Visiting the General Cemetery of La Paz
24 Jun, 2019 | Talulla Cragg
Photo Essay by Talulla Cragg
This colourful place of devotion and respect provides insight into the celebration of life and death in La Paz
The General Cemetery of La Paz was made public in the 1930s to allow poorer citizens to inter the remains of their loved ones while accommodating the growing population of the city. Funerals are held in a small church at the entrance, while a crematorium sits in the middle. After 10 years in the cemetery, remains are cremated and returned to the deceased’s family in order to prevent overcrowding.
Coffins are placed in vaults in the cemetery’s many crypt walls rather than being buried underground. There are separate graves for well-known figures, many with statues and engravings dedicated to the deceased’s life and work.
While murals can be found all over the city, a cemetery seems an unlikely place for such colourful works of art. Nevertheless, the Ñatinta mural-painting festival in 2018, in coordination with the Perros Sueltos artists collective, brought artists from Bolivia and beyond to decorate the cemetery and represent a ‘culture that sees death as a compliment of life’.
Each vault is different; some have photographs of the deceased displayed, while others have flowers and offerings such as sweets and water for the departed to enjoy. This is important, as Aymaras hold the belief that once you have died, your soul, or ajayu, remains in existence, and death is not the final goodbye. Therefore, providing to those souls their favourite luxuries is one way to show respect and devotion to a deceased loved one.
Spread over three square kilometres, the cemetery is certainly hard to miss; the red teleférico line passes directly above and there’s a station right beside it. The cemetery’s so large, in fact, that when I was visiting I failed to find my way to the main gates before they were locked, and had to find an alternative exit.