Podcast Women Who Travel: How other cultures care for their dead and what we can learn from them
THE: We look for meaningful rituals in other places so we can learn from them. Caitlin describes the Japanese ritual of Kotsuage, in which she observed a family using special chopsticks to pick bones from the ashes after a cremation. It goes without saying that these types of moments are among the most private, intimate and vulnerable. So to bear witness to these private ceremonies in a respectful way, she surrounds herself with local researchers to guide her.
CD: Some were cold calls some were… sort of Japan in particular I remember I just had this absolutely wonderful performer just got all the places I wanted to go on the phone and who said to me: “Caitlin Doughty is coming, such and such a day, we will be there.” And I couldn’t believe what she was able to accomplish and, and the places we were able to get into. But I’m a terrible go-getter in the sense of calling someone up and saying, “Hey, give me that access.”
THE: I was going to say, it’s very well reported and if it makes you feel any better you’re talking to a reporter who hates talking on the phone. The book is proof that many people welcomed you. How do you think you managed to gain people’s trust?
CD: I’m honest about my point of view and part of that is that I’m a practitioner. So I think that helps. I think it helps that I’m not a journalist. I am a professional death practitioner. I know the right questions to ask. I will not approach these situations by saying to myself: “So, what do you think of death?” You know, like “So mad about death, isn’t it? It’s sad for you?” You know, I, I already figure out as much as I can, do as much research as I can.
I grew up in Hawaii. I was born and raised in Hawaii. I’m obviously a, not a Hawaiian native. Me, you know, my parents lived there, my grandparents lived there. But I’m a white person who was born and raised in Hawaii, but I grew up hyper tourism conscious. And when you go to Waikiki, when you go to these places, you understand tourist behavior from an early age and what is and what isn’t acceptable and what is, you know, for lack of a better word, a bit grumpy or exaggerated the line. I’m hyper, hyper aware of not being too loud and being as respectful as possible. [singing].
THE: After the break, an extraordinary ritual honoring the ancestors. It’s an intrepid journey through the mountainous region of South Sulawesi, an island at the tip of Indonesia.
CD: We went to this rural part of Indonesia where they mummify that they died and they take them to this festival called the Ma’nene, and they clean their bodies and they clean their clothes and they walk them around and present them to people and , and this understanding. And we, we stayed with a family in one of these villages and we just found out on the very last day that in the little house, which are these beautiful houses on stilts that were probably 10, 20 feet away, a mummified corpse of their grandmother slept there all the time. And I didn’t know that. And for someone like me, it’s not like, “Oh, that’s awful.” It’s like, “Ooh, another wrinkle, another understanding. Why is she there? And they let us come and visit her and, and bring her offerings because he brought her cookies and cigarettes or something she would want, even though she’s been dead for a year.”