EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

(P077)
Death, mourning, and commemoration through shifting landscapes [VANEASA]
Location SO-B419
Date and Start Time 16 Aug, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Kailey Rocker (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) email
  • László Kürti (University of Miskolc) email
  • Arba Bekteshi (University of Sussex) email

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Chair Dr László Kürti, Miss Kailey Rocker
Discussant Caroline Bennett (Victoria University of Wellington)

Short abstract

We focus on the visual representations of death as well as mourning and commemoration practices in the wake of migrations, displacements, settlements and readjustments following epochal shifts, e.g. wars, socialism, colonialism, and their post-cursors, in communities left behind and receiving ones.

Long abstract

The panel invites discussion on the visual, spatial, and performative representations of death, mourning, and commemoration in public spaces. We specifically ask how public and private representations of death and recollections of life have shaped and been shaped by shifting landscapes, memory practices, or conceptualizations of what constitutes and delineates public space. By highlighting the term 'shifting', we encourage anthropologists to think about death and social memory in terms of both epochal and socio-political shifts within a diversity of geographic and historic contexts. How have migrations, displacements, settlements, and readjustments related to epochal and socio-political shifts such as wars, socialism, colonialism, and their post-cursors, affected the ways communities perform and visualize death?

Furthermore, through focusing on death, mourning, and commemoration practices, we hope to inspire further discussion about the complex historical and material legacies that accompany and linger after shifts. As the anthropologist Katherine Verdery (1999) has shown, exploring the literal movements of dead bodies in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s provided a unique opportunity to assess shifting regimes of time and space, e.g. from socialism to post-socialism in Eastern Europe. Visual representations and performances of death can provide a concrete way to ask how shifts happen; whom shifts affect; and how previous epochs, states, and their associated death practices remain or disappear? In other words, what can the anthropology of practices surrounding death tell us about the nature and persistence of shifts?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Nationalizing victims and mourning - averting transnational ties?

Author: Olga Davydova-Minguet (University of Eastern Finland) email
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Short abstract

The presentation depicts tendency towards "nationalization" of mourning sites and practices in the North-Western region of Russia Republic of Karelia, and ponders its relation with the actual transnational ties and still going on emigration from Karelia to Finland.

Long abstract

Republic of Karelia, the North-Western region of Russia bordering with Finland, has experienced massive emigration to Western countries, mostly to Finland during Post-Soviet transformation and become one of the most transnational territories of Russia. Exchanges between RK and Finland have been extensive in terms of tourism, migration, businesses, administrative contacts etc. During 1990s and beginning of 2000s these developments became signed also in the landscape of Karelia. In the former Finnish territories that after the WWII became part of the USSR, several monuments to the former inhabitants and victims of the war were erected. With the isolationist political change in Russia which started in mid-2000s and stabilized with the crisis in the EU-Russia relations which burst out in 2014, the memory landscape and mourning practices started to change too. Previous trends towards transnational memory were substituted by the developments towards "nationalization" of memory. For example, in the capital of Karelia Petrozavodsk, the monument to the victims of Finnish concentration camps was erected in 2017 after 73 years of oblivion, and the grounds of mass executions of Stalin times that were discovered in 1990s are being claimed to be places of shootings of Soviet soldiers by Finnish occupants during the war. In my presentation I depict tendency towards nationalization of mourning sites and practices in Karelia and ponder its connection with the actual transnational ties with Finland and still going on emigration from Karelia to Finland.

The Production of Funeral Workers for Urbanizing China

Author: Andrew Kipnis (Chinese University of Hong Kong) email
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Short abstract

China's urbanization requires movement. People migrate. Social class shifts. Landscapes transform. Industries rise. The urban Chinese funerary sector reflects all of these shifts. This paper focuses on movement and stability of those who study to work in this sector.

Long abstract

Funerals in rural China are organized by family or lineage elders. The dead are buried on family or village land and the whole process, at least during the Maoist period, could be organized locally with minimal costs. But urban funerals require funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemeteries. These services can be expensive, generating considerable profit, and the resulting industry require an ever-expanding workforce. Among the many forms of social transformation implied by China's breathtakingly rapid urbanization has thus been the growth of the funerary industry and the production of workers to staff this industry. Heavily stigmatised, the industry draws some of its workforce from the rural migrants who do most of the dirty, dangerous and despised jobs in urban areas. But many other workers graduate from specialised university programs designed for the industry. This paper focuses on the first and largest of these programs—the School of Funerary Ritual at the Changsha Social Work University. Established in 1995, the school and its graduates have established networks that dominate the industry nationwide. The school both combats the stigmatization of the industry by transforming funerary work into a profession that requires a university degree and utilizes the labour shortage caused by this stigmatization to provide readily available jobs for its graduates and to increase the extent of solidarity among its graduates.

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Remembering Youthful Dead in the Wake of Albania's Socialist and Post-Socialist Periods

Author: Kailey Rocker (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) email
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Short abstract

In this paper, I explore the visual mourning work of remembering Albania's youthful dead in the wake of the country's socialist and post-socialist periods and how this mourning work can become a means of navigating the messy convergence of epochal shifts.

Long abstract

In 2016, the names and ghostly images of recently deceased individuals began to appear throughout the streets of Albania. The stenciled image of a young opposition activist who died in a prison in Prizren, Kosovo, found its way from Prishtina to Tirana. Likewise, another image of a young man who died working in a landfill outside of Tirana appeared around the city. Since, young activists and independent political organizations have used graffiti to commemorate other recently deceased on the sides of buildings, outside shop windows, and across from cafes. At the same time, the new Authority for Information on Documents of the Former State Security has embarked on a journey to commemorate the death of children in the 1940s and 1950s at one of Albania's former internment camps through the creation of a memorial and museum at the site itself.

Apart from their temporality, both types of mourning work—young activists' graffitied reminders of contemporary deaths and a state institution's commemoration of children who died at the turn of Albania's socialist period—demonstrate a similar technology of remembering the youthful dead today, one based on the importance of identity. In this paper, I explore the visual mourning work of remembering Albania's youthful dead, contextualizing these visual and memorial encounters within the wake of Albania's socialist and post-socialist periods. All of these bodies—contemporary and past deceased, institutional and independent activists—demonstrate the messy convergence of epochal shifts and how mourning work can become a means of navigating them.

Unearthing the past, rising from the dead. Subterranean time capsules of the Spanish civil war victims

Author: Alexandra Staniewska email
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Short abstract

In my paper I consider unearthing the dead as a sort of mobility in time, as they represent values they died for, transformed into actual political and social realms. By coming back into the country's spacetime, the dead claim their rights, and act as opponents to the historical narrative.

Long abstract

The mobility is normally considered in the terms of spatial movement, marked with "disappearance" in one place and "appearance" in the other. Within a spatiotemporal framework we can analyse the exhumations of the civil war and francoist repression victims in Spain, and their influence on the actual social and political landscape of the country. Their forced disappearance, produced decades ago, left a wound in a social tissue, that is trying to be healed with the current movement aimed to visualise the harms by unveiling the dead. The exhumations act as a symbolic link between the present and the past, the dead and the living. Before being founded and unearthed, the human remains are an abstract notion of memory, and place the dead in a category of disappeared. While being unearthed they change their social status and are often treated as living persons. Once the identification process is over and the remains are given back to the family or the community, they reclaim their personalities and are inhumed in a way comprehended as a proper burial. Their status becomes clear.

The process of recovering the social memory in Spain that exhumations form a part of, serves not only social, but also political purposes. Historical narratives are especially important in the power relations, as they help to control the social memory, that later represent the political objectives. By transforming the dead from "disappeared" to "identified" the community marks their space in the social history and confronts the "necroviolence" it was submitted to.

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Interrupting Veneration of the Ancestors: The Paradoxes of Commemorating the Return of Stolen Spirit-Statues in Kenya

Author: Monica Udvardy (University of Kentucky) email
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Short abstract

This paper analyzes the shifting meanings of two returned vigango, tall, memorial spirit-statues erected by the Kenyan Mijikenda peoples to incarnate deceased members of the Gohu secret society. Stolen decades earlier, found in the USA, and returned, local elders' debates about them are discussed.

Long abstract

This paper analyzes the shifting meanings of vigango, tall, wooden memorial statues that are erected by the Mijikenda peoples of Kenya to incarnate deceased male members of the Gohu secret society. Since Kenyan independence, vigango have become popular objects on the global art market, and today are often stolen almost as soon as they are erected near homesteads. In 2007, my colleagues and I succeeded in returning two vigango that we had located in United States museum collections to the family who had originally installed them 20 years earlier at the edge of their rural, Kenyan coastal hinterland homestead.

We witnessed the return of these statues, and recorded hours of animated conversation by Gohu and community elders about how properly to receive these incarnations of their deceased fraternal Gohu members. Because stolen vigango had never been returned to the Mijikenda, much less those that had spent their "lives" abroad, the elders were divided about whether the spirits of the returned vigango should be reanimated through reinstallation, as newly erected vigango are, or whether they should rest horizontally to symbolize a potential loss of their active spirit wrought by their global travels. This paper analyzes these debates, and new rituals invented, as they express Mijikenda elders' perceived changes in the meanings of these spirit-objects from the new "activities" they experienced through their global voyages to North America and back. It also contrasts the elders' perspectives with decisions made by National Museums of Kenya officials and regional politicians for commemorating the returned statues.

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Dynamics of mourning celebrations in Southwest Madagascar in times of impoverishment and market integration

Author: Johanna Friederike Goetter (Brandenburg University of Technology) email
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Short abstract

This paper examines the recent dynamics of the mourning celebrations in Southwest Madagascar, exploring the triggers and mechanisms of change. While in most regions of Madagascar mourning celebrations have been adapted to be less costly, here in turn, the celebrations became more luxurious and big.

Long abstract

This paper examines the recent dynamics of the mourning celebrations, specifically the public funerary gift-giving in Southwest Madagascar. Although the high social and economic impact of such ceremonies on livelihoods in the developing world is recognized, little research has focused on the question how these systems transform over time and respond to broader political, societal and socio-economic shifts such as globalization, market integration, or impoverishment.

As in many parts of the world, Malagasy groups conduct lengthy public funerary celebrations that involve hundreds of participants and a continuous flow of gifts and counter-gifts. With the general impoverishment of Madagascar as one of the poorest countries of the world in many regions funerary spending has decreased. On the Mahafaly Plateau, in turn, a contrary development is taking place: Not only do the Mahafaly people still spend a relevant share of their annual expenditure for participation in funerals, the celebrations are becoming even bigger and exorbitantly luxurious.

The study based on interviews conducted in 26 Mahafaly villages explores triggers and mechanisms of change, especially the interplay between personal aspirations and societal ideologies reacting to influences from the urban areas, and how these translate into shifted societal norms and rules regarding mourning celebrations. Depicting a vicious circle of agonism and status seeking and stressing the high, however not necessary positive adaptability of traditional funerary systems and the importance of innovative individual behaviour, this paper contributes to our understanding of persistence and change in societies somewhere between tradition-focused live and modernity.

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Our Dead Among Us: Inscription of Public Space through Death Notifications in Tirana

Author: Arba Bekteshi (University of Sussex) email
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Short abstract

In this photo essay, I present the changing ritualistic display of public death notifications on city walls in Tirana, Albania. The spread of death notifications is a relatively recent phenomenon, specifically belonging to approximately the last ten years, due to Tirana's increasing population.

Long abstract

In Tirana, death notifications state the name and age of the dead, display a good personal picture or professional drawing of the dead, as well as specify the place and time of the burial and the mourning period. Here, I trace the abovementioned spread from what used to be one main public space where death notifications were displayed, a framed wall space in Rruga e Dibrës, to many larger ones, during the last ten years or so.

I focus on how the citizens' gesture of sticking death notifications on walls, electrical power street cabins and lampposts create new mortuary practices spatially organizing the memorialization of loved ones. I show how the abovementioned public spaces used for the display of death notifications are appropriated by collective representations of death, and consequently used as new socially designated places of collective commemoration. Furthermore, death notifications spread freely throughout the city are accorded attributes that transform them from commemorative gestures to spatially embedded experiences of death informed by vague notions of democratic freedom and expression (Low & Lawrence-Zúñiga 2004). I make a case for these public displays of mourning and death as delimitative of new public spaces and mourning rituals as social communication strategies (Danforth 2004).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.