Aye-aye folklore (W18)

Photo courtesy of David Haring via Nate Dominy.


Our project focuses on folklore surrounding aye-ayes, a type of lemur located in Madagascar. This species possesses several unusual anatomies, including a long, skeletal middle finger, and large eyes. These unique traits endear the animal to scholars, whereas, according to academics, they inspire fear and disgust in the local Malagasy people.

Aye-ayes, at their core, are anomalies. They break the rules of what primates should look and act like. Depending on one’s perspective, this can incite either fear or fascination. As we discussed in class, folklorists generally list seven ways of dealing with anomalies:

  1. Settle for an interpretation
  2. Physically control it
  3. Avoid it
  4. Label it as dangerous
  5. Use it in a ritual
  6. Laugh at it
  7. Fear it

This project explores the intersection of these strategies and the impact of perspective on one’s reaction. Generally, scholars’ reactions can be summarized as interpreting the anomalies and appropriating them into their rituals — otherwise known as research (for what is the scientific method but a universalized ritual?). Contrastingly, scholars claim that native people’s reactions focalize on physically controlling, avoiding, fearing, and labeling the aye-ayes as dangerous.

We approach our project through two lenses: First, we examine scholars’ aye-aye folklore and their relationship with the animal. Second, we compare this to the Malagasy people’s aye-aye folklore, as told to us by scholars. In a sense, none of our “Malagasy” folklore is truly Malagasy; it is filtered through the scholars’ perspective because it is very difficult to obtain this folklore from Malagasy people due to the aye-aye’s taboo status in Malagasy culture. Thus it becomes a folklore of the Malagasy people’s relationship with aye-ayes as represented by the academic community, rather than aye-aye folklore from the perspective of the Malagasy people. This is worth reiterating: the Malagasy perspective is in no way represented as a first hand perspective. We did not collect folklore from this folk group. We collected stories from scholars, focusing on how the academic community views aye-ayes, and how the scholars perceive the Malagasy people’s interactions with aye-ayes. Many of the items presented on this website include stories of the Malagasy people’s relationships with this unusual primate.

Background Knowledge:


Informant Profiles:



Collectors’ Names:

  • Keira Byno ’19
  • Savannah Liu ’18
  • Annie Medina ’18


Aye-ayes, lemurs, Madagascar, superstition, legend, spirit, curse, taboo, ritual, Malagasy, scholars

The aye-aye folklore post can be found here.