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Human Rites

As desperate Haitians flee the horrors of earthquake-stricken Port-au-Prince the hundreds of thousands of dead are being denied burials and the funeral rites that accompany them.

As desperate Haitians flee the horrors of earthquake-stricken Port-au-Prince the hundreds of thousands of dead are being denied burials and the funeral rites that accompany them. “Along with everything else stolen by last week’s earthquake, Haitians must now add another loss: the ability to identify and bury the dead. Funeral rites are among the most sacred of all ceremonies to Haitians, who have been known to spend more money on their burial crypts than on their own homes. It is the product in part of familiarity with death — the average life span of a Haitian is 44 — but also the widespread voodoo belief that the dead continue living and that families must stay connected forever to their ancestors. ‘Convening with the dead is what allows Haitians to link themselves, directly by bloodline, to a pre-slave past,’ said Ira Lowenthal, an anthropologist who has lived in Haiti for 38 years. He added that with so many bodies denied rest in family burial plots, where many rituals take place, countless spiritual connections would be severed.”


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