Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Los Muertos de Pomuch

By Craig Reck
In Mexico


IIJ Foreign Correspondence Intern
E. W. Scripps School of Journalism

Thanks to popular culture and the Internet, most people know about the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos. More than just a south-of-the-border Halloween, Dia de los Muertos is a time to remember dead family members and honor them with small offerings of food, drink and candles. But in some parts of the country, there is more to this holiday than a small household offering.

The cemetery in the small town of Pomuch, Campeche is closed for most of the year, but it's open from mid-October to early in November. In that time, the Pomucheños, residents of Pomuch, maintain a tradition that outsiders might expect to see in a horror film. They remove the bones of their loved ones from their resting place, clean them and change their cloths.

Some of the grave markers are simple, concrete squares with chipped paint. Others are elaborarely adorned with statues and bright colors. Some of the dates on the grave markers go as far back as 1939 and others are as recent as 2005.

Maria Guadalupe Pech Euan died on Christmas Eve in 2005. The one-year-old was sitting in the roofless part of her family's house the night before, when an unseasonal rain storm pummeled the girl with cold water, soaking her sweater. She died the next day of pneumonia.

"She's dead, but she's still a part of our life," says Maria Guadalupe's aunt, Luisa Adriana Euan Pool.

Euan Pool and her husband Aurelio Cohuo Ca'amal still take care of their niece in the cemetery. On November 1, Dia de los Niños, they reverently cleaned her bones, wrapped them in a new cloth and surrouned her resting place with flowers and candles.

Those at rest in the cemetery without family to care for them are not ignored. Cemetery workers make sure that most of the bones are cleaned, but about 10 percent of them are never cleaned. Those are the ones whose families chose to lay their beloved to rest and keep them there.

If a family chooses to clean their deceased, they have to wait three years. According to cemetery worker Don Bernacio Tus Chi, that time is needed for the bones to dry out.

Tus Chi has worked in the cemetery for 15 years, and he says that he's learned which unattended bones he looks after. Tus Chi has seen travelers from every part of the globe in this little cemetery.

"Yesterday there were some Chinese here. They spoke great Spanish," says Tus Chi. "I've seen Germans, French, Africans, last year some guys from Spain came to shoot a movie here."

Even Mexicans that celebrate Dia de los Muertos themselves are amazed at the extraordinary connection the Pomucheños have with their dead.

Whatever the reason might be for the visit, this Dia de los Muertos tradition will likely have an affect on anyone that walks through the cemetery in Pomuch. But now that it's November 3, the gate is locked, and you'll have to wait until next year.

No comments: