Libmonster ID: SE-291
Author(s) of the publication: L. KARTASHOVA

L. KARTASHOVA, Candidate of Philological Sciences, full member of the Malagasy Academy

"A person is alive as long as they are remembered," Malagasy people say

Different peoples of the world have different attitudes to death and special rituals associated with it. Therefore, it is impossible to approach the traditions of other cultures with your own standards, and even more so to be ernichat, as some people do.


Having worked in Madagascar for many years, I certainly knew about famadihana. Many things surprised me. I wanted to see everything with my own eyes and understand it. The opportunity came in 1979, when I was on an internship with students of the ISAA at Moscow State University at the University of Madagascar (now the University of Antananarivo).

Famadihana is one of the rituals of the ancestral cult. In ancient times, the object of religious worship* was those of the Malagasy ancestors who, during their lifetime, occupied a significant position in society. Lifetime submission to the power of the leaders passed into their posthumous deification. Over time, the cult of deified rulers gradually fades away. The object of veneration is increasingly becoming the progenitors of the family, clan. Famadihana is a reflection of the huge role played in the public consciousness by the ties of blood kinship, the respect that older people enjoy. It is also harmoniously intertwined with the ideas of the Malagasy people about procreation.

Famadihana is an important rite that is treated responsibly. It was considered a disgrace if a Malagasy was not buried in the ancestral tomb. If someone dies in a foreign land, it is the duty of loved ones to transport their ashes to their homeland 1. Malagasy people say "Velona iray trano, maty iray fasana", which means: "The living live in the same house, the dead in the same crypt."

According to the ideas of the ancients, the deceased continued to remain members of the family and influenced the lives of their descendants. Therefore, it is quite obvious that the living must earn the favor of their ancestors. And famadihana - an opportunity to prove to the deceased that they are still loved, to appease their ancestors (or prevent their anger) 2.

* * *

Little is known about the historical prescription of famadikhan. Evidence appears only with the arrival of Europeans. N. Meyer, who visited Antananarivo in 1777, first mentions this custom. 3 Tradition dictated that the bodies of soldiers who died in expeditions to the coastal areas should be returned to Imerina. They were carried out by King Radama I (1810-1828), who fulfilled his father's command: "Ny riaka no valamparihiko" ("Mope - the border of my state"). From this it is concluded that the rite has a relatively recent origin and appeared in the monarchical period. It was especially widely practiced on the High Plateau, among the Merina and Betsileu peoples.

The elaborate ritual begins with the extraction of ra-zan from the tomb (fasandrazana),

* Some researchers consider famadihana not a custom, but a religious belief.

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then it is wrapped in a new shroud-lambamena 4 and returned to the ancestral crypt 5.

In 2005 I was on my way to Antsirab once. Somewhere along the way, my companion Pierro asked the driver to stop at a graveyard just off the road. I was surprised - we passed many such graves.

"This is an unusual crypt," he said, and told an intriguing story.

According to legend, a man had two wives. They were both madly in love with him. When her husband died, everyone wanted to bury him in their family crypt. Their tenacity became so acute that they cut the corpse exactly in half, and each buried its own half... Such "romantic" episodes are rare, although they obviously have a strong dramatic effect on tourists.


Tombs are a crypt made of stones buried in the ground. It can be opened no earlier than a year after the last burial: the body must rot 6. The land where the remains of the ancestors rest is inalienable, it can neither be sold nor exchanged (the spirits of the ancestors sleep there).

Famadihana is held in the dry winter season-in June-September, when field work is finished, all nature is asleep, and the image of death is associated with silence and cold. It is at this time of year that noisy processions are often seen around Antananarivo, carrying the razan over their heads. Slightly tipsy, dancing to their own singing, strings of people sometimes stretch for a good kilometer.

The decision to organize a ceremony is often associated with mysticism. As a rule, the spirits of the deceased tell mediums (or complain to someone from close relatives in a dream) that they are "cold". This is how the signal is sent. To perform the ceremony, the head of the family consults with an astrologer. Thoth determines the day and hour of the opening of the tomb, the time of the beginning and end of the ceremony.

The family is prepared in advance. Within a month, you must invite all relatives, both close and distant, closest friends and acquaintances, as well as residents of the village where the deceased comes from and where his ancestral tomb is most often located. Then get permission from the authorities to perform the ceremony. And finally, prepare everything you need: buy lambamena, mats, order clothes, prepare food and drinks...

So, around the beginning of July 1979, my good friends, Farah and her husband Sulu, both former students of the Peoples 'Friendship University in Moscow, invited me to "exhume" Farah's grandmother, who had died seven years earlier. Burning with impatience, I wait for the day of the ceremony. The thought of meeting the unknown overwhelms with anticipation of the sacrament.

At seven, as agreed, Farah and Sulu picked me up. Their family, quite wealthy, lived in a two-story villa in the city center. When we arrived at the house, there were already about two dozen relatives and friends gathered there. Greetings and a brief introduction followed. We went inside. We wait for the others to gather. We were offered boiled beef and rice to "refresh ourselves".

I noticed a miniature table in the corner. I remember that in one of the conversations it was said:-

page 69

but, that it is necessary to put there "saodrazana" ("thanksgiving to the ancestor"). Of course, I did it properly-I put down 1000 Malagasy francs (about $ 4-L. K.) and said: "Mionera soa ny lany e!"* One of Fara's sons carefully wrote down the amount of offering 7 in a notebook.

The sun quickly dispels the fog and begins to warm up. Finally, everyone is here. The time is about nine o'clock. Family, friends and guests get in their cars. Slowly we set off. The head car is decorated with the national flag, on the glass - a photo of my grandmother. Drivers of oncoming cars greet each other, pedestrians take off their hats. The tomb is located in Andranufutsi-not very far from the capital, about fifteen kilometers in the direction of Antsirabe.

Roads in Madagascar at that time left much to be desired... We are leaving the capital. After a couple of kilometers, the asphalt ends. A dusty country road. The occasional car leaves long plumes of reddish dust in its wake. Several times we passed wagons drawn by zebus.

The surrounding area of Antananarivo is surprisingly picturesque. Low green hills, in the distance-the hills of the Tsiafadzavuna mountain range 8. On both sides - endless squares of rice fields. Sometimes there are villages - a few small huts made of red clay. Next to them, Christian churches look colorful. The beauty of landscapes can be admired endlessly, you stop even paying attention to the road...

After about an hour, we got there. On a high hill, far from the village, there is a crypt that dominates the surrounding area. We leave the cars at the foot of the hill and go up a rather steep path.

A gray granite crypt, a typical example of an ancestral tomb: sunk into the ground, three meters wide and four meters long. Peace, quiet and privacy.

A huge flat stone serves as a door. As Farah explained to me, her grandfather and two brothers were here last night to "warn grandma" about the upcoming famadihana, and they moved Stone 9 a little. I had to make an effort to open the entrance.

The national flag was reinforced over the crypt. A representative of the local authorities read out the official permission for the ceremony. Farah's grandfather, who is also the head of the family, begins "kabari" (speech). As it should be, first of all, he apologizes for taking the floor first, because there are more worthy ones here, greets all relatives and friends, thanks the authorities.

It's almost noon. Now you can open the grave.

Only the closest relatives, and only men, have the right to enter the crypt. As a special guest of the host, I was allowed to enter. The tomb makes a gloomy impression, I want to get out into the air as soon as possible. Inside the cold dungeon, on "racks" along the north and south walls, in two rows, with their heads to the east, razana lie wrapped in half-rotted lambs 10. "Grandma" was placed on a mat and carried outside.

Each of the people present came up to her and said a few affectionate words. Then we went down to the cars, hoisted the "grandmother" on the roof, and set off on our way back.

At home, the next of kin took the "grandmother" to a specially erected tent (you can't bring it in the house!). This is where the most important part of famadihana takes place, which is not allowed to outsiders. Relatives wrap it in a new lambamena (or several lambamena) and, depending on family traditions, perform ritual rituals.

In the middle of the courtyard, I saw a woman in a white dress sitting on what looked like an ottoman on a mat. On the neck and hands - expensive jewelry. On his head - a beautiful scarf in bright yellow colors. A maidservant held a green umbrella over her. It was my grandmother's older sister. As I was told, she was "ramatuambe" (the oldest woman in the family, the ancestor of the family)11. Relatives and friends were standing around. The reverence with which even the elderly addressed her was noticeable.

About an hour later, the "grandmother" was taken out and placed on a small platform on the veranda. I was warned that famadihana is accompanied by numerous "fadis" (taboos): you can not put the "body" on the ground, say the name of the deceased, point at it with your finger.

The crucial moment has come. Approaching the "grandmother", relatives stroke her, say that they are happy to welcome her to this house. They talk to her, ask for her blessing. Some ask to give

* "To make up for your expenses."

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they have children, others-health, and still others-wealth...

Long kabari starts. Speakers take turns. They talk about what happened in the world after she left: the cyclone, the last presidential election, who was born, who died in the family. The older ones take the opportunity to explain their genealogy to the younger ones once again.

All this time there is a big feast going on. In the living room, tables are set with a plentiful treat: hot and cold dishes, rice and a wide variety of "laoka" 12: zebu meat, pork, poultry of various varieties... The food is plentiful and greasy. Steamed, since eating fried food during famadihana is considered "fadi". Fabulous dessert - all kinds of fruits, delicious sweets... The river pours wine and "toaka gasy" ...13

I sat at a table near the veranda window, watching the ceremony intently. Fara immediately warned me that I wasn't going to be thrilled to see what was happening. And she was right. I admit that I didn't pass the test. Whether from greasy food, or from the heat... "as they were putting 'grandma' down on the veranda for everyone to see, I felt like something was rolling inside... my head went blank, I swayed, and for the first time in my life, I almost fainted. Fortunately, my friends, who were apparently watching me closely, caught me by the arms in time and led me out into the open air. Sulu said it was hard to handle.

The fun continued in the courtyard. They sang and danced. Famadihana is not a mourning ceremony. No one should show their sadness. Crying is considered "fadi". They celebrate Razan's brief return to the world of the living. They are happy to communicate with him. And they are ready to sing his favorite songs and dance all day long.

The performance of professional singers and dancers began. Specially hired musical ensemble " Three stars "("Kintana telo"). The musicians are designed not only to create a festive mood among the living, but also to show Razan that the descendants are happy and enjoy life.

Music booms, drums beat. More and more people are starting to dance. They dance, including with razana in their arms. The fun continued for about two more hours. Finally, four men picked up the "grandmother" and carried her to the car at arm's length. They are hoisted onto the roof of the car, and the procession goes back to Andranufutsi.

When they came to the crypt, according to the rules, the "grandmother" was raised high above her head and carried around the crypt seven times. Then they were lowered into the crypt. They are carried forward with their feet. Ramatuamba was the first to enter after the "grandmother". She began to list who was buried there. Then she pointed out the place where to put the "grandmother". (According to the custom, razan is placed in the crypt not in the same place, but in a new one-in accordance with the" table of ranks".) After that, other family members entered the crypt. Everyone knows where their closest friends are. People talk to them. Someone takes the opportunity to throw a new lambamena on "their" - when will they still be able to hold famadihana! I noticed that the woman standing next to me had moistened her eyes. I even heard someone whisper: "Take me to you, my love!" They say goodbye and leave.

Farah's father (the eldest of the sons) thanks the guests, wishes well-being to all relatives and friends, and appeals to "grandma": "Bless us and don't take us away young." In conclusion, the representative of the local government took the floor and reminded that we should not forget to "thank God".

Then they closed the stone door, covered up the cracks with clay.

Participants tore apart the mat on which they carried the "body" - one of the rituals requires infertile women to put a piece of it under the mattress (it is believed that this cures infertility)15. When we got back, it was already dark (it gets dark early in Antananarivo). I went on my way - it had been a busy day. And the celebration continued. They said they danced all night.


As is well known, the spread of Christianity has had only a superficial impact on traditional rites, largely due to the tolerance of Christian churches. Famadihana remained in force, only a cross appeared above the crypt 15.

However, the reality of the modern world is that new trends are gradually changing the traditional way of life. Fortunately or unfortunately, this process is irreversible. Step by step, as a result of the processes of globalization, different views and perceptions are emerging, radically different from those that prevailed several generations ago.

In the 70s, when I asked Malagasy people who were educated in Europe whether they performed famadihana, many people said that they did not believe in the blessing of their ancestors, but they had traditionally minded parents and numerous relatives, and there were neighbors to be reckoned with. A decent famadihana increases the authority of the family...

Solemn ceremonies, however, required a lot of effort and expense-sometimes it took the family's annual savings. It was necessary not only to arrange a huge holiday for several hundred people, but also to pay a special tax for each "reburied corpse". The host of the ceremony had to have beautiful jewelry, if they are not - buy or borrow. A lot of money was spent on updating the ancestral crypt. It should be beautiful and spacious. Therefore, the crypts of the dead were sometimes in much better condition than the houses of the living. As a poet once said,"With granite I build the house of my death, and with only a palm tree I build the hut of life."..

- What did it cost your family to hold famadihana last year? - I asked the professor of the University of Antananarivo Z. Bemananzara already in our days.

- I can't say how much the rich spend. Rather modest famadihana, in my opinion, is not less-

page 71

about two million ariari (approximately $ 1,000).

But despite this, in present-day Madagascar, famadihana is practiced in one form or another by people from all walks of life. Even under Madagascar's Constitution, the newly elected President's oath begins with the words: "I solemnly swear before God and my ancestors..."

Now famadihana, if not a thing of the past, is being modernized. The ritual is undergoing significant changes. According to tradition, the object of veneration was the long-dead, the founders of the clans. Now, as a rule, reburial of relatives who have not yet been forgotten, who died relatively recently, is carried out. More and more people, including state leaders and business elites, are burying their loved ones not in their ancestral tombs, but in the "European cemetery" (fasambazaha) in Anzanahari, where the famous poet J. R. R. Tolkien is buried. Rabemananzara, father of former Prime Minister Jacques Sylla, sister of President M. Ravalumanana. Or in newly built (more or less luxurious - depending on the wealth of the family) individual crypts - so buried Sezer Rabenuru, former president of the Malagasy Academy, Bau Andriamanzatu, a descendant of Queen Ranavaluna III (1883-1896) and others.

The organization of famadihana itself is also simplified. Previously, lavish ceremonies are said to have attracted up to 2,000 guests. We ate, drank and danced for 5 days. They stabbed up to 120 zebus... In the new environment, the family often invites only the next of kin. "Re-turning" and related ritual actions are performed directly at the ancestral tomb. Zebu is not slaughtered, but they buy meat in the store. Even the lambamena is increasingly being replaced by a nylon dam.

There was also a greater democracy in clothing. Previously, male relatives were usually dressed in the same bright striped malabari, in the same wide-brimmed straw hats, women - in multi-colored silk dresses, festive lambs and as an indispensable attribute had umbrellas of the same color. All this was ordered in advance. Now they dress "simply" - in ordinary suits, young people, even girls, often in jeans.

Traditional "commemorations" also do not suffer from excessive conservatism-they dance to fashionable Western dance rhythms, drink whiskey and Coca-Cola... Sometimes they do not arrange treats at all, and at the end of the ceremony they offer cakes.

* * *

The Malagasy encyclopedia Firaketana 16 notes the "black"and "white" sides of famadihana.

From the black sides, first of all, the medical aspect stands out - when opening or "wrapping" the remains, bacteria that cause diseases can be activated.

The ceremony is accompanied by legalized sexual freedom (fikorana-maloto) and excessive libation of braga and moonshine.

In addition - huge expenses. In order for famadihana to be "on the same level", relatives get into debt. Not very rich families go broke.

And the fulfillment of wishes is not visible.

Famadihana is accompanied by rituals and superstitions that cloud people's brains, which to some extent hinders the intellectual development of the country.

Well, the good sides are, first of all, the strengthening of kinship ties, the preservation of the continuity of a single family. "A person is alive as long as they are remembered," Malagasy people say. Indeed, famadihana is filled with an amazing atmosphere of warmth and warmth.

Famadihana made an indelible impression on me also because I was lucky enough to see a real big Malagasy family (only Farah has eleven brothers and sisters).

Speaking about the qualities inherent in Malagasy people, it is impossible not to note the heartfelt attachment of family members to each other, benevolence, dedication. And not only in personal and family relations, but also in friendly ones, in particular in relation to foreigners. It's a strange feeling... I was asked for advice, despite the fact that I am a complete stranger, whom they see for the first time in their lives. I was offered help... A young woman gave me a ring (which I was later told was the only valuable thing she had)... At the end of the holiday, I had the feeling that I was accepted into this warm family, unexpectedly generously rewarded with attention and love.

1 It is a great tragedy for the family if someone died of smallpox, plague, or leprosy - in this case, they could not be buried in the family crypt.

2 Ethnographers believe that the roots of these customs go back to those distant times when farmers, starting to cultivate rice fields, sacrificed to the forces of fertility.

Mayeur Nicolas. 3 Voyage dans le sud et dans l'interieur des terres... // Bulletin de l'Academie Malgache. XII-1. Tananarive, 1913. P. 169.

4 Literally: "red cloth" - a specially made silk fabric dyed red with a decoction of the natu tree (nato). This fabric does not smolder for a long time.

5 Another form of famadihana is the transfer of remains from a temporary burial site (fasana anitrika)to an existing ancestral tomb or from an old burial site to a newly built family tomb.

6 Famadihana was held quite often before. Sometimes a still decomposing body was removed. This led to infections.

7 "Sao-drazana" (often called kao - drazana in the village) is a mandatory attribute of famadihana. Each family member and invitee gives money - as much as they can. In the village - as many as you can - mugs of rice.

8 Qiafazawun can be translated roughly as " constantly in the clouds."

9 This is done to remove the unpleasant smell.

10 Sometimes, however, the bodies are piled on top of each other, and it is impossible to distinguish whose remains they are. In such cases, they are not removed, but "changed" inside the room. Often in this way, close relatives (spouses, brothers/sisters) are wrapped together in one lamba or simply covered with a new lamb.

11 Sometimes one of the older daughters (zananivavy) acts in this role.

12 For Malagasy people, the main dish is rice, and everything that is eaten with rice (meat, fish...) is laoka ("side dish").

13 Local sugar cane rum.

14 Infertility is considered not only a misfortune, but also a disgrace to a woman, even if involuntarily, but causing damage to the number of the family.

15 Famadihana is a common rite for all Malagasy people, regardless of their religion.

Ravelojaona Randzavola, Rajonah G. 16 Firaketana ny Fiteny sy ny Zavatra Malagasy (A-L). Natonta fanindroany. N 121. Tananarive: Mpiadidy ny FIAINANA, 1948. Tkl. 147 - 152.


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