Friday, June 06, 2008


Chamula was ALL I hoped it would be and more! I had read for months about the different villages and this was HIGH on my list. I read that inside the church that the floors are covered with pine needles and candles and that description immediately brought to my mind's eye the vision of Chichicastenango in Guatemala that I will NEVER forget. It had a HUGE impact on me............So, the FIRST image when arriving in Chamula was the cemetary and the old church which is no longer used. Notice all the Mayan crosses on each gravesite. I was enchanted with this image.
I must say I am the most "alive" when I'm in the villages and interacting with the people. I love to see how they live and I'm always delighted to learn something new about the beautiful people of Mexico. This village was no exception.
Walking to the "new"church on a street I passed these black sheep right in the village - isn't it a pastoral scene? And look at how they have put the fence together! One of the BIG impressions of Chiapas was the use of so much wood and that it is so forested. Although I did read that the jungle has lost 80% of its trees - darn.
I wanted to include this picture because thos black sheep are a huge part of the economy of Chamula. The men wear these shirts of black wool (notice how fuzzy they are) and the women and girl children wear the black fuzzy skirts. Kiddingly we referred to them as the "fuzzy people". Actually when the rains from Hurricane Arthur came to San Cristobal on Friday and Saturday I would have liked one of those black fuzzy shirts to keep me warm.

The "elders" or officials of the town were in the church when I arrived and were helping to move statues and tables. I couldn't resist this photo, but' if you notice, I almost always take the photos of the people from behind so as not to compromise their belief that photos steal their souls.
I purposely didn't crop this photo because I wanted you to see how large the church yard in front of the church is......the Spaniards did this purposely because initially they didn't allow the "savages" into the church - only the Spaniards. Almost never will you see a church without a large front churchyard. It still makes me mad and sad that the people were treated so badly. BUT on to the experience of being inside the church.
First of all when trying to enter, we were stopped and it was necessary to have a 30 peso ticket to enter (only for tourists) and again, this is used to maintain the church which is no longer associated with the Catholic diocese. So, that accomplished, I stepped into another world. A spiritual world that was full of incense, smoke, candles for as far as the eye could see on the floor and chanting by the people. It was surreal, moving and incredibly beautiful.
Groups of people had tapers (thin candles), candles in glass containers, bottles of cold drinks and sometimes food displayed on the floor where they kneeled to pray. No pews in this church - everything, with the exception of the statues were on the floor. The statues of the saints were encased in glass and wood nichos on tables and there must have been several hundred statues.
I managed to step around and through people, always being careful not to disturb anyone to wind my way to the front altar. It was a continuation of all I had seen before. The chanting was private by each group but the groundswell of the rhythm was mesmerizing. I had recently read articles on Bhutan and I thought, wow this could be anywhere in Asia..........
As I left the church I literally had this loss of energy and sinking feeling and had to go get something to drink and sit down. I was shaking. So were many of the people in our group and I don't know what THAT was about.............
While sitting and having an orange drink these two little boys came up and were hungry and wanted food...........of course I bought food for them.........I saw a lot of hunger in Chiapas among the street children and couldn't resist any hungry child I saw. Some got food and one little girl got an ice cream cone from Burger King - I wish you could have seen her smiling face. It reminded me of Creel where the children were not only hungry but cold. I'll never forget that and I still send "Coats to Creel" every year. Behind the boys you see the market which was mostly fruits and vegetables BUT I managed to find a few artisans and I did help the economy of Chamula.
One of the few photos I took from the front, but I couldn't even see this woman's face and I loved her radishes. Wonder if she knows about the "night of the radishes" in Oaxaca? Ha.
Heading out of town, beautifully displayed on a wooden cart on the street, was platanos, lychees and tuna, which is the fruit of the nopal cactus. The beauty of the displays made in the mercado could put merchandisers in the US to shame............You'll see what I mean when I post some photos of the mercado in San Cristobal.
By the way, upon meeting each other in Chamula, people greet you with "How is your heart?" not how are you? It is a very, very spiritual place!


Steve Cotton said...

Thanks for sharing. Next?

Racial discrimination is not the only bar to worship. In 19th century England, the poor were often restricted from attending services with "proper" folk. One reason for the rise of the Salvation Army.

Babs said...

Interesting Steve, I don't think I knew that. I just don't understand discrimination - I am blessed that I was born to parents who raised me to accept is a great gift!

Islagringo said...

Coats to Creel? Can you tell us more? Send via email if you want.

Unknown said...

The first time I was in Chamula, my reaction was the same as yours: an intensely spiritual place and people.

The second time, my experience was completely different. Three of us were threatened, physically abused, and terrorized by the town elders. It was the first time in nearly 30 years in Mexico that I was so frightened. I will not go back to Chamula again.

By the way, the red fruits in the photo aren't lychees. They're rambutans. The two fruits are almost identical, but you can always tell the rambutans by the long hairs on the red skin!

Mexico Cooks!

Babs said...

Wayne - it isn't a "formal" program. I just call it that...I buy coats at the Tuesday Tianguis box them up and send them to the manager of the hotel I stayed at in Creel and he sees that they are distributed to the kids. I've started to do the same thing in the campos here as there are plenty of cold kids in the countryside here too. It's such a little thing but I can't stand to think of a cold or hungry child....I'll never be able to go to some countries because of that, I guess.

Babs said...

Patalarga - I'm SO sorry to hear that you had such a frightening experience. Could you send me more details, if you wish, to my email address -
Very surprising information.......