Day of the Dead

Grey skies, people whispering * while they are praying or cleaning the tombs of their loved ones. This is what you are likely to * see if you visit a cemetery in Europe on All Saints’ day or on the Day of the Dead (depending on the country).

Visit a cemetery in Bolivia on November 2d and you’ll experience something totally different. There, like in Mexico and some other Andean * regions, death is viewed differently: the soul never dies and on November 2d, it comes back to earth to visit the living.

Basically, the ajayus (‘souls’ in Aymara * ) are said to arrive at midday on November 1st and to stay for 24 hours but practically, on November 2d, people settle for the whole day in cemeteries; if the souls only come back on that day, it has to be celebrated, so people gather * and sing to the dead, but also drink and eat.

Once you have gotten used to the mess *, you realize that most of the unusual things you see can be found on most of the tombs and that they all have a meaning.

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In front of the tombs, the living lay a ‘mesa *’ for the dead, where they put food and drinks (mainly what the dead used to like) but also t’anta wawa (bread babies), ladder shaped bread and sugar cane arranged like a pyramid – both are supposed to help the dead go back to the skies – spring onions, which contains water for the dead to drink…

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Altar * in local house where you can see a picture of the deceased, ladder shaped bread, t’anta wawas, drinks and food, but also a picture of Jesus. In Bolivia, more than 60% of the population identify themselves as indigenous, and more than 70% are Catholic. Like many other traditions in Bolivia, the Day of the Dead combines indigenous and Catholic elements.

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General Cemetery – the deceased * are not buried in the ground; their remains * are placed in these niches.

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Musicians are hired to sing for the dead.

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Cementerio de El Alto – in this cemetery, the deceased are buried in the ground, which makes it easier for people to settle in front of their tombs.

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T’anta wawas – t’anta means bread in Aymara and wawa means child. It shows that deceased are with us.

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Sugar cane is arranged like a pyramid which, like the ladder shaped bread, is used by the dead to go back to the skies.

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Spring onion contains water, so that the dead can drink.

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On November 2d, some people go to cemeteries with a big bag. They sing or say a prayer for the dead and in exchange, they are given some bread or cakes.

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