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2011 | 47 | 39-64

Article title

COMMUNICATING ACROSS THE BORDER: EXHUMATION AND THE GENERIC MEMORY OF LAMENTS FOR THE DEAD (Suheldes ule piiri: ekshumatsioon ja surnuitkude zhanriline malu)


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The present article discusses the issue of elimination of the fear of the dead as it appears in archaic cultures; first and foremost in connection with laments as a folklore genre and lamenting as a ritual practice. Primarily, it is the relevant Balto-Finnic and North Russian traditions that will be observed, in which lamenting has retained its original function of balancing the relationships between the spheres of the living and the dead, and of establishing borderlines, as well as that of restoring the interrupted social cohesion. Lament texts can be viewed as a multifunctional genre that may possibly even be addressed variously, but wherein nevertheless the interests of the community stand foremost, whereas personal psychological problems come only after them and as related to them. The lamenter's role and function in the society will also be examined. The second part of the article will, in connection with overcoming the fear of the dead, discuss exhumation - a phenomenon that has not been preserved in the North European cultures but that can, in the light of treated bones or incomplete skeletons in the graves of Bronze and Iron Ages, be assumed to have at one time existed even in Estonia. In cultures where exhumation has remained a living practice up to the present (Greek culture, for instance), it has probably also solved problems linked to the fear of the dead, since part of the person's skeleton is posthumously reincorporated into the society of the living, in the shape of an amulet or a talisman. The relevant rituals have been performed to the accompaniment of laments. The final part of the article will take a look at certain textual examples of the Seto laments for the dead, which may have preserved a distant memory of the practices connected with exhumation.







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  • Madis Arukask, University of Tartu, Ulikooli 16, 51003 Tartu, Estonia


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