Saturday, 1 November 2008

La Toussaint

Halloween has just arrived in the past couple of years in Guadeloupe, so there wasn't too much going on last night. We, however, had the fun of a campfire with our friends from the Maison de Paix (house church) that we attend.

The big event here is Toussaint (All Saints' Day I presume) and the past week has been gearing up to this. People have been invading the usually quiet cemetry and cleaning and painting away. Bertie's nephew Steeven has earned about €100 this week from his efforts, which have involved being there from 7am, selling himself effectively to the people coming in (along with several other boys eager to earn some pocket money), negotiating pay, and then cleaning and painting graves a vivid white. Bertie sorted out the grave for his Grandmother and Grandfather on his mum's side, which now also holds his youngest brother's body after his death last December.

Now that all the work has been done, people have spent today and will spend tomorrow visiting their family's grave, putting artifical flowers down alongside candles, and generally having a nice time chatting with their cemetry "neighbour". Unfortunately, there has been quite a bit of rain this week and so the fine clothes and glittering sandals that seem to be de facto for every such event have been somewhat sullied! Bertie remembers having great fun as a boy when they went to the cemetry with the parents, playing around the graves whilst they chatted and he says that it is a great night to fly in over the island and see all the candlelight.

We even have a shrine opposite our house that is the private shrine/tomb for the family that lives next-door, and it has been interesting watching the whole process go on this week.

The whole attitude to death here is fascinating, and so very different from us reserved Westerners. It is perfectly acceptable to chat about it, and plenty of people have come up to Bertie and said very bluntly "oh you're the one whose brother died aren't you?" whereas we would make much more effort to avoid such topics, especially with strangers. It is also very public - with the obseques being read on the radio each day, you know who has died, and plenty of people will turn up at the veillee (wake) where lots of food and drink is expected. Similarly, plenty will turn up at the burial and take advantage of the copious amounts of food and drink available there too, even if they didn't know the person who died. We came across what seemed to be a merry occasion in the town centre a few weeks ago, with people chatting and laughing and drinking...then Bertie told me it was a funeral! I have discussed this more cheerful and accepting attitude to death with various people, and we wondered if it is because people are a lot more religious here (mainly Catholic) or if it is just part of the West Indian psyche?

Concerning cemetries here, I have noticed that they are very often by the sea - any idea why? They are often full of white and black tiling, the most eye-catching of which is this one is Morne-a-l'eau which looks even better in the flesh!


2 comments:

evie said...

I thought it was beach huts on first glance, this reminds of a cemetry I saw in Europe - was in Spain or Austria maybe? Defeinitely much nicer than the gloomy English cememtries

Hevs said...

I don't know, I think our cemetries have a certain charm!