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on racial boundaries, but is later indicated as a “Roman Catholic Cemetery” on island maps. This subtle reclassification reflects island realities: most Catholics in Curaçao are people of color (Afro-Curaçaoan), and most people of color are Catholics. Catholics missionized the slaves of both Protestants and Spanish-Portuguese Jews, and the religious divisions continued along racial lines years after emancipation. Today, even if Catholic, the offspring of Sephardi (Jewish) Curaçaoan men and Afro-Curaçaoan women (known as yu di hudiu)3 sometimes attend synagogue to celebrate Yom Kippur, at death the progeny would almost certainly be buried in a Catholic, not Jewish, cemetery.4 Keeping this religio-racial history in mind, we look to the cemeteries of Curaçao as a site of ethnic distinction and elision. In their studies of ethnic American cemeteries, In Memorials for Children of Change and “The Afro-American Section of Newport’ Rhode Island’s Common Burying Ground,” Dickran and Ann Tashijian argue forcibly for the need to interpret gravestones within their specific historical and ethnic contexts. Other scholars such as David Gradwohl and David Watters have likewise clarified the need to think about the specific religious traditions of the interred. Following these scholars, we analyze the stones on Curaçao within their religio-cultural contexts. Scholars such as Tashijian, Cunningham, Gosnell, and Gott have shown that ethnic American cemeteries often highlight the community’s distinctiveness, and to a certain extent the cemeteries of Curaçao reflect this pattern.5 In life Curaçao’s Jews, Catholics, and Protestants shared their city space; however, in death they resided in separate cities composed of elaborate tomb architecture that reflected many of the de facto divisions that ruled island social life (Frontispiece). Since a person only has one body, at death one must choose the community with whom one has the greatest allegiance. Moreover, both Jews and Catholics require that their congregants be buried exclusively in denomination-specific burial grounds. Thus, although there was no formal policy of ghettos for either Jews or Afro-Curaçaoans during life, at death there was a certain self-selecting segregation. Although all three major denominations (Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant) show an interest in architectural motifs, the burial practices of each vary tremendously. In spite of these distinctive features, however, Curaçao’s cemeteries also commemorate the dead in ways that cut across, and even defy religious and ethnic boundaries. This permeability is best reflected in the island’s Masonic cemetery and in Masonic symbols used elsewhere on the island. Whereas in the United States racial distinctions between African Americans and whites are usually codified, on the island of Curaçao, racial assignments are more fluid and can be impacted by issues such as wealth, religion, and marriage. As scholars such as Elisa Larkin Nascimento have shown, race is a socially constructed category and “what stands out is its plasticity, mutability,

Profile for Chris Davis

Markers XXVII  

Annual Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies

Markers XXVII  

Annual Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies

Profile for cvdavis
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