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Treating corpses like bundles of firewood. On the social production of indifference in the time of Ebola (Guinea)

Gueckedu, November 2014. The cemetery next to the Ebola Treatment Unit run by the Belgian Section of MSF is full. Another cemetery on the outskirts of the city has just been inaugurated. Among the first cemetery’s 350 tombs, nearly 200 are anonymous. Since the opening of the new cemetery, tombs are allocated a number and a geolocalisation device has been set up to link the tomb to the deceased’s former house. Why did it take seven months to organize such a system? Reflecting back, in order to justify this event, the actors evoke the state of emergency, the number of bodies to bury, the lack of means, the example of cremation in Liberia or the mobilization for the living. Beyond such discourses of justification invoking the emergency and exceptional nature of the Ebola epidemic, what is the logic behind the production of such indifference to the burial of the dead? How does the question of the treatment of the dead highlight the moral and political crisis of the Guinean society? In addition to facing the disease, the population has also had to deal with the impossibility of organizing proper funerals, due to the absence of bodies. The socially constructed indifference to this question produces the conditions for another epidemic to come: an epidemic of misfortune and bad luck sent by the dead unable to become ancestors.

Categories: Burial
Geography: Guinea
Reference: Le Marcis F. Treating Corpses like Bundles of Firewood. On the social production of indifference in the time of Ebola (Guinea). Anthropol Santé 2015; 11.