Bolivia’s Día de las Ñatitas

“Dealing with death is the root of culture.”

Friedrich Dürrenmatt

In preparation for an upcoming Samhain Sabbat, I drew on some of my knowledge of remembrance rituals and of death and funeral rites for menu inspiration. Cultures across the globe venerate their dead with elaborate festivals. Many fall immediately on or after Samhain (“Sau-wen”), a Gaelic celebration that welcomes winter, the darkest part of the year. This season also channels the opening of the portal and thinning of the veil to the Other side; when the desire to reconnect with spirits and remember our ancestors is strongest. Personally I hate the phrase “thinning of the veil” because it’s a veil #fcol but anyways…
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Credit: Literatology

My song pick for this entry is one called “Totenmahl” (German: funeral feast or death meal) that I wrote several years ago. Totenmahl is equally inspired by compulsive fears about being useful/good enough/remembered, and as a homage to death and funeral rites.
Día de las Ñatitas (Day of the Skulls) Unlike Mexico, Bolivians (specifically the Aymara) use their deceased loved ones’ actual skulls in rituals of remembrance on 8 November.
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Credit: Diariolasamericas.com
Ancient Andean and early Columbian traditions where living family is to sit with the bones of their ancestors in order to ensure continued protection and guidance are still observed today. This typically takes place during the first November that falls three years after the deceased one’s passing, though in the meantime skulls are kept at home in shrines and glass boxes. Ñatitas is the Spanish word for a smashed-nose; said of the appearance of a skull when one is dead and has no flesh covering the face. These skulls are decorated with flowers and surrounded by offerings of cigarettes, alcohol, candy, accessories, and herbs.
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Credit: PinterestUK
There is an enormous parade to the primary town cemetery where the decorated skulls are put on a showy display. Once at the cemetery, a special Ñatitas Mass takes place where the living pray for protection and blessings. The main event takes place each year at the General Cemetery in La Paz. When one person dies, it is not possible for the entire family to have access to their skull. In some places, purchasing skulls from morgues, hospitals, or less reputable sources (including grave robbers) have spiked before the ceremony.
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Credit: IBTimesUK
Participation is such an integral part of Aymara culture that no one wants to show up empty-handed. The practice was largely kept underground due to suppression by the Catholic church, but a few decades ago, social and economic changes shed some light on how prevalent it was in the majority of people. Mole is one dish I love that is as varied as each individual who makes it. This rich, spicy sauce is made from hot peppers, chocolate, and other vegetables.
Mole poblano con arroz
Credit: Guadalajaraenred.mx
Check out two versions of mole here and here, and this video:
For a recent Sabbat dinner, I made my own version of mole based on a melding of several recipes I found. I started with a mix of bay leaves, cocoa, chili powder, smoked paprika, turmeric, harissa, chipotle, cumin, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, and cloves. 20191028_191649 My awesome parents have an industrial smoker at their home and they let me use it to smoke these chicken breasts and onions. 20191028_191807 The final product was unbelievable. There was quite a bit of mole leftover and once everyone ate all the chicken, we found other things to smother with it. Omg, yum. Whew. 20191028_191727 Día de las Ñatitas is just one of many holiday celebrations in Latin/Hispanic cultures that venerates the ancestral dead. Check out my blog Brazil’s O Dia de Finados to learn about more.
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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Brazil’s O Dia de Finados

One of the most memorable Portuguese words I ever learned, saudade, was to impress to express my grief to a Brazilian friend who moved away. Saudade is the feeling of missing someone, and how appropriate it is to describe the Brazil’s ancestor veneration day, O Dia de Finados (Day of the Dead)! Newspaper headlines and online videos constantly speak of Saudade, of missing their loved ones, and remembering ancestors.
Most holidays in the US (where I live) revolve around Jesus, alcoholism, gluttony, and lighting shit up. The closest most of us get to day of the dead here in the Melting Pot is a pre-packaged party or some drink specials, because most people only think of the holiday as a costume.  Thankfully as our neighbours in the Middle and South Americas have immigrated here, they have brought many wonderful facets of their cultures and cuisines.
Adult Day of the Dead Senorita Costume Image #1

Credit: Party City

All of this to say, I’m fascinated by people and cultures with authentic, strong, and vivid traditions, particularly those who openly mourn and honour their dead. Each country, despite small unique differences, shares similar rites following a death; large funerals and wakes are planned, homes are prepared to receive guests, attendees are greeted with holy water, candles are lit to ward off bad spirits, and the deceased are buried in coffins or cremated. My music pick for this entry is the beautiful album “Saudade” by Thievery Corporation:
O Dia de Finados (Day of the Dead) Each year on 2 November, the Brazilian public holiday O Dia de Finados combines rites from Latin, African, European, Catholic, and other religious traditions. Similar to other Day of the Dead celebrations, Roman Catholics and others go to cemeteries and churches with flowers and candles.
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Credit: Portal Don Oleari
In Brazil, Day of the Dead festivities are a bit more somber compared to other countries, and participants typically spend the day in prayer, holding vigil through the night. Another difference that makes O Dia de Finados stand out is that Brazilians do not typically focus on creating altars for their dead. Instead they bring flowers, and they do not always bring food to the festivities since many of them occur in the cemetery. Photo shared from MKLM.org Brazilian ceremonies seem to focus more on introspection and expressing grief during O Dia de Finados, in contrast to other countries. Many Brazilians give up alcohol and meat in observance. When the time is right though, they have a few traditional foods just for this day. Guagas de Pan are rolled and decorated to look like babies, but unlike Muerto de Pan they serve as a symbol of life. Guagas are usually served in harmony with colada morada, which is often viewed as a symbol of death or the underworld.
Receta de las figuras de pan o guaguas de pan ecuatorianas

Credit: Laylita

Here is a short video I found on Youtube that shows a bit of the celebration and touches on a relatively new craze of adding interactive memorials via QR/ Quick Response codes squares. You know those square images you can scan with a smartphone and immediately be taken to an app or website to learn about the location? This is a genius way to draw in the younger generations and help them engage with their ancestral history.
Ancestral veneration rites in the Middle and South Americas are said to trace back to the Aztecs and Mayans, who kept skulls of their ancestors to honour their memory. The skulls were displayed during remembrance rituals and this is still commonly practiced today. O Dia de Finados is just one of many holiday celebrations in Latin/Hispanic cultures that venerates the ancestral dead. Check out my blog Belize’s Hanal Pixan to learn about more! Bonus videos: A Brazilian hip-hop/rap group called Atitude Feminina:
…and a spooky rap about O Dia de Finados by Facção Central:
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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.