This dissertation is an empirical study of domestic burial rituals in the Dominican Republic. It is a systematic documentation of the practice surrounding a death in the Dominican Republic when the procedures are carried out at home. It looks primarily at the major features of a home burial in a procedural perspective; that is to say chronologically, what procedures are carried out and in which order – there being no action without an active participant. The perspective of the participant is also covered later in the thesis.
As a starting point I took the expression ‘dependent on the dead’, in order to discover what the participants considered most important. By taking a ritualistic approach I describe these procedures and the various interpretations the participants put on them. A ritualistic perspective on the way in which a society relates to death can shed light on the way in which the rituals came into being, how they have changed and how they are preserved and maintained. At the same time questioning what exactly one can call practice in cultural studies. Here one finds a tension between the concept of tradition and that which can be termed ritual practice. Informants explain the procedures in connection with death in the Dominican Republic as tradition, and never as ritual. One does that which one has been brought up to do, either because it is expected – of God – or because the one who has died wished it thus. Traditions do not exist in isolation. One can use tradition to explain certain practices but also to deny them. Traditional practices in connection with home burials have just as much to do with change as they do with procedural flexibility and stability in ritual form and content.
Home burials in the Dominican Republic include many ritual practices at different levels. These procedures, or methods of handling death, vary according to whom it is who has died; class; religion and financial status. It is not, however, always the case that these categories decide the ritual content, because the aspect of culture is also such an important factor in death rituals. At the same time the Dominican Republic is a country with a complex religious mix, which for its part decides what participants practice in the case of a death.