The wooden cross: sacred figure for the ascent of the soul in Afro culture
By clothing-bag, 11/05/2022

The wooden cross: sacred figure for the ascent of the soul in Afro culture

The wooden cross in the Afro culture in Chocó constitutes a sacred figure that accompanies the soul in its ascent to the spiritual world; For Amable Hernández, an 85-year-old carpenter, a resident of Bellavista, municipal seat of Bojayá, this symbol is the most important part of the transit between the two worlds, which is why he has dedicated more than 60 years of his life to the elaboration of this an essential element from the time the person dies until the grave is forgotten or washed away by urbanization that makes many rural cemeteries disappear.

“While the soul of the deceased is on earth, every night he gets up to pray on his cross, until Saint Peter allows him to enter heaven, which, in general, is after nine days, depending on the amount of sins committed. they should forgive them; That is why it is essential that it be placed on the feet, because since the dead person is face up, the soul when the cross is raised faces him, if it is placed on his head it remains on his back and he does not know where to pray. He comes out walking like a soul in pain”, he affirms.

Amable assumed this commitment because it was born from his heart to preserve this tradition, which allowed him without looking for it to be recognized in the region as the man of the crosses, a task that he assumes with great pride.

“I started as a boy, seeing that everyone who died was given a cross, I asked why that was done and my godfather explained to me that this sacred symbol accompanies souls to pass to the other world, just as it helped our Lord Jesus Christ to overcome sin and that motivated me, it is a way to help”, he adds.

To work the cross, the most important thing is the type of wood, since it is usually left outdoors; “When I was a little boy, I saw that everyone who was dead had their cross made of truntago wood, because that one holds more water and is the one that lasts the longest on earth, when I was young when I started I also made it from that stick,” he said .

There is an event that marked his life, reaffirming his commitment to this sacred symbol, because "in my youth it happened in Villanueva (village of Vigía del Fuerte) that a man was buried without the wooden cross, at night there was a gale and the corpse disappeared, the sheets were left hanging on a tree and the hole in the ground was taken by the enemy (the devil), from then on I was always aware that the cross would not be missing in any burial, ”he says Friendly

La cruz de madera: figura sagrada para el ascenso del alma en la cultura afro

Over the years, traditions are transformed within ethnic communities. This, although still preserved, has undergone some modifications.

“For some time now, the fashion for cement crosses, vaults and tombstones has come, so the wooden cross is placed from the first day until the end of a year, there it is changed for a cement or a tombstone. ”, assures the man with the crosses.

These manifestations are based on the idea of ​​the African muntu, which is the extended family, which not only lives here, but also moves to the beyond, where those who leave come to wait for those who stay and therefore It is always necessary to say goodbye to them, preparing them so that they leave calm and in peace, and not remain disturbing the community.

“If the cross is not placed on the dead person, he has nowhere to pray the nine nights and then his soul remains wandering around and disturbing people, that is why I always make the cross for the one who dies, also because the family in Through his pain, he doesn't have time to take care of it and I do it that way because I like it”, pointed out the old carpenter.

He does not remember how many crosses he made over more than 60 years, but he does remember the devotion with which he still does it. “I do it because that has been left since ancient times, as soon as I heard that someone dies I get ready to make his cross, regardless of whether he is known or not, nor does it matter what town he is from; I always make them the cross of him, ”concluded the guardian of the cross.

According to Máxima Asprilla, alabao singer, “for Afro-descendant communities, death is a gateway to the other world, a place where the spirits of our ancestors are present; part of life itself and a necessary step to enjoy the eternal presence in the Lord, hence the importance of preparing for that transition and everything is done around the wooden cross that helps the soul to free itself from its sins and pass clean,” he said.

Transit to the other world

In the practice of the rites of the Afro culture, during the transit to the other world, a sequence must be followed, where the first thing is to prepare the body; In addition to clothing, it is essential that you wear a rosary and a cord (a white cord with seven equidistant knots that is tied around the waist of the dead person so that with it they can climb to heaven), the knots symbolize the seven days of ascent and the others the remaining two are death and arrival in heaven.

“The cord must be well placed, not too tight so that it can be removed easily and the knots well made so that it holds and reaches them when stretching the hand, the height of each of the family members and friends is measured and lay on the sides of the box; so the dead man knows that he cannot take them, they are always looking for company. At the wake they pray with the wooden rosary and after the burial the wooden cross is placed on it so that the soul can continue with the preparation while the novenas are performed,” Amable pointed out.

In the Afro-Chocoan idiosyncrasy, the wooden cross marks the place where the grave is located, watches over the body and the soul, in this way, it allows the redemption of the sins of the soul through prayer; without it the soul will never rise to eternity.

Thus, understanding that death is a step, the journey of a path towards the afterlife, preparation and accompaniment are needed. The passage to the afterlife lasts several days, beginning on the day of death when the soul leaves the physical body and ending nine days later, when the soul is ready to leave this world.

There is no doubt that there is a relationship between the living and the dead that does not end with the death of the person, but simply transforms, but that lasts over time and does not matter in what way it is lived, but it will always be latent, therefore in the culture, the way is sought for the deceased to have a transition as pleasant as possible to the afterlife.

In popular Afro belief, the people who attend wakes and funerals the most are those who receive the least accompaniment at the time of their death, and Amable Hernández, sitting on a small wooden bench making a cross for someone recently deceased, hopes not to suffer the same luck.