Amulet (Mohara Ody)

Date: 20th century

Geography: Madagascar, Menabe region, Tsiribihina River region

Culture: Sakalava peoples

Medium: Horn (buffalo), wood, glass, beads, fiber

Dimensions: H. 5 1/2 x W. 1 1/2 in. (14 x 3.8 cm)

Classification: Bone/Ivory-Containers

Credit Line: Gift of Marcia and Irwin Hersey, 1995

Accession Number: 1995.549


Sakalava peoples of southwestern Madagascar may ensure their health and safety by wearing a broad assortment of amulets called ody. Ody are prescribed and manufactured by ombiasy, a class of astrologers, diviners, and healers who employ their esoteric knowledge of the natural and spirit worlds to counteract the dangers that threaten their clients. Composed of potent materials collected from field, forest, and village, such ody serve as a form of defense against malevolent forces.

Ody created from the horns of zebu cattle, the distinctive crescent-horned and humpbacked cattle that form the basis for wealth and prestige in lowland Madagascar, were created to protect cattle thieves. Cattle thievery was highly ritualized in traditional Sakalava society, and was considered a test of masculine skill and bravery that signaled a youth's readiness for marriage. Called mohara, these ody intervened on their owners' behalf by rendering them invisible or by putting the zebus' owners to sleep. As in this example, the tip of the horn serves as a receptacle for powerful substances. The horn is sealed with a wooden stopper carved in the form of a human head and decorated with imported glass beads. Cotton thread, which in Sakalava belief has curative and protective powers, is wrapped in complex decorative patterns around the base of the horn. Hung at the neck or waist, this amulet was undoubtedly a source of protection for the young man who wore it.