Friday, March 13, 2015

Chiapas - The Tzotzil Village of Chamula

 Chamula is a village about a fifteen minute ride from San Cristobal.  It is very unique in that the tribal elders control the village in a positive way.  We were told, before departing the bus, that no one was to take photos of the children, along with the fact that we were not allowed to take photos inside the church.  We all listened, except for one woman who immediately jumped off the bus and took a photo of two children!  Aaargh.  I have a photo of the woman taking the photo because I could hardly believe my eyes.

The cross is a very significant image in Chiapas.  Not a Catholic cross but a native cross to earth, wind and fire.  They are everywhere.  As you can see in the photo above, each gravesite has a wooden cross.  Always painted in a turquoise-green color. 
Walking around the village was a delightful experience.  We saw tribal elders in their black sheepskin jackets walking around.  Sheep grazing everywhere and it was market day.  Oh my, the textiles were magnificently colorful.  Of course I bought several. One graces my dining room table to this day.  The embroidery and weavings are extraordinary.

To enter the church, which is no longer a Catholic church, one had to pay a fee to a tribal elder.  Inside, it reminded me very much of the church in Chichicastenango, Guatemala which was hundreds of years old.
This church had an altar but not with adornment as we think of.  Instead, Coca cola bottles, sacrificed chickens, were sitting by the railing.  The floors were covered with pine needles and boughs so when you walked around the fragrance rose to envelope you.  Quite a magical experience.  Candles everywhere, on the floors, on the shelves along with large glass and wood boxes with statues insides sat helter skelter. Long wooden tables had many of the boxes sitting on them.  There was a sort of aisle way but not with pews as we would think.

I had seen a cleansing while I was in Chichicastenango with a chicken, candles and water, but no such luck here.  It was quite fascinating to me to see how people worship or celebrate their beliefs.  If only I had spoken Tzotzil and could have asked questions!

The sheep were so healthy and content just walking around grazing wherever they might be - up and down the streets.  Really cool.
 Tribal elders walking around - all dressed alike. They waited in the courtyard of the church while we were inside the church.  Then a few came into the church, but, never spoke to us.

It was market day, as I mentioned, when we were in Chamula.  Besides the textiles and trinkets, there was plenty of fresh produce to purchase.  This woman was the first person I saw as we entered the market.  I was thrilled when she allowed me to take her photograph, but, if you notice, no face.  They truly believe that the camera steals their spirit.

Chamula and Zincantan, the next village we visited were two of my favorite places that I visited.  However, it is kind of silly to say that because EVERYWHERE I was in Chiapas was my favorite, at the time I was there.

Tomorrow Zincantan, the village that you have to pay to enter!  And well worth it.


Peter Kouwenhoven said...

Great stories, bring em on! My bucket list grows...

Unknown said...

Oh I agree with Peter! Fascinating! I so love your sharing about places you've been. Each time you do you introduce me to a world I didn't know existed and now can't wait to meet. Excellent. Thank you!

Barbara Lane at Dean's

Jvineyard said...

I was in ChiChi in 1994. I have a vague remembrance of the inside of the church. I am struck by the seeming affluence and uniformity of the men given the relative poverty. Those hats are gorgeous. I need to put Chiapas on my bucket list along with Oaxaca.

Anonymous said...

Hola Barbara!

The last entry of yours I read was the one where you finished by saying you were off to Chiapas without a laptop, so I hadn't stopped back for a while.

Then I came back and read your post about having canceled the trip. I'm so sorry. I hope you're feeling better. What does one do about a compressed vertebra?

And you're right. Better it flared up before the trip than on hour two of the bus ride.

Anyway, heal up soon!


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where our recent bad luck has very much had a good luck quality in that things could have been much worse.

Babs said...

Peter and Barbara Lane - IT is a place I would rather be is seeing life in a different time

Babs said...

Jvineyard - I don't think Ill ever forget one detail of the interior of the church in Chichi. I felt like I was thousands of year back in time. When I came out of the church, it had been so emotional, I broke into tears....something I rarely do.
I don't think of Chiapas as living in poverty, unless you judge it based on American standards. There lifestyle is rich in tradition with a strong tribal hierarchy and it is spotlessly clean! I try never to use my American upbringing to judge people's wealth or poverty.

Babs said...

Kim, as the week has progressed, I'm so thankful that I didn't try to make the trip.........Yes, things could have been much worse.

Think of you often and hoping the snow mountains are gone by now!

Anonymous said...

Babs - San Juan Chamula is a truly mystical magical place, but the "positive" rule? The all-male elders allowed multiple wives do maintain order, but women's rights are sacrificed as is freedom of religion....

Babs said...

According to my source of info while there, a former Zapatista who has a PHd from Berkley! The tribal elders are like the municipal government in the USA. And, if it is similar to the colonia administrators here in SMA, the people vote on issues.
The decision to remove the Catholic Church from Chamula was a good thing, so they could worship the way the people of Chamula wanted to.
It's not my place to judge about how multiple wives. I respect the decisions of the people in any country I'm in.......I've tried to lay aside MY judgmental American ways.

Jvineyard said...

Point taken. But my observation was one of curiosity. I would love to understand more about their role. That's the wonderful thing about travel. It makes me "curiouser and curiouser". When my daughter and I went to Guatemala we went alone, no tour. We rode chicken buses, no air conditioned van. We spoke very little Spanish so we often "spoke" by gesticulation; faces and hands, when we had to. Mostly we took in the beauty of our surroundings especially the beautiful faces of the Guatemalans, the gorgeously displayed flowers and produce, the terraced gardens, etc. It was all breathtaking, especially my first view of Lake Atilan. Thanks for sharing your pictures.

Babs said...

Travel does that for me as well, JVineyard! I'm curious about other cultures and I guess that is why I have crisscrossed the backroads of Mexico, Guatemala and the USA...and even Europe to an extent to see how people live.

Aaah, I remember too the exquisite beauty of Lake Atitlan. In fact, I traveled over to a tiny village by boat. That village was wiped out by a landslide only a few months after my visit. I was devastated to think of the loss for the people.