Beyond the Hype of Halloween, There's the Substance of Finados
It's Halloween in Belize City, and, right now, we're sure those trick or treaters are coming down your street - sweet bags in hand! But, while Halloween may have the hype and the sugar high, the long established cultural and religious observance of "Finados" has the substance and the depth. It's popular in Western Belize, and in 2014, Courtney Weatherburne went back to her family's roots for an extended feature on "Finados":
Courtney Weatherburne reporting
Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.And while that's what the Bible says, in Benque Viejo the dead are never forgotten and their rewards come every year on November second with Finados - a religious and cultural observance. That's why these women are praying this morning - to give thanks for the arrival of the souls of their loved ones.
The thought of being surrounded by spirits - whether 'familiar' or not - is quite unsettling for many butto 46 year old Maria Del Carmen Martinez and her family, it is a sacred and beautiful portal to re-connect with her older sister, and to bless her soul.
Maria Del Carmen Martinez - Official Prayer Leader
"it's to welcome her and so that her soul can rest in peace because the process she went through with her sickness - all the suffering she went through, it was very terrible for her. She was a very humble person. She was one of my sisters that were the humblest of all. The doctor told that she was going to die, but you never knew when. It happened on May 2 which was my birthday. That's something that I will never ever forget in my life. At 4 o' clock my sister Sylvia called me and said that my sister had died."
And while she still grieves for her sister, Sylvia Sosa remembers her husband and son:
Sylvia Sosa, Finados for Husband and Son
"I usually light candles from yesterday until the 9 days. My husband passed away in 1998. He was in an accident and my son pass in 2007 and he was 33 years old. He had pneumonia."
Images of their loved ones fill the walls, a vivid expression of their desire to relive their moments of familial joy, tomfooleries and sorrow.
This nostalgic journey is only one way to honor the dead. Families also initiate an elaborate and meticulous process to properly welcome the souls. For Maria it all begins at the break of dawn.
Maria Del Carmen Martinez
"Then like for today November 2, we put the bread with the coffee; one with coffee and the other with coco and then you put in the bread and you out some bread on the table and some I'xpasha because they usually do it early in the morning and they set it. Those are just for the morning and then midday after you pray and everything, you eat something and then they start the preparation for the midday meal. Then you prepare the soup because it's a soup for the day or special dinner that the person you are offering it to use to like."
Apart from the offering of food, special prayers, "Novena De Los Animas" are recited.
Maria Del Carmen Martinez
"Well the repetition of the prayers like asking God and all saints in heaven to come and help the souls in purgatory because actually as our beliefs say they have a process, they just don't go straight to heaven. They have a purgatory to be purified of whatever sins and thing they did on earth, so they need to go through that process and then finally hopefully that they go to heaven."
But, seasoned practitioners say, it is not always a peaceful and sentimental experience. Lore says that the refusal or inability to carry out this ritual has led to frightening outcomes.
Cristina Bejerano (translated)
"A wife tells her husband "Carlito I don't have any money to do my I'xtasha or my Finados and Carlito answers "No money for you, do it on your own." "Okay fine" she says and so they went to sleep and in the night the house started to shake because her husband didn't want to give her money. The next morning of the 1st, her husband finally gave her the money and said "here, buy your things for Finados."...So he had no more headache because he gave his wife money for finados. A lot of people don't believe it, but it is true."
While the families who observe finados welcome the dead into their homes, they also visit their world to complete the ritual, and send them off on their journey to the hereafter.
The farewell is marked by the adornment of tombs with flowers, a type of candle known Veladoras and a decorative fabric. This embrace of the underworld, may seem taboo but according to Cultural Practitioner and Activist, David Ruiz, this practice simply reflects the existing connection between our world and theirs.
David Ruiz, Cultural Practitioner
"Well if we go back to the ancient Mayan, it's something that comes from the cosmo-vision of the Maya; that respect to the ancestors and how the spiritual life intermingles with the material life and it's something that very present also in the Christian culture with the teachings of the catholic church and what Augustine wrote the city of God intermingling with the city of man. The spiritual world it kind of inter-phases with our material world. So it's like both runs parallel and our western/modern thought has separated both. But it's not so, I mean the material world is a reflection of the spiritual world and we are moving towards something and this whole practice - the indigenous people were so good at capturing this and I believe that if we were to recapture that spirituality and that silence in our own life we would be able to also be more in tune with this."
And what about those with no families, the lonely souls whose families have also died or have simply forgotten about them.
"There is a preparation for the "anima sola" that's the lonely soul, really doesn't have anybody to pray. So what people do is like when they are making the "boyus" they would make another one with like the gizzards - the leftover and then they would set that outside the garden on the back yard."
In the end, Finados, like so many other religious and cultural rituals is about coming to terms with death, but in this case practitioners go one step further, they try to reach over to the other side with the best a family can offer, the hunger of memory satisfied with these bounteous offerings. So now the souls will return to their resting place while their families patiently await their next visit.
For those who want to see it for themselves, on Wednesday the San Ignacio & Santa Elena House of Culture will be celebrating "Finados."