Madagascar: The Famadihana, a ceremony for turning over the dead

Famadihana, cérémonie de retournement des morts, Madagascar

In Madagascar, a ceremony dedicated to the dead is performed. It’s called the « Famadihana » or turning of the dead.

Malagasy cultures and customs are very diverse. From north to south and from east to west of Madagascar, this vast country of 587,000 km², one encounters traditional rites inspired by those of European or African countries. In some cases, local folklores are similar to those of Indo-Pakistan and Asia. Such is the case of « famadihana », or the ceremony of turning over the dead.

Famadihana: a festive ceremony dedicated to ancestral worship

In Madagascar, ancestors and especially the deceased are sacred. They play an important role in everyday life. Although the majority of Malagasy claim to be Christians, most still pray to the dead. They venerate them to bless them and protect them from curses and evil spells. For every project they undertake, they devote a few minutes of prayer to invoking the souls of those who have gone to the afterlife.

Famadihana, cérémonie de retournement des morts, Madagascar

Photo credit: Flickr – Hery Zo Rakotondramanana

Today, the majority of Malagasy still practice the « famadihana », or ceremony of turning over the dead, which is a traditional practice of renewing the shrouds of the dead to keep them warm. The « famadihana » usually takes place in winter, and is renewed every 3, 5, 7 or 10 years, depending on long-standing agreements between grave owners or local customs.

Famadihana: a reflection of Malagasy fihavanana

In Madagascar, « Famadihana » means « festive ceremony », involving singing, dancing and enormous expenditure on abundant food(vary be menaka), the hire of a troupe of musicians, the copious use of alcoholic beverages, the purchase of new shrouds for the dead, not to mention beautiful new clothes for the living. The latter sometimes wear similar costumes during ceremonies.

Famadihana, cérémonie de retournement des morts, Madagascar

Photo credit: Flickr – Hery Zo Rakotondramanana

During famadihana, festivities can last two or three days, or even a whole week. The entire village population is invited to attend. The presence of all the descendants of those who occupy the tomb, the object of the famadihana, is almost obligatory, and the assistance of friends and acquaintances of the organizers is strongly solicited.

At the end of the Famadihana, the organizers are overwhelmed by the task they have accomplished for their ancestors. The guests are delighted to have had a wonderful time, with joy and merriment. In short, young and old alike are happy and can’t stop talking about this event, which brings people together and reflects the Malagasy people’s attachment to Fihavanana.

Famadihana, cérémonie de retournement des morts, Madagascar

Photo credit: Flickr – Hery Zo Rakotondramanana

Main photo credit: Flickr – Hery Zo Rakotondramanana