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Bolivia worships human skulls, forgotten souls with candles, coca

By Yolanda Salazar

La Paz, Nov 8 (EFE).- The La Paz General Cemetery filled Tuesday with “ñatitas,” the human skulls worshiped in Bolivia with flowers, coca and candles to give thanks and ask for favors such as health, justice and employment.

Like every Nov. 8, the ñatitas, named for their lack of a nose, arrived at the cemetery with their owners to be blessed.

“We bring the ñatitas to come and have fun, to see people, because they are kept in the house and don’t see anyone all year long and also so that people adore them, see them and ask them for what they want,” spiritual guide Justina Oblitas told EFE.

She has two human skulls given to her more than 45 years ago – the first is named Tata Andrés, a “soul in purgatory” who died in an accident, and the other, Justina, is an old woman who died in hospital.

Oblitas is a faithful believer that the ñatitas can fulfill wishes, ward off bad situations and make the person dream the answers to their problems.

That is why Oblitas takes her skulls to the cemetery every year, where there are dozens of others also waiting to be venerated by believers carrying coca leaves, cigarettes, flower wreaths, colored woolen caps, alcohol, sweets and food.

People approach the skulls and put the flowers on top and light the cigarettes to put in their mouths so they can smoke and receive their request.

Cielo, who preferred not to give her last name, brought five ñatitas who have a space in her family funeral home business so that they do not lack work, money or protection.

Each one was a gift to her family and every week they put the best flowers on them, make them smoke so they “don’t get angry,” and protect them.

A couple of days ago, a relative gave her a ñatita named Andrés who, according to what they told her, is very “jealous” of women and does not let them marry.

Francisco Segales also brought his ñatita adorned with a hat, feathers and coca so that he could meet with other souls and enjoy all the offerings that people leave them.

Segales said that there are skulls specifically to ask for justice, since it helps to solve complex cases, and there are others that help children, or couples so that they can have children.

This was the case of Luz, a ñatita girl who died when she was one year old, and who on Tuesday was dressed in white to “receive for the first time” the believers who asked her for protection and health for children.

A mass was also held for the “lost or forgotten souls” – the bodies that have not been claimed and that are found in mass graves that are dug up for this day and that people shower with flowers, candles and coca.

Each skull has a name, which is not necessarily the one it had in life, but many “dream” or give them a name that they see as convenient.

Several were looking for Cirilo, a skull that they said helps people find work, or Miguel, who helps solve police cases, or Daniel, who collaborates with believers who seek justice.

The priest who officiated the mass asked people to pray for the forgotten souls so that they rest in peace and asked that good be done with the skulls.

The festivities continued with music, flowers and plates of food to share with the devotees.

This day is the only one in which devotees can go to the cemetery with their human skulls, since otherwise they can be accused of grave desecration.

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