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The Merina People's Little-Known Festival of the Dead

Antonia R.Antonia R.

In central Madagascar live the Merina people, who worship the dead in an unusual, and for most people - a barbaric and horrific, way. The ceremony is called Famadihana - the bones of the deceased are dug up and venerated.

This coming together of the living and the dead is a traditional one for the Merina culture. During Famadihana, the remains of dead relatives are dug up, hugged, showered with gifts and the living share all that has happened to them since their last meeting.

This is considered the highest form of reverence toward the dead and takes place every 5 years.

The ceremony requires use of a long white cloth, which serves as a burial shroud, to wrap the bones of the deceased before they are buried once again.

The Merina people believe that if this ritual is done at precisely the right time and the way custom requires, their passed away ancestors will protect them and guide their life in the right direction. But should the ceremony not take place, the living person would then suffer eternal misfortune.

According to the Merina, the dead closely follow the deeds of the living and if they are content, they reward and bless, if not - they punish. They also believe that their deceased relatives have powers, by which they can assure the good health and untroubled life of the living.

Of course this only happens if the dead are revered according to custom. If the dead are overlooked, they punish the individual who has overlooked them.


Kurban Soup is always prepared for the event, where all guests are treated to it. Every single relative is required to be there, no matter how far away they live.

Festivities and dancing continue throughout the night and the bones of the deceased are dug up from their grave at dawn. The men open the crypts, where their predecessors are buried, then take their bodies out. They are met with songs and have rum poured over them.

After homage is paid, the dead are wrapped up once more and returned to their graves.