Bolivia's Day of the Skulls brings out the living and the dead

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Bolivia's Day of the Skulls brings out the living and the dead
Human skulls or "natitas" crowned with flowers are surrounded by offerings of coca leaves, flower petals and cigarettes, outside the Cementerio General chapel during the Natitas Festival, in La Paz, Bolivia, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Although some natitas have been handed down through generations, many are from unnamed, abandoned graves that are cared for and decorated by faithful who use them as amulets believing they serve as protection. The tradition marks the end of the Catholic All Saints holiday, but is not recognized by the Catholic church. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA - NOVEMBER 08: A woman looks at a skull during the The Ãatitas Festival on November 08, 2015 in La Paz, Bolivia. A week after the All Saints Festival, devotees of Las Ãatitas arrive at the La Paz cemetery and walk to the chapel carrying human skulls decorated with flowers, cigarettes, coca leaves and glasses. People believe that 'Ãatitas' protect their houses and are responsible for many miracles. (Photo by Jose Luis Quintana/LatinContent/Getty Images)
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA - NOVEMBER 08: A woman puts a candle next to skulls during the The Ãatitas Festival on November 08, 2015 in La Paz, Bolivia. A week after the All Saints Festival, devotees of Las Ãatitas arrive at the La Paz cemetery and walk to the chapel carrying human skulls decorated with flowers, cigarettes, coca leaves and glasses. People believe that 'Ãatitas' protect their houses and are responsible for many miracles. (Photo by Jose Luis Quintana/LatinContent/Getty Images)
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA - NOVEMBER 08: Detail of skulls during the The Ãatitas Festival on November 08, 2015 in La Paz, Bolivia. A week after the All Saints Festival, devotees of Las Ãatitas arrive at the La Paz cemetery and walk to the chapel carrying human skulls decorated with flowers, cigarettes, coca leaves and glasses. People believe that 'Ãatitas' protect their houses and are responsible for many miracles. (Photo by Jose Luis Quintana/LatinContent/Getty Images)
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA - NOVEMBER 08: Detail of skulls during the The Ãatitas Festival on November 08, 2015 in La Paz, Bolivia. A week after the All Saints Festival, devotees of Las Ãatitas arrive at the La Paz cemetery and walk to the chapel carrying human skulls decorated with flowers, cigarettes, coca leaves and glasses. People believe that 'Ãatitas' protect their houses and are responsible for many miracles. (Photo by Jose Luis Quintana/LatinContent/Getty Images)
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA - NOVEMBER 08: Detail of skulls during the The Ãatitas Festival on November 08, 2015 in La Paz, Bolivia. A week after the All Saints Festival, devotees of Las Ãatitas arrive at the La Paz cemetery and walk to the chapel carrying human skulls decorated with flowers, cigarettes, coca leaves and glasses. People believe that 'Ãatitas' protect their houses and are responsible for many miracles. (Photo by Jose Luis Quintana/LatinContent/Getty Images)
A woman leaves the cemetery in La Paz, on November 8, 2015, carrying with her a couple of human skulls during the celebration of the Dia de las Natitas (Snub-nosed Day). In the Bolivian Andes it is customary to keep at home and revere human skulls they call 'Natitas' (Snub-nosed), who in exchange will grant their protection and blessings to the family. AFP/PHOTO/ AIZAR RALDES (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
Devotees place candles and other offerings in front of a human skull at a cemetery in La Paz, on November 8, 2015, carrying a box with two human skulls to be blessed during the celebration of the Dia de las Natitas (Snub-nosed Day). In the Bolivian Andes it is customary to keep at home and revere human skulls they call 'Natitas' (Snub-nosed), who in exchange will grant their protection and blessings to the family. AFP/PHOTO/ AIZAR RALDES (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA - NOVEMBER 08: People carry skulls during the The Ãatitas Festival on November 08, 2015 in La Paz, Bolivia. A week after the All Saints Festival, devotees of Las Ãatitas arrive at the La Paz cemetery and walk to the chapel carrying human skulls decorated with flowers, cigarettes, coca leaves and glasses. People believe that 'Ãatitas' protect their houses and are responsible for many miracles. (Photo by Jose Luis Quintana/LatinContent/Getty Images)
A woman leaves the cemetery in La Paz, on November 8, 2015, carrying with her a couple of human skulls during the celebration of the Dia de las Natitas (Snub-nosed Day). In the Bolivian Andes it is customary to keep at home and revere human skulls they call 'Natitas' (Snub-nosed), who in exchange will grant their protection and blessings to the family. AFP/PHOTO/ AIZAR RALDES (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
Devotees place candles and other offerings in front of a human skull at a cemetery in La Paz, on November 8, 2015, carrying a box with two human skulls to be blessed during the celebration of the Dia de las Natitas (Snub-nosed Day). In the Bolivian Andes it is customary to keep at home and revere human skulls they call 'Natitas' (Snub-nosed), who in exchange will grant their protection and blessings to the family. AFP/PHOTO/ AIZAR RALDES (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
Devotees place candles and other offerings in front of human skulls at a cemetery in La Paz, on November 8, 2015, carrying a box with two human skulls to be blessed during the celebration of the Dia de las Natitas (Snub-nosed Day). In the Bolivian Andes it is customary to keep at home and revere human skulls they call 'Natitas' (Snub-nosed), who in exchange will grant their protection and blessings to the family. AFP/PHOTO/ AIZAR RALDES (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
A man lights candles in front of human skulls at a cemetery in La Paz, on November 8, 2015, carrying a box with two human skulls to be blessed during the celebration of the Dia de las Natitas (Snub-nosed Day). In the Bolivian Andes it is customary to keep at home and revere human skulls they call 'Natitas' (Snub-nosed), who in exchange will grant their protection and blessings to the family. AFP/PHOTO/ AIZAR RALDES (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
An Aymara indigenous man arrives at a cemetery in La Paz, on November 8, 2015, carrying a box with two human skulls to be blessed during the celebration of the Dia de las Natitas (Snub-nosed Day). In the Bolivian Andes it is customary to keep at home and revere human skulls they call 'Natitas' (Snub-nosed), who in exchange will grant their protection and blessings to the family. AFP/PHOTO/ AIZAR RALDES (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
A human skull or "natitas" wearing sun glasses, is displayed outside the Cementerio General chapel during the Natitas Festival, in La Paz, Bolivia, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Although some natitas have been handed down through generations, many are from unnamed, abandoned graves. They are cared for and decorated by faithful who use them as amulets believing they serve as protection. The tradition marks the end of the Catholic All Saints holiday, but is not recognized by the Catholic church. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Human skulls or "natitas" crowned with flowers and surrounded by offerings of coca leaves, flower petals and cigarettes, are displayed outside the Cementerio General chapel, during the Natitas Festival, in La Paz, Bolivia, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Although some natitas have been handed down through generations, many are from unnamed, abandoned graves. The are cared for and decorated by faithful who use them as amulets believing they serve as protection. The tradition marks the end of the Catholic All Saints holiday, but is not recognized by the Catholic church. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
A woman looks at her decorated human skull or "natitas" as she waits to be greeted by the priest inside the Cementerio General chapel, during the Natitas Festival celebrations, in La Paz, Bolivia, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Although some natitas have been handed down through generations, many are from unnamed, abandoned graves that are cared for and decorated by faithful who use them as amulets believing they serve as protection. The tradition marks the end of the Catholic All Saints holiday, but is not recognized by the Catholic church. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
A human skull or "natitas" surrounded by offerings of coca leaves, flower petals and cigarettes, is displayed outside the Cementerio General chapel, during the Natitas Festival, in La Paz, Bolivia, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Although some natitas have been handed down through generations, many are from unnamed, abandoned graves that are cared for and decorated by faithful who use them as amulets believing they serve as protection. The tradition marks the end of the Catholic All Saints holiday, but is not recognized by the Catholic church. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
A human skull or "natitas" with sun glasses and crowned with flowers is displayed outside the Cementerio General chapel, during the Natitas Festival, in La Paz, Bolivia, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Although some natitas have been handed down through generations, many are from unnamed, abandoned graves that are cared for and decorated by faithful who use them as amulets believing they serve as protection. The tradition marks the end of the Catholic All Saints holiday, but is not recognized by the Catholic church. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
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Bolivians celebrated on Sunday an ancient tradition rooted in indigenous practices where people adorn and honor skulls, called "natitas", which they believe bring them good fortune and protection.

The natitas spend most of the year indoors, but are traditionally decorated and paraded to the cemetery a week after All Saints Day.

"This tradition occurs on November 8 because it is the Day of the Souls, the Day of the Skulls. Because when a person dies, there are eight days. Along these lines, we commemorate the souls on November 8, that is their day. We celebrate because they give us many miracles. They take care of us, they protect us, the people who are devoted to them," said Leticia Plaza, who joined the celebration of the skulls.

Friends and family adorn the skulls with hats and flowers. They give them food and even cigarettes during the festivities.

Even the skulls of unidentified deceased take part in the party, said participant Patricia Llave.

"They are the forgotten souls, they are the souls that don't have flowers. Every November 8, we remove them from their tomb so that we can be with them and share this celebration with them," she said.

As the afternoon wore on, participants danced to honor the skulls.

Celebrating Death in Bolivia

"We dance with devotion and gratitude for all they give us. They have fulfilled many desires. And that's why we honor them," said Rosmery Aquino.

The tradition is believed to have its roots in the Urus Chipaya custom of disinterring the corpses of loved ones at the one year anniversary of their death.

The Roman Catholic Church does not endorse the practice, but when the cemetery's parish refused to open its doors to Day of the Skull believers 12 years ago, they threw stones at the church and broke all the windows.

Now, the parish is open to believers for a blessing ceremony.

The natitas tradition, a fusion of Catholic and indigenous beliefs, is traditionally practiced by the country's indigenous groups.

The traditions and cultures of the Aymara, Quechua and other groups remain strong in Bolivia, where indigenous people are a majority in a country set in the heart of South America.

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