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Spirits of the Hereafter: Death, Funerary Possession, and the Afterlife in Chuuk, Micronesia

Katherine Boris Dernbach
Ethnology
Vol. 44, No. 2 (Spring, 2005), pp. 99-123
DOI: 10.2307/3773992
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3773992
Page Count: 25
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Spirits of the Hereafter: Death, Funerary Possession, and the Afterlife in Chuuk, Micronesia
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Abstract

In Chuuk, Micronesia, recently deceased kin often appear as spirit visitors and may possess female relatives in order to provide comfort and guidance, and to deliver important messages from beyond the grave. These spirits are fully sentient beings who retain social and emotional ties with their earthly homes and families, and occupy a liminal space between this world and the afterlife. During this liminal period, spirits must learn how to "be dead," while the living struggle to reconcile themselves to the corporeal death and new spiritual life of the departed. Spirit possession and other forms of spirit communication, including the popular use of ouija boards, help to facilitate the process of "becoming dead" on both sides of the cosmological divide. Traditional and contemporary mortuary rituals, death and the transformation of the soul into a spirit being, experiences of the afterlife, and interactions with the spirit world through funerary possession and spirit encounters are examined in order to understand death as a journey of becoming that is also marked by social rupture, ritual, and the problems of grief and attachment.

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