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Conference on Dying, Death and the Politics of After-Death in the African World, University of Nigeria at Nsukka (UNN), March 20-22, 2013: A Report

Conference :
School of General Studies,
University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
March 20-22, 2013

This conference explored dying and death in Africa, how culture in Africa has shaped palliative care for the dying as well as ways in which the dead are perceived, buried and celebrated/remembered in various communities, times and histories.

This inter-disciplinary conference seeks a wide range of perspectives that explore and study the interface between death and culture. Most African cultures not only embody ideas about good and bad death as well as customs that promote and decry them respectively; culture generally also provides a mechanism for transmitting and appreciating the meanings and essences of death and mortuary practices. In addition, culture can also facilitate or sanction death through its enabling traditions and agencies, including religion and some acts of violence, such as sacrifice or warfare. Conversely, death and after-death processes are windows through which cultures can be appraised or appreciated.

Thus the conference focused on how death and acts of memorialization have shaped the consciousness of peoples and cultures, and how after-death/mortuary practices impact the psychology and wellbeing of survivors in terms of health, religion, and the multi-versal rhetoric and theatre of immortality.


1. Culture, Thanatology and Health Care Systems in Africa - Vernacular/Modern Health Care Delivery Systems and Care for the Dying - Hospice and Palliative Care for the Dying - Clinical Competencies in Pain Management and Interdisciplinary Care - The Caregiver-Patient Relationship in Traditional/Rural Communities - Medicine in the Service of Culture and Society - Death as the end of life/health condition - Ways of Dying and the Health System in Africa

2. Defining Death (religious, medical and anthropological perspectives)
- Death Anxiety
- Cultures, Histories, Social Conditions and the Perceptions of Death
- Facing up to Death: African Culture and the Refusal to Die

3. How to Die (Good Death vs Bad Death)
- The Anthropology of Death and Burial in Africa
- Historiography of Death and Burial in Africa
- Crises (war, violence, poverty) as factors in the politics of dying and death in Africa
- End-of-Life Issues and Cultural Realities in Africa
- Religious perceptions of death in precolonial, colonial and post-colonial Africa

4. Mortuary Arts: Death and the Reenactment of Culture
- Music, Dance and Choreography in Funeral and Burial
- Mortuary literature (novels, poetry, short story, others)
- The Macabre film/theatre in Modern Africa (broadcast media (television, radio, print media, internet/technology)
- Images of the corpse in painting, sculpture, film, photography, etc
- Textiles, Fashion in Death, Funeral and Burial
- Death in museum collections
- Popular art (craft, souvenirs, mementos, tomb stones) in the funeral/burial arena
- Art and Architecture in the Burial arena (tombs as macabre art or architecture)
- The Graveyard as Installation

5. The Politics of Dying, Death and After-death
- Funeral, burial as social solidarity
- Funeral as the refusal to die
- Funeral as renegotiation of reality
- Funeral as Performance on the Social Stage
- The Funeral as an Arena of Multiple Negotiations
- Politics of Visibility in the Funeral Arena
- Funeral and the Social symbolism of Tears

6. Death and Economics
- Death and the mortuary industry (undertakers, tailors, caterers, coffin makers, tomb stone makers, photographers, etc)
- Culture and the monetization of death (the philosophy and role of money in the funeral arena/process, etc)
- The Creative industries and mortuary economics (media, printing, craft, art, entertainment, aso ebi fashion, photography, graphic design, etc)
- Professional mourners and the economics of death
- Death, funeral and poverty in Africa
- Death/funeral as social/economic status symbolism in Africa

7. Death and the Politics of Immortality
- Funerary monuments, memorial architecture, cemetery design
- Post-mortem portraits
- Remembering the dead, memorialization/commemoration through art and/or performance
- Professional “immortality” and post-mortem reputations (as in the works of artists, writers, and other creative people, etc.)

The conference was co-organized by the Art Republic, The Society for the Research and Promotion of Igbo Culture, The School of General Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and IFRA-Nigeria.
It took place in the UBA multi-purpose hall, which was made available to participants by the central administration, UNN.

Three Keynote addresses were read:
- Archaeology Perspectives on Constructing Ancestors in Sub-Saharan Africa by Prof. Timothy Insoll, University of Manchester, Represented by Gérard Chouin, Director, IFRA-Nigeria, Ibadan
- Interrogating Igbo Memorialization of the Dead by Prof. Chike Aniakor, Cross River State University of Technology, Calabar
- Mortality and Morality: Ethnographic Samples from some Nigerian Groups by Dr. Peter J. Ezeh, University of Nigeria at Nsukka.

A total of fifty abstracts on the different sub-themes were submitted from 16 different institutions: South-east and Middle-Belt, Nigeria
University of Nigeria at Nsukka
Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri
Salem University, Lokoja, Kogi State
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka
Imo State University, Owerri
Paul University, Awka
University of Port Harcourt, Choba, Rivers State
Federal University of Technology, Owerri
National Museum, Owerri

South-west Nigeria
Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State

Northern Nigeria
Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto
Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria

International institutions
University of Swaziland
Michigan State University
University of Hawai’i

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