Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bone cleaning ritual honours the dead, but delayed by pandemic



Bone cleaning ritual honours the dead, but delayed by pandemic

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Indigenous Maya residents of Pomuch in Mexico’s southeastern state of Campeche carefully open graves and take out the bones of their relatives. AFP

Bone cleaning ritual honours the dead, but delayed by pandemic

Antonio Canche lovingly brushed a relative’s skull in a cemetery in the Mexican jungle – part of the Maya community’s ancestral bone cleaning tradition to honour the dead.

This year, the ritual, usually held in late October before Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival, is taking place for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Indigenous Maya residents of Pomuch in Mexico’s southeastern state of Campeche carefully open graves and take out the bones of their relatives.

After they are cleaned, the burial shroud is changed for a new one and the remains are returned to their resting place, said Canche.

Canche, 74, spent the whole day cleaning the remains of his in-laws, his parents and an uncle.

“For me it means joy and enthusiasm to do it,” he said.

Between songs and anecdotes, the families watched over the remains for a few hours to give them some sun and fresh air.

“Come out, come out souls of grief,” women sang in front of open boxes containing human remains and white clothes embroidered with the names of the deceased.

“It’s a very beautiful tradition to remember our ancestors,” said resident Jacinta Chi.

“We change their shrouds because the celebration is coming and we remember them with a lot of love and affection,” he added.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Residents of the Mayan community of Pomuch clean the skull of a relative during a private ritual preceeding celebrations of the Day of the Dead in Campeche State, Mexico, on Tuesday. AFP

It is customary for bones to be cleaned for the first time three years after death, and every year thereafter.

“Last year due to the pandemic, the ritual was not carried out. Many people were very afraid,” said Sebastian Yam, Pomuch’s cultural representative.

“The pandemic was worldwide, and definitely here in Pomuch as in all places there were many people who died because of Covid,” he said.

This year one woman performed the ritual for the first time with the remains of her father. She had to open the coffin, remove the skeleton, divide it into pieces and place them in a wooden box.

Nobody knows exactly when the bone cleaning practice began, but Yam believes it to be centuries old, based on the accounts of the village elders.

After cleaning the remains of their relatives, the residents of Pomuch, like others Mexicans, will set up an altar in their homes with their favorite dishes and drinks for the Day of the Dead.

It is believed that their spirits will return from death to eat and drink on what is one of Mexico’s most important festivals, celebrated at the start of November.

Orange marigold flowers are laid out to guide the spirits to the altar as part of this tradition recognized by UNESCO on the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Cambodia purchases 4 million Molnupiravir tablets

    Cambodia has arranged for the purchase of four million US-made Molnupiravir pills – enough to treat 100,000 Covid-19 patients – even though the current rate of daily infections in Cambodia remains low. The medicine will be distributed to state hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics, according to the Samdech

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Is Cambodia’s travel sector in for another cheerless holiday season?

    The travel and tourism sector was heaving back to life as borders started to reopen, promising a festive vibe for the holidays and New Year. But Omicron and other Covid-related issues are threatening to close the year on a bleak note ‘Seems [like] Covid-19 won’

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • Cambodia planning new border checkpoint at Thma Da

    Cambodia is looking into the possibility of opening a new Thma Da Border Checkpoint with Thailand to boost trade and tourism. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport said on December 4 that Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol led a technical working group