When I felt done, I ended with a Quaker type request for silence and asked everyone to remember Manuel in their own way. There was silence for a while then one after another, Manuel’s wife and daughters began to cry – quietly at first then more loudly as they draped themselves over his coffin.
As the grieving of Manuel’s family intensified, I became unsure about what if anything I should say. I then saw Manuel’s nephew Rolando on the other side of the grave motioning that he was prepared to speak. I very gratefully said that I was now passing the word to him.
Rolando began to talk about Manuel as a great curaca, but he stopped when the anguished cries of his daughters drowned him out. When the gravesite attendants began to
lower the coffin into the ground with two straps, the wailing grew even louder, and Rolando motioned for them to hold off.
We all waited for a while longer, but when it felt like it was time to move ahead with the inevitable, the attendants moved the coffin into the hole. Several family members firmly grasped one daughter making desperate attempts to hold onto the coffin. Once this was done, the attendants shoveled earth into the hole, and others nearby including me tossed in some clumps as well.
I retreated to the side to share condolences with Arnaud sitting by himself. He is a French man living near Iquitos who I had met at the Chicha de Piyuayo festival in March. He had become very close to Manuel sharing ceremonies with him in healthy times and bringing him natural medicines near his end. While the cancer ultimately ended Manuel’s physical existence after 69 years, we agreed his spirit and teachings would continue to inspire others.
It’s fair to say, however, that Manuel’s tenure as curaca was controversial. Some called him a “brujo” (male witch), and he was harshly judged for drinking too much. It will be a challenge for the son who follows him to reinvigorate waning aspects of Bora traditions.
By the time the grave was almost completely filled, the group had settled into mutual consolation in near silence. It was time for Yully, Doilith, Marianela, and me to depart. I had never witnessed a funeral with such raw emotion, but I didn’t mind it. It was a striking and welcome contrast to final farewells in western society where ceremonies are highly scripted and mourners are expected to “be strong” and shed few if any tears.