The “Famadihana” is one of the Malagasy customs which I love the most of all festivities. Each person has their own definition of the famadihana . Some say that it’s the turning of the bones of the dead (ancestors) and others say that it means to remove the remains of the dead body to another place. For me, Famadihana means the best moment when the entire family from far or near to gather together. Having the chance to know the other huge family members. This prevents the close family from marrying each other; in case they meet in another place or country. Sharing the latest news between the families. It’s also the remembrance of our dead loved ones that is buried inside of the cold family tombs.
I can say that I was very lucky to be able to have the chance to attend the Famadihana many times in my life. I’d like to share my personal experience. I went to my countryside in Ambatolampy; more precisley near Tsiafajavona Ankaratra. I was really excited about it. I didn’t notice the uncomfortable car ride and dusty road. This exhumation ceremony ” Famadihana” requires alot of preparation; and alot of money saving too.
First of all; the family needs to gather and decide on a special date to do the Famadihana. They need to see a “Mpanandro” or astrologer to choose the right date and prepare the ancestors about the exhumation. This is very important because if we don’t do this. Alot of things might go wrong. Usually, the Famadihana lasts about three days. There were so many activities that occurred those days. I remembered that they killed a huge” zebu”. It was a sad thing to see the animal die that way. After eating the ” vary be menaka” or fat rice. You totally forgotten what happened to it. We call it fat rice , because after pouring the fatty beef on top of the rice. It gives the rice an oily and fatty look. It’s delicious!!!! Nothing special mixed with it. I ate half a bucket; it was a great. How can I forget the wonderful performance of the “Mpihira gasy” which is a group of people who sing Malagasy traditional songs. It’s so different from the kind of music you hear in the city. They’re not only singing but in their songs are alot of ” Anatra” as us Malagasy people call it. By listening to them ; we can learn alot of wise teachings. I like also watching the “Mpihaingo” which are some young single girls; dressed in the countryside outfits; with the red blushes on their cheeks. Yes; a nice countryside fashion show. What really impresses me is little and young talented boy who dance in a very different way. When the spectators are satisfied they throw money or coins on the ground. By the end of the show the Mpihira gasy’s hats are filled with money.
As we know it’s the eldest or the head of the family and other members have to go and announce the family’s visit to the family tomb. Even if our ancestors are dead; we still believe that they can hear us. That’s why we can’t just go there and open up the tomb. There are some rituals that must be done. They go there very early in the morning; the Astrologer will call the ancestors’ attention , preparing them to make sure the corpse will be easily recognized for the shroud renewal. At the end of the speech , the visitors took some “Toaka gasy” which is a Malagasy made alcoholic beverage. They share it with the dead by pouring some on the tomb. The special moment came when all the close relatives of the dead or of all family members, sang and danced on their way to the tomb; not forgetting the national flag. When we finally arrived , they started to dig. As it was the exhumation of my grand father. I dared to enter the tomb. We had to crawl in a underground hole to get the corpse. I wasn’t terrified to be surrounded by corpses. Each dead was placed in a corner of his own shelf. Some of their shrouds were already torn. What I saw was decayed bodies and bones. It made me more curious to get a closer look. So this is how us human beings look like after death. What I couldn’t support was the atmosphere inside; which was very hot and suffocating. I couldn’t stay long. The men took out the corpses with the mat calling each one by their names. The close relatives carry the corpses around the tomb seven times at the rythm of a Malagasy folk song. So the women in the families; wrapped the corpses with the new shrouds. We can’t get rid of the old ones; because if we do the remains of the corpse will be everywhere. And that’s not easy to gather.
So before the sunset ; the astrologer makes a thanking note moves on a special ritual of locking the tomb.
Nowadays; as life seems more difficult. Only a few Malagasy people still do this exhumation ceremony. Some doesn’t do it because its against their religion. Whether we celebrate it or not, never forget that it’s our custom. Which makes us different from our countries. As Malagasy; I’m very proud to be able to have the chance and honor to celebrate this great festivity ” Famadihana”.