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


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
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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