Accepted paper:

Even the path you walk is painful: death and grief in Samburu

Authors:

Bilinda Straight (Western Michigan University)

Paper short abstract:

The mundanest of things profoundly evoke memory and the haunting effects of loss on individual human beings. Cross-culturally, the dead may also inhabit or become these objects and places, potentially hazardously as well as beneficially, as I examine for Samburu livestock herders in northern Kenya.

Paper long abstract:

Many of us are familiar with Lacan's reinterpretation of Freud by which death becomes the first fetish. As the (anglo) child practices the now-you-see-her (mother), now-you-don't game to pass the time, s/he comes to rely on the substitution rather than the (mother's) presence, and loss comes to be inscribed in the child's subconscious. Moreover, as the child pronounces the sounds that will command the plaything to appear or disappear, s/he learns the language that signals absence, killing the 'thing' in a move that both associates language with absence—of toys and mothers—and establishes what it has taken some philosophers centuries to know—that the name and the thing are not one. Within this European theoretical tradition, the mundanest of things profoundly evoke memory and the haunting effects of loss on individual human beings. In many instances cross-culturally, the power of things and also places goes beyond memorialization: The dead inhabit or become these objects and places, potentially hazardously as well as beneficially. I examine these themes through a case study of Samburu livestock herders in northern Kenya with whom I have worked since 1992.

panel P16
The 'evidence' of death: necrographic accounts on death perspectives