• Melissa Kartini

Famadihana: The Dance with the Dead

Updated: Jun 22, 2018


The world is a big, big place filled with all sorts of people and their own respective traditions and culture. But thanks to globalisation and the internet, we’re becoming more aware of practices that are different from our own.


There is only so much information that we can take in, though, so it is only natural for some tidbits to fall through the cracks.


For example, have you ever heard of Famadihana? Believe it or not, it is a cultural funerary tradition that literally involves dancing with the dead.


Intrigued? I’ll elaborate

In Madagascar, the Malagasy people have a ceremonial tradition called “Famadihana”, which is known as “the turning of the bones”.


These ceremonies are held once every two to seven years, where each family holds a huge celebration at their ancestral crypt. During the celebration, the remains of their ancestors are carefully exhumed, wrapped in fine silk, sprayed with perfume or wine, then carried out to join festivities with the living.


Despite the entirely unique element it surrounds, the festivities during Famadihana are much like any other in the world. A grand party is held with lively music, dancing and a huge feast for the villagers. Truly a period of merriment indeed. Come the time for family members to dance with the deceased, some take this as a chance to share family news with the deceased or to ask for their blessings; some reminisce the days when the dead was alive, and then tell stories about them.


While the practice may appear macabre to those who are unfamiliar with it, the concept that rests behind Famadihana is one that is filled with warmth and love. Because the Malagasy people have built a way of life in which death is celebrated rather than mourned for, Famadihana is seen as a family reunion.


It is more than a family reunion, though. It is also a way to shower affection on the deceased whilst allowing them to experience the joys of living once more.


That said…

Although the deceased are highly revered in Malagasy culture, to the point that the living would not dream to spend more on themselves than they would their ancestral crypt, Famadihana is on the decline.


This is due to the expense of the celebrations, opposition from some Christian organisations and most recently, fears that it helped spread an outbreak of pneumonic plague. From their viewpoint where ancestors must always be honoured, some of the locals have dismissed advice from health professionals to stop carrying out Famadihana, and carried on with the ritual regardless.


This brings us to the end of this piece about Famadihana. Do you know any unique traditions around the world? Share them in the Comments section below!


Written by Crunch's Melissa Kartini

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