Pursuing natural health & thinking beyond the superficial. Deconstructing Culture.

Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron

Release Date: 2002
Language: English (also French, Italian and Spanish)
Certification: U
Runtime: 83 min
Directors: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook
Production Co: Dreamworks
Main Vocal Cast: Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi

…Instead of everybody wanting a ride and pound of flesh.

“They say that the history of the west was written from the saddle of a horse, but it’s never been told from the heart of one. Not till now. I was born here, in this place that would come to be called the Old West. But to my kind the land was ageless. It had no beginning and no end, no boundary between earth and sky. Like the wind and the buffalo we belonged here, we would always belong here. They say the mustang is the spirit of the West. Whether that west was won or lost in the end you’ll have to decide for yourself but the story I want to tell you is true. I was there and I remember. I remember the sun, the sky and the wind calling my name in a time when we ran free. I’ll never forget the sound and the feeling of running together. The hoof beats were many but our hearts were one.”

After we’re told the above we see a montage of a foal growing up as colt to a stallion, it’s sweet and endearing. He gets on with many other animals and they get on with him, there’s a gorgeous moment where he and others his age are drinking but feel the earth quake and while the others quickly move to their mothers he stays and ends up in the way of a buffalo stampede. He’s so innocent and friendly that the buffaloes don’t mind (and hey he was there first…) Evidently there’s social norms he doesn’t quite get but it’s not a bad thing and he knows the meaning of responsibility, inheriting his position as head of the herd, he loves his mother dearly and looks after everybody.

Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron

Unfortunately his naïveté and curiosity to be kind to other species changes his life when he finally meets some two-leggeds i.e. humans and militant humans at that.

We have an upstart on our hands fellas – deal with him.

This was not a creature meant for captivity, though technically that should apply to all, but some will keep trying to break free ‘til the end, even the bitter end and even if ‘freedom’ is not all it’s cracked up to be in this world when surrounded by those with other ideas.

Our protagonist (Spirit) is to be ‘broken in’ and domesticated for military use and transport commerce but he’s not having it. Method after method is used; chained in the corral, starved/dehydrated, ridden rodeo style/beaten – you’d think such treatment counterproductive to having an efficient servant but looking at history/present we know it’s a numbers game with tools being dispensable and replaceable; the utmost is done to break the spirit whilst damaging the body just enough so as to keep it basically functional – and it almost works at least temporarily but even in despair and depression some of us have a living spark.

His guts and endurance inspires the other horses which worries people and the captain mostly as he’s got a troublemaker on his hands and increases his already egotistical need to break this one to solidify his firm belief and teaching that everyone and thing can be conquered. It makes them feel big to pretend to be winners with all the backup, torture, weapons and resources, dishing it out and going schizo if any is returned or questioned.

During this period I began to think the horses were a parallel for native Americans; the taking of his mane reminded me of why those peoples and many Asian peoples traditionally have long hair and some Euro & Asian peoples have parts of their hair long, the obsession with cutting hair and removing body hair which isn’t unique to but rampant and regimented into normalcy in modern civilisations (and the use of it at some places/points as punishment for crime). Then the story (unproven, though they did recruit Montagnards in Vietnam for tracking) that during the Vietnam war US special forces tested on ‘Indians’ (native Americans) to find about extra-sensory perception and tracking ability via hair as an extension of the nervous system (there is searchable study on the nervous system part at least) and its ability to increase/maintain mental awareness. Additionally our lack of ability to grow it long again once significantly cut and as we get older in comparison to those with less modern lifestyles. Then whaddaya know? Yep here comes a ‘hostile’ or ‘noble savage’ aka native prisoner kept next to the four-legged ‘beast’.

But native Americans are people too.

Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron

What ensues is a bid for escape and a chase akin to the policeman stalking Valjean in ‘Les Misérables’ (1862).

When we’re shown the indigenous village Spirit’s former co-inmate lives in there’s a stark difference between the treatment and place of horses in their society. They roam the village and interact with the people. The former prisoner has his own horse (female) who catches Spirit’s attention, well he doesn’t have a choice really but they become bonded in more ways than one. Using what I’ll call the ‘reign method’ though it’s unclear whether she is called Rain or if the filmmakers are referring to the dual reign that is put on both horses so that Spirit is calmed, kept in check, doesn’t run off and to tame him (perhaps it’s both her name and the method). (The ‘Join-Up’ native American domestication method shows they tired the horses and put them between a rock and hard place so to speak to seem like they had a choice in following the people.) She’s very protective over her human companion but also interested in Spirit, who is still kept in a corral and undergoes several attempts at being ridden. But Spirit is a stubborn one ;) and I felt a heartfelt thank you when her owner acknowledged and admitted

‘I’m never going to ride you am I, and no one ever should’

and gave him his freedom, not that he should have tried let alone repeatedly. That said genuine friendship and having to rely on each other is another matter so Spirit does allow him at times.

Inverting the Western

I’m not generally a fan of Westerns, it’s not that I’m adverse to them I just find their plots & scripts formulaic and the results one dimensional. We came to this here land, which was up for grabs and fair game especially since the darkies who lived/still living here are backwards, impure, don’t speak English (though we can’t abide the English) and can’t/don’t make the best use of it, they make good gun fodder and servants though har har har. We pretty much rule the roost, though we fight and drink all day and shoot each other for over a misplaced look or cheatin’ at cards in the local brothel. The sheriff is good, the bandits is bad and the black fellas (‘Indians’) are wholesale pointless but saleable; lotsa assets here if you know where to look, willing to work hard and take what you can, who knows maybe one day it’ll rain. Noah style.

There are a handful that impressed me such as ‘Mackenna’s Gold’ (1969) (ironically seen as sub-par to many) but I prefer it when it’s used in a combination of genres such as the animes ‘El Cazador de la Bruja’ (2007) about a bounty hunter and witch who become close on a strange journey with stranger relationships and ‘Trigun’ (1995) about a hopeless but indefatigable optimistic pacifist who wants to use his guns to bring about peace and equality, attracts devastation wherever he goes but cares for everybody (and ‘Desert Punk’ which is adult and tacky/borderline humour, bit like the ‘South Park’ of Westerns.)

‘Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron’ turns all that upside down and tells the game to drop dead. The cavalry are the bad guys, the native Americans the good side, the animals are part of the land and have every right to live freely on/in it. The film proudly demonstrates a link between people, other animals and the land; a bond that when forgotten or desecrated allows us to also disrespect each other and everything becomes a struggle and power play.

In regards to the good and bad sides, it maintains simplicity and stereotyping (White Man is Bad, In’jin is Good – ignoring that native people also have classism, sexism, animal sacrifice etc) though thankfully it doesn’t do a Romeo & Juliet/Tony & Maria pastiche and bring one child from each side together to mend the divide as if that’ll save society and maybe even the world. I’ve read criticism that the film claims technology is bad; this refers to the development of the railways – I disagree, I think the film simply shows that people have used animals [and still do as well as other humans] as slave labour, that it is dangerous, unhealthy and that some animals will try to flee. Ultimately not having complex characters, side-switching nor multiple storylines doesn’t take away from the film, as aforementioned there’s enough clichéd Westerns of the opposite type for this one to stand out and still be very watchable.

Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron

This is not an anthropomorphic film.

Anthropomorphism – a lot of people look down on it, some offended by it, some think it’s not a good example for their children. I have no problem with it, I don’t mind relating to others either through my own eyes or theirs although I find it strange in some media how the main characters are humanistic animals but their pets/food/other animals are still portrayed as animalistic and/or inferior. It ranges from socio-political commentary such as in ‘Animal Farm’ (book version, 1945) to coming of age stories like ‘Charlotte’s Webb’ (book version, 1952) to the many animations we see everyday aimed at children and crazy ones like ‘Road Runner’/’Tom & Jerry’ (both 1940s+). ‘Spirit’ doesn’t use or need it. We only hear a character’s name once if at all and it’s a case of actions speak louder than words yet the names are still meaningful.

Spirit’s thoughts are given a narrator’s voice over once in a while by Matt Damon but overall it’s there only as a gentle aide-mémoire, to give a little explanation or introduction. The horses neigh and verbalise in what we consider their own tongue, their movement and mannerisms (excepting the facial expressions which are humanistic) have been paid attention to.

All throughout the film I thought “this horse has tremendous spirit” and it was only after I looked it up online (I hadn’t known what I was watching) did I find that his name was actually Spirit, that’s how well the story is told and how compelling it is.


The visuals are drawn in what I consider high quality yet simply shaded ‘old fashioned’ animation style with rich earth tones; warm rather than sharp and bold and yet still lends itself well to all the motion in the story. There’s both the feeling and look of elation, heart racing, speed/flying and it didn’t need obviously modern graphics to engross the viewer.

Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron

The soundtrack is very noticeable and vocalised by Bryan Adams (in the English and French versions) and the end theme a duet with Sarah McLachlan. Given that there is little dialogue in the film the lyrics provide commentary and enhance the situations – too much so at the beginning in my opinion but well paced and better than Bon Jovi’s ‘Blaze of Glory’ (for ‘Young Guns II’ – 1990 – though ‘Dead or Alive’ was my favourite song of theirs/his back when used to like them).


Whilst it’s formulaic it’s not predictable, I was surprised and grateful that it met my hopes, I’d been worried when the native Americans introduced/roped him to the lovely mare thinking “oh great, please don’t ruin this and do the whole he falls in love, settles down, has an heir, is the happy father.” (The Lion King – 1994 – was a great film, great if very long play and epic for its day but childish in comparison to this.) Heck I liked the mare – she’s spunky, coy and charming with a feather in her mane but I’m sick of the massive majority of media I’ve seen since 2000 focusing on the ‘circle of life’, we already had the birth/growing up scene for crying out loud. He does fall in love and there is heartbreak, tragedy, twists and an ending but it’s more fitting to the strong yet gentle wanderer/wayfarer theme that I wanted to see and did finally. All Spirit wants from the very start is to be happy at home and as the film continues he feels confused, torn, grieved but ultimately the beginning and the end is the same, it’s all about home and that feeling of belonging yet peacefully free.

Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron

I think its poignant that the focus of this story is a mustang – a breed of horses that came from escaped Spanish domesticated horses – rather than a ‘wild horse’. Spirit has a racial lineage/memory of being used/kept and then knowing what it is to be wild and has no intention of losing that [again].

I don’t usually agree with everything my favourite characters say/do/are and that’s to be expected but if I had been born a horse I can imagine being just like Spirit in this film. Characters showed their true colours when they looked at the horse and said ‘wow, he’s beautiful’ and next thought automatically = grab the ropes, trap him (and there’s profit to be made). Be a beacon, not a tool.


Black Beauty (1877) – written by Anna Sewell, became a classic and portrayed in several formats. Black Beauty remembers the love from his mother and the days pulling cabs in London, he recounts them in his retirement as examples about morality.

Black Beauty Horse

War Horse (1982) – written by Michael Morpurgo, has become a modern classic and as a former theatre goer I regrettably missed it on stage even moreso as I was one of the children who went to work at Nethercott Farm/House (Narracott Farm in the book) and so lived with the writer for a week, I even remember the room I stayed in (‘Candlelight’). War Horse is about Joey, a horse bought for use in World War I and his tale of pain and consistently being bought/sold and finally reunited with his human friend Albert.

War Horse Book

The Last Unicorn (book 1968 by Peter S. Beagle, film 1982) – in terms of pure force and feeling like Spirit, the animated version of this is one of the most evocative and moving films I’ve seen; about a unicorn who is thought to be the last of her kind but she doesn’t believe it and goes on a harrowing journey to find/rescue the others. It has a similar (more folksy) soundtrack and interestingly enough produced by people who thereafter went on to be Studio Ghibli who then made ‘Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’(1984) – both are very symbolic, magical films.

The Last Unicorn

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I haven’t done one of these lighthearted fashion in film posts for ages and since I’m up with nothing better to do (ok there are many better things but I can’t be bothered right now) due to an annoying, pampered Summer Solstice child who due to his birth date and misconceptions got everything whilst I […]

Nim's Island

Directed by: Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler
Released: 2008
Runtime: 96min
Rating: U

Having seen this recently and thinking I’d write about it today when I had some time to think I then realised that today is:

Day of the Imprisoned Writer
National Philanthropy Day (USA)

And thought ‘how fitting’.

One of the characters in this film is an imprisoned writer, though not in the traditional sense and seemingly of her own edifice but the root of her conditions are also linked to society. More on that later.

Day of the Imprisoned Writer is about authors who are likely to be/are persecuted for their work, all over the world political writers to poets are in danger and punished in many ways from surveillance, experimentation, imprisonment and death. PEN is an international organization that attempts to bring awareness to these issues and support such people.


‘Freedom to write, freedom to read’ – always check for the logo in books and if interested perhaps petition your favourite publishers to become PEN partners.

Looking at other reviews on this film it seems I’m in them minority in liking this film, perhaps because in this case I’m willing to overlook the ‘unrealistic’ plot (unusual circumstances are not usually a problem for me anyway) and plot holes because of the sincere (to me), witty storytelling and spirit.

Striving to be who you are, what you need to be and what you want to be

We’re treated to an animated (graphically) introduction by 11-year old Nim on the importance of stories in our lives and the loss of her mother:

‘That’s all my mother is to me now, just these stories…

‘The Oceanographer and the Great Blue Whale.’

Once upon a time, the oceanographer went out on the wide-open sea to find out what was in the stomach of the great blue whale. As my mother was staring into the mouth of the whale a mysterious ship came out of nowhere. It was called The Buccaneer Ship. It got much too close and it frightened the whale and the oceanographer was swallowed and taken by the sea. Dad felt that we should sail the ocean and look for that blue whale that, someday, that whale would bring her back to us. I think he just missed her. We both did.

By my 4th birthday, we had sailed around the globe, twice… Then one day, we found it. Our home.”

I think that really sets the scene for the film in addition to the opening line from her father:

“If we take care of our island Nim, our island will take care of us.”

Nim’s father is a marine biologist and following the death of her mother they decide to find a secluded, special place where they can live freely and peacefully – they are as self sustainable as possible but periodically a ship comes with supplies for things they can’t make/find themselves.

They are the only humans on ‘their’ island in the South Pacific and it truly makes a beautiful, charming and enchanting setting for the film. Nim is obviously home schooled and like those who in my own experience have had the benefit of such education is more able than her peers [would be] as well as more creative/having advanced vision (such as students from Steiner Schools). Her and her father’s lifestyle is mix in that they’ve gone ‘back to nature’ but with access to computers/electronic tools and seem to have found genuine contentment. Therefore they are very protective over their environment and Nim particularly wants to keep it just for them, perhaps she feels that any ‘trespass’ would disturb their balance, whilst I can understand that I do think that part of it is based on fear and the film illustrates it as the feeling she has under extreme duress.

Her father is obsessed with finding a rare/hypothetical plankton that he wants to name ‘Protozoa Nim’ (protozoa – being simple and/or single cell organisms, essentially containing apparently earliest traces of life), it seems to be his life work and so he goes off on one of his trips to find one, this time his gut feeling will win out, surely… He tries to get Nim to accompany him because he’ll be gone for two nights but she’s determined to stay and guard her sea-turtle friend’s birth since the previous year only one of the eggs survived. Nim has numerous animal friends including Chica the turtle, Fred the bearded dragon lizard who rides on her shoulder, Selkie the sea lion (I like that name since Selkie is the Celtic and old English word for seal or more specifically seals that shapeshift into humans/humanoids) and Galileo the pelican – all of the animals have helped her growth as a person and education in fundamental ways.

Nim's Island Film Review

Photo credits to: outnow.ch/Movies/2008/NimsIsland/

Nim is one of those children (modern and/or free spirited) who calls her parent by their name instead of title i.e. ‘Jack’, a practice which for all intents and purposes suits her practical nature, can you imagine trying to find your parent in a crowd by calling ‘Mum!’ ‘Dad!’ And having probably half the crowd turn to you in askance and not just because you’re a shouting fool ;)

Nim's Island Movie Review

On the other hand, in San Francisco, a very famous author called Alex Rover (Nim’s favourite author) writes about a protagonist of the same name; a fearless, brave and quintessential adventurer, the exact opposite of the author. The real Alex is agoraphobic (doesn’t like to leave her house, scared of travelling) and germophobic but thanks to technology doesn’t have to leave her precious and sanitary house. Interestingly enough and perhaps strange to some but Nim refers to her and Jack’s situation as a ‘scientist’s life’ which I can understand in old science, having understanding yet living harmoniously but Alex’s lifestyle is far more the modern scientist, clinical and sterile. How are the characters connected? Alex is able to write her novels by communicating with others and their research and so writes to Jack but she’s on the cusp of serious change whether she likes the process or not.

During Jack’s trip a storm breaks and in the bleakness that follows all he and Nim have are faith and determination. Additionally one of the bain’s of water expanses aka a cruise ship has decided the island will make a great excursion destination, and we quickly see how a pristine island looks as a tourist beach. Can Nim save her island from mass tourism and successfully reach out to those she loves at the same time?

“The world was designed to help people find each other” – Anita, ‘Read or Die’ (anime)

Especially with the internet.

When the ship comes into sight Nim feel’s the paradise is being invaded and is reminded of the story of her mother and the blue whale so she embarks on a mission to make the island seem unattractive and offputting. Jack is AWOL so she has to grow up some more but unfortunately gets injured, how is she going to manage and how can Alex help her?

The setting of the story was probably easier for many to watch as a fantasy but the onset of events (which I won’t describe) were probably harder to believe or stay with for many but I saw them as symbolic for transformation, doing what has to be done and ‘character development’ (which so many find important).

Like some authors I’ve come across Alex’s fictional character is a form of alter ego, semi-visceral, ethereal and acts either as a ghostly presence or conscience/mirror; he urges Alex to be more like him, more like the hero she and other others need/want her to be. Ironically her writing is so pervasive that people think her the living embodiment of the protagonist i.e. that she is a he and real rather than image. She shows the greatest growth in this film, not only does she have to persuade everybody that she is indeed ‘the’ Alex Rover, a writer, but she also has to become the adventurer they expect. Her journey to find Nim is the most fantastic and each stage sees her dropping or losing boundaries/trappings/crutches, layer after layer she escapes/lets go of inhibitions, fears, doubts and perceived safety nets, risking it all, for what? A dream? A stranger/girl across the ocean who admires and needs her and feels inexplicably connected to? Her challenges are both physical and mental, striving for something spiritual. She’s going for what seems impossible.

Nim's Island Film Movie Review

Jack is also trying to get home to Nim, despite anything and everything that happens he is sure, failure is not an option.

The ties that bind together the storytelling

This seems to be the area that really let people down and incurred a mixed/negative reception. There are some scenes that are ‘too much’ such as the lengths characters go to, I think they fit in with the target audience of the film and the genre(s). Another criticism some have is the use of sfx/cgi e.g. with the animals, being a person that doesn’t support the use of animals I have no problem with having to animate/accentuate their behaviour and I thought their antics/assistance delightful, I would have had problems with the mass lizard catapulting scene otherwise (reminding me of an old film where they ran over a goose’s tail and practically through other birds and numerous other examples).

Our neurotic author garners disdain as well since she really does throw herself in at the deep end pushing her limits in a way that most people wouldn’t/couldn’t but the drama in this film allows for that – she loses everything to gain everything.

Water is symbolic of transformation (and indeed purification, as is fire), travel and doors/portals hence space (the cosmos) is often referred to as a sea/ocean and death as a river so I find it fitting that so much happens in the water, because of it, it’s changing (violent/peaceful) nature and them living on an island. Apart from the volcano scenes I liked the underwater ones the most, not quite as awe inspiring or even transcendental as other films – even the old film She Gods of Shark Reef (1958) – but still perfectly representing both the force; attraction/repulsion between bodies e.g. the distance, and pull/barrier between people.

Nim's Island Film Movie Review

The soundtrack isn’t too obvious but noticeable in a background enhancing way, at times raising in crescendo but never taking over and is purely instrumental (I think it’s quite precarious determining suitability for vocal or even pop songs in films, and the inclusion of those would have lightened the mood a tad too much here).

There are many great quotes although I’ve tried to limit them to the most poignant imo to save the significance for if/when you watch it :) and if little else the script does credit to the film in conjunction to some of the acting which is quite hammy and akin to gesticulating whilst talking. I liked that and thought it added a comic element making the whole thing more watchable and maintaining good pace. Jodie Foster is a fine actress and hasn’t failed to impress in the films I’ve seen her in, I’m used to her playing serious and sometimes gritty roles but here she has an element of physical comedy, ‘lighthearted’ yet dramatic grandstanding with underlying gravity – a type of acting I mostly remember her using in Bugsy Malone (1976) but there as a cynical minx, here it was gratifying to see her play a themed character again and so well (and as an adult rather than child creepily playing sexualized adult). Gerard Butler plays both Jack and the fictional Alex, doing so quite convincingly though both are gregarious. He doesn’t feature as much as Nim and the real Alex but at least he changes his accent between roles and I liked hearing a bit of ‘Scottishness’ from him! Abigil Breslin does a heartfelt job as Nim, a girl who is not really alone and yet is quite solitary and scared; strong yet vulnerable and the obvious hero of the story who is fighting desperately hard to save the island, its inhabitants, the people she loves, herself and the entire environment of ‘home/safety’.

Nim's Island Film Movie Review

The End

I can relate in ways to all of the characters and think that viewers can do the same particularly with Nim and Alex – even if it means having to remove their circumstances first to try and understand what they’re going through. If that is still too unlikely at least we can look at Nim’s Island as a ‘decent fantasy flick’ although to many ‘nothing special’. I don’t think it has to be different or benchmark to be special, I can see why people expected an immersive/grandiose epic given the cast/setting/current standards but like the film Bridge to Terabithia (2007) I think this story is more about the characters involved and what they go through internally/how they feel though BoT also emphasized how we can affect/effect the environment around us and is more ‘slice of life’.

I haven’t read the book by Wendy Orr or seen the sequel but I am interested now due to this film. I appreciate the way that Nim and Jack’s surname is ‘Rusoe’ like Robinson Crusoe and hence linking to Swiss Family Robinson however those are more serious and survivalist, the latter being academic and in the storytelling the thematic difference being that those stories were about people lost/travelling to a strange place(s) whereas Nim’s Island is already home and is ultimately a ‘feel good’ film despite the hardship.

Sometimes the unlikeliest of people become/have to be heroes because even the strongest of us need help, who will save the heroes if the people they care for don’t respond?

‘Be the Hero in Your Own Life Story.’

Lawmakers certainly choose interesting times and dates don’t they.

Armistice Day
Remembrance Day
St Martin’s Day (parable)
Veterans Day (I’m not uncaring about this but am not particularly impressed, no one had/has any business fighting when they’re practically fighting themselves if they’d look past appearances & physical differences, and try to understand why they’re disposable & replaceable pawns whilst some people/industries find it lucrative, let alone those who relished/relish and make things like rape an ‘occupational hazard’ and that’s not even the risk of being raped by the ‘enemy’, people at the war zones etc it’s the very real risk of being raped by one of your own [first/repeatedly]. If you can’t decline at first, then after being trained & armed the majority should have said ‘no’, similar to the German people apparently losing faith in their govt as they saw it wasn’t what they’d been told/promised. A million people marched against going to war with Iraq, Tony Blair et al went ahead anyway but you’ve got to try and do your best not to participate in causing/maintaining suffering.)

And ‘funnily’ enough Singles Day; birth, life and recycling (death here) marches on regardless of fighting but the difference is that many more are separated.

The post I wrote about WWI is HERE covering some of the social aspects.

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Coral Castle was a surprise destination on a trip to Florida Keys so I didn’t have time to research, I’d heard of the name but knew nothing else so didn’t know what to expect other than the assumptions that it was a castle and made of coral. Wrong on both counts. Since I don’t drive […]

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Happy Halloween The cat jumped over the moon Brew Gone Wrong Superstitious Cats As usual, unless stated otherwise all images I post (except film screenshots) are mine so don’t use without permission (photos) / credit (artwork). Thanks :-)

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Last year around this time there was an existential pull/situation which didn’t happen but may have been better if it had, temporarily at least. There was baited breath by those around this year from last month, eagerly anticipating and salivating as is their way. Many countries and cultures have festivals that celebrate death, ancestors, regeneration, […]


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