December 2010

Day of the Dead: 'El Dia de los Muertos' 2010

In Bolivia, the 2nd of November is celebrated as the day of the Dead 'La Fiesta de Todos Santos'. What happens on this day is quite extraordinary as Bolivians throughout the country devote this day in respect and remembrance of the dead.

Hersha Mistry
Projects Abroad
Manchester - United Kingdom

I had flown into Bolivia on the 31st of October where I was to live with a Bolivian host family, a day later having recovered from my jet lag and tiredness from lack of sleep, I had witnessed something special, a two day festival in remembrance of the Dead. On the 1st of November, I saw my host family prepare and display a table of different foods, they also displayed pictures of their relatives who had passed away. I was amazed by the colourful display of the foods on the table which was decorated with so much enthusiasm and effort in respect of the dead. On the 2nd of November, the family took me to the cementery where they carried foods and flowers, they watered the flowers and prayed at the tombs of their passed away relatives. I stood in silence at the cementary while hearing the humming of birds in the background.

The Bolivian Cardinal Julio Terrazas during his speech at the Mass stated that the Fiesta of Todos Santos should serve to remind the Bolivian families that "we are flesh and spirit" and that "the memory of our deceased is a memory of our family, of the friendship and of the conviction that we are more than pure meat, we are a spirit, a spirit which God needs which comes to his house, which comes to his glory".

In all the rural and urban areas in Bolivia, the 2nd of November, is spent with the whole family. The families display a selection of fresh flowers, freshly made pastries, fruits and sweets and place these on the table before 12 pm, on the first of November. The pastries are made in the shape of human figures (tantawawas). The flowers, lilies and anastasias due to their beauty and colour are the most popular sold flowers during this day. These flowers are most commonly used to decorate tables.

According to many local reports, millions of people mainly in the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba, Potosi, Santa Cruz and Oruro visited the tombs of their loved ones on this day. At the same time, a number of rituals relating to Pachamama (mother of the land) also took place.

The Potosi experience

In Potosoi, Quijarro in Pulacayo, the 31st of October and 1st of November involve the preparation of a lot of foods including a wide variety of masitas (dry fruits), panal which is bolied sugar liquidised and shaped in the form of a large spoon as well as foods which the dead liked the most while they were alive. During these two days, a table is prepared and these foods are placed on this table. They also place ashtrays beneath the table. During this time, the families pray mainly for the Young who passed away including babies. Children also pray for young infants who passed away and small songs are sung during prayers. The children who pray for the dead infants are then offered dry fruits and a refreshment drink which can sometimes be coca cola. The table is left over night, in preparation for the day which follows, the 2nd of November.

On the 2nd of November, it is believed that at 12pm midday, the spirits arrive at the houses of each individual family and that the Dead place their feet on the ashtrays beneath the tables. Footprints are then visible on the ashtrays as evidence that the dead had arrived. Later, the families pray and eat together near the tables. During this day, many friends and relatives of the people come to pray at the tables, those people who pray are then offered dry fruits, panal and a refreshment drink, mainly this would be a beer. At approximately 3 or 4 pm, the families go to visit the cemetery. A member of the family would offer plates of dried fruits to lots of nearby friends and relatives in order for them to pray for the dead relatives of the individual making the offerings. Individuals receiving the offerings then pray. At approximately 6 or 7 pm, the Potosinos say ´goodbye´to the dead and incense sticks are lit in the cemetery to reflect this. They then return home where some of their friends and relatives are already praying and reciting prayers of 3 Padres Nuestros, 3 Ave Marias, 3 Saludos with a rosary.

The families display a selection of fresh flowers, freshly made pastries, fruits and sweets and place these on the table before 12 pm.

The Cochabambino experience.

For the Cochabambinos, this day also starts on the 1st of November and they believe that the souls arrive to visit the family and that on the 2nd of November, the souls leave. The traditional activities carried out on the 1st of November in Cochabamba are similar to those carried out in other parts of Bolivia. Again, a table is prepared with foods which the families´ relatives liked the most. However, in Cochabamba, the table consists of different levels of foods representing a connection between the heaven, the soul and the world. The foods include sweets, dry fruits, bread and pastries. In Cochabamba, the bread baked and made for this day is shaped in the form of various different objects. These include a staircase- this represents the link or way by which the soul could go down to visit the family, a human body- this represents the soul, the Sun, stars and moon- these represent heaven and a horsethis represents the transportation system for the soul. Friends and relatives then come to visit and pray at these tables and are offered these foods in exchange for their prayers.

At 1 pm on the 2nd of November, after the spirits have visited the houses, the food offerings displayed on the tables are taken to the cementeries and placed next to the tombs of the dead. Flowers are also taken to the cemetery and they are watered. The Bolivians recite prayers of Padre Nuestro two times and Ave María two times. There are always large groups of other people present at the cemetery waiting to pray for the souls of the dead and they do this in order to receive as much food offerings as possible in exchange for their prayers. It is said that those who pray with much effort receive the best offerings of fruits, bread and pastries. Once all the praying is completed, the families leave the cemetery. It is also very common for these little groups of people to go round houses offering to pray at the tables of each individual family in order to receive as much bread as they possibly can.

The La Paz experience

It is believed that between 12pm on the 1st of November and the 2nd of November, the spirits of the dead come to visit the houses. In La Paz, the Ritmo de Morenada music is played during the 2nd of November. This is a type of traditional music which is played and the women of La Paz dress in traditional clothes and perform traditional dance steps while this music is played. Other forms of traditional music include “pinquilla” (flautas), “tarkas” (tambores), and other musical groups are played to accompany the farewell of the souls in the most happy and delightful way. Candles are also lit and there is an abundance of food and drink.

Wherever you are in Bolivia on the 2nd of November, you will be sure to witness the traditions and colourful displays of fresh flowers and foods either at Bolivian homes or at the cementaries all in honour of the dead.

Soundscapes of The War

Little or nothing is known about soundscapes during the period of pro-independence in Cochabamba, in the years before the foundation of the Republic of Bolivia in 1825. However, history can tell us that during the colonial period, the church was the privileged place for Hispanic music production in the main towns and villages of Bolivia. The “mestizo-cholo” presence is also known due to its great vitality who not only travelled during festivities, at parties in the public square, but also to private social places where wayñu dances were common. However, there is no official documentation that tells how the soundscapes from the Bolivian military regiments were, like the independence and realistic regiments, or how the musical organization from these military regiments were formed, or if they even existed at that time.

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