Genealogía del Tzompantli (Genealogy of the Tzompantli)
Día de muertos (Day of the Dead) is a tradition with different phases that needs to be seen from different perspectives. This Mexican way to celebrate and respect the dead, despite having elements like la Catrina (elegant skull), pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and la ofrenda (the offering to the dead), has more to it than the above images.
With the conquest and the colonial era in Mexico, the Día de muertos tradition suffered the first alterations related to the conception of the idea of death in society. Syncretism was the consequence of this conciliated imposition between the “New world” and the Western world, the conqueror and the conquered. Civilizations like the Mexicas, used to practice human sacrifices with political, religious, social, and even cosmological purposes. The heart, blood, head, and limbs of the sacrificed war captives and/or the immolated person, represents the gods themselves. The sacrificed were an ixiptla, a representative of the gods in this world.
Tzompantli means “skull rack”; it is a wall full of heads and skulls composed of war captives and/or the immolated humans after the sacrifices. The sacrifice-death concept in pre-Hispanic cultures was not specifically a punishment; it was a connection and an association with the world where we live and beyond. When the Spaniards merged the concept of death from the Mexicas with the concept of death in Christianity, the syncretism shifted the essence of what sacrifice meant. The Mexicas rituals that were part of the sacrificial process, in combination with the Spaniards Christian interpretations of sacrifice, created a new conception about what death meant and continues to mean; a violent corporal punishment.
Nowadays, we live in a fierce epoch in Mexico. Everyday violence has become more public than ever with mass media showing the murders and missing persons who were victims of narco-politics. The concept of sacrifice has been transformed by violence in our neoliberal context, one that implicates destruction of lives and communities in order to attain a false notion of “progress” and a “modern state”.
Genealogía del Tzompantli is a depiction about how violence and punishment disturb and alter our conception about what death means. In Mexico, Día de Muertos has been exceeded by the events that happened and continue to happen where we work, where we study, where we play, where we pray, where we live, and now where we die. We have been forced to observe how our communal body is hanging from the new tzompantli; we are now forced to live and suffer in a temporary agony, misery, pain, and an eternal cry for our dead.