Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Wandering Nostril: African Funerals and the Late Jiminy Cricket



Michael M. Liswaniso, a columnist for Namibia’s New Era newspaper, asks a startling question: “Why the Air Fresheners At Funerals?
I have attended numerous funerals in this country but I have never seen anybody who stands next to the coffin and sprays it with some fragrances in the name of ‘Airoma strawberry’ or any other just to wind down the so-called ‘filthy smell’ emanating from the deceased inside the coffin. 
That was until I attended the funeral of one of my close family members. I did not appreciate what I saw. The same thing happened at least at five different funerals in my mother’s town.
Are mortuary practices that abysmal in Namibia? Not according to Liswaniso.
In all the funerals or burial services I attended in Caprivi and other parts of the country, there was no reek of any kind from the coffins. Yet, people continue to spray the coffins even during the funeral service in the church.
During the service?
The practice distracts the mourners from paying attention to the service, disrupting the entire funeral service.
Yikes. This sounds undignified and unnecessary. On the other hand, rituals evolve over time. Maybe we should update the Book of Common Prayer:
Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his pleasantly scented body to the ground . . .
Cindy V. Culp at the Waco Tribune reports on a bizarre story: “Cricket infestations a stinky problem at Waco businesses.”
As branch manager of Synergy Bank in Waco, Jani Rodriquez is used to handling all manner of situations. But for the past few months, Rodriquez has been stumped by a problem that has plagued several local businesses — a foul odor caused by decaying cricket carcasses.
Cricket outbreaks are evidently an annual event in Central Texas, but a wet winter led to an unusually early and vigorous population explosion this year.
Some of the invading crickets apparently have been trapped inside the walls of the building where the bank is located, the Triangle Tower at 510 N. Valley Mills Drive. The result is an unpleasant smell that emanates throughout much of the first floor. It waxes and wanes with the cricket population, which is buoyed by rain. 
“It’s outside, it’s inside,” Rodriquez said. “You kind of get used to it when you’re here. But when you walk out and come back in, it’s really bad.”
A perfect example of olfactory adaptation and disadaptation. Meanwhile, why do dead crickets get so stinky?
Dead crickets don’t always cause a stench. Most of the time, a carcass simply dries up and dissipates, [entomologist Fred] Huffman said. When things get stinky is when the carcass is exposed to moisture. That causes a different type of decay, often with a foul smell, he said.
The infestation in Waco has some unexpected consequences:
[Drug Emporium manager Scott] Halvorson said, he must remove ceiling domes that house the store’s security cameras to empty out dead crickets every few days. So far, that has kept an odor from being present in the store. “But it’s a stench when you pull them down,” he said.

1 comment:

Andrew Chase said...

The reason they spray air freshener is the same that caused our ancient ancestors to adorn the deceased with flowers. All of the objective evidence suggests that the scent of death even at low concentration can have a profound psycho-physiological effect on us. (Hauntings) This is the human version of the species-specific death avoidance behavior seen commonly in the natural world. The fact that the reporter cannot detect this scent is also not difficult to understand inasmuch as the male seems to be generally less sensitive to this odor than females, which also make sense from an evolutionary perspective. Once it is understood how this particular adaptation works and has worked for the past 300 million years it is almost absurd to suggest the we as human beings would not have benefited from this characteristic until we began building permanent structures that would, under certain conditions, store the material and intermittently release these con-specific odors. Viola! A haunting!