Famadihana: Festival of the Dead

It is a traditional custom in Bangladeshi society for the whole family to get together for Eid, Puja or any other occasion. Currently, the number of joint families has decreased due to professional and other reasons and people have left the villages and moved to the cities. In the past, in agrarian rural society, everyone lived together in adjoining joint families, so there was no need to come together for any separate occasion. We see people in the city go back to the village, meet relatives, gossip with the whole family, with different festivals in front of them. Not only in Bangladesh, but in all parts of the world, people who are away from their roots go back to their families whenever they get a chance, because it is not possible for people to ignore the roots. In an African country, at certain times of the year, the ‘Family Get-Together’ is joined by the living and the dead.

Madagascar is a country in Africa. The whole country is geographically an island and ranks fourth on the list of the largest islands in the world. The local name of a strange festival in this country is ‘Famadihana’. It is a festival where the corpses of dead family members are exhumed from the ground at certain times of the year, followed by dancing and singing throughout the area.

Almost all the members of a family are gathered during this festival, and in most cases, the total number of members of a family exceeds two hundred. It is very expensive to feed more than two hundred people for a week. So before the festival, a family prepares for about a year. Perhaps the strangest of the folk-centered folklore in Africa is the ‘Famadihana’ in Madagascar.

The issue of burying people in Madagascar is also quite strange. Most people on the island dig two graves for their families. One grave contains the corpses of only female members of the family, the other contains the corpses of male members. Men are never laid to rest in women’s graves, just as men are never laid to rest in men’s graves. However, this rule has been relaxed only in the case of husband and wife. Every family spends huge sums of money behind the grave. So much so that the graves of people who have passed away tend to be more expensive and lavish than their homes. Because in Madagascar it is assumed that the more magnificent and expensive the tomb attached to the house, the higher its social status and economic potential.

The Famadihana festival is usually held between July and September. At this time it is winter on the island of Madagascar. Time is taken by a local astronomer. There is a risk of rain in the rainy season and it is very difficult to dance and sing with the dead body on the shoulders in the hot summer weather – that is why winter has been chosen.

The bodies of the deceased family members were exhumed from the graves during the festival. After the skeleton is lifted, it is wrapped in a new white cloth and placed on a mat. Family members usually hold different ends of that mat. Matte and white cloths – both are perfumed and when smeared they are considered ‘sacred’. When the corpse is entered into the grave to be exhumed, everyone has a candle in their hand. When the dance-song episode begins after the corpse is lifted, those who hold the different ends of the corpse mat are quite careful so that the skeleton wrapped in white cloth does not fall to the ground in any way.

Residents of the island of Madagascar believe that if a family member is buried somewhere far from home, it will bring misfortune to every member of the family. It is further believed that if the corpse of the deceased is not treated well during the Famadihana festival, the next generation will face much greater danger. Famadihana is seen as an occasion when dead family members can reunite with the living. In our subcontinent, there is a lot of mourning associated with the corpse of a dead person, when a person is buried in a grave or cremated in a cheetah, the environment becomes emotional, the relatives of the deceased break down in tears remembering various memories of the past. The opposite happened in Madagascar. When the bodies of dead family members are exhumed from the grave, everyone laughs. Death is not a matter of mourning there.

As mentioned earlier, this festival is quite expensive. All members of the lineage of the dead are called and often the number exceeds two hundred. Famadihana lasts from two to seven days. The one who organizes prepares in advance so that he does not have to face any unforeseen situation after calling his relatives. Neighbors, excluding relatives, also participate in the festival and give some money as a gift to the host family as a courtesy. Lots of alcohol is consumed during this festival. Even those who go to the graves carry a bottle of African Ram. Those who dance with the corpse on their shoulders also drink alcohol as they please. The mat on which the corpse was carried before being laid to rest again was touched by all who attended the festival. Eventually the host family left Matt in their home in the belief that it would bring good luck to the family.

During this festival, the head of the family also sacrifices animals. In addition to entertaining guests with dedicated animal meat, the excess meat is distributed among the local poor. History has shown that this practice has been around since the eighteenth century, but the exact time is nowhere to be found. The practice is thought to have originated from the second burial of soldiers killed after a battle. When Christian missionaries arrived during the colonial rule, they opposed the practice, but the local people never shied away from it.

In African countries, there are strange customs about corpses, which can be seen in history. Let’s take the case of Pharaoh, the founder of the famous Egyptian pyramids. In order to avoid any trouble in the hereafter, mummies of maids and pets were made and left with Pharaoh’s mummies, along with a large number of other valuables. But the Famadihana festival on the island of Madagascar has surpassed everything else. When family members are included in the reunion, it is not surprising that the deceased members are also included. Despite the extra costs and opposition from Catholic missions, the practice has continued year after year, relying solely on human faith.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *