Friday, November 02, 2012

Day of the Dead in Peru

This from Bill:

November 1st is the day when Peru celebrates “the Day of the Dead.” I never gave a great deal of thought to the Day of the Dead in the states. In the past, I often went to cemeteries to pray--because they are peaceful and beautifully landscaped. As such, the idea of going to a cemetery for a picnic lunch, remembering your past loved one(s), seemed morbid, but not that far out of the possibility range. But, in Peru, the idea takes on a much different meaning than merely remembering your past loved ones—it is a partial reenactment of their ancient pagan ceremonies. Prior to the Spanish conquest of Peru, the Incas worshipped their ancestors by setting the mummies in a prominent place and then having lunch with them. Clairvoyants were employed to receive messages from the dead. The people would set out food and pour out beer in the mummy's presence, so that the mummy could enjoy them and, in return, pass on blessings to the living.  The beer was (and continues to be) a big part of the celebration. I envision the clairvoyant’s conversation going something like this:

"Your great grandfather is here and he thanks you for the ham sandwiches and the corn-nuts, but he will not give you his blessing."

"Why will he not bestow on us the blessing?"

"Because you're stingy with the beer and you’re only serving him the cheap stuff!"

The Incas were not stingy with the dead. When the Spanish conquered Peru, one third of the country’s food was being offered to the dead, which resulted in starvation among the tribes the Incas had conquered. In the pagan ceremonies where they partied with their ancestors, the Incas poured out so much beer (for the dead), that it ran out of fountains and through channels that lined the streets of Cusco. Because of the influence of Catholicism, most Peruvians do not offer meals to the dead directly, anymore; but they do continue the practice of eating and drinking in the presence of the deceased. And the beer continues to flow—though nowadays, it does not flow through the streets; rather, it flows through the family members who use this day as an excuse to get drunk and attach some kind of generally religious notion to it. 

The pictures below are from an NBC news photoblog, detailing the practices of some of the families in Lima. The photos are beautiful and serve as reminders of the need for the Gospel in this stark and barren land.

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