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Voyage to Chiapas – Day 3



San Juan Chamula


MapSan Juan Chamula (Saint John of the dead [or dried] lake) has over 50,000 inhabitants and is located just 10 km from San Cristóbal de las Casas.  It is in the Chiapas highlands and boasts an altitude of 7,200 feet.  The inhabitants are indigenous Tzotzil Maya and speak Tzotzil.  They hold a unique autonomous status with Mexico meaning that no outside police or military are allowed in the village.


P1000723P1000724Photography in Chamula is very difficult as parents will hide their children or they themselves will turn away as soon as they spot a camera.  Photography within the church is strictly prohibited as is photographing any religious ceremonies outside the church in the square.  They can, and will, ask you to leave town if you violate the rules.  The photos posted here of inside the church and the ceremony outside were found on the internet and were not taken by us.


San Juan Chamula 3The church of Chamula (The Temple of San Sebastian) is filled with burning candles and copal resin incense.  There are no pews in this church and the floors are covered with pine bough rushes,.  The combination of candles, incense and pine creates a very pungent, smoky atmosphere.  Even though there are statues of saints along the walls and a sacerdote (priest) present, what you see here is a special form of Catholicism.  It is a blend of Maya customs, Spanish Catholic traditions and local innovations.


San JuanAt the altar are Curanderos (healers) that will diagnose all forms of ills.  The remedies range from candles or certain flowers to the sacrifice of a live chicken.  The Curanderos and the petitioners alike drink ceremonial cups of pox (pronounced posh) a blend of distilled sugarcane and pineapple.  The prayers are chanted in the native Tzotzil.


P1000720P1000725The women of Chamula are excellent wool weavers as wonderfully demonstrated by the distinctive traditional clothing of heavy wool skirts for them and the woolen vests worn by the men.


San Lorenzo Zinacantán

P1000751San Lorenzo Zinacantán is about 7km west of Chamula.  Like Chamula, the people of Zinacantán are Tzotzil Maya.  Zinacantán means "land of bats" in the Nahuatl language.  The people here speak Tzotzil and they call their city Sots’leb, also meaning "land of bats." The people here are not camera shy as in Chamula.  They even seemed to enjoy watching the crazy tourists.

P1000749P1050681Today the flower trade is the primary vocation of the residents.  As you drive into the city you see the hillsides dotted with greenhouses.  It was the most colorful community we visited as exemplified by their brilliant red, blue and purple clothing embroidered with large flowers and accented by colorful tassels.

Templo_de_San_Lorenzo,_ZinacantánactealWe arrived in time for the feast of San Sebastian which runs from January 18 to 22.  The church here is San Lorenzo and the proceedings appeared to my eye to be yet another step further away from Catholicism.  Here the men are in charge of every feast serving one year in any specific position.  There are three positions that can be held.  They are:  Martomoetik (administrator), Alperesetik (standard bearer) and Moletik (teachers).  The men have to pay to achieve any of these positions.  There are 12 Martomoetiks, 12 Alperesetiks and 6 Moletiks.

P1000740P1180004The Martomoetiks buy whatever is needed for the feast, e.g., flowers, candles, pine boughs, etc.  The Alperesetiks buy and prepare everything outside of the church, including fireworks.  The Moletiks teach the younger men the roles of each position.


P1000737P1000746One of the events during the celebration was the gathering of food for winter.  The Alperesetiks go to each vender using stuffed squirrels as a threat to give them bounty to store for the winter.  After the bounty has been gathered, the men climb the "naked tree" with baskets or crates.  Young men on the ground throw the stuffed squirrels up into the tree, where they are caught and stored in the crates.

Day 4 – Amatenango del  Valle


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