The funeral of Puerto Rican man Fernando de Jesús Díaz Beato, whose fully dressed corpse was propped on a chair with eyes opened and a cigarette in hand, had a lot of people in the U.S. commenting on how “creepy” or “strange” the memorial service was.
But as bizarre as the funeral might have seemed to U.S. eyes, the deceased’s loved ones felt more comfort saying goodbye to their cherished son, brother or friend “as he was” as opposed to confined to a tight casket.
Moral of the story: what’s “eerie” to Westerners can hold real meaning for other folks. Keep that in mind before getting judgmental about these not-so-American-Christian after-death traditions and stories from Latin America.
1. After-Death Rituals
Tombstones and mausoleums get an artistic makeover in Peru, where painters, or funeral artists, draw religious symbols on above-ground cemeteries, creating colorful walls that give life to burials.
2. After-Death Rituals
Rituals for Honduras’ deceased happen a year and one day after their passing. That’s when families and friends have enough money and time to throw a large drum party. At these festivals, loved ones from across the country and world attend a house party, where hired drummers play as long as the food and drinks last – which can be days.
3. After-Death Rituals
In Colombia, African-descended communities along the South American country’s coast put together celebratory services for babies that pass away. It is believed that the souls of the little ones can’t enter heaven if their loved ones are sad, so the spirit of the babies stay for the service to make sure it’s filled with cheer. It’s an energetic scene filled with music and dance. Sometimes, the body of the baby, wrapped in all white to ensure its purity, is passed from person to person, who can’t stop dancing.
4. After-Death Rituals
In Argentina, families also practice special rituals for babies, or angelitos, that pass away. One baby, Miguel Angel Gaitan el Angelito Milagroso de Villa Union, even has a public mausoleum, where the little one, who died in 1967, has been placed in a glass coffin, allowing all visitors to see his corpse. The history: the baby died of meningitis just a few days before his first birthday and was buried in a coffin. Seven years later, a violent rainstorm unearthed the box, and it was soon realized that the baby’s body had been well preserved. The family of the child tried four times to build a tomb for the coffin, but the shelter disappeared each time. They took this as a sign that the baby didn’t want to be hidden, so they placed him in a coffin with a glass lid, where he is still visible and sought after decades later.
5. After-Death Rituals
Bolivians who live near La Paz hold their funerals at the Choqueapu River, where family members wash the departed person’s clothes in the river and picnic by the water. Once the garments are dry, loved ones burn them in a bonfire, releasing the deceased’s soul into the afterlife.
6. After-Death Rituals
A more recent practice is taking place in Puerto Rico, where more families are opting for corpses that look alive at their funerals. The Marin Funeral Home creates thematic wakes, where the departed is dressed and propped up to appear as if they are engaging in activities like playing dominoes, riding a motorcycle or rocking in a chair alive, just as they would if they were alive.