Diamond Island bridge is falling down: Cultural deathscapes of grief, funeral ceremonies, and continuing bonds after a disaster in Cambodia I – The first days

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Funerals play a key role in grief and mourning, but little is known about the culturally scripted processes after a disaster. Cambodia has faced multiple disasters, from the Khmer Rouge killing fields to COVID-19. Drawing upon a case study of the 2010 Diamond Island stampede, which killed 347 people, this article focuses on the period leading up to the funeral ceremony, while a companion article discusses events that unfold in the months that follow. An ethnographic study was carried out in Phnom Penh and nine provinces with members of the families of those who were killed, villagers, and monks and Buddhist lay officiants. Buddhist ceremonies conducted at the cremation and at seven- and hundred-days, helped families accept the irreversibility of loss and allow the dead to be reborn. Complications comprised the misidentification of bodies, managing the dangerous ghosts of ‘bad death’, getting the souls safely from the mortuary to the cremation site and dealing with disruptions along the way, convincing the souls that they are really dead, and ambiguous losses in the case of ‘counterfeit funerals’ conducted without the corpse. The mourning hinges on the maintenance of continuing bonds as evidenced by the ‘dream work’ by the bereft families, enabled by the ‘emergency Buddhist disaster relief’ provided by the monks. It is proposed that understanding the cultural deathscapes can provide insights into developing culturally-responsive interventions after a disaster.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102275
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2021


  • Bereavement
  • Buddhism
  • Cambodia
  • Disaster
  • Funeral
  • Stampede

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