According to Malagasy belief, people are not made from mud, but from the bodies of the ancestors. Hence they hold their forefathers in high regard. They also believe that unless the bodies decompose completely, the dead do not leave permanently and are able to communicate with the living. So until they are gone forever, love and affection is showered on them through theFamadihana festival. Famadihana, also known as ‘turning of the bones’ is a festival celebrated every 2 to 7 years. The main motive behind the festival originated from the belief of the local people that the dead return to God and are again reborn. Dead people are highly respected in the local communities as they are considered to be directly related to God. It is interesting to note that the festival is not an ancient practice of Madagascar. Its origins cannot be traced beyond the seventeenth century.
The party begins even before the exhumation, with the attendees (“mourners” does not seem to be the right word) gathering to drink and dance to a live band that will continue to play for almost the entire ritual. Music is a very important part of the ceremony. The jaunty sound of the mainly brass instruments has been described by one observer as “distinctly reminiscent of the ragtime music that was the precursor to jazz in New Orleans.”
During the dry bones festival, the corpses are removed from the tombs and re-wrapped in new shrouds, to prevent the deceased from feeling cold in their resting place. This kind of re-dressing takes place after dreams of the departed are recounted by some of the members of the family and thanks given for the blessings they have bestowed from the spirit world.
The burial tomb is constructed with much care and it is considered to act as the link between the dead and the living. The relatives of the dead dress themselves well and go to the tomb to see the remains of the deceased. Relatives, friends and other near and dear ones are invited to the event.
Before the re-dressed bones are put back to their respective burial places, they are carried several times around the tomb. This is to make the souls of the departed familiar with their eternal residence, otherwise there are beliefs they may roam and terrorize the villagers afterwards.
The festival also consists of animal sacrifices and various traditional forms of celebration. The meat of the slain animal is distributed among the relatives and the friends. There are traditional song and dance performances which are performed by the family members or from the favorites of the razana (the dead).
This post sponsored by:
Dr Mobiles Limited
1 Huron Street, Takapuna, North Shore 0622
Tel: (09) 551-5344 and Mob: (021) 264-0000