Commemorating La Tragedia. Public and Private Memorial Strategies of the 1999 Floods in Venezuela
Sciences-Po Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI, Sciences-Po) France,
In societies that experience catastrophic events, numerous practices are aimed at endowing those events with meaning. The contingent nature of the catastrophe and the disorder it produces are inconsistent with the sense of reason and provoke fear. To overcome the fear and limit the disorder, societies generally seek to reestablish order by explaining the catastrophe and by measuring it, narrating it, commemorating it.
Based on an ethnographic fieldwork in Venezuela after some particularly violent floods in December 1999, this paper aims to show that commemoration ceremonies are not confined to institutional acts. We observed two types of ceremonies. The first ones are situated at the local, private level; they are organized by victims? family and friends or neighbors and apprehend the disaster in private terms. They are moments of communion between those who died in the disaster and those who survived it. The second type are institutional commemorations. Governmental and regional institutions, political parties as well as the Catholic Church organize their own ceremonies. Though they are sometimes enacted in the same places as the more private ceremonies, they envision the catastrophe as a distant event and the understanding is that the dead?unknown to the actors?must be forgotten so that life can go on. We?ll analyze and present how this two types of commemorations encounter and provoke tensions.