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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Flames of Race, Ashes of Death: Re-Inventing Cremation in Johannesburg, 1910-1945
Author:Dennie, Garrey M.
Periodical:Journal of Southern African Studies
Geographic term:South Africa
Urbanization and Migration
History and Exploration
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Religion and Witchcraft
Ethnic and Race Relations
Abstract:In South Africa today, the cremation of the dead constitutes a major component of white South African mortuary practices. Until the 1930s, however, the practice was virtually unknown among this population group, whereas by the 1940s it had become firmly rooted among a small but growing number. This article argues that white South Africans' embrace of cremation represented a virtual 're-inventing' of cremation from a set of ideas and practices primarily confined to local Hindu communities - and represented by white South Africans as barbaric, primitive and alien - to a newer set of ideas that proclaimed cremation a rational scientific solution to the problem of finding the most efficient means of disposing of the dead body. The article explores the earlier successful struggle of Johannesburg's Hindu community to win for themselves the right to cremate their dead in a crematorium of their own and points out that, in so doing, the Hindu Crematorium Committee also became the first provider of cremation services to Johannesburg's white residents. However, the cremation of white bodies in a Hindu furnace sheds light on a hidden area of racial thought and practice in Johannesburg. For when white Johannesburgers chose to be cremated in the Hindu crematorium, the white advocates of cremation seized this moment to characterize the Hindu crematorium and the Hindu cremation process as inimical to the preservation of the dignity and sanctity of the white body and began a successful campaign for the construction of a 'Whites Only' crematorium. At the same time, however, significant sections of Johannesburg's white community remained suspicious of, or even hostile to, the cremation of the dead. Ref., sum. [Journal abstract]