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Famadihana: Dancing With The Dead

It is a great example of how Malagasy people value relationships, happiness, music, and dance

By- Khushi Bisht

Dancing can be a lot of fun. It makes you feel good and lively because it relieves stress. But, if you’re invited to dance with the dead, will it still be the same? Welcome to Madagascar, one of the world’s most diverse countries with a culturally rich history and traditions. Some ethnic groups in Madagascar’s deep highlands practice Famadihana, a long-standing and holy ritual that involves unearthing the dead. This practice has become recognized as “Dancing With the Dead” or “Turning of the Bones” in the world today.

This strange and bizarre ritual is actually a wonderful, one-of-a-kind, and sincere form of ancestor reverence. This ritual is held every seven years after the relative’s demise. A number of deceased family members are exhumed from ancestral tombs in this holy ritual. The organizing family spends a lot of money on the tomb and the festive occasion because after all it is considered as a big day after a wedding or a funeral.

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Dead
In the local cultures, dead people are worshipped because they are believed to be connected to God. Wikimedia Commons

The Malagasy have a strong belief system in the ancestors’ strength. Only those who receive a proper burial are considered ancestors or God in Malagasy belief. They feel that their ancestors act as mediators between both the alive and God, and thus have the authority to influence earthly events. Death will usher them into a second life, one that is akin to living life, only after the bones have rotted away. The deceased, on the other hand, do not simply move on to the next life and instead remain in the realm of the living until their bodies have fully decayed.

This ceremony also serves as a chance for estranged members of the family to reconnect. Guests and relatives travel long distances to witness the two-day celebration, usually bringing a monetary or alcoholic donation. A significant amount of alcohol is consumed in a special ceremony with a lot of dance and music. People express their gratitude to the ancestors by sharing meals rich in oil with each other, forming bonds with the ancestors as well as family members and friends.

The design of tombs, more than any other noticeable feature, distinguishes the various tribes and also shows the fortune and stature of the associates. People pay more for the crypts than for their homes because it is a symbol of their recognition.

Dead
A Tomb. Wikimedia Commons

The bodies are taken out from the tomb, and the old cloaks are replaced with new silk clothing. Before the celebrations begin, families have moments of remembrance and reflection with the dearly departed, including dancing with the dead bodies on their way back into the tomb. Presents of money and liquor are buried with the corpses. The deceased’s obligation does not end just because they’ve now become an ancestor. Ancestors have duties, such as blessing and protecting the living, guiding them in the right direction in subsequent traditions, or redirecting them if they stray from the path.

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Famadihana is a special moment, and mourning is not permitted. It is a great example of how Malagasy people value relationships, happiness, music, and dance. During Famadihana, Malagasy have a sense of happiness because their family problems are forgotten, and they also have a sense of trust that they will have a brighter future since God and their ancestors are there to bless and direct them in everything they do.

It’s a way of paying gratitude and respect to and remembering the loved one, the sources of life for the descendants. The more you discover about Famadihana, the clearer it becomes. This day of death is about existence, trust, and the affection for living that lurks deep in it. The thoughts and emotions that are involved in this ritual are what really matter.

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