Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/49

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

tomb is to be constructed. The sides of a vault six or seven feet high, and ten ox* twelve feet square, are often formed of single stones of these dimensions. A sort of subterraneous room is thus built; which, in some parts of the country, is lined with rough pieces of timber. The stones are covered with earth, to the depth of from fifteen to eighteen inches. This mass of earth is faced with a curb of stone, and upon this a second and third mound or mass of earth is formed, each of smaller dimensions than the lowest one, but faced with stone in the same way, and being from twelve to eighteen inches in height, thus forming altogether a flat pyramidal mass, composed of successive terraces, and resembling in appearance the pyramidal structures of the aborigines of South America. They are, indeed, like the rough state of the Egyptian pyramids as they are supposed to have been before the last exterior coating of stone was added in order to render the pyramidal slant unbroken and complete. The summit of the grave is ornamented with large pieces of rose or white quartz. The stone-work exhibits, in many instances, very good workmanship, and reflects great credit on the skill of the native masons. Some of these rude structures are stated to be twenty feet in width, and fifty feet long.

The large slabs used in forming the tombs, as described, are usually of granite or sienite. The natives have long known how to detach blocks of stone from the mountain mass by means of burning cow-dung on the part they wish to remove, and dashing cold water along the line on the stone they have heated. Having been thus treated, the stone easily separates in thick layers, and is forced up by means of levers. Mysterious “odies,” or charms, are employed in marking out the desired dimensions of the slab, and to their virtue is foolishly attributed the splitting of the stone, though they well know that all the “odies” in the island could not split a stone unless heat were applied. Yet this is a species of speculative masonry which appears to belong to the recondite art of stone-work. When the slab is detached, bands of straw are fastened round it, to prevent breakage in the removal. Strong ropes are attached to the slab, and, amidst the boisterous vociferations of the workmen, it is dragged away from the quarry. In ascending a hill, wooden rollers are placed under the stone, and moved forward as it advances.

Sometimes five or six hundred men are employed in dragging a single stone. A man usually stands on the stone, act-