What is the History of Famadihana Dancing with the Dead?


You would have seen tremendous ceremonies and festivals being celebrated in different cultures. People celebrate happiness, right? But you would be shocked to read about some very unusual and strange ceremonies that people celebrate even in the 21st century. 

Ceremonies that are about events like marriage, birth, or beliefs are common to all of us. But some are difficult to believe at first sight. However, the reason may seem meaningful after interacting with the inhabitants. Among these, you will see the Famadihana ritual. 

Famadihana, Dancing with the Dead

It is a tradition of Madagascar where natives celebrate the death of their fellows by dancing. They carry the dead over their heads and then dance with them. It may seem strange to most people, but it is their tradition.

The ceremony is called the turning of the bones. During this celebration, they dig the tomb of the dead. What happens next may quiver your souls. They go into the tombs, pat the corpse and clean them. Then few people pull the buried bodies of the deceased out of the tomb. Then the corpses are laid on the ground in a line. Their relatives express their feelings one after the other with the dead bodies.

After this, the dried and dirty shrouds are replaced with the new and fresher ones. It mimics the way a living person changes clothes to get fresh. Once this is over, the corpses are taken in hands and over the heads of few people. Then they move and dance around the tomb.

Because of this custom, people believe that when humans die, their souls join the world where their already dead ancestors live. 

The spirits are thought to meet with their ancestors after the complete decomposition of their bodies. This is why people celebrate with departing souls. The Malagasy people believe that it is the time to celebrate the togetherness of both the alive and deceased people. 

History and Some Weird Beliefs Associated with Famadihana 

Famadihana has been adapted from the funeral customs held in Southeast Asia. This ritual is thought to begin in the 1820s. The tradition is to celebrate this event every 5 to 7 years and has been originated from the belief that the deceased souls should be able to meet their relatives and friends. In this way, they give the dead souls a chance to have a celebration and meet up with their alive friends and fellows. 

This festival is to ensure that their people still remember and love them. The dead body is wrapped in fresh shrouds in every Famadihana event. Not much is known about its history. Investigators have found out that this festival originated in its present form in the 17th century. 

In the 1880s, aid was provided by an organization to Madagascar. All the funding was utilized for the construction and upgrading of tombs. The aid was for upgrading their houses to prevent damage from environmental issues like cyclones. Malagasy people embrace living in muddy huts, but they never allow their tombs to be doomed. They want them to stay forever. 

Now the practice has declined gradually because of several reasons. The first one being the restrictions from the government. The authorities have always been against this practice of taking out the dead bodies from their tombs. People have managed to continue this practice by preplanning the event. They plan this event on days when they won’t get arrested. It is done by communicating with the local astrologer around six months before. 

It is also said that Malagasy people have never allowed any white to attend their ceremony. Some beliefs also say that the soul of the dead sometimes crosses back to the living world during this ceremony. So, ordinary people like us might shiver to death with fear. It is weird to acknowledge the beliefs associated with this event. Malagasy people take it as taboo to perform this event on odd days. 

The day before the ceremony 

Family and friends get together to welcome new members, many of whom they haven’t seen since the last Famadihana (mainly sons and daughters-in-law). Some people’s only chance to meet their relatives is during Famadihana. It is a festival that improves both local networks and family ties.

The evening is spent in conversation, listening to music, drinking, and preparing dinner for the following day. The family’s men are in charge of killing and preparing the meat. For dinner, the family prepares and serves offal with rice, but the sons-in-law get the lungs exclusively.

The day of the ceremony

When guests arrive for Famahanana, they present the organizers, or “tompon-draharaha,” with rice and cash. The phrase “atero ka alao,” which literally translates as “to give something and receive it back,” is used to record both the amount of money and the quantity of rice. This custom guarantees that visitors who must plan their own Famadihana will be compensated and assisted in kind. All the funds and rice received will be distributed to everyone who contributed to the expenses because costs are shared.

After everyone has dined, the hosting family gets the group ready to go to the grave. People dress to impress as a celebration of life and fatherhood. The celebration is accompanied by a band of musicians who play trumpets, drums, and “sodina,” a type of Malagasy flute, as they go from the village to the tomb.

When they arrive, the bodies are taken out and put on reed mats. New shrouds are used by the host family to cover the dead. People can now include items they liked when the individual was alive in the new sheets. Alcohol or cigarettes may be for males. Lipsticks or fragrances for women. People frequently place goodies for kids. The immediate family members deliver the freshly wrapped bodies to the new members of the family by dancing with them.

The decline of Famadihana

The number of Famadihana festivities has decreased in recent years. The decline has two primary causes.

First of all, hosting a Famadihana is expensive. Families might need to put up money for a family crypt for many years. To pay for the place, they must put a lot of money aside. In Madagascar, choosing a beautiful spot for your departed ancestors is important. The family tombstone holds greater significance for many people than the family house.

The family must save enough money to pay for a feast in addition to the money needed for the crypt. Numerous people may attend these feasts. The cost of getting the deceased new clothing is another expense. The price of the ceremony is increased by these silk wraps and gifts for the departed.

Due to evangelical Protestants in Madagascar opposing the celebration, Famadihana is also losing support. This organization asserts that Famadihana and its practices are incompatible with Christian principles. Some Christians see the occasion as more of a cultural than a spiritual one.


Famadihana was only one example of unusual ceremonies being held widely in the world. In Madagascar, people have devoted their lives to their dead friends and relatives. They prefer to live in harsh conditions but cannot let their loved ones’ corpses lie in muddy, shattered tombs. 

People have strange beliefs, and these give rise to weird rituals. Some other examples of such strange ceremonies can be found out on this site, like lip stretching procedures, baby throwing, monkey buffet feast, and many more. 

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