Double burial and slavic specificity∗

It is not the aim of the following consideration to make an exhaustive or even partial analysis of all the questions connected to the ethnogenesis of the Slavs or of the other EuroAsiatic peoples. The subject will be tackled only from a morphological point of view and the historical aspect in the narrowest sense will be left out. We will mainly deal with the Italian bibliography of the last forty years, limiting ourselves more to the theoretical, rather than set forth a long list of examples. In Italy the current development of Slavic studies as a complete science seems to have led to the disappearance of specialist studies, such as Slavic ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, as if no theoretical, or at least relatively common, basis existed between the integrative disciplines, Slavic studies, and particular disciplines, ethnology and cultural anthropology. Moreover, if too much attention is paid to the cultural evolution of a Slav nation, or to a larger area which contains various cultural environments, the analysis of the evolution does not go beyond the historical age, and leaves questions concerning the most ancient culture of the Slavs, and of the people similar to them, largely untouched. Today it is necessary to outline the development of specific regional traditions, to highlight the process of cultural growth, adjustment, and change. Yet if we do not have the courage to face the unknown which envelopes the culture of the proto-peoples whether they be proto-Slavs, proto-Indo-Europeans or proto-Eurasians - we will be without instruments of analysis for studying the phenomena and manifestations of cultural life, transcending temporal boundaries for centuries, which are today not intelligible with sufficient clarity. After establishing the dimension and the complexity of Slav history, and after becoming aware of the expansiveness of territory encompassing Slav settlements and of the contacts they had with nations speaking different languages or varieties of these languages (Germanic, Romance, Baltic, Ugro-Finnish, Turkish, Mongolian, Iberian, etc.) we cannot ignore studies on the structural similarities rather than on the differences. To remain true to the Italian School, which is today unfortunately considered obsolete, we will return to some of the considerations made by the last - perhaps the only - great Italian scholar of Slav ethnography and anthropology: Evel Gasparini (1900-1982). In particular we


will take another look at a theme he especially likes: burial among the Slavs. Gasparini firmly criticized the theory of Slav cremation, which was defined in its whole in 1911 by Lubomir Niederle (1911: 224-375). For Niederle, who was above all influenced by the close likeness between Slavonic languages and all Indo-European languages, burial by cremation was used by the Slavs as "by other Aryan neighbors, Lithuanians, Germans, Gauls" (ibid.: 226). Gasparini, however, thought that inhumation was the most ancient form of burial, therefore common-Slavic, "while the eastern Slavs, and to a certain extent the western Slavs, started to use cremation later, perhaps under the influence of the same factors that had changed the ancient rite of inhumation among the Lithuanian people (Gasparini 1958). In a series of studies that culminated in a paper presented to the IV th International Congress of Slavists entitled "Il rito protoslavo della seconda sepoltura" [The proto-Slavic rite of the second burial] Gasparini hypothesized the existence of a funeral custom which was more complex than simple inhumation, that is the second burial. Gasparini claimed that the proto-Slavic rite of the second burial would have been one of the decisive tests to verify an idea that he supported until the end of his days: the Slavs were the bearers of a particular culture not having much in common with the Indo-European culture, but extremely similar to the culture of Ugro-Finnic speaking peoples.1 This approach, which was above all used to support the theory of the cultural circle proposed by Leo Frobenius and Wilhelm Schmidt as opposed to the theory of evolution of Edward Burnett Tylor and followers, considering the special nature of the subject, was never submitted to criticism in Italy. Likewise, because of the sparse diffusion in the world of the Italian language, Gasparini's position was never analyzed enough in foreign countries. The custom of the second - or double – burial, fits in generally with a great number of myths and rites with bones, which were kept in animal skins and used to resurrect, killed game (Lévi-Strauss 1954). These myths and rites have been found in many parts of Europe (from the British Isles to the Alps), in many parts of Asia (in Sub-Arctic strip, from Lapland to the Bering Strait, Caucasus, Iranian plateau), in North America and in Equatorial Africa. Following the scheme of the seven historically possible functions of the same element, elaborated by Vladimir Ja. Propp (Propp 1934), we observe that the motif of the preservation and inhumation of the bones is typical of hunter societies "and perhaps", says Propp, "of breeders" (ibid.: 134). But

On double burial cfr. expecially Gasparini 1952 and 1953. A komplete summary of Gasparini works related to Italian studie is in Ricerche slavistiche XXIX-XXXI, 1981-1982.

the buried human body has to guarantee the fertility of the fields, so it is typical of primitive agricultural societies. Among the numerous examples quoted by J.G. Frazer in The Golden Bough we find the main support to this hypothesis.
A West African queen used to sacrifice a man and a woman in the month of March. They were killed with spades and hoes, and their bodies buried in the middle of a field, which had just been tilled (Frazer 1890: 443). The Bagobos of Mindanao, one of the Philippine Islands, offer a human sacrifice before they sow their rice. The victim is a slave, who is hewn to pieces in the forest (ibid.). Among the Lhota Naga (valley of Brahmaputra) it used to be a common custom to chop off the heads, hands, and feet of people they met with, and then to stick up the severed extremities in their fields to ensure a good crop of grain. ( ... ) Once they flayed a boy alive, carved him in pieces, and distributed the flesh among all the villagers, who put it into their corn-bins to avert bad luck and ensure plentiful crops of grain (ibid.).

Such examples are not wanting among the Slavs, and up to the end of the XIX th century the Slavs were still devoted to these practices to increase fertility in their fields. One example: about 1840 in a village not far from Poniewez, in the province of Kovno, among the men present at Saint John's fires lots were drawn for a victim whose limbs were scattered among the fields to sanctify them, i.e. to implore the field to be fertile. In the same way the unlucky person who came across the opachivanie or oboryvanie, i.e., the procession which marked out a furrow around the village to protect it from an epidemic, was butchered (razryvajut v klocki) and his remains scattered along the furrow (srv. Sumcov 1890: 85n.). Such a summary way of burying a man must be associated with the continuous presence in the Slavia, especially in the western part, of so-called "anomalous" burials.2 Another custom of the Slavs, which is connected to the second burial rite, is the gathering in cloth rags of relatives bones which was still practiced in some parts of the Balcans (Gasparini 1958: 7). In this case it is still possible to see the very ancient rite of gathering animals' bones in a sack, typical of hunter-societies (Henninger 1971). Therefore bones which are scattered or gathered together in rags, are not decisive proof of the existence of custom of the double burial among the Slavs. Instead they are residues from previous

These kinds of burials attract the archaeologist attention because they are connected with phenomena of so called vampirism (cfr. specific suggestions in other parts of this volume).

stages of evolution. We will try to provide proof for this. In the Cinderella tale, the theme of the gathering of bones is quoted in Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Dalmatia, Cyprus, Sicily, Sardinia, Provence, Lorraine, Brittany, Scotland, Finland, India, China and Vietnam (cfr. Cox 1893). It is quite impossible to demonstrate that this recurring reference is the result of historical contacts. These references enable us merely to determine the phenomenon's existence and to suppose that a fundamental element has guaranteed its persistence through the centuries. This fundamental element is the rite of the second burial. As has been already proven (Hertz 1905-1906), the rite of the second burial is a common custom among all those people who adopt forms of burials differing from inhumation, i.e. mummification and cremation. For living person's death is an object of horror and fright: we submit ourselves to a series of prohibitions, restrictions and changes in dress, all of which make up mourning ( ibid.: 47, cfr. also Gasparini 1952: 73). The effect of the evil forces that caused death continues with the body disintegration. Both air and land combine in the body's decomposition. A third fact is the human action. In fact, when the body of the deceased has been surrounded by odorous smoke and by fires to keep away evil forces, the body becomes a mummy. In the same way, and for the same magical purpose, "warmer" societies speed up the process of putrefaction of the corpse in the place where the deceased has been temporarily left - thus cremation. Mummification and cremation, together with inhumation, are forms of provisional burial. Real death, after which the second - and final - burial is prepared, will occur when only the bones of the deceased remain (Hertz 1905-1906: 47). These bones then enter in the system of magical defenses, which is the basic heritage of the individual, of tribes and even the States (Propp 1934: 137). It is not therefore the way the rite happens which enables us to distinguish between a numbers of different cultures. If there is a distinct possibility of a differentiation among cultures, it has to be seen in wider and larger geographical context than the single regions of the same continent such as Slavia or Germania. The Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg argues that a differentiation should be made between Eurasian culture (including American culture) and the culture of continental Africa. The departure point for this assertion can be found in a study of his in which a series of myths, rites, and tales, present in Europe, in Asia and in Northern America, are all taken to originate in shamanic ecstasy, followed by the journey of the shaman into the other world (Ginzburg 1989). Shamanic manifestations in Africa instead are related to possession: the shaman

dominates the spirits; whoever becomes possessed falls under the spirits' power and is dominated by them (ibid.: 231). Without underestimating its legitimacy, even this kind of distinction, which surely takes us into the depths of prehistory, cannot and ought not to be definitive. Therefore we should look to new studies for clarification. An encouraging signal came, as it often does, from linguistic science. We can see in fact a parallel among the study by N. D. Andreev (Andreev 1986) and the work of Ginzburg. So the historical science seems to have crossed the gate of Meta history and ethnology has ceased to be the negation of the history. Linguistic studies, if they were not limited to the narrow circle of the specialists of the discipline, provide the best contribution of knowledge to all who, through effort and sacrifice, try to throw light on the dawn of the mankind.

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