Tucson All Souls Procession 2011

November 7, 2011

Last night was Tucson’s annual Day of the Dead celebration.  Some of our photos (and many others) can be viewed on Flickr’s ASP group page:


As usual, we walked in the procession but skipped the finale.  This year’s finale was held at a new location, so the procession route was longer (2 miles one way).  We left it at Stone Ave., after it had made the high-energy traverse through the 4th Avenue underpass and had begun to unravel a bit.  This year’s crowd (walkers and spectators) was a bit more somber and most costumes and props were very traditional.  The Urn and its Guardians and other attendants are draped in different “theme” colors and costumes each year.  This year’s colors were especially beautiful appropriate – deep purple, lavender, and white.  The attendants wore angel-winged masks on top of their heads.
The Urn group is usually spectacular, with drummers, stilt-walkers, and dancers; Guardians circulate through the crowd with tiny Urns, gathering photos, notes, prayers, and other small items that will be transferred to the big Urn and burned.  This year they dispensed with most of that, leaving only the big Urn, the traditional beast-masked man who pulls it, and a small contingent of dancers riding behind it.  This left no doubt that the group who organizes the procession has decided to devote most of their attention and energy to the Finale (a performance, not a participatory event), and let the Procession take care of itsef for the most part…which it may indeed be ready to do, since creative costumes, carettas, and decorations from “ordinary people” were abundant and beautiful this year.  The ASP is an evolving event, and is so completely contrary to Tucson’s increasingly conservative, xenophobic, and confrontational culture that it’s a miracle that it happens at all.

We chose a relatively quiet place to walk, next to the big red AIDS  banner.  Curved in the shape of a memorial ribbon, it’s attached to poles and takes a large and well-coordinated group of people to carry it.  The center is an island of quiet open space, which people occasionally enter to take pictures or exchange greetings.

Since the night was chilly (an unusual early cold front brought rain the day before), I wore a heavy hemp/cotton dress and a rebozo.  The photo shows last-minute additions to the iron black cat mask:  “fangs” made from a deer antler tine and a large catfish bone; tiny pawprint milagros made from copper foil on metallic-painted stampbord, and the spangled fabric pennants that I made two years ago for the copper jaguar mask.  I carried a copper flute (a homemade hybrid instrument based on a Bb tin whistle but with two extra holes so it is tuned like a recorder) and a short walking stick made from an agave stalk, to which I attached one of my iron bells.

All Souls Procession 2011 Costume

All Souls Procession 2011 Costume


2 Responses to “Tucson All Souls Procession 2011”

  1. Melanie said

    Hi there —

    I’m part of the Spirit Group that escorts the Urn. There were actually 16 of us around the Urn collecting prayers and another 11 of us ahead of the Urn passing out paper for prayers. The stilters (with the wings-masks on their heads) stilt and perform behind the Urn. I’m sorry that you missed us during the Procession! We collected more messages for the Urn this year than I think we have in any other year.

    Trust me, the Procession has not been abandoned by the organizers! The Community Spirit Group (Urn Attendants) focuses primarily on the Procession and is deeply committed to receiving the messages for the Urn and honoring those who bring them.


    • ironwing said

      Dear Melanie,
      Thank you for commenting and for contributing information about the Spirit Group. I did not know that there were members who ran ahead of the urn to interact with the crowd as you describe – but I’ve never attended as a spectator. This seems like a good idea to me and may encourage some of the bystanders to participate next year. But my observation (which isn’t really a complaint, since I understand that this is an evolving even that has grown dramatically in recent years) still stands. When I attended my first ASP in 2006, there were stiltwakers and costumed Spirit Group members distributed throughout the procession itself, collecting items in small urns, performing, or soliciting donations for MMOS. But their primary function (intended or not) was crowd control. No matter how well-behaved everybody is, there is bound to be congestion with such a large crowd on narrow streets. The Spirit Group performers helped to keep the lines of spectators from encroaching upon the street and allowed the procession to move evenly, without getting bogged down and muddled as happened frequently this year.

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