San Juan Yaeé is a Zapotec community located in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca. Due to its location, the village found itself isolated from the lowlands. It developed special social rituals dedicated to their dead. Some of these rituals are used as social channels for reuniting the community with their ancestry.
Mexico has become well known for its commemorative and extended mourning rituals that recall and commemorate the dead. This photographic collection attempts to provide a range of mourning rituals and customs currently practiced by the Mexican Zapotec community of San Juan Yaeé, Oaxaca.
Various academics in Mexico have attributed death and the dead a national totem and in this photographic narrative I explore how a Zapotec community maintains social bonds with its dead, history and its culture. The community of San Juan Yaeé practice the Day of the Dead outside the glamorous masquerade that it has become famous for. In Mexico this commemorative ritual manifests yearly between the 31st October and the 2nd November, yet in San Juan Yaeé preparations start six months earlier.
On the 26th October 2003 I visited San Juan Yaeé and during my stay an elderly lady died on the 31st October. The following days became a fusion of the commemoration of the Day of the Dead with the spiritual remembrance and grief of a family and of a community.
Each year a different member in the community is chosen to make the candles,which will light the altar in the cemetery chapel.
“Her bedroom is emptied and her body placed in wake. Seats are placed in her room for guest and family. The body is adorned and covered with white veils. Coal and copal are burned regularly.”
After suffering from a back complaint an elderly woman dies on the 31st of October.
“The village’s brass band plays music for us in the cemetery.”
The container next to the musician is filled with home made aguardiente, which is shared and offered to the community in the cemetery.