Thursday, August 26, 2010

Visit to a Cemetery

Even as a kid cemeteries held an attraction for me. Sometimes when none of my buddies were around I’d get on my bike and spend an hour or so slowly riding through a nearby cemetery. The large expanses of manicured green grass, bouquets of multicolored flowers placed at grave markers, plus the trees and shrubs combined to create a place that was to me more beautiful than many parks. I never understood why people acted so solemn and reserved in cemeteries. Why not spread a blanket next to the graves of Uncle Tony and Aunt Martha and have a picnic? They liked picnics when they were living so why not include them now? Years later my fascination for cemeteries remained and was enhanced by an interest in genealogy. In searching for my ancestors I’d inevitably find myself in the older sections…the places where the ancient white stone markers are barely legible and in some cases have fallen over. Often I’d walk between the rows, stopping to look at a particular marker that for some reason caught my interest; wondering…”Who were you? What was your story? Did any of your dreams come true? Does anyone know you’re here, or that you even existed?” Decades later in a different country I’m still doing that same thing.

Some of the larger cities in Peru have newer cemeteries that are somewhat comparable to those described above with grass, trees and shrubs, but the vast majority of cemeteries in Peru are dramatically different. The city of Pimentel has a cemetery that is representative of those throughout the country. There are some that are better maintained while others - the vast majority, show little attempt at maintenance. Also common to many cemeteries are entrances that seem to offer something inside other then the surrounding desert, but they don't deliver on their promise.

Missing are the large expanses of green grass. In their place is the ubiquitous brown dirt and sand, except where here and there a wealthier family has placed a small patch of grass. The Pimentel cemetery has three distinct sections. This photo is of the ‘high end’ section immediately inside the entrance way. The fresh flowers indicate regular visitation and that the graves are probably relatively new.

This is one of the more grandiose monuments. There is room to accommodate twenty members of the Huhmanchumo Zuñe family, only one of whom has arrived thus far. Separate and to the right are newly constructed mausoleums built by the municipality.

The second section is more communal than the first. Instead of individual graves there are rows of older mausoleums. It appears that less than half of the vaults are being visited. I noticed that most of the death dates in this section were in the 1950s.

The third section is what I refer to as the ‘land of the forgotten.’ These were poor people. I suspect that even if their graves are being visited, there is no money for flowers or other remembrances. This is what the majority of cemeteries in smaller towns and villages look like.

As I wandered through the barren landscape in the poor area I stopped at this gravesite. I don’t know why this particular one; there were hundreds more like it. Still, I found myself wondering…“Who were you? What was your story? Did any of your dreams..."



  1. Interesting. I too had a love affair with cemeteries since I was a little girl. As a child, my father would take me to visit my grandfather at El Angel in Lima. It was the largest cemetery of the time. I remember walking through the shops of artists working in the marble, preparing 'lapidas' (headstones). I always had a fascination for this. Even when I travel abroad, one of the first places I want to go is the local cemetery. Have you taken the night tour to the Presbitero Maestro in Lima? Hopefully one of these days I'll go.

  2. I wasn’t aware Presbitero Maestro existed until I read your comment. The information on the internet looks interesting. Thanks for the tip.