Can you help me understand this sign of mourning I saw in Honduras?
November 16, 2013 9:07 AM   Subscribe

When I was living in Honduras, I noticed that when a person died, the family would hang up a large piece of black fabric outside of their house or in their window. This banner would be cut into a shape that reminded me of a bow tie. This might be a long shot, but does anyone know what the history is behind this tradition?

People were very quiet and didn't much like to talk about the recently departed, so I didn't want to push and question them about their mourning procedures while I was there.

I would really like to know more about the background into this specific part of the mourning process (ie. I understand that it signified that a family was in mourning, but why that shape in particular?). Any insight into the cultural significance of this grieving process would be much appreciated! Also - I was living near the El Salvador border so a lot of the language/cultural customs were similar, if that helps.
posted by Paper rabies to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did it get taken down within a few days or so? I'd guess it's actually a pall or a shroud, cut in a shape appropriate for eventual use in the funeral. I think I've heard of them being hung out as a sign someone has died, though I'm not sure where.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:43 AM on November 16, 2013

Best answer: I noticed this in Honduras, too, not far from the Nicaraguan border.

Re Monsieur Caution: the ones I saw stayed up for a long time, definitely more than a few days.

It looks like the black bow over the door is also a tradition in Mexico: "A black ribbon tied into a bow goes on top of the front door's post, and the neighborhood knows that someone has died in that home"; here's a stockphoto image of Traditional black mourning bow above Mexican door.

I would guess that this is part of the tradition of black crepe in wreaths on the door (Victorians) and black ribbons on a flag as signs of mourning, but I haven't had much luck tracking down more details (relatedly: how did my Spanish get so rusty?!).
posted by Signed Sealed Delivered at 11:54 AM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also part of the tradition of the black armband worn to denote mourning; and the black stripe over a police badge to honor the death of a colleague. The black wreath on the house is rarely seen in the US.
posted by Cranberry at 12:02 PM on November 16, 2013

They also do that here in Mexico. It's one of those things that it's not too common that you see it all the time, but it's "normal" enough that I've been seeing it since I was a kid so I never thought about where the actual tradition comes from.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 6:20 PM on November 16, 2013

I believe that generally this used to be more common, even in Anglo culture, and is connected to the Victorian tradition of placing the house in mourning.
posted by dhartung at 11:37 PM on November 16, 2013

Response by poster: Huh, that makes sense. I think I got really fixated on the idea that it was shaped like a bow tie, I didn't think about it representing a black ribbon tied into a bow. Thanks crew! I'll leave this open in case anyone knows more about the symbolism.
posted by Paper rabies at 8:50 PM on November 17, 2013

Response by poster: In case anyone comes by this later - I asked my Colombian Spanish teacher if she had ever seen or heard of this before. She hadn't heard of the displays that I mention, but when I described the shape, she said it sounded like a black butterfly, which are symbols of death in Central and South American culture! Here's a short explanation on the cultural significance of black butterflies (not the most academic, but still interesting).

I still don't know for sure whether these banners are supposed to be ribbons or butterflies, but I'm finding out more about cultural mythologies, which is cool.
posted by Paper rabies at 1:05 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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