MADAGASCAR: UNE BELLE VIE, UNE BELLE MORT

The British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer said that death has become “pornographic” to the westerners, an obscene content from which children must be kept safe. The fear of the death has been seen as an universal feature across both time and space: “Men fear death”, and that has always been considered a fact. But this is not the case of Madagascar, where the worship of the ancestors is the national cult.

The most outstanding cultural feature all across Madagascar is the unique relationship that connect malagasy people to the death: they consider it as a simple step of the human development, conceptually not different from the transit between the childhood and the adult life. Being dead doesn’t mean to have come to an end. Dead bodies, as well as newborns, can’t talk, can’t walk nor eat by themselves, but that doesn’t mean that corpses can’t feel regular needs: they can still get bored, hungry, happy or lonely.

This peculiar belief is in Madagascar far more from being just symbolic: every 3-5 years malagasy families gather around the tombs to celebrate a ritual called “famadihana”. In that occasion they exhume the ancestors and with them they dance all night and day, drink hommade rhum, sacrifice cattle and talk to them about the latest updates from the village.

Going along with the rythm of a frantic and rhapsodic music, the ritual tries to channel all the chaos of life in just few hours, so that the memory could be enough for the dead at least till the next famadihana.

When Désiré Maigrot (the first Italian Consul in Madagascar since 1878) died, his tombstone was engraved with the following words: “Une belle vie, une belle mort”.