The dominant figure of the angel in this wood carved nativity from Madagascar reflects a tradition of religious art which can be observed in various cultures. Here the angel does not hold the role of messenger so much as represent the presence of divine reality. Where there is an angel, God is present, and where there is a tall angel like this one, divine presence is particularly intense. In this case, an effort was made to link traditional religion with Christianity; the angel stands also for the Great Spirit that governs the universe.
A Matter of Survival
This nativity set has been carved by Malagasy artisans belonging to the tribe of the Zafimaniry, and living in Ambositra on the island of Madagascar. The wood used comes from a non-hardwood tree called Vandriaka. Zafimaniry people are known for the decorative carvings of doors and windows of their homes. Begun as a conservation measure by Catholic missionaries in the 1960s, the Zafimaniry were instructed in the craft of figure carving as a means of saving the lushly forested areas of their habitat, while assisting the people to find sources of income. These smooth, shining, and beautifully carved figures are a tribute not only to the artistic abilities of the Zafimaniry, but also to their will of economic and cultural survival. So much in life is a matter of survival! The message of Christmas is no exception.
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