Activity #3: Death in Nicaragua – Katelyn Carless

In this activity, I will be reviewing death in Nicaragua. The traditional death in Nicaragua is handled very different from how we handle death in the US. It is more of a celebration of life that happens quickly after the individual dies. Death is honest and real in Nicaragua (Goehring, 2012). Looking at Susan Oprett Long’s article about Japanese and US death customs, she shares that Japan and the US have common notions on what is considered a good death. She stated, “a belief that death was, or should be, a personalized experience appropriate to that person’s values and life conditions.”  A person’s values can be seen religiously or spiritually. American’s are seen to have more of a Christianity background and people in Japan said “we don’t believe in the idea of Heaven like Christians do, so death is much more frightening for us” (Long, 2004).

In Nicaragua, a death is heavily influenced by spirits. Once a person dies, the body must be attended to within 24 hours. There is no embalming, so the spouse is normally in charge of preparing the body by washing and dressing it. In true Nicaragua culture it is very important for the body to never be left alone. Since Nicaragua is a low income country, it is common for the body to be put in a wooden box because a casket is too pricy. The night immediately following the death the family has a vela in their home. A vela is a lively celebration for the deceased. To begin, the family would rent around a hundred plastic chairs. These chairs are to be placed by the body so people can sit and reflect and not leave the body alone. In America, we are used to funerals which can be very sad and filled with many tears but a vela is an all night affair that celebrates. The guests are expected to stay for a long period of time so it is normal for guests to bring a gift of coffee and bread to the vela. The coffee’s purpose is to keep people up all night. A vela would start in the evening around dusk and end at sunrise. During the night, consumption of alcohol is not frowned upon. American’s may see that as rude but drinking at a vela keeps the mood alive and the happy guests can help family members stay in good spirits.

During the vela, the body is not to be left alone because this may cause bad spirits to harm the body preventing it from reaching heaven. Some Nicaraguan’s believe it is dangerous for pregnant women or people with an unhealed cut to attend a vela because the dead body emits something that could kill the individual with an open wound or hurt the unborn child. If someone has a cut it would be covered before attending and pregnant women can cover their stomachs with a  sheet if they want to attend (Paul, 2008).

At sunrise, the vela ends and a funeral service starts. Usually male family members will carry the body through town on their backs. It also has been seen that a horse carriage can carry the body and the family members would follow behind. This carriage would be covered in black and only the horses could be in white. Either way, the body is taken to the cemetery where the family members have dug a hole and lower the body in and then shovel dirt back on the box themselves. It is a very emotional and personal time for the family. A death in Nicaragua is a very spiritual time and I think the celebration of the body has more personalized value to it than a traditional funeral we see here in the US.


Paul. Funerals. July 9, 2008. Web. Retrieved July 24, 2015. <>

Goehring, Deborah. No Family Left Behind. April 24, 2012. Web. Retrieved July 24, 2015. -customs/>

Susan Oprett Long. Cultural Scripts for a good death in Japan and the United States: similarities and differences. 2004.

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