Remembering Island Cemeteries on All Hallows Eve

Fortunately for me, my travels to the beautiful All Saints Day on the beautiful islands of Guadeloupe is an important day, or days, as it is commemorated over two days. Fortunately for me, my stay on the Islands included those days.

Several years ago, my travels to the beautiful Caribbean island of Guadeloupe fell on All Saints Day (November 1), an important day, or days, as it is commemorated over two days.

Whether you follow the Celtic traditions of All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day later designated by the church, or simply enjoy a scary costume on Halloween, it’s a good time of the year to do some cemetery visiting.

Come with me as I remember the very special days spent with several families on Guadeloupe who hold the traditions of that community in remembering their ancestors. Let me share with you the cemetery where my hosts visited ancestors on rue de la Republique on the island of Grande Terre.

Cemeteries are located near the ocean and occasionally need some shoring up as you can see with the walled area. Most graves are aboveground.

On All Saints Day, it is a tradition of the local community to clean the gravestones of their ancestors, add fresh planting near the graves and whatever else may be needed for maintenance. The cemetery visit is usually followed by a large family gathering at home or in a nearby restaurant.

Next, we’ll stop by a cemetery built on a hill, Morne-à-l’Eau, with mausoleums in the checkerboard black/white architecture familiar in the West Indies. On the eve of All Saints, the cemetery is lit up at night with candles to remember the dead. Through the night, hundreds of cars drive by in a slow parade style. Food trucks are lined up in front of the cemetery ready to feed the visitors paying homage to their ancestors.

Large families walk together and young couples stroll hand in hand, carrying flower bouquets to leave at the grave sites of ancestors.

Finally, let me take you to a graveyard with no headstones. It is Cimetière colonial de la place des raisins clairs. It was unmarked and forgotten until time, erosion and weather unearthed bones. Those bones continue to come to the surface on an irregular basis. This was the location of a graveyard for the enslaved, perhaps as late as mid-century in the 1800’s.

The cemetery is now marked off by barricades. Sunbathers enjoy the beach immediately adjacent, and likely many are unaware that they are soaking in sunray’s next to important and solemn history.

Keeping the tradition of gathering after visiting and cleaning gravestone on All Saints Day, we joined other family members and friends. We dined together at an oceanside restaurant eating fresh seafood and listening to the sound of the waves.

There were memories shared, talk of those who had passed and enjoyment in the company of one another.

Have you explored cemeteries in your travels? Do they have a history that speaks to you? How will you be spending All Hallows Eve?

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