Remembering loss and burial as a migrant
In his classic text ‘The Stranger’, Alfred Schutz describes the problems which an individual faces in seeking entrance into a new group (Schutz 1964). One can learn the language, he says, as one might also learn how to behave in order to become accepted. But the one thing ‘The Stranger’ will never be able to share in his new country is the other’s experience of the past. As Schutz puts it, ‘from the viewpoint of the group he approaches, he is a man without history’. To Schutz, crossing the border implies bidding a farewell to all those images and actions which binds one to one’s own past. The possibility of shared memory is left behind, or in Schutz’ own words: ‘graves and memories can neither be transferred nor conquered’. His ‘stranger’ is thus predestined to remain ‘a marginal man’ exactly because of the problematic character of things past: his own past becomes invisible and therefore non-existent in the eyes of the dominant group, while the other’s past remains inaccessible.
This chapter raises the question of the use of memory under circumstances of migration. More precisely, it looks at the ways in which memory structures responses to loss and burial in a foreign environment. It is equally a fact for residents and immigrants alike that when someone dies, a train of memories is set into motion. The deceased person’s life is remembered and gradually stitched into a shared past by those who survive him or her (Jonker 1995, 1996b). Also, memories of other losses and burials are activated and searched for instruction, in order to be able to handle this particular loss. Under circumstances of migration especially, this praxis becomes an urgent one, because a result is badly needed in order to shape the collapsing present. How this is done will be a central issue of this chapter.