Day of the Dead in Janitzio

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Janitzio is a small island in Patzcuaro Lake in the southern state of Michoacan. Its name comes from the Purepecha word Janitsio which means corn hair; its 1600 inhabitants belong to the Purepecha ethnic group. The main economical activities are fishing and tourism.

Janitzio like all the other villages of the Patzcuaro Lake, have a very traditional and appealing way to celebrate Day of the Dead attracting more than 100,000 visitors from Mexico, U.S.A, Canada and Europe every year.

Day of the Day Celebrations on the Island
The Day of the Dead celebrations begin on October 31 with the duck hunting. Hunters go to the lake on their wooden canoes and spear shoot the birds.

The ducks are prepared according to the local traditions with a spicy sauce made of chili peppers, the dish is known as pato enchilado (chili duck) and together with the white fish, endemic to Patzcuaro Lake, will be offered to the souls on the Day of the Dead altars set in their honor.

In the morning of November 1, from 7 to 10 o'clock, takes place the Kejtzitakua Zapicheri or wake of the little angels. The mothers and siblings of the dead children go to the cemetery and prepare an altar lovingly ornate with flowers and set wooden toys, candies and sweets. A wake is hold while the fathers stay outside watching their family.

After that, a contest organized by the village takes place to choose the 3 best altars set for the people that passed away during the year.

Throughout the afternoon traditional dances such as Los Viejitos (Old Men) and Pescado Blanco (White Fish) are represented in the town's open air theater.

Janitzio Cemetery

Animecha Kejtziatakua
The Night of the Dead, called in Purepecha Animecha Kejtziatakua, starts at sunset when the fishermen go in to the lake with their wooden canoes lit up with candles and perform the butterfly net dance moving their nets, which look like butterflies wings, up and down to awake and guide the souls into the cemetery.

At midnight women and children leave their houses with torches, candles, food and lots of flowers and go to the cemetery; there the altars or offerings are set to honor their ancestors. The cemetery bell tolls all night calling the souls.

By 1 a.m. all the cemetery is lit up by candles and torches, filled with copal smoke and flowers smell. The women and children chant and pray in Purepecha receiving their guests with solemnity. Men wait outside the cemetery until dawn, when the vigil is over and everybody goes back to their houses.

Janitzio cemetery at night

The Janitzio Love Legend
At the time of the Spanish conquest Janitzio was a kingdom part of the Purepecha Empire. Janitzio's king was T'are while the Calsontzin or Emperor was Tzintzicha. The first Spaniards that arrived in the area, led by Cristobal de Olid were sent by Hernan Cortez to conquer the Purepecha Empire and to look after its great treasures.

Tzintzicha surrendered to the Spaniards and let them loot all the treasures, which were kept in the Patzcuaro Lake Islands, in exchange of saving his life and continue to lead the Purepechas.

Some years later Nuño de Guzman, one of the cruelest conquistadores, falsely accused Tzintzicha of betrayal to the Spanish crown and tortured and executed him. This led to the rise of the Purepechas against the Spaniards.

A love legend claims that Mintzita the daughter of Tzintzicha and Itzihuapa son of T'are loved each other but the Spaniards arrival prevented their wedding.

Seeing the King Tzintzicha captured by Nuño de Guzman, the lovers offered him a gold treasure found at the bottom of the Patzcuaro Lake, near Janitzio in exchange for the Emperor freedom. But the treasure was guarded by twenty boatmen shadows and Itzihuapa, who plunged into the water in search of the treasure, was drown by the shadows and became the twenty-first guardian of the Purépecha riches. Mintzita died on the lake shore waiting for her lover return.

On the eve of November 1 the bell tolls awake the twenty one guards and the princess and they float up to the lake's surface and go to Janitzio's cemetery; there the lovers meet and enjoy the evening illuminated by the candles, speaking loving words to each other while the people of the island pray for their ancestors and the happiness of the living.

King Tzintzicha tortured by Nuno de Guzman

King Tzintzicha Torture and Execution
History of Michoacan mural by Juan O'Gorman, (fragment) Patzcuaro Library

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