Madagascar Funeral Traditions

by M-Rebeiro

Villages in Madagascar hold famadihana rituals where the old burial shroud is removed after several years and the corpse is placed in a new one and re-buried. The old shroud is divided up and given to married couples who are trying to conceive children.

A large portion of the Malagasy people practice traditional religions.The culture emphasizes a strong link between the living and the dead, where the dead join their ancestors. The remainder of the population is either Christian (45%, with an even divide between Catholic and Protestant) or Muslim (10-15%)

The spiritual connection with ancestors is especially celebrated with the practice of famadihana (turning over the dead). This ritual involves removing remains from the family tomb, re-applying a burial shroud and returning them after several days of festivities.

The art of funerals differs among different ethnic groups. Many of the groups erect monuments or even full tombs made of piled stones. Specifically, the Mahafaly group replaces stones with mortar and builds full mausoleums which are painted and decorated. One tribe, the Sakalava, does not use stones at all but rather carved sculptures out of camphor trees.

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