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THE DAY OF THE DEAD
Nacajuca, a county in the Mexican State of Tabasco, is inhabited almost entirely by the Chontal Maya. Even though they have maintained their own beliefs about "little idols" and gnomes, the spirits which cause illnesses and other misfortune, their belief in the soul and the world beyond the veil have been influenced by the Catholic religion. The ceremony to celebrate the "coming" of the souls starts November 1st in the town church by saying a rosary, which is led by a "prayer man" and his assistant. During the prayers, the assistant places candles on the floor and burns incense.
The offerings for the dead prepared at home are also common among the Chontal. In front of the permanent altar found in all homes, the male members of each family place a bed of banana leaves on which they arrange food and other items. In the traditional manner, they place manea, cooked chicken covered with plain tamales (cornmeal steamed dumplings) the main dish of the offering, in the center. On the sides, they arrange earthenware or gourd mugs of chorote (a drink made of corn flour and cacao), in each of which is a stir stick which has small ball of cornmeal dough on the tip of the handle. Next comes the uliche, turkey seasoned with salt, cumin and cilantro. Then the men place balls of cornmeal dough and lots of votive candles between the dishes and an incense bowl to one side.
When the ceremony is done, the head of the household takes a pot each of chorote, uliche and manea, and shares it with all those present. Once everybody has partaken of each of these dishes, he carves the turkey and serves.
Even though there are Chontal communities where women take a more active part in the Day of the Dead ceremonies, it is almost a rule that they stay away from the celebration, and they are forbidden to go to the cemeteries.
In some parts of the Mundo Maya, the last community ritual related to death takes place on November 30. The people gather at the church for the "departure of the souls" with prayer and hundreds of lit candles. The dead return to their world, sated on ritual, food, drink and music to wait for next November.