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.


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…


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.


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


Musicians are hired to sing for the dead.


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.


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


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


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



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.