In Shih article, death in Dier El-Medina: a physiological assessment, he offers a unique perspective on how funerary practices and beliefs by modern standards were psychologically functional as part of the process of mourning. He makes use of the archeological records to figure out the pattern in which the funeral practices are carried out, so as to assess death under a psychology lens. Due to this assessment, Shih argues that the findings of other authors are wrong in the assessment of Egyptians as being preoccupied with death.
Shih’s article begins by following a progressive manner of mourning from the period of death of an individual, to the funeral and post funeral relationships because the author believes strongly in mourning being a process that develops overtime. Shih’s functional mechanism’s for dealing with loss and grief include the nature of the community, social network and support, rituals and beliefs, and lastly a post mortem relationship with the dead. Each mechanism for coping is presented with the notion of universality, irrespective of location, geography or history and this of important because it separated people based on what extent they mourn.
The first coping mechanism according to Shih article, which is vital to dealing with loss and grief of the deceased is reality testing. This entails being present at the death of the individual, seeing the lifeless body and also physically touching and embracing the body. This visual stimulation as well as the physical stimulation in addition to aural stimulation is a step in the confrontation of death. Shih further used the example of a funeral to further explain how the presence of the deceased in a coffin was important for the mourners to embrace the finality of death.
Shih draws our attention to the importance of communal participation as an outlet of emotional pain. There is power in the social support that comes from this, because, Dier El- medina is a small interrelated community where the death of an individual was not the bereaved family’s burden to bear but that of the whole community. Therefore in a tightly knit society where each individual has a form of social tie to another, losing a member is significant in bring together the group so as to provide social support for the family of the bereaved.
As a result, death tightens the social solidarity and the family of the bereaved finds empathy nd emotional support through the participation of the community in the funeral rites. The expression of grief has its psychological function but it is a necessity for the process of mourning. The author believes that the mourning as a communal act is required to release built up emotions and also provide comforting effects. Crying is not specific to women alone but to children and men. Using an example, he says to express grief, women at Dier el-Medina were often on their knees, wailing and pouring dust all over their heads, children were often seen crying while holding the body of the mummy.
The men were not left behind they too cried and using Shih’s excellent inscription from chapel TT 219, the men cried out ’’ do not leave. Do not leave. Oh my good father do not leave’’. The next coping mechanism which are psychologically functional to the mourning process according to Shih is the performance of rituals at funerals. He argues that the carrying out of rituals such as the dragging the funerary shrine and canopic chest of the deceased, singing a funerary song for the deceased, purifying the funerary part and restoring the deceased bodily functions are important in the process of mourning.
He makes the point that the performance of this rituals had beneficial effects for the mourners because it enabled them to overcome their guilt and do one last thing for the dead. He makes use of the funerary repast, a meal given to the mourners after the burial in countries such as Nigeria, U. S. A, and Sweden, as an example to show the social and psychological benefits of this ritual is not an Egyptian tradition but a universal one for dealing with grief. The repast after the burial serves as a final separation from the dead and the reincorporation of the individuals back into the familiar setting of the society.
Although he is comparing Egyptian mourning to modern times, he does provide enough examples from modern rituals to enable us understand the psychological impact in the process of mourning. He further goes in-depth to link the performance of the rituals to the religion beliefs and traditions of the Ancient Egyptians. Shih points out that the adherence to certain religious rituals in the funeral reignited the mourner’s belief in the religious doctrine, and also it reminds them that death is a part of the cosmic order, and cannot be avoided not by man or even gods.
The article further explains that the religion of the ancient Egyptians offered a comforting belief that the deceased at death would be affiliated with a god. It further explains that religious doctrine to the mourners, creates a belief of an afterlife where they too would be reunited with their loved ones if they carry out the proper rituals would meet their beloved. Shih correlates this knowledge with a saying from Butemanhs ‘’ Pre has gone and his ennead after him. The kings likewise. The human body as one, they follow one another, for there is none who can remain alive, we shall all be after you’’.
The next coping mechanism of interest involves the post-mortem relationship with the dead at Dier el-Medina. The small community maintained a relationship with the dead not only for personal gain but for social, cultural, spiritual, and psychological reasons. Examples researched by Shih reveals that participation in the annual feast of the valley, veneration of the stelae, anthropoid busts and letters to dead establishes the notion that the Egyptians maintained communications with the deceased so as to help with problems in life.
He notes that the community at Dier el medina assumed that the dead were responsible for occurrences in their life and were held accountable for keeping over them until their death. The article does add value to the field of Egyptology because it presents its information in a progressive and easy to understand manner. We are presented with the coping mechanism mourners in Dier el medina are faced with right from the moment of the death, then continued during the burial process, followed by the rituals carried out to the spirit of the deceased and finally , to a period long after the deceased has been buried.
The systematic flow of knowledge makes it easier to understand the importance of death in their culture. Shih further corrects the perceived notion that Egyptians were obsessed with death, and in fact uses various examples to prove that they in fact had a healthier way of mourning the dead. Firstly, we see a comparison between the social cohesion present in the modern society as compared to the Egyptian society. The Dier El- Medinas are characterized by their strong ties, similar social status and low dispersion rates which provides enables them to provide comforting support to the mourners all year round.
Whereas, support in the modern society is not as present due to its weak social network, high dispersion rates and loose family. The support from this two kinds of families would have established different kinds of responses form the mourners. Secondly, Shih makes his point using the notion of the accommodation of children in the funerals and death rites. We see that, In this ancient community, the children were exposed to death at an early stage to provide an early understanding of how to cope with death and grief.
As a result they will be able to deal with the uncommon process of mourning in way that benefits them and the society. Whereas, in the western society, the children are isolated from the death in the community as a result of their lack of extended family and increased mobility. They are not knowledgeable about the dying process as a child so therefore as an adult, they may be unable to deal with grief when a loved one dies. On the question of a healthy way of mourning the dead, Shih intelligently compares what effect a relationship with the dead has on the health of on an individual.
He notes that Freud a western psychologists, believed in autonomy and individuation, whereby a relationship with the dead is an unhealthy way of clinging to the past. These western belief says that mourning should be a way to cut ties with the deceased and develop new relationships. The Freudian model has been proven be wrong because according to Shih studies, it is believed that keeping a memory of the deceased, interacting with this memory and also including the deceased life into one’s one life has important emotional and comforting effects .
Therefore the desire of the community at Dier El Median to keep in contact with the dead is a healthy way for them to accept the death and continue their relationship in a way that surpasses physical presence. Lastly comparing the belief of the Dier El Medinas to the Tibetans, it shows that they knew what process to carry out to mourn in comforting way Shih asserts that the Tibetans have a similar belief to the Egyptians, where the deceased soul awakes in confusion and the community with the help of the Lamas, a spiritual lama’s work together to guide the soul to the afterlife by saying the good deeds they did in the past.
This enables solace and support in the mourning process knowing they have enabled passage to the other side. Although the Dier El-Medinas are similar to the Tibetans in their practice, they required no outside help and considered the rites to be limited to their culture. Shih argues brilliantly that this would have enabled them to decide what ought to be performed so as to properly mourn the deceased. In conclusion, the author of this article made a good job of informing the readers that the Egyptians at Dier El-Medina had a healthy and interesting way of mourning.
Although because they are people from a time well passed they, should be treated differently as a unique people with different cultures and tradition. Analysing the Dier El-Medinas through the eyes of the eyes of the Westerners takes away from the mystery associated with them. This article is an interesting read and it is to be reads by scholars interested in the contrast and similarities in mourning in two different eras. An examination of the social, cultural, spiritual and psychological motivations is required.