Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 372–390 | Cite as

Ritual Vicissitudes: The Uncertainties of Singaporean Suicide Rites

  • Ruth E. ToulsonEmail author
Original Paper


In this article, I examine how Singaporean Chinese families and funeral professionals work together to ritually manage the meaning and consequences of a death by suicide. While the now dated literature on Chinese mortuary practice emphasizes the formality and rigidity of death rituals, during fieldwork I noted many moments of confusion within ritual, moments of innovation, when relatives broke away from the already uncertain ritual script, and moments of deceit, when relatives conspired with funeral directors to hide the reason for a death. Through an examination of three funerals for suicide victims, including two cases in which the fact that the death was a suicide was hidden, I suggest that a focus on moments of confusion and of innovation paradoxically better captures the dynamism and efficacy of Chinese funeral rituals: here indeterminacy is indispensable to ritual form.


Suicide Funeral ritual Singapore Chinese diaspora 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA

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