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Mortuary Dialogues: Death Ritual and the Reproduction of Moral Community in Pacific Modernities

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Volume 7

ASAO Studies in Pacific Anthropology

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Mortuary Dialogues

Death Ritual and the Reproduction of Moral Community in Pacific Modernities

Edited by David Lipset and Eric K. Silverman
Foreword by Shirley Lindenbaum

262 pages, 44 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78533-171-8 $110.00/£78.00 Hb Published (June 2016)

eISBN 978-1-78533-172-5 eBook

Hb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook! $34.95 Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“The narratives used in the studies skillfully alternate between memories of a past living, a way of life not affected by socio-political histories of the ‘West’, and the experiences grounded in new and present realities of the 21st century by focusing on the ‘double’… nature of these rituals…Overall the book is detailed, easy to understand, historically informed and critical.” • Social Anthropology

“The editors begin with the familiar idea that mortuary rites reproduce the moral community in the face of death’s disruption, but they add that these rites are privileged sites for negotiating the tension between reproduction and historical transformation…Taken as a whole this collection balances a serious attempt to understand cultural change with enough ethnographic variety to satisfy anybody.” • Pacific Affairs

“Applying Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of discourse, the editors and many of the contributors focus on both the official and the unofficial voices in the ongoing mortuary debates about Christianity, capitalism, and the state—the three forces that have made a major impact on the lives of the Pacific peoples in the postcolonial era… this book is theoretically innovative, ethnographically rich, and very thought provoking.” • American Ethnologist

“One of the more noteworthy of the book’s features is the great diversity in the content of the dialogues separately reported and the range of theoretical perspectives adopted to account for them within the dialogue rubric…Each of these studies is to be praised for the heartfelt poignancy of the stories they tell, which are part and parcel of life in the Pacific today. The diversity of theoretical orientations informing those stories, which is impossible to cover adequately in a review of this nature, will also give readers much of great value to ponder.” • Anthropos

Mortuary Dialogues is an initiated contribution to the ethnography of Oceania, with relevance far beyond the Pacific… Mortuary Dialogues is also a thought-provoking attempt to revitalize anthropological theory on meanings of mortuary ritual…Mortuary Dialogues demonstrates the value of anthropologists revisiting their fieldwork sites. The authors share a longstanding engagement with the communities they describe. By juxtaposing personal experiences from repeated intervals of fieldwork with readings of historical sources, they achieve solid depth to their analyses of continuity and change in ritual responses to death.” • Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde

“This book is notable for its wealth of ethnographic data on mortuary practices in very different parts of a changing Pacific, as well as for the critique running through it that reminds us that Hertz’s model is an idealization—both emic and etic—from which the actual practice departs into varying degrees of ambivalence.” • Roger Lohmann, Trent University

“The chapters here offer some very important additions to the discipline and are stimulating and good reads whether or not one agrees with the authors’ points.” • Frederick Damon, University of Virginia


Mortuary Dialogues presents fresh perspectives on death and mourning across the Pacific Islands. Through a set of rich ethnographies, the book examines how funerals and death rituals give rise to discourse and debate about sustaining moral personhood and community amid modernity and its enormous transformations. The book’s key concept, “mortuary dialogue,” describes the different genres of talk and expressive culture through which people struggle to restore individual and collective order in the aftermath of death in the contemporary Pacific.

David Lipset is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota.

Eric K. Silverman is Professor of Anthropology in the American Studies and Psychology/Human Development Departments at Wheelock College.

Subject: General Anthropology
Area: Asia-Pacific


List of Figures and Tables

Shirley Lindenbaum


Introduction: Mortuary Ritual, Modern Social Theory and the Historical Moment in Pacific Modernity
Eric K. Silverman and David Lipset


Chapter 1. Fearing the Dead: The Mortuary Rites of Marshall Islanders’ amid the Tragedy of Pacific Modernity
Laurence M. Carucci

Chapter 2. Into the World of Sorrow: Women and the Work of Death in Maori Mortuary Rites
Che Wilson and Karen Sinclair

Chapter 3. Death and Experience in Rawa Mortuary Rites, Papua New Guinea
Doug Dalton

Chapter 4. The Knotted Person: Death, the Bad Breast and Melanesian Modernity among the Murik, Papua New Guinea
David Lipset

Chapter 5. Mortuary Ritual and Mining Riches in Island Melanesia
Nicholas A. Bainton and Martha Macintyre


Chapter 6. Finishing Kapui's Name: Birth, Death and the Reproduction of Manam Society, Papua New Guinea
Nancy C. Lutkehaus

Chapter 7. Transformations of Male Initiation and Mortuary Rites among the Kayan of Papua New Guinea
Alexis T. von Poser

Chapter 8. Mortuary Failures: Traditional Uncertainties and Modern Families in the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
Eric K. Silverman

Chapter 9. Everything Will Come Up Like TV, Everything Will Be Revealed: Death in an Age of Uncertainty in the Purari Delta, Papua New Guinea
Joshua Bell

Afterword: Mortuary Dialogues in Pacific Modernities and Anthropology
David Lipset, Eric K. Silverman and Eric Venbrux


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