“Cemeteries could be regarded as non-social spaces due to a believed negligible amount of daily social activity between the living, the dead and the space. At the same time, the spaces of the dead are regarded as spiritually charged, dangerous and even polluted. My paper suggests that the spaces of the dead, such as the cemeteries of Mexico City, are clear examples of dynamically active memory-making spaces in which the dead are daily revered, socialised and memorialised through a combination of secular and religious contemporary funerary practices, the daily interaction between the living, the dead, the ánima and material culture. The paper analyses the phenomenon, socio-cultural and political conditions of the objectification of the dead in the internal and external spaces of the cemetery. The paper includes the investigation of life histories of its workers, mourners and daily visitors in order to explore why various communities in Mexico City have embraced and revered the materialisation and objectification of the dead such as the following of the Santa Muerte. This paper then digs deeper into the array of meanings interwoven into the fabrics of social life and spiritual stability of the living, in which the widespread embrace of material culture plays a dynamic role in the contemporary social rituals dedicated to the dead in the cemeteries of a megalopolis.” p.107
Reyes-Cortez, M. 2012: Material culture, magic and the Santa Muerte in the cemeteries of a megalopolis. Visible Religions, in Culture and Religion: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol.13, No.1, (March, Routledge), pp. 107-131.
Reyes-Cortez on Portraits of Remembrance
“. . . Her eyes look straight ahead, as if looking at Don Francisco talking to her, the eyes of the image reciprocates the viewer’s gaze. I suggest that at this moment the materiality of the photograph is transformed and the photograph transcends the object, it protects the dead from the ephemeral human body, overcoming the absence of the person. I suggest that the photograph preserves traces of memory and personhood, shifted from the decomposing flesh in the coffin or a cremated body in a cinerary urn to the social body of the photograph. Portraits of remembrance protect the invincibility of the dead as a social person, making the dead visible through the relationships and the value entrusted to the material/spiritual image by its mourners and visitors . . .” p.48-49.
Reyes-Cortez, M. 2010: Communicating with the Dead: Social Visibility in the Cemeteries of Mexico City, in Die Realität des Todes: Zum gegenwärtigen Wandel von Totenbildern und Erinnerungskulturen (Visibility of Death) by Dominik Groß, Christoph Schweikardt (edts), pp.33-62, Campus Verlag, Germany.
Abstract: ‘My grandmother is not a ‘corpse’: The forgotten dead of a Megalopolis’
The cemetery space could be argued or understood to be a social, political, socio-culturally dynamic and sociomythic space, yet when the dead die alone, without identity, then a cemetery takes on a darker and sinister twist. My paper explores how a cemetery in a megalopolis such as Mexico City turns into a waste dump for the carcass of the human body. In this context if a person in Mexico City is unknown and its body unclaimed by its family or friends, the dead ends striped of its role as a social person, dehumanised and treated as waste, a corpse or a pile of bones, striped of its human dignity. There are instances more common than not were the dignity and humanity of the dead has been excluded from the overall complexity of current Mexican funerary practices. This paper will look particularly at the forgotten dead that find their final resting place in common unmarked graves, such as the ones located in Panteón Civil de Dolores, Mexico D.F.
This paper addresses why people persist in maintaining a relationship with their dead, exploring the social and cultural tools that are used to extend the dead’s biographical narratives such as secular and religious commemorative objects and the photographic portrait. ‘Not letting go’ is of fundamental value for my research participants as striping the dead from their humanity could place us in danger of excluding ourselves from becoming dynamic members of the human community when we die.
Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
The Waso Boorana are a nomadic pastoral people that trace their origins from the Oromo people of Ethiopia with a population of about 21,392 (1990) in Isiolo, Kenya. Before the Shifta war in the 1960s the Waso Booranas were the richest nomadic tribe in Eastern Africa. During the war they were located into towns and many of their animals killed. They were not able to continue with their pastoralist way of life and become one of the poorest nomadic tribes in Eastern Africa. The Booranas had to settle in villages and continuously suffer attacks by ex-soldiers and bandits who kill them without mercy and rob them of whatever little they might have left. Together with the hardships resulting from droughts unable to travel and practice their traditional customs, they have become a community forgotten by the world. What impressed me the most during my time with the Waso Borranas between October and November 1992 was their optimism and will to survive. The Waso Boorana have an incredible sense of community and ability to cope with sudden changes without losing their social or cultural identity.
'The lost path of Waqqa', The Barbican Centre, London, 1993.
Panteón Jardín, a modern multi-faith cemetery built in the 1930s and is a prime example of how the social rituals that exist in the spaces of the living are reflected through the spatiality and location of the dead.