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Press Release - 12 September 2005

Death customs and practices from around the world

African-Surinamese death culture and dinari wroko

For the majority of African-Surinamese people, death does not mean the definitive end of life. Death implies a continuation of life in another form, in which contacts between the living and the deceased or their spirits (yorka, kabra) are still possible. The dead are not dead; they are the living-dead who might interfere in people’s lives and have to be handled with care and respect. Rituals regarding death, burying and mourning are therefore viewed as the most important rites de passage.

Dinari (‘helpers’, ‘servants’) are important actors in several transition rituals. They are organised in special associations or fraternities in order to ritually wash or purify the deceased, take care of the body, carry out transition rituals, guide and support the living-dead and their relatives. Nowadays, however, they can be considered as late modern, hybrid players in a booming funeral and care ‘industry’. The small capital of Suriname, Paramaribo, counts already more than fifty of these organizations, whilst they are transnationally active in the Netherlands, the former colonizer, too.

Yvon van der Pijl (Utrecht University)
Mobile: 0031645294510

Things of the dead, tree trunks and spirits

The Tiwi Aborigines from Melville and Bathurst Islands in north Australia are known for their elaborate mortuary rituals - one of which involves destroying all of the personal belongings of the deceased. They do this for both emotional and cosmological reasons; the survivors consider a continued presence of the objects too painful. The destruction of personal belongings, along with an objectification of memories, serves to constitute the new spirit of the dead. As regards things of the dead the author, elaborating on Hertz's theory, distinguishes "flesh-type" (done away with) from "bone-type" (kept as relics or heirlooms) of objects.

Eric Venbrux (Radboud University Nijmegen)
Tel: +31-24-6962908

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