Day of the Dead Teotitlan Del Valle 2009

The church bells sound at 3:00 p.m. signaling the time to light the copal incense burner and begin the festival meal as the dead find their way back to the cemetery via the sweet aroma and candlelight.  Federico lights the incense and puts the smokey charcoal in the center of the casa courtyard.  We sit down to a meal of morado (purple corn) tamales stuffed with chicken and mole amarillo, chicken, mole negro homemade by Lola, sweet rice mixed with onions and squash, salad, lots of beer and mezcal.  After the meal, Barbara and I walk to the Panteon (cemetery) just a few blocks from the house.  Here, the festivities are more subdued than the Xoxo extravaganza.  The cemetery is smaller and more humble.  The adornment on each tomb is relatively uniform, decorated with a partially segmented orange, hand-fulls of roasted peanuts and walnuts, candles, simple flowers.  Families also gather here in small clusters, talking, cracking and eating nuts, or in silent meditation.  The village band clusters in the center of the cemetery under an awning in front of the large permanent altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe and plays a mix of ranchero music, Mozart, and ancient Zapotec tunes.  This is mostly a horn group and the music is a strong punctuation mark to the more solemn ambiance of the environment.  We see many gringos with video cameras, tripods and still cameras with macho lenses.  This creates an air of voyeurism that is stronger for me than the experience at Xoxo where I expect this.  Because I know many people in the village now, I walk through the narrow paths separating the graves and greet them with handshakes, smiles and hugs.  I ask a local friend what the feeling is about all the gringos in the graveyard, and he says it is good for the village to have visitors because the economy has been so difficult this last year.  I wonder if this is a sentiment shared by most or if there is a feeling of invasiveness into a sacred rite.  This is always a question for me — the cultural sensitivity of being a guest in the village and how to move around with deference and respect for ancient traditions.

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