Monday, October 12, 2009

Celebrating the Day of the Dead in Teotitlan del Valle

The Montano family gathers on the Day of the Dead. In this older photo various members hang out with their compadres from Mexico City. They decorated their restaurant El Descanso for Halloween that year.

On November 1 various tasks must be accomplished before nightfall. Clean the house, make a house altar and foods such as tamales. Part of the family goes to the "campo santo" (cemetery) to clean and decorate the graves. In this photo flowers, candles, food etc were loaded in the back of their pick up, along with Troy the dog, to go to the "panteon" to visit the dead. The departed souls are invited to return to their old homes when the church bell rings at 3 pm. I went to clean and decorate Karen Turtle's tiny grave and invite her to return too.

Karen(an American) was like a family member of the Montanos, and a very close friend of mine. She died unexpectedly in 1992. After her funeral and cremation in Oaxaca, Edmundo got permission to bury her ashes in this Zapotec pueblo. Karen always wanted to live in one of these pueblos and had longtime friendships in Teotitlan, San Martin Tilcajete, and Arrasola. All her friends from these towns wanted her ashes for their town panteon.

I enjoyed decorating Karen's grave for a number of years. The Montanos also consider me one of their family members so spending the Day of the Dead with them has been a great pleasure. Once, Fidel and Mari and I went to the local mill to have the cacao beans, cinnamon and all ground together into chocolate after cleaning the house. Here is a photo of Karen's grave in 1992. I loved being able to make her little tomb a work of art.

A few years ago another person was buried in the same plot. The cross with her name is still there too, behind the new tomb. The man buried there was a close friend of hers and the plot probably belonged to his family when she borrowed the tomb. Teotitecas are practical people.

In this photo Alicia's mother Viviana is cleaning the family plot. Since the photo was taken, Viviana joined the family members resting in this beautiful sacred ground.

As evening arrives the family gathers in their living room in front of the house altar. Here various members wait to greet visitors who come and go thoughout the night. Teotitecas don't go to the graveyard for the night.

One of the first couples to visit stand in front of the altar, having lit a large white candle, and put their offerings of bread and chocolate on the altar. They make a prayer in Zapotec. They came in, made the ceremonial handshake with everyone in line in the previous photo, saying "Shaa". After their prayers, Edmundo welcomed them and they took seats at the long table, men on one side, and women on the other. Then Edmundo started serving shots of mescal, beers, and soft drinks. The party had begun.

Conversations often take place in Zapotec but I enjoy just being present. Later, this couple will be given fruit, bread and chocolate before they leave for another compadres home.


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