Crafting death : grief, stories, and materiality in Katikati Coffin Club : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Social Anthropology at Massey University, Palmerston North, Aotearoa New Zealand

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Massey University
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Coffin Clubs are a social phenomenon in Aotearoa New Zealand, where people gather for two main purposes: to talk about death and dying, and to build their own coffins. This latter, practical aspect is what sets Coffin Clubs apart from other death-related support groups. This research explores why people attend Katikati Coffin Club. My field work involved attending Katikati Coffin Club on a weekly basis for more than a year. While I was there, I helped build and decorate many coffins, including my own. Using participant-observation and ethnographic accounts from club members, my findings reveal the nuanced reasons people choose to attend Coffin Club, and why many continue to attend long after they have finished building their coffin. This research explores the practical element of Katikati Coffin Club through the lens of the anthropology of craftwork. I consider how the act of building a coffin facilitates conversations about death, dying and grief. I argue that building a coffin can be seen as a form of storytelling, and an acknowledgement of mortality. Finally, I suggest that Coffin Club provides an alternative to the coffins sold by the funeral industry, and is a way to take control of/personalise ‘death work’ (actively preparing for death, both practically and in more abstract, emotional ways). My findings assert that Coffin Club helps people talk about death and grief. It creates a space for people to share different practices relating to death work, and provides an opportunity to craft narratives. As club members tell their stories through crafting a coffin, they are also able to narrate their loss and grief. As they craft their coffin, they also craft the relationships and the social space around them. In performing a practical aspect of death work, Coffin Club members are working on grief and loss. Woodwork, death work and the work of grief, occurring simultaneously.
Katikati Coffin Club, Coffins, Design, New Zealand, Mourning customs, Death, Social aspects, Psychological aspects, Narrative inquiry (Research method), Coffin Club, crafting, materiality, embodiment, storytellling, grief