Death Is a Festival

Funeral Rites and Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Brazil

By João José Reis

Translated by H. Sabrina Gledhill

400 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 50 illus., 15 tables, 2 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5445-7
    Published: June 2003
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6272-8
    Published: November 2003

Latin America in Translation

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Awards & distinctions

1996 Clarence H. Haring Prize, American Historical Association

A 2004 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

1992 Jabuti Prize for Nonfiction, Brazilian Book Council

This award-winning social history of death and funeral rites during the early decades of Brazil's independence from Portugal focuses on the Cemiterada movement in Salvador, capital of the province of Bahia. The book opens with a lively account of the popular riot that ensued when, in 1836, the government condemned the traditional burial of bodies inside Catholic church buildings and granted a private company a monopoly over burials.

This episode is used by Reis to examine the customs of death and burial in Bahian society, explore the economic and religious conflicts behind the move for funerary reforms and the maintenance of traditional rituals of dying, and understand how people dealt with new concerns sparked by modernization and science. Viewing culture within its social context, he illuminates the commonalities and differences that shaped death and its rituals for rich and poor, men and women, slaves and masters, adults and children, foreigners and Brazilians.

This translation makes the book, originally published in Brazil in 1993, available in English for the first time.

About the Author

João José Reis is professor of history at Universidade Federal da Bahia in Brazil. He is author of Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia.
For more information about João José Reis, visit the Author Page.


"[A] handsome and generously illustrated paperback edition. . . . A major contribution to cultural history."--The Historian

" A great contribution to the study of religion and society in Latin America."--Latin American Historical Review

"This exemplary, open-ended study raises intriguing questions as it solves many puzzles."--American Historical Review

"Brilliant social history . . . superbly translated by H. Sabrina Gledhill. . . . A real classic. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice\

"A fascinating study. This book will appeal to students of Brazil but also to anyone interested in the profound changes in human sensitivity and rituals of death that took place from the colonial to the modern period."--Emilia Viotti da Costa, author of The Brazilian Empire: Myths and Histories

"A pithy, nuanced, fluent translation that does justice to this well-written book."--John Charles Chasteen, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill