Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Peruvian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Maltese funeral traditions and Gambian funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Religious and Death Beliefs
Christianity is the most common religion in Peru, with 76.03% of Peruvians identifying as Catholic. For this reason, most people follow Catholic afterlife beliefs, along with some traditional customs. For example, traditionally people believed that the soul was bird-like and could fly away during sleep. If it didn’t return, the person passed away.
Preparation of the Body
When someone dies, their family dresses and places the body in an open casket. The casket stays at home or in a church for a few days for mourners to pay their respects and bring flowers or food. It’s more of a celebration of life, as everyone shares stories about their loved one while eating snacks like coffee, tea, sandwiches, and cookies. Close family members may even sleep near the casket so their loved one isn’t alone.
Peruvian Funeral and Burial
For a Peruvian funeral, there usually is a Catholic funeral and burial service. Everyone wears black and receives a small funeral gift such as a photo or a bookmark. Then, there is a funeral procession to the cemetery. In larger cities, they decorate the hearse with flowers. While in smaller cities, they may carry the casket instead.
The gravestones and mausoleums have elaborate decorations and paintings to represent the deceased’s life story. The gravestone paintings first started in Chilca, Peru and then spread to the rest of the country. For mausoleums, families can bring items to decorate with, and most above-ground cemeteries have windows or gates to protect these items.
Traditionally, they designed caskets to protect the body in case the soul ever returned to the body. They used materials such as clay, stone, wood, iron, or a hollowed out tree.
After the funeral, everyone goes to the deceased’s family’s house for a meal. They may serve goat, rice, coffee, toast, cookies, and wine. Sometimes, this meal also turns into an all-night party with drinks and celebrating who the deceased was.
Loved ones honor and remember the deceased long after their death. The deceased’s immediate family members regularly place fresh flowers on their loved one’s gravesite and visit on special occasions such as holidays and death anniversaries. On the one-month, six-month, and one-year death anniversaries, they have a mass to honor their loved one. They also don’t attend parties or other celebratory social events during year one of grief.