Bolivia’s smoking skulls adorned with flowers, wigs and a Grim Reaper

LA PAZ : Bolivians in the highland city of La Paz celebrated the Day of Skulls over the weekend, bringing out the bones of loved ones which are adorned with flowers, wigs and sunglasses – and which almost always have a lit cigarette smoking from the nose.

The colorful tradition with the skulls, known as “natitas”, is rooted in ancient indigenous beliefs that is meant to bring good fortune and protection by honoring the dead.

The skulls are decorated and paraded to the cemetery a week after All Saints Day. The celebration is believed to have its roots in the Uru Chipaya custom of disinterring the bodies of loved ones at the one-year anniversary of their death.

“They are very miraculous. They are very dear little souls. They fulfill all the miracles, everything you ask of them,” Melvi Mariscal, a believer in the ritual, said at a cemetery in the Andean city.

“They help you study, they help you at work, in your health. They are always protecting you and giving you a little hand.”

The skulls were surrounded by candles and coca leaves, which many in the country chew for energy, garlanded with colorful flowers, fake hair, sunglasses, Andean hats, and even one with a small model of a Grim Reaper, the personification of death.

People in the cemetery remembered their loved ones and asked for protection and help for the year ahead. Some carried the skulls in decorative boxes.

Bolivia's smoking skulls adorned with flowers, wigs and a Grim Reaper
A woman walks in front of a mural of skulls during the celebration of the Day of Skulls, a tradition rooted in ancient indigenous beliefs meant to bring good fortune and protection by honoring the dead, at a cemetery in La Paz, Bolivia, November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Sara Aliaga
Bolivia's smoking skulls adorned with flowers, wigs and a Grim Reaper
Skulls are decorated with flowers during the celebration of the Day of Skulls, a tradition rooted in ancient indigenous beliefs meant to bring good fortune and protection by honoring the dead, at a cemetery in La Paz, Bolivia, November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Sara Aliaga

“I tell him when we are sick, people in the family, I ask him to please heal us and he fulfills it,” said Sofia Irusta, holding a skull with two cigarettes, a brown wig and a crown of flowers. “Everything I ask him he fulfills. That is what I like about my skull.”

REUTERS

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