Famadiana – [Fah-mah-dee-aah-nah] – the turning of the bones. A cultural practice unique to Madagascar, particularly the highlands, usually observed every five or seven years which involves returning to the burial tomb to exhume the bones of the deceased, change their wrappings, dance them around to music as if reanimating them to life and then placing them back in the tomb for another period of time. This is a large family celebration which usually involves lots of loud music, laughter, crying, and much alcohol consumption. Even the dead partake in the alcohol as it is poured “into” their mouths as though they are joining the festivities with the living. At the root of the practice is the idea that the “razana” (ancestors) continue to live on in spirit and must continue to be cared for and remembered even as they have passed from the physical world.
Some of the people groups in Madagascar practice famadiana. The Tanala of the rainforest do not. To go into the burial tomb in the wet, humid rainforest to reclaim a body after seven years is not wise. The bones of the ancestors are still very important to the Tanala so a suitable burial site is chosen in each village or by each family group. This is an introduction to a series that will give a window into the Tanala’s worldview regarding matters of life, death, the grave, and life after the grave.