Though Madagascar often lacks a lot of the medical means to help fight against death, the people of Madagascar certainly know how to be with their deceased. Traditionally speaking, the Malagasy actually worship their ancestors… but this isn’t what I’m talking about. What I am talking about is Malagasy seem to know how to mourn the loss of a loved one.
In March 2011, just 3 months after we arrived in Madagascar, Jamie’s Malagasy grandmother, Bebe, passed away suddenly. Jamie drove the 14 hours to her home out in the countryside where all her relatives were gathered. For 36 hours they sang, they read scripture, they ate, they laughed, they told stories and some of them drank… ALOT. All day, all night by candlelight. And Bebe, dressed in a beautiful white gown, was right there amongst them. Throughout the time, people would approach her, fix her dress or her hair, care for her. As the time came to an end, everyone came around her. The men in her family, Jamie included, wrapped her in a large white grave cloth, starting at her feet and slowly cloaking her body with every wrap until finally her face was covered as well. People wailed with such a visual representation of this final good-bye. In fact, as is customary, tears shouldn’t be shed after this moment.
Jamie and the rest of the grandchildren carried Bebe out of her house to the family tomb. Moving the large stone door aside, they walked down a small set of stairs and entered the underground tomb. They passed several small rooms where generations of various descendants lay until they reached Bebe’s immediate family. Older relatives took the younger generation aside and exclaimed, “you need to remember this”…. as they pointed out, “this is your great-great grandfather, this is your great aunt”, and so on…
As the family carried Bebe to her final resting place, it was extremely important that she be placed on top of her parents and next to her sister. There was one final good-bye before walking out and resealing the tomb.
Death is all-too-common in Madagascar. Perhaps because of this, the Malagasy have learned the art of saying good-bye well to their loved ones. And because of this, the last several posts have been about death. I’m hoping this is the last for awhile.
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Just two months before Bebe’s death she traveled to see and stay with us. What a joy it was to introduce our last two kids to her!
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Bebe’s tanin’drazana, or land of the ancestors (i.e. her homeland). The two houses to the right are her families’ houses, the small white building in the upper left just before the tree line is the family tomb and all the green is the families’ rice fields.
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The house of Bebe’s childhood in the countryside of Madagascar.
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The family kitchen on the top floor as is customary in houses on the high plateau in the central part of the island. Lots of cooking for lots of people.
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Deep was the love shared between Jamie and Bebe.
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Hours upon hours of singing songs of the salvation found in Christ.
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Family coming together to celebrate Bebe’s life.
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A few last songs and final words.
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Digging down to expose the stone door leading into the tomb.