Ritual and Religion in Prehistory: Unit 7 Ancestor cults

7.6 The island of the ancestors

The multi-stage burial practices that are an important element of ancestor worship on the island of Madagascar are frequently used as a source of analogy for interpreting the Neolithic chambered tombs of northern Europe. The first stage of the ritual involves the burial of the deceased in a tomb shortly after death. The second stage, known as ‘famadihana’, follows two or more years later. In this ceremony the body is disinterred, re-wrapped in shrouds, and replaced in the tomb. A number of the older skeletons are also removed from the tomb and re-wrapped. The emphasis in this ceremony is on corporate membership of the deme, a kin- or village-based association, and on the ancestors who are buried in the deme tomb, since it is through the ancestors that rights to land are transmitted from generation to generation.

Optional individual activity: Famadihana

To find out more, read 'Dead join the living in a family celebration' and watch the accompanying video ‘Famadihana: the turning of the dead’ on the website of the New York Times. You may like to make notes in your blog.