Turning the bones and crying

Rachel writes about a mitsabora (“turning of the bones”) ceremony that she attended in Madagascar. Family and friends gather to dig up the graves of the dead, converse with their bones, and then rebury them.

As we continued to bike the lovely 8 km home to Voloina along the Bay of Antongil, the teacher asked me, “what are mitsaboras like where you come from? France, is it?” “Etats Unis,” I corrected him. “Where? Oh ‘Amerika’, right,” he said. “Where I come from we do not have the same fombas. We don’t hold mitsabora ceremonies,” I told him. He looked surprised. “But what do you do when you are sad about losing a family member? Don’t you want to spend time with them again?” I explained to him that the Betsimisaraka tradition of turning the bones is, in my mind, a wonderful custom, but that where I come from we are afraid of death and it is fady (taboo) to dig up the bodies of people who have died. “When a family member dies we come together and hold a ceremony to celebrate his or her life,” I said in Betsimisaraka, “we even gather afterwards and eat a feast, sort of the way the Malagasy do. But once we place a body in the ground it must stay there.”

He looked puzzled and again asked what ‘Amerikans’ do when they are sad years after losing someone, if they do not unearth the bones of their fathers, sisters and children, and talk with them. I thought about it for a moment and then gave him the only answer I could think of, “Well, we sit at home alone and we cry”. I could tell he disapproved of our method of grieving. “Fetes (celebrations) are much better,” he said, as I nodded in approval.

Check out her complete entry to learn more about this fascinating ceremony.

One reply on “Turning the bones and crying”

  1. I’m reminded of what they do on the Greek Islands. Because there’s limited space for people to be burried, after two years the bones are dug up from their graves and washed with water and then wine. The famlily then places the bones in a box, which is then placed in a special room containing the bones of relitives.

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