The late Mr. Rabemanantsoa died from a heart attack one morning in his home in Antsirabe at the age of 83. Mr. Rabemanantsoa was a retired veterinarian who helped some of the poor people of Antsirabe.
We arrived at the house in the evening at 9 pm. From the outside, we could hear people singing beautifully and we were asked to wait before entering. Then we were taken to a small room where the family sat in front of Mr. Rabemanantsoa who were lying lit de parade in the best Catholic way. We brought some coffee, sugar, tokagash (local alcohol) and some candles that was given to the family together with 10.000 Ariary (app. USD 4) in an envelope.
After a short introduction we were invited to sit down and as the local customs prescribe, we were offered a meal right in front of the late Mr. Rabemanantsoa. Fanja, one of his daughters who spoke a little English, sat together with us and told us about her father. It was quite a situation sitting in front of a dead person having a meal and after that a cup of coffee.
After the meal we were taken downstairs to sing with the family and members of the local church that Mr. Rabemanantsoa used to attend. The young men, women, boys and girls were singing beautifully polyphonic original Malagache songs and Catholic hymns. All the songs were meant for funeral occasions.
After a while the brother in law of Mr. Rabemanantsoa gave a speach and introduced us to the people who were singing. We also had to have a drink of the local spirit togakash which is brewed from sugar canes and a cactus. Very strong and tasteful indeed.
We left the house of Mr. Rabemanantsoa at around midnight leaving the beautiful sound of the singing voices behind and with the taste of togakash in our mouth. And we were very welcome back the next day.
When we arrived at the home of the late Rabemanantsoa the house was full of guest, who were going to attend the catholic ceremony. The family sat on small benches chit chatting and occasionally singing waiting for the catholic pastor to arrive. The late Mr Rabemanantsoa had been laid in a coffin together with pieces of charcoal to prevent any inconvenient smell. Flowers and diplomas were placed decorative around the coffin.
At 13 pm the pastor arrived. He radiated both authority and peace. With respect and seriousness the pastor started to preach in malagasy. During the speech we recognized the reciting of the Lord’s prayer (in Danish: fadervor) and when the pastor scattered three spoons of red Madagascar soil into the coffin he said something like: “For you were made from dust and to dust you will return” it seem so familiar and again so exotic.
The coffin was closed after the catholic ceremony and the coffin was sealed with white ribbons. Wax was then melted on top of the knots and a coin was gently pressed into the warm wax as a prober seal. The white cloth was put back on the coffin together with the picture of Mr Rabemanantsoa, the flowers and the National Order.
Of to the village Ankarinoro
It is Malagasy custom that the body of the deceased is taken to the place of birth. In this case Mr Rabemanantsoa was born in a village by the name Ankarinoro close to the village Fandriana that is situated 248 km from Ansirabe. We were invited to come along and of course we did.
24 people stuffed into a mini bus with a dead body on the rooftop and 248 km to go. The family was singing beautiful and calm songs while the sun sat and the day became night. We stopped for dinner in a dodgy little village, but some men told us to rush away. It was too dangerous to stay with two vazaha (foreigners) in the bus. Gangsters in collaboration with the gendarmes (military police) operate in night and rob people driving during the night. Western people a very attractive since they often bring expensive equipment. Therefore we had to hide at the checkpoints. We covered our selves with a sarong beeing quite frightened. We ended up sleeping in the bus. It was a freezingly 0 degrees C. At sunrise we continued on roads filled with holes and occasionally we had to get out of the bus to push it. It only took 18 hours to get there!