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.
Abstract: ‘Visual research in the cemeteries of Mexico City: Photography, a social research method’
My visual research project explores how through daily and yearly cycles, the bereaved, mourners and workers develop and maintain intricate funerary rituals involving the dead buried in the cemeteries of Mexico City. Commemorative visual and material culture both religious and secular already plays an important role in mourners’ everyday life and activities. A more extensive use of the photograph and the practice of photography became a valuable social research tool, especially when looking at the exchanges and interactions between the dead, memory and the visual material worlds that assist the living, the dead and the ánima (spirit/soul) to stay connected in the spaces in which they interact.
I have chosen to explore the above social and cultural processes in part through a visual methodology, documenting meticulously through photographs as well as text the numerous ways in which the living and the dead remain connected over generations. The practice of photography eased and speeded the entry into the cemetery and mourners private and public spaces, it also opened access to the possibilities of collaboratory encounters within the field and with those people with whom I was working. Thus, I examined and extensively recorded through photography the cyclical memorialising and mourning practices, ritualised routines, and daily habits associated with the dead and the cemetery space in the borough of Álvaro Obregón, Mexico City. A visual methodology in combination with traditional ethnographic methods such as participant observation, formal and informal interviews, investigation of life histories of the bereaved, mourners, visitors and workers with an overview of contemporary Mexican funerary practices in Mexico City offered the project a productive instrument, providing a more nuanced understanding of the bereaved and mourner’s ideas about their relationships with the dead.
11-14 April 2012: ‘European Social Science History Conference’
Programme: University of Glasgow
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.