The Malagasy people of Madagascar have a rich mythology that mostly revolves around ancestor spirits. These spirits are usually kind and beneficial, but if they are ignored, they can become angatra, literally “ghosts of the dead.” One special kind of angatra is the kinoly, a ghoulish version of the ancestor ghosts who preys upon the living.
First, a bit about the angatra: the Malagasy people believe that ancestors who are not remembered and well tended will turn into angry ghosts. These angatra, however, aren’t quite the same as their western counterparts. They haunt only their own graves, and they cause pestilence and misfortune for those who have wronged them. To prevent an ancestor from becoming angatra (or kinoly), the Malagasy perform a ritual called famadihana where the body of an ancestor is disinterred every five to ten years and re-wrapped in lamba, homemade cloth.
The kinoly come from ancestors who are not cared for by the living. They look like real people and are the animated body of the ancestor. While they may look human, there are a few distinguishing characteristics. First, they have red, inhuman eyes. Second, they have razor sharp fingernails that are long and dagger-like. The kinoly use these long nails to disembowel the living.
Kinoly are also thieves. They steal rice from the living, though for what purpose is unknown since they do not eat. In fact, the stomach and intestines of a kinoly are fully decayed, preventing any sort of digestion. The reason for the theft, therefore, may be to simply deny such comforts to the living as they themselves are denied.
Kinoly are fairly unknown outside of Madagascar, though the Witch from the Left 4 Dead video game series (pictured to the left) is very similar to the traditional description of a kinoly. In the game, the witch usually is found sitting alone and weeping. If disturbed, she attacks with rabid determination and will not stop until killed.
Below is a description of the kinoly from The Antananarvio Annual and Madagascar Magazine, Volume 4, Issues 13-16, published 1889 (article circa 1817):
- Malagasy Mythology, Wikipedia
- NOVA: Secrets of the Crocodile Caves, PBS
- The Antananarvio Annual and Madagascar Magazine, Google Books