The death returning ceremony with the Merina
In the Highlands, the cult of ancestors is expressed by the " Famadihana " or death returning . Practiced by the Merina , the Betsileo and the Sihanaka , the inauguration of a new tomb is most of the time the opportunity of the ceremony , it is in fact inconceivable to put recent remains in a newly built tomb , or if the defunct has not been buried in the family vault , it is the duty of its close relations to do it some years after its death .
For practical reasons, the Famadihina is celebrated during the dry season , the whole month of September , because it is the end of all activtiies in fields and also for hygienic reasons : rains are rare , even non-existent during this period . A " Mpanandro " or deviner will be consulted to fix the date of the Famadihina . The ceremony gives place to a great feast happily and cheerfully celebrated .
Thus , the previous evening , before the opening of the ancient tombs , some close relations of the deceased that will be exhumed climb on the tomb and invoke these last spirits so that they come to haunt again their body. Meanwhile, in the village the others are busy feasting with the guests and prepare the new shrouds and the tsihy ( mats). One sings, dances and drinks the rum.
The following day, while some loosen the vault opening , the Famadihina chief asks for the ancestors blessing before entering the tomb accompanied by relatives who take out the bones from their burial. They are exposed publicly , cleared of the old shrouds . Thereafter, they are envelopped in the tsihy (mats) and carried through all the village accompanied with songs and dances. Gathered under a converted shelter for the circumstance they receive all the due cares, and during the whole night the feast is at the full swing .
In the morning , all the bones covered with their new shrouds are deposited in the new vault or the family vault, according to the case. And the feast is punctuated by the sacrifice of one or several zebus and the sharing of its meat. A speech in memory of the deceased closes definitively the ceremony in the evening.