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Deathways open doors to unexpected cultural practices
Date:10/8/2008

and West Indies; and war raged in every corner of the region.

"Second, Christianity, Judaism and the many polytheistic religions of American Indians and Sub-Saharan Africans focused on explaining to believers the meaning of death and the afterlife," he says.

"Because of this," Seeman says, "when individuals met strangers they were interested in the others' deathways. What remains are far more descriptions of mortuary rituals than of such cultural practices as food preparation or music.

"Finally," says Seeman, "how corpses were prepared, what was included in burials and how death was commemorated leave traces in the material record that other cultural forms do not, offering researchers a rich trove of evidence with which to explore cultural and social attitudes and practices outside of deathways."

Seeman's research also looks at how, in the exploitive context of colonial encounters, understanding of deathways was put to manipulative ends by both sides. He demonstrates how missionaries used it to gain native converts, for instance, while some Indians used European fear of post-mortem mutilation to incite horror through scalping.

The book also takes a particular interest in how deathways document the cultural syncretism that, over time, reconciled a vast number of disparate or contradictory beliefs, often by melding practices of cultures ranging from the French and Portuguese to the Iroquois and Congolese who came into contact with one another in the New World from the 15th century on.


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Contact: Patricia Donovan
pdonovan@buffalo.edu
716-645-5000 x1414
University at Buffalo
Source:Eurekalert

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