Friday, March 24, 2017

San Cristobal de las Casas and Na Balom - Day 4

 Day 4 was an "open day".  Yes, there was a city tour with Patricio, but I had done that eight years before so I was up and out, heading about four long blocks from our hotel to the primary zocalo in San Cristobal.  To  me, it is a treasure to just observe the people.  To quietly sit and watch.To see the little things.  One thing I noticed is that the city has become more westernized in the last eight years.  In the past, very few people dressed in regular clothes.  This day it was much different.  These two women and the child were the closest I came to seeing the women of Chamula and they were really only half dressed indigenously in their wooly skirts.  The child, not at all.
There is always an ice cream man in every town in Mexico.  The favorite food, I believe, of Mexico.  I saw this man a few days later over near the church and he pulled his cart up to the front door. He bowed, made the Sign of the Cross several times and then moved on. It was very touching.
 Watching these two boys scamper in front of me playing and laughing, I was surprised to see them later quietly sitting there.  One giving a shoe shine and the other selling all kinds of items. 
 Chiapas is a protest state.  There are many things painted on the sides of buildings - not in a grafitti way, but in a serious way.  Even in this shoe shine booth, while the man was gone, his sign was still up there!  Even though the major uprising was twenty-three years ago, they do not forget!
 Also on my agenda was to get to Na Balom that day.  The House of the Jaguars.  It is a former home, a museum and research facility set up by Frans Blom and his wife Gertrude Duby.  The house exists
to provide sanctuary for the Lacandon peoples of the rainforest who Frans discovered (or they allowed themselves to be discovered by Frans) in the late 1940's.  These people had hidden and lived in the rainforest away from civilization since before the Spaniards arrived.  They were never captured by the Spaniards.  I remember reading in National Geographic as a child about these people.  My fascination with the nomadic peoples of Mexico began then........

Frans discovered Palenque in the late 1920's, returned to the USA to Harvard to get a degree in Archaeology at Harvard and an advanced degree at Tulane where he got funding for further work at Palenque.

Gertrude was a famous documentary photographer from Switzerland and was on her way to the rainforest to photograph the peoples of the Lacandon area when she met Frans.  Initially they both lived in Mexico City where they met the Golden Circle of peoples such as Rivera, Kahlo, Mondotti, Weston and Lechuga, to name a few. Soon, they decided they could not continue their research from Mexico City, found this abandoned hacienda on the outskirts of town in San Cristobal and lived in it while using pack mules or a Cessna from Ocosingo to go into the rainforest.
 It is a lovely place now.  I can just imagine what shape it was in in the 1940's.  Na Balom has accommodations for overnight guests.  This long table serves dinner nightly for researchers, travelers and the Lacandon peoples to share a meal, ideas and conversation.

 A large Jaguar, the symbol of Na Balom, is now in the courtyard.  These jaguars are made in a village called Amantengo de Valle about an hour or so outside of San Cristobal.  I visited there eight years ago, but not on this trip. 
 The research library is a dream.  It is important to me because I have met many times with a woman named Elizabeth who lives in San Miguel who initially set up this library and lived at Na Balom with Trudy and Frans.   Ahh, the stories she has told me.  Amazing. Elizabeth is now in her late 90's and it is difficult to meet with her.  However, I have a DVD to take to her with video taken during her time at Na Balom.  I think she will be happily surprised.  Hopefully it will bring back wonderful memories.
 This was previously Trudy's bedroom.  It now displays her jewelry, her photography and her clothing along with this photo of her.
 This photo of Frans hangs outside in the courtyard.  According to my friend Elizabeth, he was quite a rogue who loved his mescal.  Especially while flying a Cessna!
 The above poster was from an exhibit of Trudy's photography at some point.  It is of Trudy and a Lacandon woman.  Trudy was honored many times, all over the world, for her photography and programs that were set up to preserve the culture of the peoples of the Lacandon jungle.
This last photo was taken in 1948 by a woman who I met in Mexico City in 2003.  She had traveled to the rain forest to visit other archaeological sites and to meet the Lacandon peoples with Frans as the guide along with his wife Trudy.  The woman who took this photograph was Ruth Lechuga.  The photo is from a book
published by the Museo Franz Mayer and Artes de Mexico called Ruth D. Lechuga - Una Memoria Mexicana.

Ruth began photographing the peoples of Mexico in the 1940's.  One year after she arrived from Europe escaping the war atrocities.  Her photography, her knowledge of the indigenous peoples and her collections of masks and textiles can now be seen at the Frans Mayer Museum in Mexico City.  Her collection of photographs is well over 14,000.  It was such an honor to sit and talk with her for almost three hours one day at her home and museum prior to her death. Her life's work wasdocumented and  turned over to the museum.

In the first post about this trip, there is a photo of one of these skiffs or pirogues (which was the name of them when I was growing up in Louisiana).  It is on display at Na Balom.

As I quietly sat for a while at the end of my visit to NaBalom, I was overwhelmed by the idea that two people could save a whole culture from extinction.  That is exactly what Frans and Trudy did, thankfully.

Today, I'm told, there are about six hundred Lacandons living their lives nomadically in the rainforest of Chiapas.


La Tejedora said...

Beautiful, Barbara!

Peter Kouwenhoven said...

A wonderful post Barbara. Great pictures and a good history lesson. I look forward to going back to Mexico...

Babs said...

Thanks Peter. We all look forward to your return..........let us know.

Thanks Nora for commenting!