The Dominican Republic is a country in which their people, the Dominicans, place a high value and respect on the deceased.
Upon a person’s death in the Dominican Republic the death has to be reported to the police. The police will then inform a person who is medically trained to examine the deceased person and certify the death and until that happens, the deceased body should not be moved at all. Once the examination has taken place, he or she will arrange for the deceased body to be taken to a place for autopsy to take place if necessary. Autopsies are mandatory for all deceased Dominicans that have died from non-natural causes.
Upon the death of a Dominican, they are most often taken to their local funeral director or home where a coffin is chosen. The deceased person is then placed in the coffin, covered in talcum powder and transferred to their family home where they are placed in a prominent position (often on the dining table which has a block of ice underneath the coffin to keep the deceased body cool).
A shrine takes over the family or living room in which the deceased person can be remembered through a display of many photographs of them and the television within this room removed for those wishing to visit the deceased person to pay their respects.
A carpa or tarpaulin is put up outside the family home for visitors to shield themselves from the heat and coffee and rum is often drunk during these visits.
Dominicans of upper middle class and upper class status are more likely to choose a funeral home for the viewing and visitation to take place of their deceased loved one.
Poorer Dominicans are likely to be ‘laid out’ in their home for one day only. The heat leads to fast decomposition of the deceased body and the viewing window within a deceased person’s casket may be designed to preserve the smell of the deceased body and keep insects at bay.
The wake can take place throughout the night, at which the demonstrable outpouring of grief can be audibly heard from the immediate family as they openly show their grief through wailing, so much it has been known for them to pass out. The next day, the hearse will be sent by the funeral directors and the deceased person will be transferred.
Inside the place in which a funeral takes place, Dominicans are quiet, pensive, where they gather together to honour their deceased loved ones, the gathering includes family members and others, some of whom have not seen each other for a number of years. Outside the place at which a funeral takes place in the Dominican Republic, it is more lively and represents a social occasion like many other events they come together for.
Dominican Republic funerals tend not to have a display of flowers, this could again possible be due to the heat and only close friends and the family of the deceased person usually attend Dominican burials.
The Dominicans tend to be traditional when dressing for a funeral with respect always at the forefront of their minds when laying their deceased loved ones to rest.
The colour black or very dark clothing is the preferred option at funeral ceremonies in the Dominican Republic, with men and boys wearing darks suits with ties or dark trousers, dark coats and dark formal shirts. Women and girls are likely to opt for dark dresses or dark skirts and dark blouses.
Once the funeral takes place, it is decided if the wake continues until mid-day the next day with the burial at a cemetery following that or if, after the funeral service, the family of the deceased person the wake finishes early the next morning at 7am before the deceased person’s burial takes place.
It is traditional that memorial masses take place over nine consecutive days after a person’s burial. This can also be referred to as ‘los nuevas dias’, ‘novenario’ or ‘la vela’. These masses provide an opportunity for close friends or family to attend and pay their respects to the deceased person and, whilst attendance is certainly not mandatory or expected, if the close friend or family was unable to attend the funeral service of the deceased person, it is a good way to be part of the funeral arrangements that take place in traditional Dominican Republic. The last one of these masses is often announced in the press and this marks the end of the mourning period for Dominicans’ funeral ceremonies.
This mourning period that last nine days to show the care, love and respect the Dominicans have for their deceased loved ones is often made up of three parts: three days of crying and reminiscing that demonstrates the outpouring of a person’s grief of their deceased loved one; three days of pensive thinking and this is often in silence; and the last three days are designed for acceptance and separation of the deceased loved one for those they have left behind so they can ‘release’ their departed loved one.
Whilst it is not mandatory or expected to attend one of the nine masses, it is important to note that Dominicans expect to ‘comply’ or ‘cumplir’ and pay their respects at the funeral or one of the masses of the deceased. It is a social expectation that is frowned upon if not followed.
Once the mourning period of nine days has ended, the carpa or tarpaulin is put back up, everyone wears black or white clothing and the living room at the family of the deceased person’s home is put back to the way in which it was set out before the deceased person was laid out for viewing and visits.