Bodily connections and practising relatedness: Aboriginal family and funerals in rural north Queensland

Babidge, Sally (2006) Bodily connections and practising relatedness: Aboriginal family and funerals in rural north Queensland. Anthropological Forum, 16 1: 55-71. doi:10.1080/00664670600572520

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Author Babidge, Sally
Title Bodily connections and practising relatedness: Aboriginal family and funerals in rural north Queensland
Journal name Anthropological Forum   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0066-4677
1469-2902
Publication date 2006-03
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1080/00664670600572520
Volume 16
Issue 1
Start page 55
End page 71
Total pages 17
Editor R. Tonkinson
Place of publication Oxfordshire, U.K
Publisher Routledge
Collection year 2006
Language eng
Subject C1
370302 Social and Cultural Anthropology
750309 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander development and welfare
Formatted abstract This paper is based on fieldwork with Aboriginal people in Charters Towers, a rural town in northern Queensland in Australia. It concerns Aboriginal funerals, which are one of the most important events by which rural Aboriginal people in northern Queensland revitalise kinship relations. The paper examines the ways in which kinship and notions of belonging are embodied at funerals in the performance and practice of relationships, which in turn re-create notions of 'family' through an exploration of the co-constitution of family and the deceased.

The paper does not argue that the funeral is to be understood primarily as reproductive of social order (cf. Bloch and Parry 1982). Funerals in this area do mark the passing of the living body into the realm of the dead in the final transformation of its corporeal state (cf. van Gennep 1960). However, it is the various modes of corporeality of the living that in many ways confirm the continuation of the agency of the deceased in sustaining the social connections that surrounded them in life. The deceased is responsible for both the re-creation and the dissolution of living relationships. In these processes the 'family' is reconstituted in all its complex, disputatious and renegotiated relations as the centre of belonging. However, the dead also embody contradictory forces at the funeral, being both absent and present—as are family members. The dead generate possibilities for the living in their gathering together to honour the deceased, but they also have the potential to destroy family through loss and grief.

The deceased are agents in the discomfiture of mourners, may continue their presence in representations such as photographs and other documents, and sometimes actually manifest themselves after their physical death. The dead, by bringing the living together, initiate the redefinition of living relationships and represent the nature of relatedness among the living as embodied in relationships to the deceased.

Thus, funerals are events where the modes of embodiment of the dead circulate to constitute family, the members of which in turn move together to practise and represent their relationships to the dead. Furthermore, the modes of family movement and the ways in which the dead are represented demonstrate that the practice and representation of Aboriginal family is inextricably entangled with the state.

The paper follows the process of death, the notification of and preparations for the funeral, the timely travelling of kin, the service at the church, the burial and the wake. I also begin to explore how, given the imperative to attend funerals, people deal with their own and other family absences. However, I first situate the research by providing a broad picture of the social and historical context for Aboriginal people from Charters Towers.
© 2006 Discipline of Anthropology and Sociology, The University of Western Australia
Q-Index Code C1

 
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