When first seeing this Gandao forefather figure, I thought to myself – why does he look so worried?
Standing in front of him at the museum, and maybe I should add that we are actually the same hight, I got a sense of reverence. But I guess the graveness of his expression goes well with his occupation, given that he is in fact a grave guard.
It is an old Kalasha tradition to erect Gandao figures in burial sites for big tribesmen. And even though the tradition has been abandoned for years, there are now signs that it is coming back into practice.
The erection of Gandao figures is a practice of honoring the dead. According to the custom, the erection takes place one year after a big man has passed away, but it must only take place if accompanied by an enormous party.
Like many others, the Kalasha tribe has special sites for burying their dead. These sites belong to the dead, and therefore the living try to avoid going there. In the old tradition, the Kalasha buried their dead in open wooden caskets that would either be dug down or simply left on ground. Halfdan Siiger, who studied the Kalasha people and collected the Gandao figure back in 1948, noted that the burial sites reeked of decomposing bodies.
So, on second thought, I guess the Gandao figure might simply be worried about the smell?
This Gandao figure, along with others, is currently on display in the ethnographic exhibition “The Lives of the Dead” at Moesgaard Museum.
// Emma Louise Pedersen
Photo: © 2014 Rikke Grøn, Photo/Media Department of Moesgaard Museum.
Byline portrait: © 2015 Line Beck, lbmfotografi.wix.com