Friday, November 6, 2009


Having observed events of the day of dead in Pátzcuaro for four years and each time am so overwhelmed by the richness and complexity of the week that I have not known what to say. This year we attended a small event that needs to be described. This was the caballitos of Cuanjo, an event we had no idea of what to expect.  Arriving in the village we asked where the caballitos where and everyone knew and pointed us down one of two streets. Not knowing how we would know if we found the house it became obvious when we saw the flowers surrounding the door. We where encouraged to go into the house while some family members continued to onload refreshments and other goods. On entering the house it became clear what we had stumbled into. A baby had died during the year and before us stood the first ofrenda for the child. I am assuming that the child had not yet gone to "heaven" as she had died young, so this was an important part of the cycle of transition for the baby and the family.

The ofrenda had many of the elements of others in the region. A tall display of wild flowers surrounded an image of the virgin of nativity and on the lower table-like structure was a photo of the baby surrounded by fresh fruit. The room we had entered had a dirt floor and open walls and the ofrenda was surrounded by wooden planks on which family members would spend the night. The distinctive feature of this ofrenda, and where it derives it name, where the nine little wooden horses (caballitos) in front of the ofrenda looking towards the viewer. These each stood about 15 inches high and their legs formed a trestle on which where hung food items (squash, corn, apples, oranges, bread) and more wild flowers. Each also had a burning candle and the horse on the left carried a wooden cross. When asked the family member attending to our querries said the horses where to carry the items to the next life. The baby was now going to heaven and would feel at home.
While I am an outsider to this it seemed to me that in other ofrendas the spirit of the dead is thought to return on November 2 and the ofrenda is there for the spirit, the candles to act as a guide, and the family spend the night to be with the ancestor. The loved one is not gone for ever but just resides in a different state and place and returns once a year. For the child, however, the day was one of transition, a transition to that other form and place of life. The child would be expected to return the next year and the usual ofrenda would be constructed in the home and the cemetery.
This was a moving experience partly because of the clear objectification of beliefs.
Here is another example of the "little horse" from Santa Fe da la Languna. the tradition came from Cuanajo probably through intermarriage.  The tradition of Santa Fe is to use what I call small spirit houses for dead children (you can just see the corner of one on the same grave).  You can clearly see the horse on the grave and loaded with flowers and gifts of food.

No comments:

Post a Comment