And We Are Off Again
Day 9 of our Gate 1 tour ended our time in Campeche. Our next destination was the capital of the Yucatan and our home of Merida. But as with all Gate 1 tours, there are always a few stops. This stop was not on the itinerary, so it was a fantastic surprise.
The Pomuch Cemetery is known for La Limpieza de huesos del Cementerio de Pomuch ( The Cleaning of Bones in Pomuch Cemetery ). It is located in the town of Pomuch in the state of Campeche, with a population of approximately 9600 people.
One of the first things you are struck by is the brightly colored plots, many decorated with flowers, candles, drinks, and food.
Around every corner, you continue to see the brightly painted gravesites. It is a huge contrast to how our cemeteries in the United States look today. We prefer the Mexican away; it is a celebration of life.
The other thing you are struck by are the bones and skulls in boxes at the gravesites. We live in Merida, Mexico, so this did not bother us since our cemeteries have a few gravesites with bones. Others may be disturbed by what they see. We will get to the tradition a little further down.
Back To School
There is a lot of history behind the practice of cleaning the bones, so it is time to go back to school for a bit.
A week before Día de Los Muertos, family members will go to the cemetery and start cleaning the bones of loved ones. The bones are returned to their box, and the skull is strategically placed above the box. This lets the family member see out into the world. Many family members will bring embroidered clothes for display and many other items.
For most people in the United States, when we bury our loved ones, we use the phrase “Rest in Peace,” when we visit them, we are always quiet and respectful. For many towns in this region, it is a time for remembrance and fun; the deceased family members will then return for the week-long celebrations. They would also dedicate prayers and food to them.
The ritual is known as “Maya as Choo Ba’ak” in Mayan, where they believe the dead have more than one life. It is believed that the Hanal Pixan (Food for Souls) and Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) traditions would open a passageway for the underworld to visit the living.
We have to say, this gravesite was a little disturbing; the skull still had a full head of hair.
Sorry, school continues….but it is fascinating.
Before the Spanish and other European countries arrived, they would bury their loved ones for three years inside their homes. After three years, they would remove them from their burial place and clean the bones. The clean bones were then arranged somewhere in the house so they could live with the family. Every year after that, the bones are cleaned in preparation for Hanal Pixan.
When the Europeans arrived, they banned this tradition, so the people continued the practice in the cemetery. They would bury the body there, dig it up after 3+ years, and then restart the cleaning of the bones tradition at the cemetery.
On average, it would take about three years for the bodies to decompose. However, with the introduction of embalming fluids, some could take up to five years since the chemicals slow down the process.
I guess you are wondering who cleans the bones. There is a man at the cemetery who will perform the initial cleaning of the bones, which we were told could take many hours. We do not remember the cost, but we believe it was around 600 pesos.
Years ago, the bone cleaner would remove any flesh from the bones. The flesh was burned to remove any fat and ground into a powder. This powder was used in the production of fine bone china. We would assume this tradition has ended. :).
The tradition of La Limpieza de huesos continues to this day.