2011 — Burying submerging forgetting


Bayan Hoshuu cemetery in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 1999 (©Gregory Delaplace)

Burying, Submerging, Forgetting. Inventing and Subverting the Memory of the Dead in Mongolia

English version of: “Enterrer, submerger, oublier. Invention et subversion du souvenir des morts en Mongolie”

Raisons Politiques 41/1, pp. 87–103.

Special issue: Fragments de corps et restes humains. Edited by Arnaud Esquerre & Gérôme Truc.



This paper concerns a reform of funerary practices carried out in Mongolia from the mid‐1950s onward. Imposing burial, it aimed at banning the ritual performed until then, which consisted in laying the corpse of deceased people in the open. This practice was deemed improper and unsuited to urban life. The success of this reform was ambivalent : while burial seems to have been adopted without too much difficulty by the population, cemeteries did not become what the reformers had hoped they would. Envisioned as fenced and flowered spaces, where the memory of dead people could be celebrated with dignity, they took the form of vast wastelands which are avoided as much as possible, and where graves are left to oblivion and derelict. The purpose of this paper is to understand why the project of this reform has been subverted in this fashion, by caracterising the funerary ideology that corresponds the peculiar configuration of Mongolian cemeteries.