Posted by: Bert and Tania | September 10, 2011

Museum of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Bread of the Dead

Whilst in the beautiful city of Guanajuato (on 16th August) we visited the museum of the Dead. There were various rooms containing maybe 100 people in various states of decay who had been either dug up from the cemetary above (to make room for new arrivals) or removed from vaults where the dry atmosphere had mummified them. There was a mummified six month old foetus and a postcard in the gift shop with a photo of the foetus with a speech bubble saying ‘Mummy’. I’d heard Mexicans have rather a different view of death to us English and thought I’d find out a bit more about it.

The ‘Day of the Dead’ on 2nd Nov is a National Holiday in Mexico. 
When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th Century (resulting in the deaths of 90% of the people in Latin America), they moved this celebration from July/August to coincide with All Souls’ Day in the Catholic calendar. Indigenous people before the arrival of the Spanish believed that souls did not die, but rather passed to rest in a place called Mictlan. There’s obviously an overlap with Christianity and their celebrations became combined into the Catholic ones after colonization.

The ‘Día de los Muertos’ festival is an opportunity to firstly remember and celebrate the dead people that are important to you and secondly reflect on the meaning of life and your personal goals. People honour their dead friends and family through building altars and offering flowers, sugar skulls, funny poems, and the deceased’s favourite foods. People even make ‘bread of the dead’, a rather nice rhyme which doesn’t exist until you translate into English. The intention is encourage visits from the souls of the dead so that they will hear your prayers and (often light-hearted) messages.

Mexican intimacy with death has, according to one university professor, been elevated “to the centre of national identity” and you can certainly see symbols of death pretty much everywhere. 

I think it’s rather nice to have an annual opportunity to happily remember friends and family who have passed away. Perhaps this “intimacy” with death also helps Mexican people not fear their own death.

The Bread of the Dead photo was stolen from Google Images.

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Responses

  1. Yes, Good idea to happily remember the dead!


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