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The supreme deity of the Madagascan pantheon. A multiple deity with female and male aspects as well as celestial and terrestrial manifestations. According to one creation myth, Zanahary made the earth, but left it desolate. Thereupon Ratovoantany, ‘self-created one’, shot up like a plant from the ground. When surprised and curious Zanahary descended from heaven to visit Ratovoantany, this new divinity was drying clay images of human beings and animals that he had made in the sun. He was unable however, to give these figures life. Zanahary offered to vitalize them, but insisted that he take them up to heaven. Ratovoantany refused. As a compromise, they agreed that Zanahary was to give life, but also to take it back when these creatures died. Their bodies were to remain always with Ratovoantany. Hence the Madagascan custom of placing corpses on the ground.

A variant is the quarrel between the heaven-Zanahary and the earth-Zanahary. Once the latter formed different creatures out of clay including men and women. Anxious to get hold of the women, the god of heaven offered to let the sun shine on the earth, but was reluctant to endow all the figures with life. At last he was compelled to oblige, but the earth-Zanahary refused to give up the now living human beings until they had had offspring. A bitter argument arose, and since then the heaven-Zanahary has done everything in his power to take back the life from all the creatures of the god of earth.

The wife of Zanahary is Andriamanitra, queen of heaven. A legend recounts that his contribution to the creation of mankind was the flesh and the form; other deities provided the bones, the blood, and the breath of life, or spirit.

Subjects: Religion.

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