Peru's dancing undertakers take sting out of death

Peru's 'dancer's of death' show off intricate footwork as they bear a coffin to its final resting place (Ernesto BENAVIDES)
Peru's 'dancer's of death' show off intricate footwork as they bear a coffin to its final resting place (Ernesto BENAVIDES)

Dancing to the tunes of a local brass band, four pallbearers carry a coffin through the streets of a town in western Peru.

Headed for the cemetery, the so-called "dancers of death" show off intricate footwork with a coffin delicately balanced on their shoulders.

It is a ritual meant to take the sting out of death for funeral goers, who clap and dance, many through tears, and spray the coffin with beer from shaken bottles.

The practice is a relatively new one in Peru, started about eight years ago in a part of the country where funerals tend to be more festive than solemn, funeral home director Alex Canales -- a pioneer in the field -- told AFP.

"We try to give the family members the best experience," he said in Huacho, a town of some 171,000 residents from where the practice spread to other parts of the South American country.

In Huacho, Canales's dancing undertakers perform about 20 services a month, at a cost of some $106 per ceremony, he said.

- 'Remember him with joy' -

This month, AFP observed one such funeral for Marcelino Jamanca, a local farmer who died of cancer at the age of 72.

Four pallbearers in white shirts, ties and black pants carried his coffin from his house, through the village and to the cemetery to the rhythm of huayno and cumbia music.

"His passing hurts us, it hurts that we will never see him again, but we have to remember him with joy, as he was, with what he loved most: music," said granddaughter Grace Florentine.

The festive procession lasted about 90 minutes, with breaks for the coffin bearers -- university students, factory workers or taxi drivers who rehearse and carry coffins in their spare time.

"It's a hard job, because there are some (deceased) who are heavy ... but we have to do our best, with the will to dance," said Alexis Marengo, 35.

cm/vel/mar/mlr/st