A Funeral for a Prince

I once saw a funeral for a prince and it was the grandest departure I had ever seen. They put his body inside a giant bull made of wood and paper. It was at least 20 feet tall.

Fifty, maybe sixty, men started to gather around the bull and lifted it on their shoulders. Hustling down the hill with a band accompanying the procession — playing in chorale with the heaving and the huffing.

Parading down, they zigzagged left to right, then left and back again. It was a feat in itself that none of them stepped on any of the others’ toes because that would have been disastrous, their bodies slumping and leaning in what looked like very difficult positions. Later, I learned that they had to avoid going on a straight path so that they would confuse evil spirits attempting to follow them.

This part of life is a joyful celebration, said the man who brought us here who also took it upon himself to educate me. It struck me that he said life and not death. They believe that the soul journeys to a happier place (heaven, I suppose?) and returns as the next newborn in the family.

We followed the dead prince down on his journey, to an open field where more than a hundred people were waiting — standing, sitting, talking. The women were dressed beautifully, some in royal blue, some with flowers in their hair.

Here, too, were about a dozen other wooden bulls, smaller than the first one that we saw. These were from the prince’s neighbors. Their dead were inside too, but they were not princes themselves so their sarcophagi were not as gigantic.

The one giant wooden bull was positioned in the middle of the field, the other smaller ones lined up to its left. A group of men started spraying what smelled like flammable chemicals onto all of them. The crowd stopped everything that they were doing — chatting, eating, gambling, singing.

All eyes were on the giant bull.

An elderly man walked into the field carrying a torch and threw it at the giant bull. It started burning from under its belly and the fire spread up to the head and down to the legs.

The other people lit up the smaller ones too.

Everything turned gray and you could only make out the faces as the wind brushed aside the smoke to reveal the collective look of goodbye.

All photographs by Johanna Velasco Deutsch

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