Memory Waka

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Bridging The Gap

Tony Whincup


The title of this article, “Bridging the Gap”, is intended to suggest the inevitable gulf between the living and the dead. The disjunction, imposed by death on an established and significant relationship, is discussed as a threat to an individual’s sense of self-definition and recognition. The article is illustrated with original photo-ethnographic material that draws on the little-documented practices of memorialisation on the remote islands of Kiribati, as well other examples from around the world.

Underpinning this article is the belief that being able to remember lies at the heart of our survival, our humanity, and our individual identity. It is argued that self-definition is closely tied to memory and the maintenance of memories is of vital concern to social groups and individuals. The fear of losing the memory of significant events and people gives rise to strategies implicating enduring tangible materials in their maintenance. It is proposed that the extent to which strategies are developed to maintain a connection with the dead is in direct relationship to the significance of the deceased to a personal or public sense of self. Mnemonics of memorialisation hold a profound and significant role in the development and execution of these strategies.