Funeral Traditions in Bolivia

by P-Francone

A cemetery in Potosi, Bolivia.

Bolivia is a multicultural society, however the largest group is the native group, at 55 percent and the mixed native and European make up another 30 percent. The majority of the country is Catholic, however the native population has integrated in traditional beliefs into their faith, making for very interesting funeral traditions in Bolivia.

The funeral service and “velorio”, or wake is generally an expensive affair, as Bolivians have lots of respect for their dead, and want to make sure they receive the best treatment. The velorio usually takes place at the family’s home, in a room with four walls. The family and friends all sit against the walls and pass around cocktails, beer, food, coca leaves and cigarettes while mourning. The burial takes place the next morning with the immediate family.

For families who live near the city of La Paz, the funeral rites also include a hike down to the Choqueapu River, and the family washes the deceased’s clothing in the river. The family eats a picnic lunch, and once the clothes dry, they are burnt in a bonfire along the riverbank. This allows peace to come to the mourners, and helps to release the deceased’s soul into the afterlife.

Elaborate and hearty meals are hosted for the mourners, where fresh vegetables, beef, chicken and pork are all consumed. Public displays of generosity are very important in Bolivian culture, especially at times like this. The recently deceased are always remembered and celebrated on All Souls Day. Four masses throughout the next year must also be sponsored by the family.

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