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  • Passages and Afterworlds: Anthropological Perspectives on Death in the Caribbean ed. by Maarit Forde and Yanique Hume
  • Luis Javier Cintrón-Gutiérrez
Maarit Forde and Yanique Hume (Eds.). 2018. Passages and Afterworlds: Anthropological Perspectives on Death in the Caribbean. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 312 pp. ISBN 978-1-4780-0014-3

Death is not just a biological matter; it is also a social issue. In this context, a deceased person is an object of study that serves to prove the existence of symbolic and ideological values, as well as a "blank canvas" where classes, historical, and sociocultural elements are manifested (Lugo Ramírez 2016:29-30). In the symbolic and biological spheres, there is a constant struggle to preserve social and physical life. At the symbolic level, moments of bereavement become a battlefield that challenges social death, collective omission, and marginalization.

Recently, in an informal conversation with other colleagues from the Department of Languages, Literature, and Culture at University at Albany–SUNY, I said: "me quiero morir" ("I want to die"). The Caribbean-born colleagues were not surprised by the comment, but colleagues from other parts of the globe were astonished. In response to my exclamation, a Dominican colleague said: "todo el mundo en el Caribe se quiere morir" ("everyone in the Caribbean wants to die"). It follows that dead is constituent of the social construction of the Caribbean. Also, death and its rituals are a recurring theme of the discussions in Hispanic-Caribbean cultural production.

Historically, death as a social issue has been seen behind the Euro-centric perspective. Also, disciplines such as anthropology and sociology use highly specialized and Eurocentric vocabulary to analyze traditional Amerindian and Caribbean societies. In contrast to the classical notion in the social sciences and history disciplines, Passages and Afterworlds: Anthropological Perspectives on Death in the Caribbean has been published.

This is a book of proceeding consisting of ten anthropological conference papers delivered at a three-day workshop at the University of West Indies (UWI) at Cape Hill, Barbados, in June 2011. As mentioned in the acknowledgments, this book has been founded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and organized by UWI. It also includes the participation of anthropologists from some parts of the Caribbean and the United States. The book was published by Duke University Press and is compiled and edited by Maarit Forde and Yanique Hume. Both [End Page 164] are faculty members at the University of West Indies.

The contributors of this book of proceeding provide a wealthy ethnographic and historical analysis toward death and its rituals and practices. Structurally, this book is divided into two parts. The first part is composed of five chapters that question the cosmological and ontological relations between the living bodies and the spirits of the dead. In these chapters, we have the opportunity to see the symbolic value of the death practices across time, space, and social class. Some examples exposed in the book include: an Afro-Caribbean funeral practices in New York City as a way to reconnecting with the ancestors and their transnational culture; the social construction of spaces linked with the concepts of family, class and property in countries such Jamaica, and the social dramas and mortuary practices in one town of Haiti. The second part of this proceeding is composed of four chapters. In this part, the book focuses on the postcolonial transformation of the mortuary rituals and notions toward death.

Passages and Afterworlds applies an untraditional geographic composition of the Greater Caribbean region. It introduces regions that had been historically excluded from classical Caribbean Studies and included countries such as Honduras. Also, it approaches an external and internal notion of the Caribbean Diaspora. A specific example of the internal and external idea is the Afro-Caribbean migration to New York City and the Indian migration to Trinidad and Tobago. However, the Caribbean defined in this book has an unproportioned representation of Hispanic Caribbean cases. The book only makes a few mentions about the muertos and regla de ocha in Cuba.

Overall, this book defines the Caribbean as a region founded under violent and dehumanizing regimes of conquest and plantation. In this historical formation of the Caribbean, "death...


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