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article imageBolivians mark 'Day of the Skulls,' a native Halloween ritual

By JohnThomas Didymus     Nov 10, 2011 in Religion
La Paz - There is an old Bolivian tradition equivalent to the Euro-American Halloween. Ancient Andean people set a day aside for remembrance of the dead. But the Bolivian tradition comes with some practices squeamish Catholic priests are beginning to protest .
Huffington Post reports that in Bolivia,the ""Day of the Skulls" (Dia de los Natitas) is celebrated on November 9. It is an ancient tradition that has evolved into a mixture of old "pagan" and new Catholic rituals. Bolivians, on the "Day of the Skulls," bring out human skulls they had been keeping as "pets" in their homes all year round. They take them to church cemeteries for Mass blessing, dressed up in brightly colored military hats and Andean chuyo wool hats, and decorate them with flowers.
Native Bolivians believe people have seven souls and that after death one of the souls takes up permanent residence in the skull of the deceased. It is believed that the "seventh soul" is a benevolent spirit which has the power to help people, heal them and ward off evil from their families.
Fox News reports a curious aspect of the tradition. Bolivians who keep "seventh-soul" skulls in their homes are careful to make sure that the skulls are not those of their own relatives. The human skulls are usually purchased from vendors are taken from cemeteries. The practice of recovering skulls from cemeteries is consistent with Bolivian practice of exhuming corpses eight years after burial and incinerating the remains.
The human skulls are kept as lucky charms in Bolivian homes and are given names, and reverently stored away in a glass cases.
Fox News reports Bolivar Luisa Perez keeps a skull which has been in her family for 24 years. She explains why she keeps the skull of a dead human stranger her mother found in cemetery in her home:
"To look after my house, to scare away thieves, to protect my family, that is why I venerate her."
The Catholic Church in Bolivia has for many years been tolerating this Bolivian tradition, but in recent times church priests have been complaining. Reverend Jaime Fernandez, according to Fox News, complains:
"They shouldn't bring them to the church. They shouldn't pull them from their tombs. They should leave them in peace."
This year, Reverend Jaime Fernandez has had enough of the "skull-duggery" tradition. He refused to bless the skulls when the people brought them for Mass. But after a stands-off between priest and church members, he offered a compromise: He says a short prayer that the souls of the dead rest in peace.
The skulls in Bolivia are called natitas. Belief in natitas is very popular among rural Bolivians and in poor neighborhoods, but the belief is dying among better educated middle class Bolivians.
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