I’m back! At least for now. I’m on spring break and I’m a little farther from the fast-paced stressful studies that were taking such a toll on my mental health.
So, as we dive back into Caitlin Doughty’s travels in search of the good death, we go to La Paz, Bolivia. There, some people have what is known as a ñanita. A ñanita is a human skull that is decorated and is given offerings in exchange for help with various aspects of life. Several of the people that Doughty visited in La Paz had several of these skulls. Many times, the people had seen these skulls in dreams and then went to dig them up. It’s interestingly morbid, but I wonder if the previous owner would be okay with their skull being dug up, renamed, and treated as a sort of totem or even idol.
Doughty dives into the relationship between people who have or give to ñanitas and the Catholic Church. In Bolivia, like much of Central and South America, the Catholic Church has a strong influence on people’s lives. Most people are Catholics, dating all the way back to Spanish Catholic conquistadores hundreds of years ago. But many of the people that participate in the ñanita tradition are also practicing Catholics. Doughty even notes that after years of fighting against the practice, the Church has sort of begrudgingly tolerated the practice.
The practice of ñanitas reminds me a bit of the Mexican fascination with skulls. It’s a fascination that I see in many aspects of Latinx/Hispanic culture in the Americas. It’s really fascinating how old traditions have blended with the culture the conquistadores brought. Another book that this reminds me of is Bless Me, Ultima. It was a high school reading requirement when I was in high school. In a nutshell, it’s all about how these communities have adopted a spirituality all their own. Ultima is a medicine woman, both scorned and trusted by her community. While people call her a witch, she still helps to heal the sick and injured. I honestly can’t do it justice, but I would recommend it.
Anyway, this is another fascinating chapter. I do think that it would have been better to be placed closer to the chapter on Dia de Los Muertos, but that’s my biggest criticism.