Conference Presentation: Caretakers of the Dead: The Curious Case of the Funerary Feline

Accepted for presentation at Death & Culture III (now online) in September 2020.

Montmartre Cemetery, May 2019

Relationship bonds between humans and domestic animals have occupied the recent interests of several fields of academic inquiry, with the friction around the role of animals in the landscape of modern death rituals recurring across disciplines. What these avenues of research reveal is an innate sense of unease present in circumstances where animals mingle or reside within the human funerary space. This is true of secular and religious burial sites, and reflects the enduring sense of unease that many people feel when issues around the soul and afterlife arise in relation to various animal species. Despite the increasingly intimate lifestyles which humans and animals share in the domestic setting, it seems that in the cities of the dead, pets remain largely unwelcomed … at least by the living.

But what of the domestic animal that becomes homeless? What of the neglected dead?

This paper examines feral cat populations which reside in human cemeteries, considering the relationship between abandoned felines and the cemetery space. It challenges the ways these animals are interpreted within the cemetery setting by assessing the shifting narratives being told about them, along with their increasing popularity as a tourist attraction. Using Tanaka Cemetery (Tokyo) and Montmartre Cemetery (Paris) as case studies, I consider some of the ideas humans hold about the place of domestic animals in the afterlife, the legitimacy of the individual animal soul, and how these are impacted by cultural traditions and death rituals. Exploring these sites as places of dark tourism, I examine how the agency of the living animal shifts when that animal exists within the funerary space and finally, look at how narratives of the human dead are developing in response to the increasing popularity of dark tourism sites.

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