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Oct 29, 2004

Benque tradition blends Maya & Mestizo beliefs

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And while Halloween may be growing in popularity, and commercialism, in Belize, we must admit, it’s an imported tradition. So in search for something more Belizean, more authentic, and far more reverent, tonight News 5 brings you a story from our archives in which Jim McFadzen travels to Benque Viejo Del Carmen for Los Finados. This festival honours the souls of those departed in an amazing blend of Maya and Mestizo traditions and beliefs.

Jim McFadzean, Reports

It?s arguably Belize?s most picturesque town surrounded by mountains with an enviably green landscape. But most importantly Benque Viejo Del Carmen is noted for its rich cultural traditions, which are rooted in its Maya and Ladino ancestry.

One such tradition being kept alive in this part of the country is el Dia del Los Finados, which is celebrated every year on November first and second and marked with the preparation of food for those relatives that are sad to come back from the after life. Dona Naby Mendez has been preparing her table with the favourite food of her departed relatives on Dia Del Los Finados for over half a century.

Dona Naby Mendez

?We believe the spirits comes to eat on this day. For this reason we feed them with food. We don?t see them but we know, we believe yes that they come and that?s why we do all of this every year. For example to bollos. We the living like to eat bollos and espellon beans that?s why we prepare these. We put espellar made of black corn. We soak them for three days. We soak them in them in the night with cinnamon, black pepper and some aniseed. Then we grind it and then we strain it and the trash that is left over and we then we mix I with very ripe plantain, add sugar butter and we then bake it and put it on the table. That is the custom that we have and that we like when we are alive. The dead, we believe will come and drink with us.?

And how exactly do the dead enjoy this lavish display of their favourite food and drink?

Dona Naby Mendez

?The food is displayed very hot and steaming and its said that the vapour that the dead inhale to their sustenance, not that they?re going to eat it like us, as if they?re going to take a bollo and eat it. No, they absorb the steam from the food for their sustenance.?

Once the table is laid out at mid-day, La Resadora comes to say the prayers for the souls. In earlier days, there were Mayor Resadores, but in this part of the country except for San Antonio, the job had now fallen into the hands of women. According to Dona Naby, once the prayers are over and the food has cooled, everyone is invited to eat.

Like so many other Latin American and Caribbean countries, Belize has witnessed the slow death of many of its traditions and customs. Thanks to a younger generation eager to embrace Western culture and it?s style of living. David Ruiz of the Benque Viejo Del Carmen?s Cultural and Historical Association says their association is fighting to keep tradition alive especially amongst the younger generation.

David Ruiz, Benque Viejo Historical and Cultural Association

?The Cultural and Historical Association has made it kind of a duty to emphasize on our traditions, to preserve and promote our past and at the same time build on those traditions. So I would say that it?s picking up again there. We have made it something that the whole of Belize is now aware of so that the people outside Benque are becoming interested in it and I guess that?s kind of getting the people in Benque to continue promoting it and some of them are going back to those traditions.?

As the sun slowly sets on this Western Border Town of more than four thousand, and the smell of candles permeate the cool evening air, a speedy flow of Bequenos young and old are making their way here in the Cemetery with wreaths and flowers for Los Muertos. Los Finados; the dead.

David Ruiz

?It?s a day of obligation for people or Catholics to visit the burial ground. Maybe they will not visit their tombs for the rest of the year, but at this time of the year they make it their duty to come to the burial ground. They bring candles, they bring flowers and wreaths. They were some people in the past who also made it a duty to bring food and put it on the tombs for the faithful departed. And they are not many people who do that anymore. But people do come to visit their graves and clean them. It?s a custom; it?s a tradition.?

As darkness falls over the cemetery, the mood has changed. What was once a reverence is now a whole lot of fun for the young and old.

David Ruiz

?Throughout the day we have seen how people pray and make a lot of respect and offering to the souls and offerings. The Catholics believe that prayers for the souls of the dead lessen their sufferings. So there is a whole two days of respect and prayers and at the end, which is today. This is a kind of community affair to kind of have a good time and take the opportunity to mock death in a nice way.?

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