Wednesday, July 27, 2011

✈Worldwide Wednesdays: Burial Rituals - Famadihana Ceremony in Madagascar

Where shall we travel to today?....

Famadihana, MADAGASCAR
When you go to a foreign place, sightseeing is sometimes not enough if you want to learn about the place’s culture, or how the people there live. Visiting during a festival or a celebration of any kind can bring out the best in any destination. You’ll still be able to visit sights, but you’ll also have the backup option of participating to an important event in the lives of the inhabitants, and learning about their customs and traditions. And if you’re in Madagascar, you might want to take a peek to how Famadihana, one of the biggest festivals in the country, is celebrated.

About the ceremony
For the Western mind of the traveler, Famadihana might seem like a downright gruesome event. Famadihana is also known as the turning of the bones, literally. The dead are taken out of the family crypts, wrapped in new shrouds, while people dance and listen to music. These repeated ceremonies are the designed to help the spirit of the dead join the spirits of the ancestors in the otherworld, and the entire extended family of the deceased gathers from all over the country in order to help their kin. Famadihana is not an old festival in historical terms, and it dates back to around the 17th century (supposedly it evolved from other local funerary customs), but it is one of the most popular festivals in Madagascar. Despite the fact that it is a festival of the dead, Famadihana is often anything but sad. The relatives of the deceased sing the favourite songs of the deceased, they dance and they feast. Although Famadihana occurs every 2 to 7 years only, Malagasy people save funds for year in order to afford a proper Famadihana for their dead loved ones.

Preparations and celebration

One of the key elements in the festival is the silk shroud in which the corpse was buried. During Famadihana, the shroud must be changed, and it is customary that it is made of silk (which is why some Malagasy need to save up for quite a while in order to afford it). When a person dies, the relatives and the friends of the grieving family offer money in order to help buy the lambamena, and wealthy relations might even offer it as a gift. The deceased is wrapped in all the shrouds he/she receives, and the number is an indicator of their popularity during their lifetimes.
First the casket is dug out of the ground...
This is four years after the woman's death.
Pic by glowingz
When the festival begins, the dead are taken out of their tombs, and laid out in tents so that the family can start celebrating. The festivities can take up to days, and all the relatives who are not busy partying and dancing, help out with cooking for the guests. The tent of a family can fill with hundreds of people: neighbors, friends, relatives. The celebration is lively and jolly until the moment of the shroud change, when the deceased has to be laid back to their resting place.

This is a temporary grave for the years between the death of family
and famadihana (exhumation). Accessible caves are chosen and
noted that the site belongs to a family near the entrance,
leaving an empty coffin, as the image.
Pic by copepodo

During the dry winter months (June to September), famadihana ceremonies take place among Madagascar's Merino and Betsileo people.

Pic by copepodo

Pic by bass_nroll
Pic by chronowizard
Pic by chronowizard

During the ceremony, mountains of rice and meat are washed down with countless litres of spirits. Musicians play and sing relentlessly, their piercing bamboo pipes and mesmerising drumbeats summoning any spirits who may be out wandering, so they don't miss the celebrations arranged in their honour. Guests will chat and sing to the corpses, informing them of all the latest happenings in the family and village, touching them and even dancing with them. Overwhelming feelings of togetherness and love are not uncommon, dissolving boundaries between the living and the dead.

Pic by chronowizard

Pic by chronowizard

Pic by chronowizard

Pic by chronowizard

This is a "final" tomb where they are placed and to honor the bodies
of relatives after famadihana. Inaccessible caves are chosen to be
higher and closer to the sky and mediate more easily with the living.
Pic by copepodo

Pic by copepodo

Pic by copepodo

The practice of Famadihana is on the decline due to the expense of silk shrouds and opposition from some Christian organizations. Evangelical Protestants discourage the custom, although the Catholic Church no longer objects because it regards Famadihana as purely cultural rather than religious. As one Malagasy man explained to the BBC, It's important because it's our way of respecting the dead. It is also a chance for the whole family, from across the country, to come together.


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