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Ann Murdy | profile | all galleries >> Los Días de los Muertos en Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico 2013 tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Los Días de los Muertos en Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico 2013

In October and November 2013 I returned to the Zapotec village Teotitlán del Valle to conclude working on my home altar project that began in 2011. Of all the celebrations in this village, the days of November 1st and 2nd are the most important. All of the families construct beautiful altars to welcome back their loved ones. Throughout the day on November 1st I was fortunate to visit many homes where I took these photos. Upon entering each home I gave the family pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and velas (candles) for their altars. Bread is the staff of life and it provides nourishment for the returning souls. Candles light the altar and aid in guiding the spirits of the dead back to their homes where they can partake in the food they enjoyed eatting in their lifetime. It is believed the spirits take the essence of the food and living eat it after the celebration has concluded.

During this time of year tamales made from tortillas are filled with chicken and covered with an orange-red sauce made from chiles guajillo, masa, yerba santa and chicken soup. They are wrapped in corn leaves before they are steamed in an olla pot. They cook for about ten to fifteen minutes. In many homes there were literally hundreds of tamales being made to serve to family members who would visit once the dead returned at three o’clock in the afternoon. I always look forward to that hour as bottle rockets are shot off to announce the arrival of the dead and the church bells from the two towers of the church ring for the next twenty-four hours. Everyone opens up their front doors welcoming the spirits back as well as family members who go from home to home visiting relatives as late as two o’clock in the morning.

Upon arriving in a relative’s home, bread and candles are brought to add to the altar. Then the guests sit at a long table in front of the altar where the tamales, pan de muerto, hot chocolate, mezcal and beer are served. This is a happy time and rarely have I witnessed any sadness during these visits. Once the visitors get ready to leave each home, the host and hostess of each casa gives their relatives fruit, chocolate, almonds and peanuts to take with them.

Once the church bells stopped ringing at three o’clock in the afternoon on November 2nd the people slowly made their way to the panteón (cemetery). This year it rained unusally hard while I sat inside the panteón’s capilla and listened to the singing by Teotitlán’s rezadores (men who sing prayers). The rezadores sing a capella and they have the most unusual voices that produce a strong piercing melody, rich in tonality filled with sadness and lament. During this time the local authoridades in Teotitlán del Valle entered the capilla, paid their respects and kneeled in front of the altar while the rezadores sang.

I was fortunate this year to be given permission to document a ritual known in Teotitlán del Valle known as the “levantada de la cruz” or the taking up of the cross. This ceremony evolves around a sand painting known as a “tapete de arena” that is destroyed on the ninth and last day of a novenario. Once someone dies in this village the body is laid on the floor in front of the family altar. A crucifix is also placed near the body. A twenty-four hour velorio or wake takes place before the body is buried. After the wake is concluded the body of the deceased known as a difunto, is taken to the cemetery to be buried.

After the body is buried a nine-day novenario takes place in the home of the difunto. On the ninth day of the ceremony the levantada de la cruz takes place. During these nine days prayers are made to the deceased. On the seventh day that I visited the house a rezadore was in the altar room reciting prayers to the ninety-two year old lady, named Margarita who had passed away. Two sand paintings were in this room. The largest one about three feet by six feet was placed directly in front of the altar. This is the same location where the body had been placed once she had died. In front of the larger sand painting was a smaller sand painting with a crucifix placed over the design of a cross.

On the ninth day the altar room was filled with a band, three rezadores and family members. The scent of copal incense filled the room and tapers and veladores surrounded the large sand painting. The men who were family members entered the altar room first where they kneeled, sprinkled holy water on the cross, kissed the cross and made a donation. After this the women who were family members entered the altar room and did the same. Five madrinas (godmothers) were chosen to destroy the sand painting. There were five numbers on the large sand painting, the first number represented the crown of Christ, the second and third were the hands of Christ that were nailed to the cross, the fourth number represented the wound Christ received when he was stabbed by the Roman soldiers and the fifth number represented Christ’s feet that were nailed to the cross. Each of the five madrinas destroyed one of the five sections of the cross with a stiff piece of plastic one by one. Once the tapete de arena was destroyed each of the madrinas put their section in a plastic bag. After this was completed a man entered the room and shoveled up what was left of the tapete de arena and put it into a large bag. This act represented the souls final departure from the house.

Once this was completed the band and the family members processed to the church where a mass was held. Once the mass concluded another procession to the panteón occurred and the sand from the tapete de arena was to be poured into a channel carved in the form of a cross upon the grave in the cemetery. This act represented uniting the body and soul, which concluded the ritual of death in Teotitlán del Valle.

Once again, I am extremely grateful to the generous and kind people of Teotitlán del Valle for granting me access into their homes to document los Días de los Muertos. It has been an honor and privilege to partake of this project the last three years. Muchismas gracias otra vez!
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Emilia burning copal
Emilia burning copal
Albertina Decorating the Altar
Albertina Decorating the Altar
Señora y Señor Alavez
Señora y Señor Alavez
Praying at the altar
Praying at the altar
The Ladies in the Pink Altar Room
The Ladies in the Pink Altar Room
Señora Pérez and her daughter
Señora Pérez and her daughter
Irene wrapping the tamales with corn leaves
Irene wrapping the tamales with corn leaves
Adding pan to the altar
Adding pan to the altar
Altar for an Angelito
Altar for an Angelito
Lighting Candle
Lighting Candle
The Family in front of the altar
The Family in front of the altar
Approaching the Altar
Approaching the Altar
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