A day of joy with loved ancestors in Cuenca

Nov 3, 2017 | 2 comments

Text and photos by Bartley D’Alfonso

In the three and a half years of living in this wonderful city, yesterday was the first time I visited the main cemetery, the Cementerio Patrimonal de Cuenca, near the airport. November 2 is the “Day of the Dead” (Día de los Difuntos) in Ecuador, an occasion to honor and remember the lives of deceased loved ones. It is a day for families to pay their respects and adorn graves with beautiful flower arrangements, photos, and other memorabilia.

At first I was very reluctant to photograph this traditional event, fearing that I would interfere and invade the privacy of those mourning at the cemetery. But by word of mouth from other gringos, and also from my ecuatoriano neighbors, that my concerns were misplaced. I summoned up the courage and nervously stepped inside the entrance gate, brandishing my professional camera and lenses. And I was immediately greeted with a smiling “Buenos días” from everyone, quickly putting my self-generated fears to rest.

What really impressed me was the sense of family unity, as loved ones of different ages each stood or knelt with dignity at the grave or tomb of a deceased family member. Some remained in silent tribute, while others softly talked to the deceased and each other. But I also sensed that during their private ceremony, there was also a feeling of joy, as if the mourners were bonding in spirit with those no longer here. It was also moving to observe the care and contentment of those who also cleaned the graves and tombs, replacing old flowers with new ones, adding many splashes of bright new colors to the gray and white gravesites.

At one grave, I overheard a young man who seemed to be excitedly talking to himself. Trying not to disturb or interfere, I moved closer and saw that he had set up his cell phone on a tiny tripod and was filming himself as a “selfie”, while happily talking to the grave. It appeared that he wanted to record his message to the deceased, as if he was sharing recent good news. But, out of respect, this was one time I would not allow myself to take a picture and quietly moved on.

Thursday, Día de los Difuntos, became a very meaningful day for me, and I am glad that I was a part of this tradition.

See more photos below. For more about the Ecuadorian tradition of the Day of the Dead, see Kristen Sawyer’s article, posted yesterday.


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Bartley John D’Alfonso is a 64-year old freelance writer and photographer originally from San Diego, California.  Bart moved with his two spoiled and pampered cats to Cuenca in June 2014.  Bart moved with his two spoiled and pampered cats to Cuenca in June 2014.  He is a retired U.S. Postal Service clerk and previously worked for the San Diego Zoo; Disneyland;  the U.S. National Park Service (in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and also in Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington state).

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