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Differences and Similarities

This is my second time reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and I’m honestly enjoying it much more the second time around. I feel like this time I already have a basic idea of the sequence of events and the players in the book and can more easily focus on what’s actually going on. One section which I find particularly interesting especially in regards to my research group (Group 4, burial practices of African Americans) was the section in Chapter 9 when the notoriously terrible slaveowner died and Jacobs describes how “After death his eyes remained open. To press the lids down, silver dollars were laid on them. These were buried with him” (Jacobs 40). The way this instance is described sounds as though the coins were placed on the man’s eyes simply for the sake of accomplishing the task of eliminating the creepiness of his still-open dead eyes, and yet I can think of several instances in which I’ve heard of putting coins on the eyes of the dead as part of a burial ritual. I know the ancient Greeks used to do it in order to pay the dead’s fare to cross the River Styx, and I’m pretty sure for a while it was also a widely practiced Catholic custom.

Moreso than what makes 19th-century African-American burial rituals different, I’m particularly interested to find out what makes them similar to other burial practices, both from White Americans and from other places in the world. I feel like if we had more time and resources to study burial rituals from several countries, cultures and continents we’d find more patterns of similar burial practices being used in places which seem to have little to no cultural connection to one another. I’m not trying to sound all “maybe if we recongized our similarities instead of focusing on our differences we could all hold hands and get along,” but I definitely think it’s an interesting option to consider the fact that different cultures and belief systems could have more in common than it seems on the surface.

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  1. February 21, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    Learning more about other cultures’ systems would definitely be interesting, if not in your final presentation, in your research. I think it could be especially helpful in determining WHY certain things were done. For example, if you find out African Americans put eucalyptus on people but couldn’t figure out why and then you found that another community did the same thing, that community might be able to provide richer insight. I guess I’m also interested for selfish reasons. Because I’m in the group dealing with recovery efforts, I’m very interested in learning what practices were considered sacred, most important, etc. Good luck to you!

  2. February 22, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    We went to a museum just outside of London that included the burial practices of the early Roman settlers in the area. It was interesting how some of the rituals were the same, especially in regards to the burial of children. I also found the similarities in how we make sure our loved ones today have their favorite objects with them in the coffin and they did the same thing.

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