Academic journal article Population

The Preferred Burial Location of Persons Born outside France

Academic journal article Population

The Preferred Burial Location of Persons Born outside France

Article excerpt

Whether they have left their home country to work or to be reunited with family members, the majority of immigrants are faced, as they grow old, with the question of where to spend their retirement, and where to end their life and be buried. Attitudes to these issues relate back, in a more symbolic manner, to the choice of temporary or permanent settlement in the host country.

It is common practice for North African persons who die in France to be returned to their home country for burial. Chaib (2000, p. 23) has pointed out the importance of this custom, among not only first-generation but also second-generation immigrants. Clearly, a desire to accomplish the religious rituals in an appropriate manner may entail a preference for burial in the home country, though the choice may also be governed by considerations of an economic, legal or environmental nature, linked to the conditions in which funerals and burial are performed (Auby, 1997; Barrau, 1992). For Samaoli (1998), this can be partly explained by the scarcity of Muslim cemeteries and of Muslim areas in French municipal cemeteries, though their proportion is increasing in large towns and cities.

The question is not specific to Muslims however; it concerns immigrants of all religions, and those with no religion, and is both national and international in scope. It is also a very ancient question, both in France and elsewhere, as shown by the many "routes of death" associated with events marking the history of the main religions (Chaib, 2000, pp. 35-36). On the margins of religious tradition for example, Isambert (1961, p. 109) studied the funeral convoys leaving Paris and observed a spectacular increase in the proportion of bodies taken out of the capital for burial, from 1.8% in 1884 to 25% in the late 1950s. These transported bodies were mainly those of working class people who had migrated to Paris from the rural provinces, and who had become largely "dechristianized", as testified by the large number of civil funerals. The growing practice of repatriating bodies to their home regions was, according to the author, an indication of closer family ties with the provinces.

The importance attached by individuals to their future place of burial varies according to individual and family histories, cultures and beliefs. It may be crucial for migrants with a strong attachment to traditions from which they have been separated. When the rites and traditions are lost, the burial site is still invested with major significance, linked to a new funerary ideology (Vernant, 1989). Beyond the religious sentiments with which it is often associated, it holds symbolic, imaginative and relational significance.

In this article, we will analyse the numerous determinants of burial location preferences using data from a recent national survey of retirement among the immigrant population in France (Passage à la retraite des immigrés, PRI). We hypothesize that these preferences involve three major categories of factors: territorial attachments (affective and social attachments to the home country and to France), religious affiliation, and attachment to the family via kinship ties. These hypotheses are based upon the anthropological literature on death and its ritualization.

Attachment to territories

In all cemeteries, on both private or public land, the arrangement of graves follows a specific social order. Kinship groups and families are buried together. These different ways of being "with one's own" help to explain why those who have emigrated wish to be buried at home and to enjoy the "hospitality of the homeland" (Le Grand-Sébille and Zonabend, 2004, p. 971). The deceased also symbolically accomplish their wish to maintain their place, and that of their family, in their original social group, by choosing to be laid to rest with other departed members of this same group.

In certain traditions, funerary rites are associated with territories. This is the case for holy places or pilgrimage sites invested with supernatural powers, such as Nejed or Kerbela in Iraq, the cemetery of Alyscamps in Aries on the Rhone, or the cemetery surrounding the Buddhist monastery of Koyasan in Tokyo for example (Chaib, 2000, p. …

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