Where: – Hauts Plateaux (Highlands), Madagascar.
The island country of Madagascar is world renowned for its unique wildlife & staggering biodiversity. This country fosters its uniqueness in following various surprising rituals & festivals as well. ‘Famadihana’ is one of such strange funerary tradition of the local Malagasy people in Madagascar which is celebrated in the memories of their ancestors. The ritual is also known as ‘Turning of the Bones’ wherein people exhume the remains of their forefathers from the crypts, drape them in new silk shroud & dance with them on live music to celebrate the reunion!
Why They Celebrate Famadihana:-
The ritual of Famadihana appears to be recent as its origin cannot be traced beyond the seventeenth century. However, apparently, it has a loose connection with the ‘Double Funeral Custom’ from ‘Southeast Asia’ which was practiced during pre-modern era.
Malagasies believe that people are not made up of the earth, but from the bodies of the forefathers. They also think that the deceased do not join the afterlife immediately & can communicate with their living relatives. They leave the mortal world only when their bodies decompose completely. Till then, living family members celebrate a day with the remains of the deceased & bestow them with the love, affection & the feeling of gratitude by the means of ‘Famadihana’.
How They Celebrate Famadihana:-
‘Famadihana’ which is celebrated once in seven years, begins with the great gathering of extended families in celebration of fraternity. All the attendees get together at the kin’s crypt & exhume the corpses. The family then cautiously re-wraps the corpses in the new silk cloths called ‘lambs & sprinkles them with the perfume. All the kin, then sits in the meditation with the bodies on their laps & with the feeling of gratitude & love. Later on, all the attendees are offered with delicious meals & alcohol. The elders explain the younger the importance of the dead to whom they are paying the homage. The interested relatives then line up for a photograph with their ancestors, which are kept neatly on the ground.
Women facing the problems in conceiving take a fringe of the old shroud & slip it beneath their mattresses. The party then begins & everyone gets indulged in a dance with the corpses around the tomb. The ancestors are then buried back in their resting places & are offered with the money, alcohol & photographs of their kin.
The custom is practiced once in seven years & it involves hefty expenses as the celebratory family has to offer lavish meals to all the attendants & new clothes to all the living as well as dead family members. For poor families who do not have family tombs, have to build one by saving some money from their earnings & then have to celebrate the festival to praise the ancestors.
Few of the modern Malagasies however, have fewer conflicts with their elders regarding the celebration & the huge expenses associated with it. Despite of that, all of them do enjoy the few moments that they get to spend with their loved once that are now resting in peace. Tears roll down over their cheeks as they disinter the corpses & all of them get involved in reviving & sharing the fond memories of the departed kin.
To the rest of the world, the ritual may seem to be a bizarre, but still, it is Madagascar’s own unique way to show the respect towards their forefathers & to get reunited with the whole family members from across the country, from across the world!