For us smiles and laughter have no place at funerals. They are deeply shocking. A blanket of straight-faced formality covers all… To the Nyakyusa of Malawi the sobriety of an English burial is astonishing: ‘We talk and dance to comfort the relatives. If we others sat sad and glum then the grief of the relatives would far exceed ours. If we just sorrowed what depths of grief would they not reach? And so we sit and talk and laugh and dance until the relatives laugh too.’
Dancing on the Grave - Nigel Barley [pp.33-34] (via anthmusings
One does not need to have actually existed to be mourned… The screen dead have an existence that is purely social and consensual. After all, the criterion of fame is that one is violently loved or hated by people one has never even met and nowadays stars do not have to exist any more to continue to perform.
Dancing on the Grave - Nigel Barley
I particularly like the first line of this quote. It’s a truth of the human condition which has been made more visible with media technologies and things like long running radio and television shows. People feel genuine emotion over the death of a character, essential a being that does not exist in the ‘real’ or tangible world. In fact the actor is most likely alive and well, aside from in such sad situations such as the film ‘The Crow’ where the character outlived the actor. I like to bear this example of social death in mind when looking at the mourning practices of other cultures. So many fall into the trap of viewing unusual cultural practices as ‘illogical’ or ‘irrational’ and therefore somehow ‘wrong’, but we have just as many irrational practices, which we have internalised to the point of normality. This is the basis of ethnocentrism, a blindness to our own irrationality, and the common sense of others.
It is more accurate to say that notions of what it means to be dead are always part of a more general idea of what it means to be a living human being in the first place and funerary behaviour and beliefs around the world read like an extended discussion of the notion of the person.
Dancing on the Grave - Nigel Barley [pp. 27] (via anthmusings