Friday, 7 August 2015


I arranged to attend a famadihana in Madagascar. We had it all set up and then I became violently ill from a stomach complaint. I'm blaming it on a strawberry but who knows. So we cancelled out.

We weren't really sure if it was appropriate anyway. Would I have appreciated total strangers from another country attending my mother's funeral just to observe Canadian customs? Yet I had read it was something one should do if possible. The turning of the bones. A time of great celebration in this unusual country, where certain tribes visit the family tomb every 7-10 years during the winter months and retrieve the bones of the ancestors. They take the bones back to the village amid great rejoicing. They talk to the ancestors and share their news. The tell stories to the dead. There is music and feasting and drinking that goes on for days. Then the bones are wrapped in new shrouds and returned to the tomb.

My husband wonderers how the Malagasy reconcile their ancient beliefs with their stated beliefs in Christianity. If the ancestors have gone to heaven, why do they need to disinter the bones and communicate with the dead?

Along the road today we saw three famadihana processions. In the first, the bones had been retrieved and the families danced along the highway with trumpets blaming. They smiled and waved. The bones were carried high. It was a joyous occasion.

The guidebook said the if you were invited to a famadihana you should go. If only to revisit your own views about death and the afterlife. In our culture, when we say goodbye to our loved ones, that is the end. We may believe in life after death or we may not. But once someone is gone, we are left with just our memories and personal reflections. After the funeral there is nothing. No communal or formal sharing of memories. No visits to the tomb- if there is one. The dead are gone and that is that. Our ancestors are not venerated through any ritual or tradition. They are only kept alive in our hearts.

I'd like the chance to talk to those who have gone before. To tell my mom what is happening in my life. To let my dad know how proud he would be of his grand kids. To visit with my grandparents. And to share that with my family and whatever constitutes our "village" in modern Canada.

I think the Malagasy understand something we have forgotten. We should celebrate the lives of our ancestors as a community. They made us who we are.