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Days of Death, Days of Life

Days of Death, Days of Life: Ritual in the Popular Culture of Oaxaca

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Days of Death, Days of Life
    Book Description:

    Kristin Norget explores the practice and meanings of death rituals in poor urban neighborhoods on the outskirts of the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca. Drawing on her extensive fieldwork in Oaxaca City, Norget provides vivid descriptions of the Day of the Dead and other popular religious practices. She analyzes how the rites and beliefs associated with death shape and reflect poor Oaxacans' values and social identity.

    Norget also considers the intimate relationship that is perceived to exist between the living and the dead in Oaxacan popular culture. She argues that popular death rituals, which lie largely outside the sanctioned practices of the Catholic Church, establish and reinforce an ethical view of the world in which the dead remain with the living and in which the poor (as opposed to the privileged classes) do right by one another and their dead. For poor Oaxacans, these rituals affirm a set of social beliefs and practices, based on fairness, egalitarianism, and inclusiveness.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51014-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Death and Life in Oaxaca
    (pp. 1-22)

    In the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca, a funeral cortège moves slowly through the city core, a pace that gives the heterogeneous muddle of onlookers plenty of opportunity to assess the parade of figures passing through the street. It is not hard to recognize many among the group of mourners as wealthy Oaxacans: women dressed in black clasping bunches of white roses and gladioli surround the shiny lozenge-shaped coffin borne in the back of a dark blue limousine; men in dark suits and ties follow solemnly; they carry enormous wreaths bearing the names of their donors, embossed in large letters...

  5. PART 1 Rites of Popular Life in Oaxaca

    • CHAPTER 1 Anthropology in a Mexican City
      (pp. 25-69)

      Studies of distinct rural communities made up the bulk of early twentieth-century ethnographies of Mexico, especially those produced by North American anthropologists.¹ Then, in the 1960s, as urban growth exploded and various forms of popular culture began to be of interest to anthropologists and other theorists of culture, a number of researchers began to study distinct urban communities or subgroups. One developing branch of this new urban anthropology was concerned with seeking general models that could account for lifestyles of the urban poor. This focus on the urban poor was generated, in part, because anthropological interest in urban Mexico (and...

    • CHAPTER 2 Practicing Popular Religion in Oaxaca
      (pp. 70-110)

      Popular religion in oaxaca is a complex syncretic system that to any outsider may seem unpredictable and even esoteric in the apparently illogical nature of its beliefs and expressions. It reflects ideas and practices related to concerns of persons—primarily indigenous and poor—who are situated in a particular position in the broader social order. Bound up with determinations of power, morals, and ideas that swarm around social obligations, the integrity of popular religion stems not from a shared set of doctrines, but from a certain configuration of the social world.

      Every religious practice develops—or perhaps emerges from—particular...

  6. PART 2 Rites of Popular Death in Oaxaca

    • CHAPTER 3 Living with Death
      (pp. 113-150)

      For many mid-twentieth-century anthropologists of functionalist and symbolic bent, the biological event of death—the extinction of individual life—was understood to be the single most significant social disruption imaginable in a community. The irregular, unpredictable nature of death, the solitude and transience evoked by human mortality, posed an enormous threat, so the argument went, to the claims of unity, permanence, and continuity so necessary to the survival of a social order. Accordingly, death must be hemmed in and controlled by rituals and events that invoke its transcendence.¹ Funerals, then, might best be understood from such a perspective—as events...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Drama of Death
      (pp. 151-184)

      One of the first events i attended in Colonia San Juan was a wake and funeral. I begin this chapter with a rather lengthy description of this experience from my field notes of 23 February 1990:

      I was at doña Filomena’s house in the evening for one of the neighborhood celebrations of La Paradita del Niño Dios, one of the series of post-Christmas fiestas that continue until Ash Wednesday. Two young women arrived, breathless. They had run up the steep hill from the highway in front of the hotel; in panicked voices they reported having seen someone named Manuel (a...

  7. PART 3 Living the Day of the Dead

    • CHAPTER 5 Days of the Dead in Oaxaca
      (pp. 187-224)

      Every year in September, posters advertising the comparsa of the Noche de Muertos, a masquerade associated with the celebration of the Day of the Dead, begin to appear in the city (figure 5.1). And before long, pan de muertos, bread that is shaped into human or skeletal forms, can be found for sale in city markets. At this time of the year, thrifty, forethoughtful urban residents begin to purchase and put aside candlesticks, chocolate, and other festival necessities in order to avoid the sharp rise in cost of these items as November approaches. Soon the tiny, intensely bright yellow flowers...

    • CHAPTER 6 Spectacular Death and Cultural Change
      (pp. 225-264)

      Omnipresent at the beginning of November in Oaxaca, the calavera is the skull with your name scrawled across its forehead, made of a crusty sugar paste and decorated in bright colors; the calavera is the dancing skeleton found in Day of the Dead advertisements in the newspapers or in store windows; it is a cartoon caricature of a celebrity or local politician who, undressed of his (or her) flesh, is reduced to a pathetic and laughable skeleton, lampooned in witty and sardonic verse; it is a tiny papier-mâché skeleton with spindly limbs that jumps out of a cardboard coffin with...

  8. Epilogue: Life in Death
    (pp. 265-270)

    In ideal spaces, ideal works—religious and philosophical systems, works of art, books, critiques—we try to make all sorts of coherent, consistent systems of ethics, to extract the bad from the good, to remove those elements that are unlike or clash. These are often quite laudable enterprises, ways to seek knowledge of what to do or how to live, paths on which we search for wisdom. We do this because life is not clear; it is jumbled, complex; several value systems coexist, different worlds clash, struggle, and recombine. It is often hard to tell what is going on. And...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 271-290)
    (pp. 291-304)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 305-322)