Within this activity, I am going to be taking a closer look at death within Madagascar and answering the following question: are there any traditions for after a person passes in Madagascar?
After watching the lectures and reading the articles for this week, I was intrigued by the idea of death. I know in America, we have funerals or remembrances for individuals who have recently passed, but I wanted to know if there is anything that is similar to that in Madagascar. Referring back to the article by Susan Orpett Long, there is part in which Susan states that a good death, in the eyes of both the US and Japan, is one in which the person who is dying is surrounded by loved ones (Long 2004). In the artcile, Susan goes on to talk about how the idea of dying in a particular place, more specifically home, is different for many people (Long 2004). Most people who prefer to die in their house surrounded by family, but other prefer to die maybe in a hospital bed or a nursing home so they do not feel as if they are “burdening” their family (Long 2004). I think this article offers a good start to answering my intended question because as we have examined the article by Susan Orpett and seen how Japan and America view death and a few of their traditions, we can now get into Madagascar and how being with loved ones during and passed death is a big thing.
The second article I found besides the one by Susan Orpett, was an article by about the tradition of Famadihana in Madagascar. Many tribes, in this case, the Merina tribe of Madagascar, have the tradition of exhuming the remains of their loved ones that have either recently passed or have been dead for a while (Munnik 2017). During this tradition, a number of deceased individuals are removed from their burials and they are unwrapped and rewrapped in fresh silk shrouds (Munnik 2017). After the redressing of the deceased, the family gathers and dances with the corpses while it decomposes (Munnik 2017). When the sun sets, the bodies are placed back into the ground, upside down, and are left there for 5 to 7 years until the celebration happens again (Munnik 2017). According to the article, this ritual is nicknamed the “turning of the bones” because their belief is the dead do not move on to the next life until their bones are completely decomposed (Munnik 2017). “The process of Famidihana starts when an ancestral spirit appears to a senior family member. The ancestor appears in the dream and says that he is cold and needs new clothes. A traditional astrologer, known as an Ombiasy, consults the zodiac to determine the day to open and close the tomb. Guests and relatives travel for miles to attend the two-day celebration (Munnik 2017).”
The third article I came across talked about the same thing as the first, the “turning of the bones” ritual. That seems to be the only “funeral” like ceremony that takes place in Madagascar. This article from the “Ancient Origins” website offers a lot more detail into the ritual than the other article did. This article refers to the ritual more as a ceremonial festival and includes details like spraying the body with wine or perfume and even goes as far as to state this: “women who are having trouble conceiving will take fragments of an ancestor’s old shroud and place them under their mattresses (or even eat them) to induce pregnancy (Aprilholloway 2014).” The article talks about the ceremony as an act of love and a way for family gathering and remembrance (Aprilholloway 2014). Also mentioned in this article, is the fact that along with the dancing with the corpses, there is also a huge feast (Aprilholloway 2014). There is a lot of reminiscing with old stores of the deceased as well as asking for blessings for the family (Aprilholloway 2014). After the conclusion of the ceremony, as the body is placed upside down in the ground, gifts such as alcohol and money are laid to rest with the deceased (Aprilholloway 2014). With this concluding the ceremony, the people return to their homes and wait another 2-7 years for another ritual to happen (Aprilholloway 2014).
As I was reading and writing this blog, I thought about how this ritual is similar to those rituals performed in the US today during funeral services. Although Madagascar has their own tradition surrounding the celebration of the passing of loved ones, I think in many ways we can connect what they go through with what we do in America and we can appreciate the meanings of the traditions we have in our culture.