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Book: Religion, Death and the Senses

Chapter: 14. Body Disposal, Decency and Dark Tourism: A Case Study Approach

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.43888


In this chapter, we will explore death and the sense of decency in two sets of case studies; through the lens of dark tourism and Holocaust tourism, and through the disposal of human bodies considered Other with a focus on enslaved African people during the Slave Trade, and the tiny bodies of neonates in contemporary medical settings. Regarding the bodies of enslaved peoples, this will focus on Brazil, and Barbados and St. Vincent in the Caribbean. In Brazil records show that common graves were often used for enslaved Africans however, there were differences in terms of decency depending on where one died. In Olinda for instance, common graves mean side by side burials rather than a mass pit, and the given name of the enslaved person was recorded alongside personal information such as their marital status, place of birth and cause of death, although the inclusion of the slave owner’s name ensured that the recorded death was clear in assigning Other status. However, in Rio mass pits were commonplace and contemporary descriptions note they were more like a rubbish tip than a cemetery. In the Caribbean both archaeological evidence and burial records show that slave burials were not recorded, nor was body disposal in consecrated round. Despite enforced baptisms, enslaved Africans were routinely denied a dignified burial. The notion of what counts as worthy of a dignified body disposal can be seen in the treatment of human remains in the Holocaust, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and contemporary times through the ‘medical waste’ disposal of neonates below a certain age. These case studies raise issues beyond the sense of dignity within that time and space, to what makes a person worthy of remembrance, but also with the rise of dark tourism, where the line between fun tourism and respectful memory lies.

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