Last night I had an interesting conversation with a good friend who was for a time a missionary in Madagascar. We got to talking about sacred stones, and he told me about the "ancestor stones" of the tribal community in which he spent ten years. He also described the "domain of the dead" which was inhabited by the spirits of the ancestors who were left there, not cremated but slowly rotting away. He described how the ancestors were occasionally carried back to the village from the "domain of the dead" and given food to sustain them. Then they were taken back to the domain again, by a complicated and tortuous route designed to make them lose their sense of direction. This was so that they would remain in their domain and not be tempted to come back to the village -- thus allowing the living to get on with their lives. Each family had standing stones in or near the village which were greatly revered, since they "held" the spirits of the ancestors.
Clearly it is incredibly difficult to transpose or import a belief system from Madagascar into a UK-based neolithic community, but this appears to be what Mike Parker Pearson has done, in conjunction with Ramilisonina. Over the last couple of years this theory has been expounded in a number of articles, and on the telly -- but not by any means to universal acclaim. As many others have pointed out, the traditions and beliefs of the Madagascar tribes are not actually more than a few centuries old, and to claim that there is some sort of universality to the belief system involving "ancestor stones" would be a grave mistake. Most of the tribal groups of the world do NOT have this belief. It seems to me that MPP has invented the Stonehenge "domain of the dead" as an explanation for what he has found (or imagined) at Bluestonehenge, and as a counterbalance he has then imagined that there must have been another area (around Woodhenge) which must have been the domain of the living.
An anthropological leap too far? Is MPP looking for a reason to label the bluestones as sacred or special, and then by extension to justify the imagined stone-collecting expeditions to West Wales? I think so.
There is also a problem over designating the burial area as "the domain of the dead" -- maybe that is to put a "western" construction on it. My friend told me last night that the belief in his village was that the ancestors simply passed on, and were really still alive but in a different world of their own. So they were still present, and could be communicated with. So you had to revere and respect the ancestor stones -- to do otherwise might well bring bad things down upon your family. In that village they did not practice cremation, since maybe they felt that that would somehow destroy the spirits of the ancestors. It all goes to show how hard it is for us to see inside the heads and the hearts of people living in totally different traditions and in other lands.
Anyway, for what it is worth, here is an interview I came across with Ramilisonina.
This is from the Archaeological Institute of America web site: