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  HOME | Central America

Flying Kites and Decorating Tombs, Guatemalan Indians Honor Their Dead

SOLOLA, Guatemala – While children run around this Tuesday flying their kites, their elders paint and otherwise decorate the tombs of their dearly departed in honor of All Saints Day in Guatemala.

Both traditions are preserved among the various indigenous communities around Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan, some 90 miles (150 kilometers) from the capital.

For the Tzutujil community at San Juan La Laguna, Halloween and Witches’ Night mean nothing – All Saints Day is the celebration here on Nov. 1-2.

Starting Oct. 31, Indians bearing paint and brushes crowd the cemetery to decorate the tombs of family and friends with the brightest of colors.

Graves are ringed with freshly cut herbs and flowers by those following the Guatemalan tradition of spending the day at the cemetery. The surroundings of the burial ground become scene of folkloric festivities, music playing and tasty traditional dishes for sale.

The elderly Sebastian, 80, beats a large drum at the entrance to the church while others among the faithful carry images of their community’s patron saint on their shoulders.

“In San Juan, these are days for partying. We all have saints’ names, me, you and them,” he said, indicating the park where the youngsters were playing.

“This is a time to remember those who aren’t here any longer, and to eat this month’s traditional candies,” Sebastian smiled while rubbing his stomach.

The youngsters run around flying their colorful kites to send a greeting to the deceased from the air. “At this time of the year the wind is good and you can get your kite up high so the dead can see it,” an 8-year-old Tzutujil boy said while resting up after several attempts to soar his kite into the clouds.

A few miles away, in the municipality of Santiago Atitlan, the cemetery becomes a garden. The locals climb over a mile up a slope to the municipal cemetery, where they scatter pine needles and herbs over the graves of their dead.

The Santiago cemetery then becomes a new forest as pine trees and flowers are planted on the mounds of earth covering the bodies buried there.

Lake Atitlan is the setting for the colorful traditions of these Indian villages. On the other side of the water is the village of San Antonio Palopo.

There everyone waits until the night of Nov. 1 to place dozens of lighted candles on the tombs of the dead in a cemetery located close beside the lake’s great mirror of water.

“We have our own customs and we honor the dead in our own way. Nowhere else can you see what goes on at the lake, not even in the capital can you see it,” said a woman as she placed a bouquet of flowers on her father’s tomb.


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