During our lives we see the years come and go, but not without meaning, purpose and remembering. Indigenous cultures around the world have specific times, days, seasons and ways of remembering those who have passed on. In parts of north, central and south America the days of Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 carry significant acknowledgement for the deceased.
We have come to know this time of year with a growing awareness to help pray for and remember friends and family. Remembering the departed is also a way to remember ourselves. Indigenous people understand that the departed are who we are. Consequently, and in that same remembering, the prayer-the thought-the acknowledgement-the ceremony has as much to do with the living as the departed.
The most well-known celebration known for the deceased has its roots among the Indigenous people in Mexico. The origins of the homage paid to the departed go back to the pre-Columbian Aztecs and to Mictecacihuatl, a woman of great honor and beauty. This celebration gives high regard to the dearly departed and the continuity of life represented by Mictecacihuatl.
Typically, among many Indigenous people Oct. 31 is dedicated to the children among the departed and Nov. 1 for the adults and Nov. 2 is celebrated collectively. During this time, ancestors are fed by making offerings and performing virtuous deeds that leads to the accumulation of wisdom.
Preparing food offerings for the deceased is an ancient practice as it gives one an opportunity to communicate internally, and in some cultures openly, with the departed. It promotes healing from grief and acceptance of the loss of the departed. Many eulogies, speeches and acknowledgements speak to how an ancestor is present in a raindrop, the wind, a song or object. We are able to remember them with little or no effort if it is in our hearts to do so, and, likewise, they remember us in the greater consciousness that makes up our infinite universe.
Acknowledging the ancestors is not gender specific, and more and more in our current time, men are offering the prayers and written words in acknowledgement. Their words and efforts can be heard and seen at gatherings, conferences and in all public spaces as an indication that our lives and death are not compartmental but part of a whole.
Clearly, these efforts take on more and more meaning as we age, we understand the truth shown to us via natural law demonstrating to us that the occurrence of life and death as something we have no control over.
Vivian Delgado is a professor of Native American studies at Bemidji State University.