to take place at the end of March, but the team composition remains undecided.

While eagerly anticipated by a segment of the population, this restitution has sparked significant dissent among various branches of the Sakalava king’s descendants, underscoring how the missing relic remains at the heart of contemporary power dynamics.

Soukaina Sghir

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