All around the world today, there are lots of customs, traditions, rituals and rites, to honor dead loved ones. While some are more bizzare than others, they all have one thing in common; Love. That’s right, all these customs are done out of love for the dead ones.
You might have heard of Mexico’s Soul of Dead, but, you probably haven’t heard of Famidihana_ The Malagasy dance of the dead.
Famidihana is funerary tradition peculiar to the Malagasy people of Madagascar. The term “Famidihana” means ‘turning of bones’. It is time for families to unite and celebrate their dead. During the ceremony, people bring out the corpses of their dead loved ones from tombs which usually belongs to the family. They then rewrap the corpses in fresh cloth, and rewrite their names on the cloth so they will always be remembered. Then they dance to live music while carrying the corpses over their heads and go around the tomb before returning the corpses to the family tomb.
To the Malagasy people of Madagascar, the Famidihana is a time to spend time with their loved ones. It brings together relatives from all over the country. The Malagasy celebrate this event so that new family members can meet their ancestors and memories can be shared and never forgotten. This practice started in the 1820’s after the repatriation of dead soldiers. It also gained a popularity boost when tombs started to be rebuilt in stone with the introduction of the kiln.
The Famidihana is highly respected and a family’s plan for the occasion usually begins a year before. Lots of expenses are also incurred by the celebrating family. Because of this, friends and well-wishers come with gifts of rice, and money. The money and rice are then shared within the family.
During the ceremony neighbours and locals from all around are invited to share the Famahanana meal of rice and pork or beef, also known as “varibemenaka”. After all the guests have finished eating, the hosting family prepares the guests to visit the tomb. Group of musicians playing drums, trumpets and sodinas (Malagasy flute) accompany the people as they go from the village to the tomb. Because the tradition is highly respected, people dress in their best attires.
In recent years, the practice of this ceremony has been declining. More and more Malagasies are starting to see the practice as archaic and outdated. Also, the high cost of the ceremony is another factor. Christian Malagasies too, are against the practice as it goes against their faith. The Catholic church, though, no longer objects to this practice as it sees it as purely cultural. The ceremony has also been thought to aid the spread of the pneumatic plague across the region. As the Famidihana continues to receive more and more criticism from the media, it becomes clearer that it will soon fade away.
What are your thoughts on the Famidihana? Please share in the comment section.