Every two to seven years, families of the Malagasy people of Madagascar gather for famadihana ceremonies to honour their deceased loved ones. Known as “turning of the bones,” these ceremonies, which take place at the family crypt, are cause for joyous celebration. The remains of the loved ones are brought out from the crypt, sprayed with perfume and wine, and wrapped in silk. This vital part of their culture is how the Malagasy people maintain connection with the deceased.
Famadihana is a huge two day festival in which the entire extended family travels in from far and wide to attend. Once everyone is in attendance, the tomb is opened and the remains of loved ones are carefully removed and laid upon straw mats. The bodies, or more often referred to as, the remains, are cleaned and their decaying burial clothes replaced with new, fine silk gowns. It is believed that keepings bits of the burial garments can help women who are trying to conceive.
Following the cleaning and dressing, a festival is held with dancing, music, and a large feast for the village. Living relatives of the deceased may even dance with the remains, talk to them to share family gossip, and ask for their blessings. The party is meant to honour the dead through celebrating their life, and taking time to share stories and remember the deceased.
At sunset of the second day, the remains undergo another ritual cleansing and are re-buried in the family crypt with gifts before the tomb is closed once more. The entire turning of the bones ceremony is a communal act of expressing love and respect for family ancestors, ensuring that the dead are never truly forgotten.
Today the practice of Famadihana is on the decline in Madagascar. In this more modern era, the festivities are viewed as being too expensive an affair with too many lavish adornments such as food for an entire village or brand new silk garments for the dead, though many families still have small, private ceremonies. The Malagasy believe that the tombs which house the deceased should be more costly and lavish than any house for the living, and hence large amounts of the Malagasy family budget is spent keeping the dead happy. Additionally, the introduction of Christianity to the island of Madagascar has discouraged the ceremony over time.