Tag Archives: day of the dead

Chiapas Notebook: Maya Cemetery at Romerillo

The day is cloudy, overcast. A mist hangs on the hills like a coverlet. It’s late February, still chilly with winter in the Chiapas Highlands. Fuzzy wool cape weather, even in the early afternoon. After our visit to Tenejapa for the Thursday market, we make a stop at Romerillo before returning to San Cristobal de las Casas.

Notice: 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour is Full.
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From the road, the Romerillo Maya cemetery, majestic

Romerillo is a tiny hamlet with an impressive cemetery. The stand of turquoise blue Maya crosses carved with ancient symbols are sentries, erect on the crest of the hill. Tethered sheep graze at the base. We get out of the van and walk slowly to enter sacred space.

Pine planks cover the mounds so the dead stay where they belong

We moved in a matter of a few miles from textile sensory overload to quiet meditation. After our guide introduces us to the Maya world of death and life, we each walk silently, separating, alone, stepping across dried pine needles, around the mounds of earth designating grave sites. There are things to think about.

Four ancestors share this grave, each buried at ten-year intervals

One of us gets a call to come home to tend to her mother’s dying. Another suddenly loses a brother-in-law just days before. Most of us quietly mourn a parent, a husband, friend, perhaps a child, a relationship.

The cemetery site is rocky, uneven, steep, protected, festive

It’s months past the Day of the Dead season. There are remnants of marigolds, fresh fruit dried by the sun,  graves covered by wood planks to keep the dead secure in their underworld habitat until the next uncovering.

People drink fizzy Coca Cola at ceremonies. Burping is the voice of gods.

The mounded burial ground: scattered pine needles, dried pine boughs tied to the Maya crosses, toppled flower pots, an empty coke bottle, a tossed aside cigarette butt, an overturned flask once filled with pox (pronounced posh), a fresh grave.

(Mary Randall reminds me that the Romerillo hill was featured in the indie film, El Norte, a testimony to the Maya struggle for independent identity.)

Toppled urns of dried flowers. All disintegrates (except plastic).

How do I know of this recent burial? From the lingering aroma of copal incense, scattered green pine needles, flowers still too fragrant in their urns.

Grand vistas from 7,000 feet high, ethereal

Life and death blend together in Maya ritual. The mounds bridge the gap between heaven and earth. Fresh pine boughs are the portal to the other world. There is afterlife, often reincarnation depending on status. Memory must be kept, attended to. Here is ancestor worship — generations buried in the same space. The pine needles represent infinity, too numerous to count.

By February, pine boughs have dried crusty brown, stay until next year

The blue and green crosses are symbols, too, portals of entry for contact with the ancestors. Mayans believe the ancestors are guides and give them counsel in their problems when asked. Blue is significant throughout the Maya world.

Inscription at the base of a giant Maya cross

On November 1, Day of the Dead, family members lift off the wood planks. Sit around the grave sites of their loved ones, carry on a conversation. There are elaborate rituals here that bring people closer to the natural world.  The sun, moon, earth, stars are imbued with meaning, embedded in all that exists. Everything has a purpose, is connected.

Our groups hears the explanations, wants to disperse

Some of us sit. Others walk. The tall crosses guard the land. Small crosses guard each grave. Sometimes I see several crosses marking one grave site. I know from my experience in Oaxaca that each identifies one person in this resting place, that ten years must pass before another can be buried in the same space. There is continuity on this path.

Small crosses designate each grave site

Notice: 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour is Full.
I am taking a waiting list. Email me to add your name.

 

 

 

Mexico Travel Photography: Day of the Dead Photo Challenge, Norma’s Picks

Mexico Travel Photography Facebook Group of 287 members just finished up submitting a photo a day as part of a five-day photography challenge. Here are the statistics:

STATS: Last week’s 5-Day Photo Challenge, Day of the Dead. 39 people participated all week. They posted 136 photos total. 15 people posted 5 days in a row. Congratulations to all.

Panteón de Romerillo, municipio de San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, by Ana Paula Fuentes

Panteón de Romerillo, San Juan Chamula district, Chiapas, by Ana Paula Fuentes

Special thanks to the 15 people with 5-day staying power: Karen Otter, Ann Conway, Maité Guadarrama, Diane Hobbs, Martha Canseco Bennetts, Betsy McNair, Mary Anne Huff Shaw, Aurora Cabrera, Gail Schacter, Shannon Pixley Sheppard, Cristina Potters, Nick Hamblen, Kathryn Leide, Geri Anderson, Karen Nein.

San Martin Tilcajete cemetery, by Karen Nein

San Martin Tilcajete cemetery, by Karen Nein

I selected a few to show you here. Why these? All selections, of course, are personal judgment. I happened to like the light or composition or subject matter. I’m also attracted to blurred images lately, as well as a high contrast black and white photography.

La Señora de Recycling, Toluca, by Betsy McNair

La Señora de Recycling, Toluca, by Betsy McNair

Sometimes, a photo is innovative — the photographer shot from an unusual angle or perspective, came in close or got the sky exactly right.

Mineral de Pozos, Guanajuato cemetery, by Nick Hamblen

Mineral de Pozos, Guanajuato cemetery, by Nick Hamblen

You can see from these that the subject does not have to be looking right at you. The photo can be crisp or slightly out of focus.

Getting into the spirit early in San Miguel de Allende, by Laura Bly

Getting into the spirit early in San Miguel de Allende, by Laura Bly

Ihuatzio, Michoacan cemetery, by Florence Leyret Jeune

Ihuatzio, Michoacan cemetery, by Florence Leyret Jeune

Setting the scene matters. Telling a story counts.

Oaxaca Bachillerato Comparsa (parade) 2013. Her costume is embellished with natural plant materials. By Diane Hobbs

Oaxaca Bachillerato Comparsa (parade) 2013, by Diane Hobbs

Etla Comparsa by Karen Otter

Etla Comparsa by Karen Otter

I bet hundreds of people took photos of the suspended marigolds at the textile museum and not many saw the juxtaposition of orange against blue sky.

Museo Textil de Oaxaca, by Gail Schacter

Museo Textil de Oaxaca, by Gail Schacter

Oaxaca children's procession, by Barbara Szombatfalvy

Oaxaca children’s procession, by Barbara Szombatfalvy

Oaxaca, bringing flowers to the grave, by Kathryn Leide

Oaxaca, bringing fragrant marigolds to the grave, by Kathryn Leide

San Felipe, Chiapas cemetery, by Ann Conway

San Felipe, Chiapas cemetery, by Ann Conway

As you can see, Dia de los Muertos is one of my favorite holidays, right up there with Thanksgiving in the USA. I’m having a hard time letting go the the days behind us, but soon, we’ll be showing images leading up to the Christmas celebrations in Mexico.

Oaxaca Comparsa by Erin Loughran

Oaxaca Comparsa by Erin Loughran

Kids' parade, San Miguel de Allende, 2013, by Gina Hyams

Kids’ parade, San Miguel de Allende, 2013, by Gina Hyams

Tlacolula market Muertos flower vendors, by Christophe Gaillot

Tlacolula market Muertos flower vendors, by Christophe Gaillot

Hope you like this curated selection. To see them all, go to Mexico Travel Photography.

In two weeks, I leave for India. Look for posts about the textiles I find there. Meanwhile, enjoy this beautiful autumn season.

From Los Angeles, con abrazos, Norma.

 

Is Mexico’s Day of the Dead Like Halloween? Muertos Photos in Black and White.

Day of the Dead altar honoring our Dad, 2015. Selenium filter ala Ansel Adams

Day of the Dead altar honoring our Dad, American Federation of Teachers strike for fair wages, 1960’s, Los Angeles. Selenium filter a la Ansel Adams.

We just finished a week of publishing a Day of the Dead Photography Challenge over at the Facebook site I manage, Mexico Travel Photography. You might want to jump over there to take a look at some amazing shots of this spiritual celebration of life and death. Consider joining and participating if you are not already a member.

Preparing the grave with flowers, fruit, nuts and prayers.

Preparing the grave with flowers, fruit, nuts and prayers. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.

What everyone loves about Mexico is her vibrant color. Everywhere. Dia de Los Muertos is a celebration of life and death. There is nothing more vibrant than the flowers that adorn altars and grave sites, market life and costumes.

But, this post takes a turn to Black and White Photography.

Four crosses mark this family plot where generations of people are buried 10 years apart.

4 crosses on family plot where generations can be buried 10 years apart. Copper filter.

A friend asked me today, what is Muertos? Is it like Halloween?  My answer is definitely NO … and SORT OF.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

Here is my short-version explanation: When the Spanish came to Mexico in 1521, they co-opted an indigenous ancestor worship tradition (Day of the Dead) and overlaid it with All Saints and All Souls Day observations. All Saints’ Day begins with All Hallows Eve, or Halloween with deep Catholic religious and spiritual tradition.

At Amate Books on Alcala, a selection of titles on Muertos.

At Amate Books on Alcala, a selection of titles on Muertos, Oaxaca city.

All Souls’ Day commemorates the faithfully departed and is most closely linked to the death and resurrection of Christ.

Skulls in the market. All altars have some form of them.

Skulls in the market. Most altars have some form of them.

The Spanish were very smart conquerors. Rather than obliterating the religious practices of indigenous people, they integrated observances to make conversion much more palatable. It is possible that Muertos was celebrated during another time of year. As with most other rituals, it moved to coincide with a Catholic feast day.

Sitting in mourning and reflection. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Sitting in mourning and reflection. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Before the Spanish conquest, Dia de Los Muertos had no link to Halloween. In recent years the US images of pumpkins, witches on broomsticks, black cats and gauzy synthetic cobwebs have migrated across the border as Mexicans born in the USA visit their family in cities and villages throughout the country. We see this blending of commercialism and ancient tradition throughout Oaxaca.

Calavera sculpture, cutting stone, San Pablo Cultural Center, 2015

Calavera (skeleton) sculpture, chiseling stone, San Pablo Cultural Center, 2015

I’m editing my photos first using Lightroom, a Photoshop editing tool. Then, I convert these photos to SilverEfex, a free black and white software editing tool now owned by Google. It’s easy to download. You can choose filters, film type and manipulate the histogram if you wish. I’m having fun with it and wanted to share what I’ve done with you.

Flowers in the form of a cross, covering a fresh gravesite. Teotitlan del Valle.

Flowers in the form of a cross, covering a gravesite. Teotitlan del Valle. Intentional?

In case you are interested it takes me from 2 to 4 hours to make a blog post. This includes selecting and editing the photos and then writing the text (or vice versa!) Thank you for reading and following.

Preparing for Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead is coming soon. Festivities in Oaxaca will begin in the next few days, and people are now gathering what they need for home altars to honor their deceased loved ones:

  • palm branches to create an arch over the altar through which loved ones pass from the otherworld — a gateway to now
  • smokey copal incense that provides the aroma to guide the way
  • candles that burn continuously to offer light along the journey
  • fresh flowers, especially marigolds, a seasonal offering with a pungent aroma to guide the spirits
Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

  • bread, chocolate, fruit and nuts for the spirit visitors to eat
  • favorite beverages of those who have passed on and will return: hot chocolate, beer, mezcal, whiskey, coca-cola, Fanta orange, atole
  • framed photographs of those who have died (it wasn’t until the 70’s or 80’s, I’m told, that most locals had cameras to capture images)

 See Day of the Dead 5-Day Photo Challenge at Facebook

 

Oaxaca street parades will start on October 30.

On October 31, the Xoxocotlan panteon (cemetery) will host locals and tourists who come from around the world to experience the reverie and revelry of Muertos. I like to start at the old cemetery around mid-afternoon to be present at the magic hour of sunset.

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

On November 1, there are many cemetery festivities, at San Pablo Villa de Mitla in the morning and in the evening at the Oaxaca city Panteon, and in San Augustin Etla.

On November 2, in Teotitlan del Valle, the low-key ceremonies of honoring the dead begin with a mid-afternoon meal at home to ensure the dead return to their graves with full bellies. The villagers then accompany the spirits to the the cemetery (around 6 p.m. ) and sit with them through the night to be certain they are cared for and rest in peace.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

On November 3, in San Antonino Castillo de Velasco, the flower growing village, holds their Day of the Dead celebrations after they have cut and sold cockscomb, marigolds, lilies and more to surrounding villages and city dwellers.

You might also want to add Santa Maria Atzompa to your itinerary.

Sand paintings, part of the tradition,  Muertos

Sand paintings, part of the tradition, Muertos

These are not created as tourist attractions but exist as part of ancient pre-Hispanic ritual in many parts of Mexico. Oaxaca has one of the most vibrant Day of the Dead celebrations.

Locals and seasoned Oaxaca travelers continue the search for the undiscovered Day of the Dead celebration where few tourists descend. The farther from the city, the more likely this is to occur.

Still life with marigolds, Teotitlan del Valle market

Still life with marigolds, Teotitlan del Valle market

I’m in North Carolina with my friend Hettie, and have with me photos of my parents and copal incense. I’ll start making my memory altar in the next few days. Meanwhile, my Teotitlan del Valle family will light incense and place marigolds at the gate to my home to welcome the spirits and guide them back under the shadow of Picacho.

 See Day of the Dead 5-Day Photo Challenge at Facebook

Muertos altar, November 2, 2015, remembering my dad

Muertos altar, November 2, 2015, remembering my dad

After I built my altar last year, our 99-1/2 year-old mom took a downward turn and I left Oaxaca for California. She died on November 15, 2016. I return to California next week to join my family to lay the headstone on her grave just before the anniversary of her death, a ritual that is part of my religious tradition.

This year, my altar will hold them both. I will sit and honor their lives.

Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, April 16, 2013

Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, April 16, 2013

 

 

 

On The Road, Again: Leaving Oaxaca, Hello North Carolina, California and India

If I had Willie Nelson’s voice and guitar picking skills, I’d give you a personal performance. But, my elementary school glee club (mandatory) teacher asked me to mouth the words. You might like to hear him sing, once again.

Willie Sings: On The Road Again

I left Oaxaca early this morning and now overnight in my Mexico City hotel. Tomorrow morning I take off for North Carolina to vote. Yes, VOTE! I’m doing this in person because I want my vote to count this year. I have to do a legal voter registration name change in person before I can do early voting. This is really important because NC is a swing state. My vote matters.

See who I’m voting for!   As if you couldn’t guess. Smile.

There’s also Colie and Brad’s wedding this weekend. She’s my dear friend Hollie’s daughter and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I also get time with all my great NC pals Kathryn, Hettie, Karen and Steve, Cindy, Chris, Kate, Helen, Anne, Jo-Ann and Ted, Debbie, Judith, Robin, Kaola, Lew and Olive, and so many more …… Can’t wait.

The children's comparsa, Muertos

The children’s comparsa, Dia de los Muertos, Oaxaca

Next, I go to California to visit my son, and then our family gathers to lay the headstone on our mother’s grave in Santa Cruz. This will mark the first anniversary of her death on November 15, and in our religious tradition there is an important ceremony of remembrance.

The Old Cemetery, Xoxocotlan--Day of the Dead

The Old Cemetery, Xoxocotlan–Day of the Dead

My plan is to build a Day of the Dead — Dia de los Muertos Altar in North Carolina to remember my parents. I have the copal incense and photos packed in my luggage.

Muertos altar, November 2, 2015, remembering my dad

Muertos altar, November 2, 2015, remembering my dad

On November 15, I fly to New Delhi, India, where I’ll meet up with Fay Sims from Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Oaxaca has given me many blessings. I met Fay in Oaxaca and we have traveled to Chiapas together, so we figured we would make good travel partners for India. We’ll be there for a month, focusing on the textile culture of Gujarat, including block printing with indigo dyes.

Example, Gujarat Block Print with Indigo

My first cousin Sharon and my aunt, my mother’s younger sister now age 98, also live in Delhi, and I’m excited to see them again after a many year lapse.

I plan to blog, photograph and write about Indian and Oaxacan textiles from a comparative point-of-view.

When I return to Los Angeles, my son and I will fly together back to Oaxaca just in time for Christmas.

You’ll hear from me intermittently over the next few weeks as I settle into living out of a suitcase once again.

Participate in the Dia de los Muertos–Day of the Dead 5-Day Photo Challenge at Mexico Travel Photography.