Sunday, November 1, 2009

bread babies

As my country folk spend the day recovering from their Halloween sugar highs, those of us in Bolivia are gearing up for Todos Santos.

Todos Santos (All Saints) is a multi-day, government-recognized holiday that, melding indigenous and Catholic beliefs, celebrates the lives and pays tribute to the memories of deceased family and friends. Essentially, it's Memorial Day--with a twist.

Todos Santos is characterized most commonly by t'antawawas (a word in the indigenous Aymara that means "bread babies"). Ceramic faces representing people and animals are sold so that people can bake them onto the bread. They are left on altars prepared for the spirits' return and they are handed out to visitors who come to pray for the deceased.

As is custom, people prepare altars in their homes to remember those who have died--particularly family members who have died within the past year--and to welcome the spirits for visits. The kitchen tables-turned-altars are covered in a collage of things: momentos that represent the deceased (pictures, keepsakes, etc.) as well as candles, bread, fruit, chicha, and sweets. Neighbors and friends visit the homes and pray before the altars offering up their wish for the deceased to safely find their way to the afterlife. In each home they usually prepare and eat the favorite meal of the person(s) they are remembering.

The altar prepared in the Volunteer House last year for Todos Santos. The ladder is a common symbol (often in bread form) that represents a way for the spirits to "climb up" into the afterlife.

Tomorrow people can be found visiting the local cemeteries where they will gather around the eternal resting places of their loved ones. As a community, they will gather together to eat, drink, chew coca, and listen to music. Like other visitors, I am more than welcome to join them. As I did last year, tomorrow I plan to make my way around the cemetery with a big bag in hand to accept the gifts of t'antawawas, popped corn/rice/wheat, and candies that they give in return for praying with them.

It's a lovely tradition and one of my favorite Bolivian celebrations.

For more information, try a google search for "Todos Santos" or, for those of you who read Spanish (or for those of you who don't, but want to see some pictures), click here to read an interesting, more in depth description.

1 comment:

Sue Wheeler said...

Feliz Todos Santos, Sarah. One of my favorite celebrations too~
Peace and good,