Funeral Culture

Funeral Culture

AIDS, Work, and Cultural Change in an African Kingdom
Casey Golomski
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 06/04/2018
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-253-03644-5
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Contemporary forms of living and dying in Swaziland cannot be understood apart from the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, according to anthropologist Casey Golomski. In Africa’s last absolute monarchy, the story of 15 years of global collaboration in treatment and intervention is also one of ordinary people facing the work of caring for the sick and dying and burying the dead. Golomski’s ethnography shows how AIDS posed challenging questions about the value of life, culture, and materiality to drive new forms and practices for funerals. Many of these forms and practices―newly catered funeral feasts, an expanded market for life insurance, and the kingdom’s first crematorium―are now conspicuous across the landscape and culturally disruptive in a highly traditionalist setting. This powerful and original account details how these new matters of death, dying, and funerals have become entrenched in peoples’ everyday lives and become part of a quest to create dignity in the wake of a devastating epidemic.

Author Bio

Casey Golomski is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Hampshire. His work has appeared in journals such as Material Religion; Social Dynamics; Culture, Health, and Sexuality; and American Ethnologist.


“Explores the AIDS epidemic’s impact on people, families, institutions, and the state. Casey Golomski shows how people come to terms with the impact of disease, how they were affected, and how cultural change has occurred in the process, particularly in funerary culture.”
 — John M. Janzen, author of The Social Basis of Health and Healing in Africa

“A highly original account of death and funeral cultures in southern Africa that enlarges understandings of ‘postcolonial cultural production’ as the outcome of both vernacular and state-driven historical consciousness and processes.”
 — Hansjörg Dilger, author of Religion and AIDS Treatment in Africa: Saving Souls, Prolonging Life

Funeral Culture is an intimately observed portrait of changing burial rites in a country struggling under the burden of HIV. Golomski at once plunges into the rhythms of everyday life in Swaziland and gestures out toward broader questions about the work of kinship and death. Brimming with colorful characters and rich descriptions, written in welcoming and accessible prose: this is ethnography at its best. A marvelous accomplishment.”
 — Jason Hickel, author of Democracy as Death: The Moral Order of Anti-Liberal Politics in South Africa

“Original and insightful, Golomski’s Funeral Culture is a vivid example of the work of a new generation of Africanist anthropologists. It posits a lucid and compelling account of the ‘work’ that funerals do to both reproduce and change culture in a context that, at the time, was being decimated by AIDS. Golomski’s superb analysis shows what, as an ethnographic method, listening and deep care can yield. Beautifully written, ethnographically rich, multi-layered, and empathetic, this is anthropology at its best.”
 — Nolwazi Mkhwanazi, editor (with Deevia Bhana) of Young Families: Gender, Sexuality and Care

Funeral Culture offers a detailed ethnography of funerals in South African Swaziland, and scholars and students alike can breathe fresh air with this comparison of the neo-funeral cultural changes amongst the Southern African countries.”
 — Reading Religion

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Table of Contents


Note on Transliteration

Introduction Funeral Culture: Dignity, Work, and Cultural Change

Chapter 1 Reckoning Life: Dying from AIDS to Living with HIV

Chapter 2 Religious Healing and Resurrection: "Faith Without Work is Dead"

Chapter 3 The Secrets of Life Insurance: Savings, Care, and the Witch

Chapter 4 Grounded: Body Politics of Burial and Cremation

Chapter 5 Life in a Takeaway Box: Mobility and Purity in Funeral Feasts

Chapter 6 Commemoration and Cultural Change: Memento Radicalis

Conclusion The Afterlives of Work


I. siSwati-American English Glossary

II. List of Abbreviations