17/5/12 – Origin of the Sugar Skulls
At the moment I’m currently organising a presentation in relation to the Mexican Day of the Dead, which questioned the actual origin of the Sugar Skulls. Elizabeth Carmicheal and Chloe Sayar suggest that the Mexican sugar skulls, which refer to ‘Catholicism’ and ancient beliefs from the Aztec community. The skulls are also describes as “ofrendas” and the Hispanic community offer gifts or presents to the spirits in order to initiate a connection with the dead.
Carmichael and Sayar also explain that the sugar skulls also feature the names of those who have died or passed away in “icing sugar”. Brandes suggests that the ‘sugar paste’ is a significant part of the tradition, which features three different categories.
The ‘name’ is the first category, the second category involves a range of confectionary, such as “sweet breads or candies” and last category features ‘humor’. The skulls provide an optimistic perception of death, which reunites the living with the deceased.
There are skulls, which feature a cross across the forehead and one could argue that the cross represents catholic or christian beliefs. Carmicheal and sayar explain that the decorations combine Mexican folk art with “Catholic symbolism”.
The sugar skulls are related to the “Tzompantli” temples, which contained isles of real human skulls. According to Antoni Cadafalch ‘sugar’ was imported to Mexico, which was consumed by civilisations were in desperate need for food.
Cadafalch also explains that millions of Mexicans died during the 1600’s due to poor hygiene and terrible working conditions. The living would still interact and communicate with the dead for “comfort” or reassurance.
Perhaps the living initiated a positive relationship with the death in order to confront their own anxieties or uncertainties surrounding death under terrible circumstances.
One could argue that life is just as important as death and the Day of the Dead features a healthier perspective of death compared to other European cultures.
Carmicheal, Elizabeth, and Chloe Sayar. The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico. Texas: Texas Press Printing, 2003 p. 49
Brandes, Stanley. “The Day of the Dead, Halloween and the Quest for Mexican National Identity.” Journal of Amercian Folklore 111, no. 442 (1998): 280-359
Cadafalch, Antoni. The Day of the Dead: El Dia De Los Muertos. London: Koreno Books, 2011