The Day of the Dead or Dia De Los Muertos originated in Mexico but was adopted here in Belize through our Mestizo Ancestors more than 150 years ago. It could be said to coincide quite loosely with the Halloween tradition of North America. In our culture, it is a part of Maya and Catholic tradition and encompasses All Saints Day on October 31st and All Souls Day on November 2nd. It is also known as Los Finados for those who have passed.
The belief is that death should be viewed as the final experience of life and is to be celebrated. Further, this tradition persists mostly in the Western Districts in Benque Viejo as well as in Maya and Mestizo Villages and is meant to honor ancestors, friends and family members that have passed away, and especially children, who are especially revered for their innocence. During this time their spirits are said to roam and they must be received in celebration.
A table is set and laden with fruit, incense, rum, special tamales containing beans (“xpelon”) and photos of the dead, along with all their favorite food. “Xpasha” is the Maya name for a special drink distilled from corn, milk, and spices. In Spanish, it is known as ”atole”. Families gather and partake of food, tell anecdotes, play music, while friends and neighbors circulate, visit, and offer prayers for the dead. The most iconic symbol is the skull (Calavera) painted in vibrant colors. These range from smiling and joyful to more surreal death masks.
All this symbolizes all the earthly pleasures that the deceased have left behind and it is a comfort to their roaming spirits. During this time, it is also customary to visit the tombs of the dead, taking flowers and food to the cemetery. Whole families, including children, participate and for them, there are special sweets made from fruit. Moreover, all Maya communities celebrate Dia de Muertos, in the northern Districts, in the west in Benque and Succotz and the Kekchi Maya of Punta Gorda.
The Houses of culture throughout the country set up altars and communities come together to observe this tradition. It is worth mentioning that the Garifuna of Belize also honor their deceased ancestors, but the rituals are reserved for vigils, wakes, and funerals which include food, music, and dance.
Written by Nelita Castillo