The Rama indians number only a few thousand dispersed throughout ten communities on the southern Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. The majority live on the tiny island of Rama Cay, a rock peppered with palm trees and palm roofs. On the south end of the island is the school, on the north, the church. It was in the school that we found our reason for coming to the island…
I had never been to a funeral on the coast. On this day I had the option of two to choose from. I chose the one on Rama Cay.
Yes, I did feel awkward taking photos at a funeral. Back home I wouldn’t even dream of it. But I was asked to chronicle the event, so it would have been even more awkward not to. At one point the reverend had the coffin maker pull the lid off and uncover the face of the body, “so you all can take a good picture”.
I had never seen a dead person before.
The majority of the Ramas are Moravian Christians. They sing a lot of songs during their ceremony. It started in the school with a group of people gathering along the inside of the building with the coffin as the centerpiece.
They then brought the coffin out of the school and carried it to the church on the north side of the island. The church ceremony lasted about 45 minutes. Prayers were spoken, songs were sung and friends and family paid their last respects to their lost neighbor, father, uncle, grandfather and friend.
The coffin was then carried to Despedida Point, the last place a person passes on the island before his/her final resting place in the cemetery on the mainland.
It is a 20-minute paddle trip from the island to the cemetery. We offered to let them load the coffin in our panga, but everyone agreed it would be more fitting to use a traditional sailing dory. Instead we carried about 25 mourners over in our boat.
There is no dock and there are no steps. The boats pull up to the short, muddy cliff below the cemetery, unload people, alive and dead, and make their way to the burial spot. The hole had been dug the day prior. Six feet deep with three feet of earth lying in a pile on either side of the hole. The coffin was set in place, a few songs were sung, and the deceased was lowered to the bottom.
Before sealing the grave, they tossed down a bag of the deceased’s possessions and clothes. Then everyone took turns tossing a handful of dirt into the hole. It seemed to be the final handshake, the last goodbye before letting the soul join his ancestors who have been peacefully waiting for his arrival.
The Rama people are survivors. They have been surviving for thousands of years, despite the hardships handed down from invading cultures, missionaries and politics. As individuals, we all have our time to go. As a people, the Rama will be here for a very, very long time.