Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dem bones dem bones

Famadihana
Went to a famadihana, also known as a turning of the bones ceremony. The usual is that a family opens their tomb every several years to celebrate the loved ones in their family who died in the past years. The body is removed from the tomb and another layer of cloth is added as an extra shroud. The family places the body on a woven mat and dances while each carrying part of the weight. The local alcohol is consumed and a portion is used to bless the tomb and celebration.

Usually the body is returned to the same tomb which is shared with many families. In my case, the famadihana was a bit different. The family that was having the celebration had finished construction on a new tomb and so instead of honoring one person and returning them to their place, many bodies were removed and carried to the new tomb down the road. This meant that many people participated and the bodies had groups of people carrying them all down the road in a very happy procession. Dancing with a body means that there is a drummer and a few other musicians making up songs and the corpse is carried forward several feet, and then back as the mob tries to figure out which way they are moving at the moment.

Older bodies are lighter and require less people to carry them. Some of the shrouds appear to have a lump. If a child and mother die, the child is wrapped on the chest of the mother, whether or not they die at the same time. If a persons spouse dies, the wife is laid on the husband’s chest and they are also wrapped together. In this way, they can be together for eternity.

The whole thing has a bit of a weird smell. Being around that many corpses of varied levels of decay isn’t exactly pleasant. The tombs are kept closed for the majority of the year and if it isn’t famadihana season (July and August), tombs are not allowed to be opened unless the owners gain special permission. If a person dies outside of these months, they may be buried until the tomb can be reopened and they are then moved to their place in the tomb.

While the entire process is very strange, it also is a very happy time. This can be the biggest celebration a family has in a decade and they get to celebrate the lives of those who were closest to them. A woman we were with was happy to be able to visit her deceased mother. Instead of a feeling of loss and suffering, the entire family remembers the value of life and honors their dead.

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