Day of The Dead Celebrations in Michoacan (Part 6)
By Lic. Benjamin Lucas Juarez.
In Purépecha communities there is a basic principle of reciprocity, which greatly strengthens community life. Mutual help and service spirit is reflected in major activities and holidays like animecheeri k’uinchekua.
A lot has been said about the different stages of the offering, but what is the offering?
Apparently, the offering is nothing more than a container with chayotes, bananas, guavas, loquats, corncob, candles and bread, either to place it over the grave of the souls that are awaited or in the altar set at home for the same reason. However, because of values that come from indigenous cultures, sometimes it’s not easy for the average visitor to understand why a chayote, a corncob, a flower or a cigarette has such value that it’s offered at a celebration as relevant as this one. It’s necessary to understand that there are cultures that place a special value to what they sowed, cultivated and cared for. As a result of that effort, nature responds with fruits and products that are worthy of being offered. This is the offering for the souls, something that is not only worth because of what it is but also for the value that represents for both the giver as the receiver of the offering. In this particular case, offerings are made with food that is truly the sustenance of the living, the gods and the souls.
Certainly, the Purépecha knows and feels what this celebration is all about. However, much of that is expressed through several symbolic elements that are present before, during and after animeecheri k’uinchekua.
As an example, one of the elements that stands out for its aroma and abundance is the tiringuini flower (Cempasúchil in Nahuatl), that most people know as “flower of the dead”, which is the name used in non-indigenous societies. How can it be explained that for the Purépecha world the flower has a totally opposite sense compared to the one indicated by its Spanish name? Tiringuini Tsïtsïki is the flower most associated with the sacred. Because of its color and shape, the flower is a sign of celebration, life and joy (tsipekua). By placing it in abundance, the flower transmits these qualities to the space it’s in. It revives and purifies things. It sets a clean environment for the encounter with the soul and the sacred.
Another element is bread, but not just any bread. The shape is important. It has a human form: male, female and child, and although it’s made with bread flour used for other celebrations, it has another meaning: it has the shape of the soul that is awaited. It’s placed next to the altar or grave, where the soul eats it and soaks it with his divine essence at the same time. This way, when people feed off of it, the essence of the soul nurtures them. It is understood that the round type of bread with little bread bones is not significant in this case, even if it is in the context of other cultures and regions.
Much has been said of the food. In a nutshell, the offerings consist of “what the deceased liked”, and as noted above, the food is the result of a process in which each community defines what is significant according to the occasion.
The same happens with alcoholic beverages or cigarettes. It is often argued that these are offered because the deceased liked them, but if we understand the role of these elements in all Purépecha celebration, we will understand that both elements relate to the concept of community. Thus, when they are present in the offerings, they renew family, relatives and community ties. That is, cigarettes and drinks help recognized souls as important parts of community life.
If all these explanations show diversity, what happens with the rest of details that are also a part of the altars and offerings yet to explain, such as candles, floral crosses, arches, incense, corncobs, honeycomb, chilacayotes (Cucurbita ficifolia a type of squash), pumpkins, fruit (bananas, guavas, oranges, loquats, sugar cane), personal objects, religious icons, flowers, water, salt, tools or toys, items of clothing and photographs among others.
Image credits: Nirundia