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Rituals of Death in Mongolia: Their Implications for Understanding the Mutual Constitution of Persons and Objects and Certain Concepts of Property

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image of Inner Asia

This article provides an ethnographic description of burial rituals in Ulaanbaatar in the 1980s. The ceremonies surrounding death indicate the presence of an amalgam of Buddhist, folk-religious and socialist ideas, and they notably make use of material objects as representations of such ideas. The article discusses what such rituals might tell us about Mongolian concepts of the person, fate and character. The further aim of the paper is to explore the wider significance of relations between persons and material objects as revealed in the funerary rituals, especially as regards ideas of ‘property’. It is argued that Mongolians in this period gave little prominence to the idea of ‘private property’, but retained a strong notion of joint, familial property; at the same time, the burial rituals reveal a significant concern with personal property. Socialist regimes, which emphasise communal forms of property, may often be associated with the parallel counter-significance of intimate and personal relations between persons and things.


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