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Altar offerings are also made at the grave. Once the grave is cleaned and decorated, crosses and plaques, almost always noncommercial, are painted and set in place. The grave becomes a collage of personal mementos of the deceased. Cemetery walls are given life with written axioms concerning mortality and paintings of crossbones and skulls. Offerings for the deceased who have no friends or relatives in the area to grieve for them are amassed on a catafalque on cemetery grounds.
The family arrives, carrying the flickering candles that will light the way for the guest being remembered. Baskets are bulging with offerings. Musicians play church hymns, funeral marches, marimba pieces or lively music that is more conducive to celebrating than to mourning. Priests go about intoning prayers in ancient tongues and blessing graves. Relatives and friends keep vigil all night. Others review the years occurrences, including the harvest, with the grave soul. It is believed that the dead are responsible for guaranteeing a good yield.
Dawn is shared by family and friends before everyone goes home to eat pozole, which has been prepared ahead of time for the occasion. The decorations at the grave will be dismantled in one to two weeks and the artifacts discarded; they are ephemeral.
Pre-Columbian funerary offerings included household objects, jewelry, pottery, toys and food. Jadeite and other valuable gems and objects were placed next to the corpses to be used as bribes if the gods demanded payment before allowing them to enter the afterworld. Records of these ceremonies are found in altars and temples, mosaics and carvings in crystal, wood and jade.
Illustrations used in this section by Bobbi Salinas
Excerpted from Indo-Hispanic Folk Traditions II,