(P06)
Bodies, borders and bereavement: death and dying in the diaspora
Location Chancellery Building, A1-014
Date and Start Time 06 Dec, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 1

Convenor

  • Rosita Henry (James Cook University) email

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Short abstract

This panel focuses on death, funerary practices and dying in contexts of mobility and displacement. What kinds of political, economic and spatio-temporal realities do the dying and dead inhabit when death occurs away from 'home', such as in refugee camps or places of migrant resettlement?

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Long abstract

How do people deal with dying and death and manage funerary rites when they are on the move or have resettled (eg. migrants, refugees, intra- and transnational workers)? What kind of transformative, or liminal, spatio-temporal processes are the dead typically subject to? This panel addresses representations and practices of death and bereavement in contexts of mobility and displacement. For example, what are the political tensions that circulate in the time-space of death (over inheritance, rights to royalties, land, future social and monetary support)? What kinds of spatio-temporal reality do the dying and dead inhabit when death happens away from 'home' in urban areas, on distant battle fields, in refugee camps, or in places of migrant settlement overseas? What is the political economy of death in such spaces? What does it mean to die 'out of place'? What are the transformations evident in the space-time of death where bodies are returned 'home' for burial? How are the dead enmeshed in the creation of new forms of space-time such as a morgue space-time? Or transport space-time? We welcome submissions of papers on the economy of care for the dying, on mourning and funerary practices, and new spatial and temporal transformations related to diasporic deaths.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

'Another man's country': diasporic burials and the rights of the living and the dead in Cape York Peninsula

Author: Diana Romano (University of Queensland ) email
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Short abstract

In this paper I explore how Aboriginal people in Cape York Peninsula attempt to reconcile the reality of having deceased kin buried away from their traditional homelands, and how this sits within a broader, rights-based discourse.

Long abstract

Much has been written about death and mortuary practices and beliefs in Australian Aboriginal societies. In this paper, I want to bring attention to the ways in which such practices and beliefs, tied as they are to systems of land ownership and spiritual and bodily consubstantiality with country, are enmeshed in a broader socio-political discourse of rights. In Cape York Peninsula in remote far north Queensland, a violent colonial frontier coupled with government-imposed removals of Aboriginal people from their traditional territories up until the 1960s, led to the creation of diasporic populations across Queensland. Deaths and subsequent burials, or the holding of human remains in exile, in 'another man's country', away from their homeland, their kin, and the spirits of their own dead, are a source of great anguish for the living. I argue that the need for the diasporic dead to return to their homelands, and the efforts of the living to achieve this and gain control over the process can be understood at least in part, in terms of the rights, of both the living and the dead, to their traditional country, a discourse which plays out in the context of intra-Indigenous relationships and state recognition and control of Indigenous lives.

Dying out of place: bodies, borders and bereavement among Papua New Guinea Highlanders

Authors: Rosita Henry (James Cook University) email
Imelda Ambelye (James Cook university) email
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Short abstract

Tensions arise for those who are left behind when someone dies in the Diaspora. We discuss several cases of diasporic death among PNG Highlanders and reflect upon the transactions their kin engage in, not only regarding the bodies of the dead, but also their post mortem 'lives'.

Long abstract

The spacio-temporal movement from life to death causes particular tensions among the living in the case of diasporic death. Territorial movements among Papua New Guineans across clan, provincial, and national borders, means that people are increasingly facing the prospect of dying 'out of place'. When someone dies among Melpa and Temboka speaking people of the Western Highlands, they say that the person has moved, not to the 'other side', but to the 'outside' (pena). Someone on the 'outside' is said to be able to see everything and know everything. In this paper, we explore the implications of passing to the 'outside' when far from home, whether elsewhere in PNG or transnationally. What are the tensions that arise for those who are left behind when someone dies in the Diaspora? What do the living do to resolve these tensions? We discuss a number of cases of diasporic death among PNG Highlanders and reflect upon transactions among the kin of those who have died, not only with regard to their bodies, but also with regard to problems presented by the post mortem 'lives' of those who are now 'outside'.

We argue that while a death 'out of place' presents challenges to the kin of the deceased, such deaths also offer opportunities for demonstrating responsiveness, a continuing commitment to a Highlander moral economy of care and to values that work to strengthen relational meshworks.

From social death to digital kinning: the transformative impact of new media on the transnational support networks of older people in life and death

Authors: Loretta Baldassar (University of Western Australia) email
Raelene Wilding (La Trobe University) email
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Short abstract

The distant transnational migrations of loved ones were often experienced as a kind of social death. In contrast, today's polymedia environments facilitate co-presence across distance. We propose the notion of 'digital kinning' as a way to examine care across distance, including for mortuary rites.

Long abstract

Before the revolution in communication technologies, the distant transnational migrations of loved ones were often experienced as a kind of social death. The limited forms of transnational communication available and the prohibitive costs of travel meant that migrants and their 'left-behind' kin might be lost to each other forever. In communities where migration was a historically condoned practice of financial support and opportunity, emigrants were often memorialised in local monuments and places were reserved for them in familial cemetery plots, even if their bodies never returned. In contrast, today's polymedia environments create the conditions for synchronous, continuous, multisensory co-presence across distance that begin to challenge the normative and ontological privileging of proximity in care and kinship relations. This paper reports on preliminary findings from our current ARC project, Ageing and New Media, which examines the role of distant social support networks in the wellbeing of older people. We propose the notion of 'digital kinning' as a way to examine the practices of providing care and support across distance through the use of new media, including for death and mortuary rituals. For older people, these digital kinning practices often require facilitation by others, further emphasising their social relational nature. The concept of kinning (Howell 2013) highlights the processes of becoming kin, not on the basis of biological ties, but on the basis of what is done, performed and exchanged. The digital record created by this transnational digital kinning work enables relationships to extend beyond death through digital forms of memorialisation.

Revisiting "death" in post-colonial Myanmar from experiences of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Authors: Rumel Halder (University of Manitoba) email
Sharmina Shams (University of Rajshahi) email
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Short abstract

The meaning of death is not just a natural course or an end of life to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Rather, death is a form of designed demonstration of power against ethnic and religious minorities, and a weapon for powerful majority to discipline powerless block in post-colonial Myanmar.

Long abstract

Cross cultural meanings of death, death related religious and cultural rituals, and cultural perceptions of good, bad and sudden deaths and death in the context of inequalities in capitalist societies have been core research interests for many anthropologists (see Hertz 1990; Malinowski 1921, Block 1971;Scheper-Hughes 1992). From the points of all Abrahamic religions and Eastern religions death is a natural process of the end of worldly life and the first step for gaining "nirvana" (Miller 2017: 207). According to Freud (1915), death is perceived as "The Return of the Repressed". From August 2017, we have observed that more than 10,000 Rohingya people were victims of the Myanmar military since the "clearance operations" started [See the 2017 Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Boarder) estimation]. Around nearly 690,000 Rohingya people had fled already or on the way to Bangladesh to escape from violence, rape, torture and death (UN 2018 report). Then the meaning of death becomes a key question of human lives and finding an answer requires a critical review in the post-national and global political, racial, religious and ethnic contexts in the current world. By incorporating lived experiences and case studies from the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps, this paper is aiming to challenge the idea of naturalization or neutralization of images of death in global post-colonial context. Death then is a form of designed demonstration of power against ethnic and religious minorities, and a weapon for powerful majority to discipline powerless block (see Foucault).

Backpacker deaths in Australia: narratives of victimhood, blame, and mythologisation

Author: Esther Anderson (University of Southern Queensland) email
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Short abstract

Backpacker deaths in Australia are typically treated as isolated incidents. In reality, they are part of an ongoing history of structural violence, as temporary migration schemes such as the working holiday produce socioeconomic conditions that give rise to increased exposure to risk and danger.

Long abstract

What happens when an overseas backpacker is killed in Australia, while doing seasonal agricultural work? Who is to blame, when their death is indicative of institutionalised, everyday vulnerability? How can collective ignorance be transformed into accountability and social responsibility?

This paper examines the death of a working holidaymaker near a regional Queensland farm in 2016. Mid-way through my research, a young South Korean woman was accidentally killed while attempting to cross the road and get to the field where she was picking broccoli. I observed that the incident raised questions within the small town about backpackers' cultural competence and ability to navigate the rural landscape, but the socioeconomic conditions that contribute to their likelihood of exposure to risk were overlooked. As Holmes (2013) has noted, hazardous pathways, modes of travel, and places rooted in exclusion are symbolic of the routinisation of vulnerability encountered by various types of migrants and tourists globally.

Temporary migration schemes direct working holidaymakers to rural Australia in search of seasonal agricultural employment, but also differentiate between citizen and other, indirectly impacting physical safety and even contributing to legitimate danger. In this context, the diasporic deaths of working holidaymakers are not isolated incidents, and should be carefully scrutinised as part of an ongoing pattern needing redress.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.