In the shadows of death: an existential approach to mortality in the Sinja Valley of Western Nepal
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date08/07/2020
Poletti, Samuele Francesco
Based upon 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this thesis explores how people in the Sinja Valley of Jumla District (western Nepal) endeavour to make sense of existence through their engagement with mortality. My epistemological approach and the argument I put forward is framed as a phenomenology of life in the shadows of death. This implies the exploration of how the phenomenon of death ‘appears’ to the consciousness of Sinjali people, contributing to the formation and sometimes dissolution of their lifeworlds—or, perhaps, I should say deathworlds. Along these lines, this thesis contributes to a more nuanced anthropology of death by moving our understanding of mortality beyond its traditional focus on mortuary rites, reframing it in terms of my informants’ experiences. After all, as a Sinjali proverb suggests, ‘like the fingers of one’s hand, people are not all the same’. Moreover, the distinction that Sinjali people make between timely and untimely deaths problematises a conception of mortality as a monolithic object of thought, underscoring the fact that the modality of a particular demise is indissolubly linked to how this is going to be experienced. Taking such experiences into consideration, then, demands we move away from all-encompassing generalisations about the nature of death, in order to foreground, instead, its existential aspects. Thus, resisting any attempt to essentialise people, my argument pivots around the lives and deaths of a number of characters, presenting what is at stake, each time, for those very people. In this fashion, each chapter of this thesis illustrates, from a different angle, how Sinjali people negotiate the precarious equilibrium between order and chaos within a dynamic intersubjective cosmos always in the making, and, thus, always at risk of falling apart and disappearing. Consequently, drawing attention on the intersubjective aspects of death through the lens of a distinct ethnophilosophical sensibility, this thesis attempts to foster a critical hermeneutics of existence that will eventually lead to decomposing nothing less than ‘death’ itself.