Madagascar’s Macabre Dance of the Dead



Image: Massimo Branca

Although the family may shed some tears over the remains of their loved ones, crying soon turns to smiles.

It’s a little like a party, but one where the guests of honor are corpses. There is a definite festive atmosphere in the crowd as the tomb is opened. By the light of candles, close relatives enter the dark, earthy-smelling crypt to retrieve the remains of their ancestors. The dead emerge wearing their shrouds, known as lambas, and are laid out on the ground ready to be unwrapped — the bones lovingly cleaned, and the remains rewrapped in their new burial cloths, ready to join in the celebrations.


Image: Massimo Branca

Corpses are identified by labels written onto their shrouds.

To those of us more accustomed to somber and sometimes almost clinical memorial services, Madagascar’s Famadihana (translated as “turning”, of the bones) ceremony may seem odd or even ghoulish. However, to those who take part in the ritual, it is a joyous occasion. Friends and relatives are reunited, there is food, drink and music, and beloved family members who have passed away are honored and celebrated.

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