Riccardo Bononi

Technical details

Une belle vie, une belle mort – Riccardo Bononi
Foreword by: Prof. Ines Testoni – Director of Master Death Studies & End of Life | University of Padova

Graphic Design by: Andrea Cavinato, Marco Lumini
Editor: Irfoss A. p.s. 500 certified copies
Printed by: Grafiche Antiga s.p.a.
ISBN: 978-88-943290-0-1

Pages: 120 (70 foto, 23 grafiche, 33 testo)
Size: 30,00 x 22,50 cm (carta Magno Silk Plus, hardcover e sovracoperta)
Price: €30,00 (+ shipping €5)

Riccardo Bononi

Could you imagine a world where the very idea of the death doesn’t exist? Where people are not scared of the dead and the obsessive taboo related to human caducity doesn’t affect anybody?

The British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer came to conclusion that death has become “pornographic” to us westerners, an obscene content from which children must be kept safe. The fear of the death has been seen as an universal feature across both time and space: “Men fear death”, and that has always been considered a fact. But this is not the case of Madagascar, where the worship of the ancestors is the national cult.

As an award winning photographer, Ricardo Bononi uses the visual languages to tell a story about a world opposite to ours, where the living and the dead share discussions, experiences and domestic spaces, children play sorroundend by the corpses and death is not antithetical to life.

As an anthropologist, for ten years he has been living close to Malagasy people, in their houses and in their tombs, merging with their customs, languages and peculiar traditions. He tried to share everyday life with them, as well as their everyday death.

#1 Madagascar's Posthumous Life

The British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer said that death has become *pornographic to the westerners, an obscene content from which children must be kept safe. The fear of the death has been seen as an universal feature across both time and space: “Men fear death*, and that has always been considered a fact. But this is not the case of Madagascar, where the worship of the ancestors is the national cult.

The most outstanding cultural feature all across Madagascar is the unique relationship that connect malagasy people to the death: they consider it as a simple step of the human development, conceptually not different from the transit between the childhood and the adult life. Beine dest doesn’t mean to have come to an end. Dead bodies, as well as newborns, can’t talk, can’t walk nor eat by themselves, but that doesn’t mean that corpses can’t feel regular needs: they can still get bored, hungry, happy or lonely.

This peculiar belief is in Madagascar far more from being just symbolic: every 3-5 years malagasy families gather around the tombs to celebrate a ritual called famadihana”. In that occasion they exhume the ancestors and with them they dance all night and day, drink hommade rhum, sacrifice cattle and talk to them about the latest updates from the village.

Going along with the rythm of a frantic and rhapsodic music, the ritual tries to channel all the chaos of life in just few hours, so that the memory could be enough for the dead at least till the next famadihana.

# 2 The Graveyard Generation

Anjanahary Cemetery is one of the only and by far the biggest graveyard in Madagascar. Classified by the government as a Red Code Area for what concerns security, it is considered to be one of the most dangerous place in Antananativo, whose intricate maze of graves and crypts became a fect sanctuary for fugitives, thieves, fences, drug dealers and drugs addicted trying to elude the police. A local guide publicly warned: “Don’t go here expecially when it gets dark, not because of ghosts or some weird things, but because there are bad guys living there, thiefs and other malicious people waiting for preys and smoking crack.

What the government isn’t saying is that the graveyard is populated mostly by children: after the coup d’état in 2009 a rising number of children happened to be orphaned or abandoned, ending up to live in the streets or wherever they managed to find a roof for free. Anjanahary cemetery became a place where rejected children could find a home, living together as a family, a complex society with its own rules and laws.

Since Malagasy jelously keep their ancestors close to their everyday life and don’t build monumental graveyards, Anjanahary cemetery represents an anomaly according to their beliefs: having been built by French colonizers and chinese emigrants workers, the graveyard is considered foreign territory, a place where white dead are abandoned to the cold loneliness of the earth.

Won’t be surprising then that the Graveyard Generation, susteined by petty thefts, turned this silent place into their own playground, playing all day long and eating among the graves, resting on the big grass field sourrounding the mass grave for the infectious deceased.

# 3 The Red Island and the Black Death

Considered by the westerners as a mere past chapter of their History, Plague is an ancient flea-borne disease with a case fatality rate of 50-60% if left untreated. Nowadays, plague still represents a public health concern in affected countries in Africa, Asia and Americas.

Despite the surveillance and the prevention measurements implemented, according to WHO over the past 4 years the number of cases in Madagascar has steadily increased, making it the country most severely affected by plague worldwide. Regular outbreaks have been recorded every year since 1983.

Plague is considered one of most dangerous “neglected tropical deseases”, whose term refers to a group of infectious deseases that affect more than a billion people, living in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with animals and others infectious vectors.

The explanation for the persistency of plague in Madagascar has to be found besides the biological factors only: socio-economical causes and cultural beliefs appear to be key determinants. Plague is considered to be the “disease of the poor”, affecting those living in poorer, insalubrious, underserved, peripheric areas. This is related to the deep-rooted social stigma associated to the disease, to the patients and to their families. Even cultural practices have a strong impact on the incidence of plague in Madagascar: the preference for traditional medicine in remote villages can cause delays in the beginning of an effective antibiotic treatment, while funeral ceremonies and ritual corpse exhumations (famadihana) also might favor the spread of plague.

The shame is causing people to hide and deny the disease, escape from quarantine areas and illegally unearth the bodies from the mass grave.

# 4 The City of Flies

Antananarivo, capital of Madagascar, is home to one of the largest dumpsites of the African continent, operative since the ’60s. The dumpsite, which now covers over 45 acres and is still expanding, receives between 350 and 550 tons of new waste each day. Fire burns endlessly in the midst of the hills of garbage, which can reach up to 15 meters in height, and the unnatural landscape is constantly imbued with a toxic fog.

Around 3000 people currently live and work here, collecting plastic (sold for 0,05 $/Kg) and metals (0,50 $/Kg). Many of them came to Antananarivo hoping to find better living conditions and fortune, now they live in one of the place on Earth with more unreported cases of pneumonic plague, the most infective type of the so called Black Death. The core of the dumpsite is scattered with small tombs, marking the bodies of fetuses and unwanted newborns. The ones who managed to survive, live permanently in the dumpsite as a community of orphaned children. Residents of the capital commonly refer to this place as “Ralalitra: the City of Flies.

I first came to the dumpsite following the trail of unrecorded cases of bubonic and pneumonic plague in the capital. Since then, I’ve spent several days in that place, trying to understand the intimate nature of the phenomenon from an insider’s perspective. During this time span, despite the warm welcome of the dumpsite’s dwellers, I was severely threatened by the private company responsible for the waste disposal in the capital on behalf of the government, which had political and economic convenience in keeping what happens inside the dumpsite a secret. Nowadays they keep deny the presence and the very existence of a “dumpsite folk”.

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