December 29, 2014

1384 MEXICO (Michoacán) - Indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead (UNESCO ICH)

1384 Dance of The Old Men in Janitzio

The town of Janitzio (which means "where it rains") is located atop the hill of the Isla de Janitzio, the main island of Lake Pátzcuaro (on the background of the postcard), whereof the natives believe that is the place where the barrier between life and death is the thinnest. On the island's highest point can be seen a 40m statue of José María Morelos, a great hero of Mexico's independence. The Lake Pátzcuaro basin is home to the Purépecha (Tarascan) people, who in pre-colonial times occupied most of the state of Michoacán, but also some of the lower valleys of Guanajuato and Jalisco. The Tarascan state was never conquered by the Aztec Empire, despite several attempts to do so, probably due to the Purépecha knowledge of metal working, which was superior to that of the Aztecs.

Their main festivity is Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), in which the living remember their departed relatives and friends. Prior to Spanish colonization, the celebration took place at the beginning of summer, and was dedicated to the goddess known as the Lady of the Dead (corresponding to the modern La Calavera Catrina), but it was moved to October 31, November 1 and November 2 to coincide with the Roman Catholic triduum festival of Allhallowtide: All Hallows' Eve, Hallowmas, and All Souls' Day. By the late 20th century in most regions of Mexico, the practices had developed to honor dead children and infants on November 1 (Día de los Inocentes - Day of the Innocents, or Día de los Angelitos - Day of the Little Angels), and to honor deceased adults on November 2 (Día de los Muertos - Day of the Dead). 

By October 31st, all the houses and shops, as well as the docks are decorated with cempasúchil flowers and fruits from this region. Cempasúchil is the flower of Aztec marigold (Tagetes erecta), also called the flor de muertos (flower of the dead). The word cempasúchil comes from the Nahuatl term for the flower zempoalxochitl, literally translated as "twenty flower". Its color represents the tones of earth and is used to guide the souls to their homes and altars. Ofrendas (the offering) are set up in the houses for their dead relatives, on a table covered with a tablecloth and papel picado, and decorated with sugar skulls, candles, cempasuchil flowers, and paper mache skeletons. Plates with the favorite foods of their dead relatives are also set on the ofrenda

In the morning of November 1st, after the Mass, the women and children go to the graveyard to clean and decorate the tombs of the deceased children. They bring with them flowers, bread and fruits in baskets covered with embroidered napkins, as well as the copal and incense, that they burn so that the aroma to guide the returning souls. Around nine in the morning this ritual ends. The one for the deceased adults begin at nightfall. First are the dances. The most representative is The Danza de los Viejitos (Dance of the Old Men), which in pre-Hispanic times was performed as a ritual honoring the Sun. Another popular dance is the Pescado Blanco (White Fish), through which the inhabitants express their gratitude to the lake, since fishing is their most important activity. Also, the fishermen go out to the lake with their canoes, lighting the way with torches and carrying out an ritual with their butterfly-shaped nets.

The bell at the entrance of the graveyard rings all night long, calling the souls to return and enjoy the ceremony. It is mainly the women and children who silently find the tombs of their relatives, on which they place embroidered napkins and set candles, the flowers and food that their dead so much enjoyed when alive. Songs and prayers are elevated to the sky, begging for the eternal rest of the souls and for the happiness of the living. The essence of this beautiful ritual is to lovingly and happily remember the dead relatives, their life, and in this way, give meaning and continuity to human existence. The Day of the Dead is a grand celebration of life itself!

Day of the Dead (El Dia de Muertos) - Inside Mexico
Day of the Dead - Wikipedia
Indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead - UNESCO official website

About the stamps
The stamps is part of  the series México creación popular (Folk Art Mexico), about which I wrote here.

Sender: G. Alonso Jimènez (direct swap)
Sent from San Miguel el Alto (Jalisco / Mexico), on 17.09.2014

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