Day of The Dead Celebrations in Michoacan (Part 1)
By Lic. Benjamin Lucas Juarez.
Within the spectrum of cultural events taking place in the State of Michoacán, those related to the celebrations of what is commonly known as “Night of the Dead” stand out. These are particularly important in Michoacán and especially in Purépecha indigenous communities, as they are one of many ritual expressions with profound significance that goes beyond its unique showiness.
Each year, during the days before and particularly the 1st and 2nd of November, the cemeteries and houses in which “the wait” is carried out are covered with Cempasuchil flowers (Marigold Flowers) , candles, fruit, bread and incense. Altars and graves are lavishly decorated, food and drink is prepared and shared, offerings are made and prayers are said; there is a festive atmosphere while at the same time a deep sense of community and ceremonial order.
What makes this celebration, a tradition of our thousand-year-old past and an appropriation and reinterpretation of other cultures and beliefs, able to stay and renew itself each year as animeecheri kúinchekua: the feast of the souls, as it is known among the indigenous communities.
In order to be clear and to have a better understanding of this celebration, which is done differently by the vast majority of indigenous peoples living in Mexican territory, it is best to distinguish between the urban manifestations for the night of the dead that, while they do have some elements coming from indigenous cultures and are valid cultural manifestations of entertainment value that introduce skulls made out of the most diverse array of materials, clever verses, drawings and ornaments to “play” with death among other things, they must not to be confused with the celebrations taking place in indigenous communities, for whom the meaning of this party is far from just fun. For the Purépecha people, an indigenous group known for its particular way of doing this celebration, the motivation comes from deep convictions having to do with the particular way of conceiving life itself in all its dimensions.
In a nutshell, the feast of the souls is a ritual ceremony that is controlled by rules that the community knows and respects. Each element and activity plays an important role in the celebration as a whole. With animecheri k’uinchekua, annual cycles and community commitments are met and family bonds are strengthened.
Moreover, according to the own experience and customs of each community, the particular way in which the celebration is carried out is determined. Thus, it’s possible to find as many variations as there are Purépecha communities.
Image credits: Sara Dobie