Madagascar president’s claims that a herbal tonic produced within the country can cure patients of COVID-19 has brought global attention to the country. In this piece, we give you an insight into a popular festival in the country…


Among many African ethnic groups – and in some other parts of the world, there is a strong reverence for the dead, or ancestors as they are usually referred to. This veneration stems from a belief that the departed ones acts as intermediaries between the living and the supreme being, and are capable of bringing good fortune to the family or community if they are well entreated.

In some places, this reverence is demonstrated in sacred cultural rites marked with celebration. One of such ceremonies honouring the dead is the Famadihana of the Merina people of Madagascar.

Famadihan-drazana: Turning of the Bones…

Although Famadihan-drazana (Famadihana for short) is a widely practised traditional festival in the southern highlands of Madagascar, it is not an ancient Malagasy tradition and does not date beyond the 17th century.

Famadina occurs every seven years, except there is a time of crisis, and it is celebrated during winter in Madagascar, from July to September. It is usually a festive atmosphere as opposed to burial mood. Tears are banned during Famadihana, as crying is seen as a rejection of blessings from the ancestors.

At the commencement of the ritual, the corpses are exhumed from their burial places and re-wrapped in new shrouds to keep the ancestors warm – according to the people’s belief. The corpses are redressed on the laps of the zana-drazana (children of the ancestors) in public and then put on new mats to bask in the sun for a while.


Famadihana (1)

Before the corpses are re-interred, they are hoisted up and carried around their tombs several times, amid dancing so they can become familiar with their resting places. It is believed that the dead will roam and terrorize the people afterwards, if they are not familiar with their final abode.



Famadihana also offers a chance for deceased family members to be reunited in one single-family tomb, since Malagasy beliefs see being buried separately as a terrible fate. The family tombs are either female or male. Except in the case of a husband and wife, male corpses are never grouped with female ones.

So popular is Famadihana that neighbours often join in the celebrations, whether they are invited or not. They offer the sao-drazana (ancestor’s thanksgiving), usually a token money contribution accompanied with a bottle of alcohol to show their solidarity.

The Famadihana celebration features loud music, dancing, parties, with lots to drinking. The customary food on this festival vary, but the most popular is menaka (rice with much oil), prepared with fattened zebu, chicken, pigs or fish. At the end of the festival, the people make a grab for those items which were in contact with the corpses such as mats. Pieces of which are taken home as lucky charms.

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© voyage en teme malgasy 2010



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