Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking the Dead for a Little Dance

I have lived abroad long enough to know there are many ways to deal with death and the dead. I know first hand that our values and funeral customs are not the same as others.

When my 80-year old father passed away earlier this year, his body was placed in a open casket at our parental house, and we the children, surrounded him with things he liked in life: a set of playing cards, an ashtray, his carnival costume and his favorite sweater (named: 'truitje')

Beer and sausage rolls
After the church ceremony where we held speeches and read self-written poems that made people laugh, we brought him to a cemetery, some 10 kilometers out of town. The casket was lowered into the hole, we threw a handful of sand on it, and proceeded to a bar where we had beers and sausage rolls, just the way dad liked it.

Black or white
When our neighbor in Morocco died, her body was gone before we even knew she had passed. The burial had to be done within 24 hours. In Sri Lanka we once attended a gathering on the occasion of the tragic death of the son of a German colleague. I was dressed in black...the only one amidst all the Sri Lankans in white.

Here in Tana death is everywhere. And I am not talking about the dead meat hanging on each street corner. I am referring to the many graves and crypts across the city. You can find them in between homes and houses, near schools and hospitals, just about everywhere. I assume it is kind of comforting, knowing that you late parents are just around the corner.
Tombs in Ambatobe, overlooking the city
Dance with the dead
What's really special in this country is the Famadihama ritual, or in French: le retournement des morts, the turning of the bones. It is a cultural custom for Madagascar families, once every seven years, to open the family grave, bring out the body which has been wrapped in cloths and carry it around for a little sway. The remains are then re-wrapped n clean cloth and put back. Family and friends are making music,  dancing, eating and drinking rum - for those who can afford it.

Bye Pa
The Famadihama ritual is still performed regularly, though more and more families have abandoned it. My housekeeper for example, says it is way too expensive, and besides, her Christian churches discourages it.
Personally I find it slightly macabre, I prefer to take the R.I.P literally. Yet I would not mind to have my father buried near my home, I'd wave and say:  'Bye Pa', each time I drive my daughter to school.

Large family crypt on way to school

P.S. My driver gave me this little film - worth looking at!

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