Cremating the Body Politic: Reconsidering the Politics and Poetics of Indo-Caribbean Morttuary Ritual
This presentation reconstructs the history and politics of Indo-Trinidadian mortuary ritual over 150 years in southern Caribbean. Indentured laborers were compelled to bury their dead in the British West Indian colony of Trinidad, and so Hindus had to adapt their mortuary ritual practices to contend with corpse interment. While efforts to legalize cremation gathered momentum in the late colonial period, it was not until the last quarter of the 20th century that cremation rituals consolidated and became common practice among Hindus in teh Caribbean. Since then the ''antyeshti samskaar'' mortuary corpus has been revitalized and expanded, so that it now organizes not only the local Hindu response to death, but has also become the quintessentially ''Indian" way to treat the dead more generally, including among Christian Indians.
Keith McNeal is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Houston specializing in Caribbean ethnology, Atlantic history, and ritual studies. His first book Trance and Modernity in the Souther Caribbean (2011, University Press of Florida) is a comparative historical ethnography of African and Hindu religions in Trinidad and Tobago, where he has been doing reserach since 1997. His current work examines the history and politics of Indo-Trinidadian mortuary rituals, embodied symbolism and the visual culturals of trance performance and spirit mediumship, and the politics of sexuality and citizenship in the Caribbean.
April 17, 2017
Macy 110 / UNC Charlotte