Why are tamales made for the Day of the Dead? | The NY Journal


Why are tamales made for the Day of the Dead?

Red chicken tamales, a typical indigenous Chontal dish from Tabasco, Mexico.

Alfonsobouchot / Creative Commons

The Tamales constitute one of the most important offerings in the altar of the dead. The offering or the altar is a very important part of the celebration of the Day of the Dead, takes place at the end of October and November 1 and 2.

According to tradition with prehispanic roots, it is believed that the spirit of the dead returns to live with his family and enjoy the essence of the dishes that are placed on the altar.

The origin of tamales

The name of tamal comes from Nahuatl, “tamalli“Which means corn bun wrapped in sheets and cooked in a pot.

According to mythical tales, divinities They demanded offerings from the men, for this purpose the ancestors accidentally created the tamale cooking.

They slaughtered the turkey, his body was smeared with chili sauce, tomato, beans and pumpkin seeds. They wrapped it in banana and palm leaves, and the tied up with ropes. Later they dug a hole in the ground and deposited 52 stones, on top they piled up 20 units of firewood, they put copal resin and set it on fire.

The next day they unearthed the tamale, called zacahuil. The divinities thanked the offering and in return ordered all the inhabitants to consume the tamale to nourish and strengthen their bodies.

He zacahuil is still cooking, although the turkey has been replaced with pork, it is the largest and considered tamale “King of Tamales”.

Why are tamales traditional in the offering

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Many of the tamales were linked to funeral rites. The pre-Hispanic origin of tamales is documented by the main historians of the 16th century, particularly by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún.

They were also part of the offering that was offered in a altar in the temple to Quetzalcoatl according to the Great Nahuatl Dictionary of the UNAM.

The tamale strengthens the essence of the dead

Photo: J Mndz / Creative Commons.

Tamales are considered an item of sharing, appreciation and reciprocity between the living and the dead.

Every year tamales are offered to the dead. “It is the food that strengthens the essence and presence of the dead before the men of the town”, Publishes the journal Anthropology of Food in the text Tamales: offering and symbolism among the Nahuas of the Huasteca of Veracruz.

The tamale is also considered to be indispensable as food for the spirit so that the deceased have the strength Necessary for transit beyond the grave and wait on your return to the earth as a living being (human, animal or plant).

More than 50 varieties of tamales

Photo: Ji-Elle / Creative Commons

There are more than 50 varieties of tamales; salty and sweet. They vary from filling, the leaves with which they are wrapped, Shapes and sizes; since in addition to rectangular and square, there are also triangular Like the xocos.

There are them with different sauces, with meat or beans, cheese, vegetables, fruits and even flowers, such as pumpkin blossoms. The most used meats are chicken, pork and turkey; they are also prepared with rabbit meat, shrimp and other animals.

The most common leaves are corncob (totomochtli) and plantain leaves, which are common in coastal areas. But you can also find green corn leaves wrapped, reed, of papatla Y holy grass.

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