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Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead: When Two Worlds Meet in Oaxaca

Shawn D. Haley
Curt Fukuda
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Day of the Dead
    Book Description:

    The Day of the Dead is the most important annual celebration in Oaxaca, Mexico. Skillfully combining textual information and photographic imagery, this book begins with a discussion of the people of Oaxaca, their way of life, and their way of looking at the world. It then takes the reader through the celebration from the preparations that can begin months in advance through to the private gatherings in homes and finally to the cemetery where the villagers celebrate together - both the living and the dead. The voices in the book are of those people who have participated in the Day of the Dead for as long as they can remember. There are no ghosts here. Only the souls of loved ones who have gone to the Village of the Dead and who are allowed to return once a year to be with their family. Very readable and beautifully illustrated, this book provides an extensive discussion of the people of Oaxaca, their way of life and their beliefs, which make the Day of the Dead logical and easily comprehensible.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-608-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
    Shawn D. Haley
  4. 1. The Day of the Dead
    (pp. 1-6)

    The Aztec called the hummingbird the ‘Messenger of the Gods’ because this tiny bird seemed to exist in both the natural and the supernatural world at the same time. Its body was in our world while its wings, beating so fast as to be invisible, were in the other world. For most of the Mesoamerican peoples, including the Zapotec of central Oaxaca, there is a very fine line that separates the world of the living from the supernatural world where the dead live. Onel diá de muertos(the Day of the Dead), that line dissolves and, for a time,...

  5. 2. Oaxaca and Its People
    (pp. 7-21)

    The state of Oaxaca is both culturally and environmentally diverse with ecozones ranging from swampy lowlands to highland areas deeply incised by canyons and arroyos. There are roughly sixteen indigenous groups scattered across the state, each with its own language and set of customs. However, the central valleys are part of a single ecosystem and are dominated by a single indigenous group, the Zapotec. The name “Zapotec” comes from theNáhuatlwordTzapotecatlthat means “the village of zapote” and refers to the large number of zapote fruit trees growing in the Oaxaca area. The Spanish corrupted theNáhuatlword...

  6. 3. Funerals and Death
    (pp. 22-35)

    The people of Oaxaca say that the dead return for a visit with their families for one day every year and so the living celebrate their return with delight. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the dead are not limited to visiting for that one day. They may return to earth whenever they wish. Maria tells of a ride on a bus several years ago. She got on and sat down beside an old woman whom she had not seen for several years. All the way to Maria’s village, they chatted and gossiped about people they both knew. When Maria...

  7. 4. The Day of the Dead Markets
    (pp. 36-57)

    The markets in the central valley of Oaxaca normally follow the Mexican pattern. Each town and village has one day set aside as the Market Day and, on that day, buyers and sellers gather to do business. The area overflows with permanent and temporary stalls as well asambulantes(individuals who wander through the crowds selling their wares from carts, boxes, or bags). On the other days of the week, only a small number of permanent stalls in the market area are open.

    As the Day of the Dead approaches, a change takes place. Beginning about a week before the...

  8. 5. Preparation
    (pp. 58-83)

    Many Oaxaqueñans begin thinking and talking about the Day of the Dead months in advance, but actual preparations do not start until the last week in October. Some people use the celebration as an excuse to undertake major tasks such as house painting. Others signal the start of their preparations with a visit to the market. They will purchase new pots, pans, and/or dishes for use in the food preparation and the serving. Their choice is limited only by the amount of money they have and are willing to spend. One family in Ocotlán purchased a full set of eight...

  9. 6. November First: A Private Affair
    (pp. 84-100)

    On November first, all those families who have assembledofrendasmade sure of two things—first, someone was always home and close to theofrendato make sure that everything was fresh and appetizing in appearance and second, that the front door was wide open. I was told that the open door is an invitation to two groups of people: (a) any deceased friends or relatives who wish to visit and (b) anyone living who wishes to enter and greet the members of the first group. In past times, the second group—anyone wishing to greet the dead—was known...

  10. 7. November Second: Panteones and Public Festivities
    (pp. 101-122)

    On November second in scores ofpanteones(cemeteries) across the Oaxacan Valleys—from Mitla to Mihuatlán, from Nazarino to San Martín—people gather. When I was in Oaxaca, the crowds threatened to trample the unwary as they made their way into the graveyard. Eachpanteonis surrounded by a high wall and has but a single public gate through which all must pass. Outside the Ejutla cemetery, there is a long tree-lined boulevard that is normally empty, but on this day, it is lined by market stalls, dozens of them, narrowing the walkway so that only two people could walk...

  11. 8. The Roots of the Day of the Dead
    (pp. 123-138)

    The Day of the Dead is ostensibly a Catholic celebration for the people of Oaxaca who identify themselves strongly with the Catholic church. However, the church does not identify itself with nor does it support the celebration as a Catholic event. Occasionally, individuals within the church will attempt to participate but they do so without the sanction of their superiors. For example, in 1995, Father Rodriguez held a mass for the dead on November second in the open-air chapel in the Ejutla cemetery. That mass was well attended but the participants perceived it as separate from the Day of the...

  12. 9. The Future of the Day of the Dead
    (pp. 139-142)

    Some Oaxaqueñans are concerned that the Village of the Dead is getting over-crowded. Too many people are dying. Estela referred to it as a kind of spiritual pollution. She is more worried, however, that when she dies, there will be no one to invite her home for the Day of the Dead. It is a legitimate fear as some of her daughters’ generation and even more of her granddaughter’s generation are turning away from the traditional values. For example, Mirasol and her husband Eduardo grew up in Santa Maria but now live in Oaxaca de Juárez. She still returns to...

  13. References Cited
    (pp. 143-144)
  14. Index
    (pp. 145-150)