Saturday, 7 November 2009

Cemeteries & Deodorants

I mentioned in the last post that I might write a little more about cemeteries. Last weekend was an important time as far as cemeteries are concerned as it was All Saints/Souls days. I had visited the cemetery in Ticaco on the Sunday (apparently naively masquerading as a priest). It was a small cemetery surrounded by a white washed ‘adobe’ or mud brick wall.
It was almost the kind of place I used to see in the cowboy films I watched with my Dad. On Monday morning I decided that if I was going to visit the central cemetery here in Tacna, there was no better time to go. I had heard and read a bit about the elaborate celebrations that Mexicans have on these dates and wondered perhaps if the Peruvians would have equally elaborate celebrations. Well they didn’t in one way but at the same time I wasn’t disappointed. I thought I would share this with you as it adds another insight into the Peruvian culture. Even having been brought up here, I am still trying to take opportunities to better acquaint myself with aspects of the culture and lifestyle that one takes for granted as a child.
Upon arrival I asked permission to take photos which was kindly granted. Despite this I still think I must have looked a bit odd walking around taking photos. At least I made sure not to dress as a priest but unmistakably touristy.
Well the first thing to say is that here there are two principal ways to be buried: either in nooks in the wall, called ‘nichos’, or in a grave in the ground similar to home.
The graves however, were not neatly ordered in rows like graves at home. It almost seems as if you just find a free space and dig a hole for the coffin.
In fact they were so closely laid out that it is impossible not to step so close to the crosses that undoubtedly you must be stepping on the coffin. In the end this is where everyone else was walking, and I’m sure the occupants of these plots weren’t that perturbed. This being the aforementioned special dates, there was a buzz about the cemetery with lots of people coming to relatives’ graves and ‘nichos’ to clean them, some were even painting them and placing flowers. It gave the place a very bright and colourful appearance, not at all sombre.

There was also a lot of music from the distant makeshift restaurants selling lunch and also from groups of musicians which roamed around the grounds playing songs. Relatives would pay these groups to play for them and presumable the deceased relative and at the end the family offered the men an alcoholic drink. Also wandering around were witch doctors who would offer prayers or pour concoctions (including beer and wine) on the graves, again also for a price.
The newest block of ‘nichos’ was particularly busy with visitors.
I noticed that the blocks of ‘nichos’ were called ‘cuartel’ which translates as barracks, as in army barracks. I wondered whether this was, or is, at all a theological statement, but have not as yet ascertained an answer. If I do I will let you know. You can just about make out the word painted on the side of this block along with its number and letter. Some blocks of ‘nichos’ were heavily guarded like this one with metal gates. As I observed these fortifications I wondered if I were to ask someone around what they understood by the term ‘Eternal Security’ whether this is what they would point to.
Whilst talking about ‘nichos’ it was interesting to wander around what is obviously the rich area of the cemetery where the family mausoleums are located. Each is unique in its design, much like all buildings here. Many visitors remark when travelling around a city how each house is different to the next (some can be similar but always unique is some detail) as each is individually designed and built by the owners. I noticed this extended to the mausoleums.
This is one being built. I just hope no-one’s in a hurry to get in, because I didn’t see a workman in sight.
From what I have read about the Mexican celebrations food, drink and other items are left on the graves. This for the most part I did not see here. Mostly just plenty of flowers and occasional glasses or bottles of beer; though I am assured that it does occur just obviously not on Monday. In the mausoleums I did however see items left beside the tombs. This is probably because it was possible to lock it behind a door. These included the large ornate breads and again beer.
In one instance I even saw some Axe deodorant (Peruvian equivalent of Lynx).
On the way out I was able to speak to a friendly 86 year old gent who is the priest to the cemetery. He had just finished celebrating Mass and I asked if I could take his picture which he seemed delighted about, but then forgot to pose for it. The visit on the whole was very interesting and intriguing. It has raised many questions in my mind which I will no doubt try to get answers to. In the end however, it was sad to see that Biblical truth was almost indiscernible below the many superstitions and rituals I witnessed.

I hope this has been informative, and will help you understand better the society I am working in. I thank you once again for your interest and value your prayerful support.
God Bless,

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