On November 9th every year, the central cemetery of La Paz in Bolivia, is transformed into a bizarre sea of decomposed human skulls! The tradition is known as 'Dia de los Natitas' and dates back to pre-Columbian days. The ancient Bolivian ritual sees women decorating the skulls with flowers before offering them various gifts, such as cigarettes, alcohol and coca leaves.
Translated, 'Dia de los Natitas' literally means 'Day of the Skulls'.
The skulls (decorated with flower petals and covered with knitted caps) are usually carried in elaborately decorated wooden or cardboard boxes and glass cases (sometimes in simple plastic bags) and the ladies meet outside the cemetery to compare and 'show off' their skulls.
Why is this so?? - well according to ancient Bolivian belief, a person is said to have seven souls. One of these souls is believed to remain in the skeleton after it's been buried. Once the other six souls have left for heaven, the remains are then dug up and the skull is taken home and cared for - now there's a gruesome decoration for the bookshelf!!
The belief extends further, in that if the skull is not respected, it will bring bad luck to the household, ruin the harvests and has even been thought to break up families. If a skull is properly cared for and respected, it can be called upon and asked for favors.
So there you go - one country not on my vacation plans in November - Bolivia!!
If you have a strong stomach, check out some of the photographs from the celebration day: