Dia de los Muertos, Puerto Quijarro, Bolivia

On Saturday 2nd November, I was invited to visit the neighbouring town of Puerto Quijarro in Bolivia to witness the rituals of  ´Dia de los Muertos´.  This day of remembrance is known in the Catholic tradition as All Souls Day but Central and South America celebrates it as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.  Starting the day before, families prepare a feast for their loved ones who have died.  This includes their favourite food, drink and fruits.  DSCF4198 DSCF4199 On the Day of  the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, families visit the graves and spread out the feast like a picnic, using the tomb as the table, leaving a place setting complete with a plate of food, drink and empty chair for the deceased, while waiting for the souls to arrive. The popular belief is that the deceased spirits or souls will arrive at noon and depart at the same time next day.  White tablecloths are used if the deceased is a child and darker colours for adults.  Graves are adorned with bread (tantawawas) made into various shapes.  The baking of tantawawas or bread babies in blankets, is another significant part of this tradition that brings communities and families together days before for giant bread-making occasion.  Sometimes a  ceramic mask may adorn the tantawawa to honour the soul of the deceased child or baby.  I was saddened and surprised to discover the high percentage of infant deaths evident at this cemetery in Puerto Quijarro. DSCF4183 DSCF4182 DSCF4190 DSCF4214Speaking with a Bolivian colleague earlier that day, I learned that Dia de los Muertos is actually a  mix of Bolivian culture with Catholic beliefs and that the tradition of baking tantawawas is not only indigenous to Bolivians of the Andes region but can be seen in Ecuador and Peru.  Walking from grave to grave to witness how each family honoured their loved ones, I noticed large numbers of children going from grave to grave, stopping to say a prayer, usually an Ave Maria.   I discovered later that children are encouraged to recite prayers at the graves and are rewarded with bags of sweets and pastries. DSCF4187 DSCF4180