And the Dead Remain Behind

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Peter Read


In most cultures the dead and their living relatives are held in a dialogic relationship. The dead have made it clear, while living, what they expect from their descendants. The living, for their part, wish to honour the tombs of their ancestors; at the least, to keep the graves of the recent dead from disrepair. Despite the strictures, the living can fail their responsibilities, for example, by migration to foreign countries. The peripatetic Chinese are one of the few cultures able to overcome the dilemma of the wanderer or the exile. With the help of a priest, an Australian Chinese migrant may summon the soul of an ancestor from an Asian grave to a Melbourne temple, where the spirit, though removed from its earthly vessel, will rest and remain at peace. Amongst cultures in which such practices are not culturally appropriate, to fail to honour the family dead can be exquisitely painful. Violence is the cause of most failure.

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Desecration (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Peter Read, Australian National University

PETER READ is an ARC professorial fellow based at the Centre for Cross-cultural Research, Australian National University. He and his colleague Marivic Wyndham are preparing a monograph, ‘Memories in Revolution’, on the interplay of place and memory in selected public sites in Cuba.