Memorialisation practices among the Poles in Hull: emergent findings (part one)

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Remember Me Project Co-Investigator Dr Lisa Dikomitis reports on our case study ‘Countries Old and New: memorialisation among Polish migrants in Hull’.

The Polish case study kicked off in May 2016. Dr Anna Piela and Dr Lisa Dikomitis are the researchers on this project. We are carrying out both traditional and virtual ethnographic data collection in Hull and the surrounding area of East Riding of Yorkshire.

Throughout this process, we relied on many helpful individuals and organisations, including the Honorary Consul of Poland in Hull, Prof. Jo Carby-Hall, a Polish clergyman, community activists, members of the Polish community, and staff and students at the University of Hull.  We are continuing to map the Polish community in Hull, identifying general places of interest as well as places related to funerals, death, and memorialisation.

We are collecting different types of data: photographs, ethnographic notes, interviews, newspaper clippings, websites, and books. We have visited Polish businesses, homes of Polish people, religious funeral services in Polish, as well as Polish graves in Hull cemeteries.

There are two quite distinct groups of Poles living in Hull and the wider area: the ‘settled’ Poles who have been in the UK for many decades and the ‘new’ Poles who started arriving after Poland joined the European Union in 2004. Our findings so far indicate some interesting trends in how Polish funerary and memorialisation traditions are shaped in the UK:

  • The ‘new’ migrants often travel to Poland and tend their loved ones’ graves. During these visits, which are not necessarily timed to coincide with the All Souls and All Saints Days, a time when traditionally graves are tended and the dead are commemorated. If people cannot travel, they often light a candle on a random Polish grave that they could find at their local cemetery in the UK. Some people travel within the UK to Polish war graves and cemeteries, for example the ones in Driffield or Newark. This is popular particularly with Polish Saturday schools who bus the pupils for special ceremonies at these locations. There is also a growing trend related to grave tending – Polish people often participate in group grave tending events (sprzątanie grobów) in the UK, mostly in larger cities such as London or Sheffield. They clean, weed, and decorate abandoned Polish graves. This is a tradition adopted from Polish scouting – around 1 November scouts tend to participate in similar events in Poland, mostly tending forgotten war graves in forests and remote places.
  • In contrast to settled Polish populations in the UK who have been here for many decades, new migrants often chose to transport bodies back to Poland to be buried. There are specialised companies that provide body transportation services (transport zwłok) and they work closely with UK-based funeral homes who prepare bodies for this last journey. As this is a fairly expensive service, many people choose cremations. Ashes are then kept in the homes or transported to Poland, often in an informal fashion. Cremations are much more common and popular than body transporting. Only small numbers of funerals take place in the UK, although their numbers are increasing. Children’s burials are more likely to take place in the UK, if both parents live in this country. Many informants mentioned a strong Polish sentiment for the Polish soil. They say that people ‘don’t want to be buried in the foreign soil’, and if they have to be buried in the UK, their relatives will often scatter Polish soil over their grave to symbolically provide a link to the homeland.
  • Although many funerary and memorialisation practices appear to be carefully preserved, there are some differences. In addition to the prevalence of cremations (which are still not very common in Poland), in the older Polish communities we noted the existence of the eulogy, a practice that is non-existent in Poland. Sometimes favourite music of the deceased is played during the ceremony or during the post-funeral meal for the family. This is more common during secular funerals.

Our fieldwork continues until March 2017.  We are interested to hear from Polish people in Hull and the neighbouring area. Please email l.a.dikomitis@keele.ac.uk if you are interested to participate in our project.

 

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