Author Archives: Kikelola Afolabi-Brown

Today’s Forecast: Heavy rains, rising seas, and floating bodies


While scouring the internet for additional information for my Op-ed, I came across an article onan un usual consequence of inclement weather: floating caskets. I’ve never heard of anything thing like this before and I had no idea of how this could even be possible. Apparently floating caskets are all too common in New Orleans. The city is located below sea level on a piece of land that was formally a swamp. So in order to adapt to this environment,  citizens traditionally “bury” their dead above ground. While initially an ingenious idea, obviously burying dead people out in the open comes with some significant flaws, particularly in the face of major flooding. Whenever there is flooding in New Orleans, coffins and old bones can be found floating throughout the city alongside debris from severe weather.

Over the years, the city has worked to fortify the ground to prevent this from becoming a recurring issue, but unfortunately, Mother Nature continues to overcome their efforts. As a result of Hurricane Katrina, nearly a thousand dead bodies escaped their burial grounds and drifted around the city. Even in 2016, after two feet of rain fell in less than 72 hours, cemeteries were flooded and caskets were displaced once again. Now Louisiana requires that all coffins have some form of identification. But of course, there are still additional barriers that continue to  complicate things. Death certificates placed in coffins are often destroyed and labels wash away. Arbie Goings, of the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, suggested placing bar codes on every casket, but there’s a lot more work that needs to be done  in order to accomplish this.

Even though displaced caskets are shocking and may be difficult for some to have to experience the burial ritual again, it is common for people of New Orleans to  interact with their dead by altering the burial site. Families in New Orleans typically use the same tomb or plot for each dead person. So when someone dies, the oldest coffin in a tomb or grave is removed and destroyed. Their remains are put into a body bag and placed in the corner of the tomb or grave to make way for the new addition. Some families have even used the same tombs for more than 150 years. Some organizations  establish large “society” tombs for their members to be buried. The Swiss society has its own tomb and the Italian and Portuguese society  has their own as well.  

In a Wednesday, March 16, 2016 photo, caskets float away from a nearby cemetery during flooding from heavy rains in Calcasieu Parish, La. The parish Coroner’s Office earlier this month completed the recovery of caskets and vaults or lids that floated from their resting places during flooding March 12 and beyond. Officials said 85 caskets were recovered, most from Niblett’s Bluff Cemetery in Vinton. The recovered remains have been placed in refrigerated trucks parked at the coroner’s office as investigators begin the identification and re-interment process. (Emily Dalfrey via AP)

New Orleans has very unique cemetery practices that have proven unsuitable for severe weather. It’s humorous as an outsiderbecause I’ve never imagined anything like this before but understandably disheartening for the loved ones who have to deal with this issue. I am not sure if there will ever be a permanent solution to keeping the caskets in their place. However, if this issue eventually becomes unbearable, residents of New Orleans  could consider using other funerary options such as cremation or mausoleums.


War Crimes, Mourning, and the Quest for Closure

“A double exposure including: a) current day scene From My Lai-Quang Ngai photo by Binh-Dang and b) American ‘Huey’ helicopters during My Lai Massacre on March 16,`968 in My Lai, South Vietnam.”


For whatever reason reading Jared Afrookteh’s post, “How do we view death in fiction?” reminded me of a class I took a couple years ago called War Crimes and Genocide. I remembered being shocked by all of the atrocious crimes that have occurred throughout history and in the world. I struggled to wrap my head around the events. Massacre in My Lai, genocide in Bosnia, torture in Abu
Ghraib… It is all overwhelming and devastating to learn, as the details behind
each of the aforementioned events, and many more, showcase an unbelievable
amount of abuse and dehumanization that I would have never imagined.  And
I also felt a great amount of guilt for having no idea that any of these crimes
had ever been committed.

One of the most appalling war crimes that I learned about was American massacre in My Lai, Vietnam. That may have been the first time I had heard of Americans being the perpetrators committing a crime against humanity. I guess at the time I had always believed that Americans would never commit such atrocious crimes. How could a country representing
peace, freedom, and justice for all completely abandon their moral values and
massacre a community of innocent people? What concerns me the most amidst
growing knowledge of catastrophic death and violence is the fate of the
survivors. How do they reconcile their loss? Often times we see the
establishment of monuments, museums, and other memorabilia to commemorate the event that occurred and the losses people have had so their lives and experiences will never be forgot.

However, does this truly bring closure?


Communities and loved ones may be left without any knowledge of the identity of the offender. Or they may have issues with learning of what happened to the body, as it may be disfigured or missing, which ultimately leaves loved ones without a tangible memory of what they’ve lost. This may also disrupt
traditional burial rituals and require the loved ones of the dead to search for
answers in the hopes of obtaining some form of closure. Or if the perpetrator
is known, it would be ideal to receive a genuine apology or some form of
reparations for their loss, but unfortunately this does not always happen.

For the villagers in My Lai, American Lieutenant William Calley, the man known for leading the massacre in 1968, was convicted for the crime but his sentence was reduced from life in jail to three and a half years, and on top of it all, as
of today, he has failed to make a formal apology or pay reparations to the
survivors. In another case, the Rape of Nanking, government officials of Japan
chose to deny and ignore the fact that their soldiers, killed, raped, and
tortured thousands of Chinese citizens. Even with cries of frustration from
particularly female survivors, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has been reluctant to
admit any fault and instead focuses on closing the chapter so that it can be
forgotten and future generations of Japan can no longer be connected to that
devastating piece of history.

I think this issue is very interesting but I still have limited knowledge on the specific practices that occur in response to mass death, but I’m looking forward to discussing this in class!