Author: christy

Ghost Marriage

The following has been taken from an article posted in The Economist:

“IN RURAL China, the afterlife is a serious matter. After more than 60 years of Communist Party rule, the festival of Qingming or “tomb-sweeping day”, celebrated on the fifteenth day after spring equinox (April 4th this year), is enjoying a revival. Though suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, the festival was reinstated as a public holiday in 2008. An important part of traditional filial duty is to honour the souls of the departed, and Qingming is the day to tend to a deceased relative’s grave. It is also peak season for “ghost marriages”, and the time of year when bodysnatching proves most lucrative.”

(On the right is a picture I extracted from this article) If you look closely at some of the tombs, there are pictures of couples that were wedded after their death.

“Ghost marriage (minghun) is a 3,000 year-old custom practiced especially in northern China. Huang Jichun, a scholar at Shanghai University who studies Chinese folk traditions, says the majority of rural families in the north, whose relatives die unbetrothed , seek “ghost spouses” for the departed. According to custom, the bodies are buried together in a ceremony that is a cross between a wedding and a funeral. Their ghosts, it is believed, will then no longer be lonely, and the family’s fortunes will be restored.

In Guangping county of Hebei province in February of this year, an 18-year-old man surnamed Liu, who died of heart disease, was joined in a ghost marriage with a 17-year-old woman named Wu, who died of a brain tumour. The Liu clan paid 35,000 yuan ($5,600) for the body of Ms Wu, a hefty sum for a farming family in Hebei where the average income per person is around 5,000 yuan per year. Having never met in life, the two were buried together in death, and dumplings were scattered on their grave. Their honeymoon was cut short soon after, however, when grave robbers snatched Ms Wu’s body, reselling her into another ghost marriage in a neighbouring province.

“I hope the robbers get the death sentence or 20 years in prison,” says Ms Liu, the mother of the deceased young man, standing on her mud doorstep in a grey padded jacket and red slippers. Four generations of the Liu clan live in the squat redbrick building behind her. Stagnant rainwater sits in the mud streets outside. Old people push bicycles laden with empty beer bottles for recycling.

Trade in female corpses is flourishing in these poor rural areas. Bodies are typically procured through brokers, with the typical quoted price of a fresh corpse rising at least 25% in the past five years to 50,000 yuan. A Chinese newspaper last year blamed rich coal mine bosses for driving the cost of a female corpse as high as 130,000 yuan. In 2010, a bodysnatching ring was broken up in Hebei province. Its members had robbed dozens of graves in the region, earning hundreds of thousands of yuan.

Ghost marriages have long been shrouded in controversy. A record in the Zhouli, an ancient Confucian text dated from the 2nd century BC, forbids the custom, but there are records of the imperial family conducting ghost marriages in the Tang (618-907AD) and Song (960-1279AD) dynasties. Under Chairman Mao the custom was labelled superstitious and banned outright.

But Mr Huang, the scholar, believes the recent upswing in ghost marriages is in part due to China’s economic boom. Rural families are now better able to afford the steep price of a corpse bride and, says Mr Huang, the resurgent trade in bodysnatching has brought a reliable supply of fresh corpses that has spurred consumer demand.

The Liu family is hoping to lay its ghosts to rest. After arresting four of the five grave robbers, police finally returned Ms Wu’s body to their son, her original ghost husband. Not trusting the geomancy, or fengshui, of the couple’s original tomb, the Lius built a new one reinforced with concrete. Alongside the food offerings, they carefully planted a traditional baifan–a rod wrapped in white crepe to help guide the ghost couple to paradise. This year, at Qingming, they will visit the couple’s tomb, burn incense and place dumplings. Tragedy struck them in this life. Perhaps, finally, it will leave their loved ones alone in the next.”

I also found in another article that when bodies ran short, some created corpses for ghost marriages.

You, Familiar with the Streets of Hillbrow

A consequence of Mpe’s use of the second point of view to address Refentse is the reader’s involvement with the text. As one reads, Mpe’s use of the pronoun “you” makes one feel like one is Refentse, and all the events seem authentic, as if one had seen them with one’s own eyes. Moreover, Mpe uses many details to describe such a small town as Hillbrow, and therefore, by the end of the novel, one feels like they know everything about it.

What the reader knows:
– the importance of soccer to the citizens
– the detailed dangers of the streets, especially during big events
– what it means to be infected with AIDS
– discrimination (Makwerekwere)
– drug dealing and drunk citizens; prostitutes; beggars
– water scarcity
– perception of certain women
– what relationships are more or less like i.e. “Love. Betrayal. Seduction. Suicide.”
– English/Sepedi literature
– cellphone service providers: MTN and Vodacom
– emigration rate
– customs, beliefs, traditions i.e. “witches bewitch the deceased”; bone throwers
– rumors; different versions of stories
and more..

What one also comes to know are the streets of Hillbrow, in absolute detail. One knows how to get from the heart of Hillbrow, to the Refenste’s cousin’s house, and from the house to the University of the Witwatersrand.

Here is google map picture of the streets of Hillbrow that I’ve located.
The location marked in red is where Vickers is, opposite the De Gama Court. Through the map and using the directions in the book, you can see what exact route Refentse took everyday to the university from the house.

Persistence of Yersinia Pestis

According to this semi-scientific article, Yersinia Pestis, the agent of the plague in the 1940s in Oran, still existed in the same place in Algeria when the article was written in 2006:

“Rieux, the hero of Albert Camus in “La Peste,” aimed to relate the events of the plague outbreak in Oran in the 1940s with the highest objectivity. He stated that “the virus” of plague can come back 1 day and he asked to be aware when it did. Apparently plague has retired but is waiting in numerous foci and could reemerge, as it did in India during the 1990s. The “comeback” of plague in the region of Oran occurred in June 2003. In this study, we detected Y. pestis in rodent fleas collected from September 2004 to May 2005 in the same area as those plague cases occurred. Our results confirm that Y. pestis infection is still present in Algeria. The persistence of zoonotic foci of plague is worrying since persons living in these areas remain in close contact with rodents and fleas. Despite the absence of new cases since June 2003, the risk for further outbreaks remains high. Surveillance should be maintained to monitor this natural focus and potential spread resulting from climatic or habitat influences. A strong case could be made to extend surveillance to adjacent countries such as Libya and Mauritania, which also have natural foci of plague, according to the World Health Organization. In conclusion we believe that detection of Y. pestis in fleas can be a useful tool for epidemiologic surveillance of plague in specific settings and could thus serve to study the risk for reemergence of the disease.”

Haunted: Syphilis and Corruption

The corruption from Oedipus Rex and Arthur Mervyn follows us to Ibsen’s Ghosts

The Alving household is built on corruption and lies. These constituents do not simply subside and die with Captain Alving. Instead, they lead to the appearance of ghosts who inhabit the house and prevent the past from being forgotten. Therefore the ghosts are a symbol of punishment for the overflow of corruption, which is portrayed in Captain Alving’s iniquitous behavior of philandering and drinking and in Helene’s buildup of lies as she tries to protect her son from his dad’s wickedness and to maintain her family’s decent reputation. Helene’s corruption is also shown through her investment in building an Orphanage with all of her husband’s money, which is deceiving since one might think it is an act of altruism when in fact her sole motive was to protect her son from his father’s money.

According to Helene, the whole country of Norway is filled with ghosts since ghosts reside within the sinners and the sinners constitute the whole country.

“I’m inclined to think that we are all ghosts, Pastor Manders, every one of us. It’s not just what we inherit from our mothers and fathers that haunt us. It’s all kinds of old defunct theories, all sorts of old defunct beliefs, and things like that. It’s not that they actually live on in us; they are simply lodged there, and we cannot get rid of them.” (Ibsen, II pp.126)

One of the ghosts’ ways of punishment is by taking the form of an inherited disease. Apparently, Oswald suffered from constant headaches as a child. When combining all the symptoms of Oswald’s disease, such as neck stiffness, disorientation, and temporary paralysis, it was found that his most probable disease is congenital neurosyphilis, especially since in the 19th century, during the time the play was written, syphilis had become widespread. Oswald, according to “one of the leading doctors” in Paris, is “vermoulu” since birth.

“The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children.” (Ibsen, pp.138)

Oswald inherits syphilis from his father as he bears the consequences of the latter’s wicked behavior in the past. This situation is parallel to Oedipus’s inevitable fate of killing his father and coupling with his mother as he also has to suffer from his parents’ corruption.

In addition, the ghosts of the story contribute to the gloomy setting of the play. Oswald despises Norway since it is always dark and there is incessant rain. He also mentions that he does not remember ever seeing the sun there, whereas in Paris, away from his family’s corruption, it is always sunny. After the last memory of Captain Alving, the Orphanage, is burnt to the ground and Helene discloses her husband’s true identity to Oswald, the sun finally begins to rise and the weather clears. By then, however, “Oswald shrinks in his chair [and] all his muscles go flaccid”. His last request is to be given the sun. He repeats, over and over:

“The sun… the sun…” (Ibsen pp.163,164)

By the time the Alving household becomes free of corruption and lies, it is too late…

Christy Connor Caroline

1790s Philadelphia

Fever Killed the Men
Slave Owners
Statistics during the Fever (Defoe Style)
The “Swelling” of the Fever

Here are four pictures that portray several aspects of the city during the Yellow Fever in Philadelphia. Statistics from the photo on the left shows the abundance of women in the city as “Wives were deserted by husbands” and “Men were seized by the disease in the streets” (pp.99).
















These photos can be found here (for the maps), and here (for the mortality rates)