AP PHOTOS: Grieving find new spaces for urns of Peru's dead

September 3, 2020 GMT

LIMA, Peru (AP) — A young woman caresses the grey marble urn containing her father’s ashes. Other urns sit, like people, carefully placed on the seats of a bus delivering them to their loved ones.

Burial was a tradition for both Peru’s indigenous Inca culture and the Spanish who colonized the country. But to prevent infection and save space in the capital’s overstretched cemeteries, people have begun to cremate the dead, fundamentally changing the rites and traditions that surround death.

Associated Press photographer Rodrigo Abd visited the homes of the bereaved to document how they were creating spaces for the remains of their loved ones. Many of the grieving were still in shock, shaken by the death of their mother, father, sister, brother or child, and by the unexpected need to find a place for their ashes in the home where they had lived.


Some created shrines for the dead, often in the places they most loved inside their homes. Others placed the ashes in a temporary space awaiting burial in a cemetery, sitting alongside everyday objects like bicycle parts, or on top of a shoe cabinet.

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Some say they are coming to like having the ashes close at hand, where they can place fresh flowers or place food and drink near their loved one’s remains. For others, the urn becomes the center of an empty space, a reminder of their grief and inability to carry-out centuries-old traditions.

The ashes of Alejandro Flores Rojas, 76, sit among wheel rims, gears and tools in his son’s bicycle workshop.

“For now my father will stay here in the workshop because these days I don’t have time to find a better place for him,″ said the son, 36-year-old Leonardo Neto Flores.

The urn with the ashes of a 68-year-old woman sits in a tiny room where she lived with her husband. The walls are covered with cardboard and there is barely enough space to move between the bed and the table bearing Maria Cristina Carmen’s urn. Her husband Rolando Yarlequé, who works as a carpenter, plans a neighborhood food sale to collect money to buy a space in a cemetery.

Yarlequé, an evangelical Christian, said he is looking forward to the day when he can bury his wife’s ashes, as required for her resurrection.

“If God is willing, he’ll return her to me, and we’re going to meet again in a paradise where there are no tears or sadness,″ he said.