Cry pitchers. Shout and lament for the death of a stranger. Dress in black with veil and afflicted face. Lloronas, Magdalenas, and Plañideras in Mexico: one of the funeral services that, in the city, are about to disappear.
The plañideras exist for centuries, millennia. Like many of our traditions, this is the result of a mixture of very different cultures. In Egypt it was a labor that passed from mothers to daughters, the women wore tunics, their hair loose and their breasts uncovered. In Greece, they wore a black veil and were described in the tragedies of Aeschylus. The Romans kept tears and tore their clothes. Meanwhile, for the Christian tradition, crying facilitates the entry of the deceased into heaven.
Until a few years ago in the town of San Nicolás Tetelco, also known as La Conchita, in Milpa Alta, two elderly women, Flora and Josefina, came to wakes to mourn. They rarely met the deceased, but the presence of both was essential to show that the deceased left a mark on the community.
“It was a special event for them, they were arranged for the occasion. They did not do it in a mocking tone, everything was serious. They arrived at funerals, sat near the coffin, often consoled the widow and others just started crying, “says Elisa Lozada, niece of Mrs. Josefina and inhabitant of La Conchita.
The art of crying at funerals is delicate. More than drama explains Lozada, the scandal has to make the person who listens to it move and think about the deceased. That is why they had to be careful not to exaggerate or overreact their interpretation.
“It was a matter of respect, they were accompanying the deceased and the family, they were not going to do theater. It was an extra way to earn money. My aunt did sewing and liked to go to church, she took care of her parents. Being Magdalena at wakes allowed her to bring bread to the table, “says Elisa.
Mr. Roque Barros, now the owner of an antique shop, was 19 years old when his father died in 1957. The family lived in Clavería, the Azcapotzalco town hall, and he remembers the feeling of entering the church, at his father’s mass, and listen to the grief of those unknown women. Then there were more plañideras in Mexico.
“Listening to them imposed a lot. It felt good to think that so many people cried to my dad. I thought they were friends and family, but when I entered the church I saw that they were women we did not know. You would have seen my mom’s face. She thought they were other widows and she almost runs them. We did not know that my uncle had hired them to cry, “he says.
A few decades ago, in addition to mourners, there were pious women who took care of the mourners, comforting them; at that time, Roque says, hiring them cost $ 20, and the mourners pay $ 5 or $ 10 more to make them cry during the funeral or the wake.
“They were hired only by those who had money and it had to be two or three women who cried to make it louder, that’s why it was not something that was seen in all the wakes. If that happened, it meant that the deceased was loved, that he was a good person. “
Pray to get to heaven
For some, praying comforts. Others consider it a way to cleanse the soul of those who have died, but at the time of death, the prayers are a job that gives comfort to families, that is why there are still plains in Mexico and places like San Juan del Rio, Queretaro, they even win contests.
“I think we went from mourners to prayers. We have [sic] who are prepared in the gospel and we went for free, but many other people learned the rosary and when they know of a death they see the opportunity, go to the houses and offer to pray in exchange for $ 100 or $ 200, “he says. Socorro Novoa, prayer leader, and catechist.
She is part of the church in Azcapotzalco and at least once goes with a group of catechists to comfort the families. It offers prayers, words of encouragement and guidance to the assistants to the funerals, to the prayers of wakefulness and during the nine days of accompaniment of the Catholic religion.
“We have a dynamic so that prayers are not so heavy and for people to participate. We use flowers, each person must have one and the delivery to the deceased in the middle of songs and prayers, we take away a bit of solemnity to give the families the peace they need, “says Socorrito, as neighbors know her.
The pains with bread
The news is spread among the townspeople. Little by little the house of the relatives is filled with friends and neighbors, the ladies get ready. Nobody needs to call them, they come to offer their help, their gift for the kitchen … it’s like the evolution of the plañideras in Mexico.
Mole, carnitas, tamales, chicken in green or red sauces. Rice, a lot of rice, beans, potatoes or whatever you can give a meal for a hundred people. It is a task that in the towns and neighborhoods of the city lasts several days, at least the first three, which include the vigil of the body, and the last one when the novena dedicated to the deceased ends.
“It’s a village custom that, if someone dies, we women help make the meals. We are from the town, we arrive when we find out and we see what it takes to support. Just as some ladies come to pray and accompany us, we go to the kitchen, “says Lucila Reyes, cook of the town of Santa Cruz Meyehualco, Iztapalapa.
The scenes can be curious: A coffin in the middle of the room or patio and around dozens of people. Disposable cups, coffee mugs, sweet bread. People who walk the room with trays full of traditional stews. Three or four tortillas for each one.
In the background, a group of women is organized. They do not cry or spend long time in front of the coffin. They make noise, receive the larder bought by the mourners, chop vegetables and season coppers with liters of broths and sauces. The same clean up to 10 kilos of legs and chicken legs that scraps of beef and pork. They have to feed those present.
“In the villages, we all know each other and, just as we organize parties, we also rely on death. What we do is not a job, we put ourselves on the side of the family to thank the people who take the time to come and say goodbye and relieve the burden in a difficult time, “he says.