Since August 2017, over 1,300 cases have been reported, followed by 120 plus deaths.
Exacerbating this particular outbreak of Yersinia pestis is the Malagasy tradition of Famadihana, or Dancing with the Dead.
No, the Grateful Dead aren’t doing their Antananarivo Tour; this dancing is centered around a big party where the dead are exhumed, rewrapped in fresh cloth (this is usually where family budgets are blown), the bodies are paraded through the town, and eventually when everyone is danced out the cadavers are reburied, to lie in wait for the next Famadihana.
“If a person dies of pneumonic plague and is then interred in a tomb that is subsequently opened for a Famadihana, the bacteria can still be transmitted and contaminate whoever handles the body,” this is according to the main wet blanket on this style of partying, Willy Randriamarotia, the country’s Health Ministry Chief of Staff.
Of course, it’s not all just a wardrobe change and few rounds of the stir, in fact, women having trouble conceiving are encouraged to eat the old cloth off the body of their loved one for good luck.
While the Government has mandated that bodies of plague victims cannot be exhumed, many in the community feel that it’s all a case of Fake News, with one woman even quoted as saying, “I will always practice the turning of the bones of my ancestors, plague or no plague. The plague is a lie.”
However, countries like Ethiopia, Mauritius, and Kenya are all buying the hype, and are strengthening their border controls and turning away anyone that appears symptomatic.