“And Unto Dust Shalt Thou Return”: Death and the Semiotics of Remembrance in an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Village

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Abstract

This ethnographic article discusses funerary practice, Orthodox Christian ideas of body and spirit, and the ways in which people make memorials for each other on the Zege Peninsulain northwest Ethiopia. I pay special attention to gravestones because, here as in many other places, physical memorials to the dead become locations where latent uncertainties and conflicts about the relationship between spirit and matter, body and soul, and this world and the next, tend to crystallise. I show that material memorials highlight ambiguities in Orthodox attitudes to human embodiment and challenge priestly monopolies over relations between the living and the dead. Because of material chains of mediation and memorialisation, the disaggregating practices of Orthodox funerary ritual can never fully untangle the deceased from their worldly social entanglements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-302
Number of pages21
JournalMaterial Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief
Volume11
Issue number3
Early online date10 Feb 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2016

Keywords

  • death
  • bones
  • materiality
  • gravestones
  • orthodox christianity
  • Ethiopia

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