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Vestige of Another Culture

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New Mexico women wore the tápalo (mourning shroud) through the mid-twentieth century.

In New Mexico the tápalo, (mourning shroud) was the requisite garment for women to wear for one full year after the passing of a loved one. It was a symbol of mourning through the mid-1900s. The vertical garment covered the body from head to ankle. The tápalo can be traced to the cultural attire of the Moors. After several centuries of Moorish occupation in Spain this custom trickled down to the distant settlements of the Spanish empire. The tápalo is reminiscent of the hijab and burka worn by women in the Muslim world today.

A Family Heirloom

The tápalo was such an important part of a person’s legacy that it was often listed in their will. This legal step was taken to ensure that the heirloom would be handed down to the next woman in the family. The tápalo was traditionally given as a wedding gift from the groom to his new bride. When he died his wife would wear the tápalo at his funeral and for the preceding year. The black shawl was also worn by other women in the community. Like the widow, it was customary for the women to wear the mourning shroud as they went to express their condolences.

Moorish Customs

As these women donned their mourning attire they paid their respects with the traditional protocol. They would express an emotional display with the weeping widow. The mourners would share in a wailing tone of endearing remembrances for the deceased. This practice is known as a requiebro ( to lament the memory of the dead). The reciting of dirges for the dead is also a Moorish custom. The typical requiebro by a widow included: Ya tofuiste y me dejaste sola. ¿Que voy a hacer sin tí vida mía? Se nublara mi casa enternamente. (My house will be forevermore without light. What will I do without you, My Beloved? You’ve left me alone end desolate.)