Friday, July 22, 2011

El vilages indígenas. San Juan Chamula y San Lorenzo Zinacantán.


When we arrived into San Cristóbal yesterday afternoon, it was overcast and drizzly. This morning we woke up to a bright sunshiny day! A picture perfect day in this town nestled in the highlands of Chiapas.

After breakfast, we hit the road to begin our day. The first two destinations on our touring agenda were two neighboring Tzotzil Mayan villages - San Juan Chamula and San Lorenzo Zinacantán.



The road to Chamula was narrow and winding but it was nice day for a car ride.Once we left the outskirts of the city, we could once again see the hilly landscape of this region.  Here, every inch of arable land is farmed.  It's no wonder the market in San Cristóbal was brimming over with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Juan Jose pulled off the main road onto and a short distance later parked the car on a street that looked like it ran through a residential area.  We got out and followed Francisco around the corner and down the street.  We were heading towards the center of the village.

More fruits? Wouldn't you know that on the way we passed the village market?  Of course, we had to stop in and check it out :-)  Surprisingly, Chamula's market was housed in a two story concrete building!  We headed upstairs and found ourselves in a large space filled with vendors.  It wasn't as crowed with sellers, buyers or produce as I had expected it to be.  Somehow though, the Fruit Obsessed Clan (FBC) were still able to buy enough fruits to satisfy their appetites including Ayşe who managed to buy a large bag of tun aka prickly pear fruit for just a few pesos!  If you leave the FBC alone for any amount of time, you risk them buying an entire orchard :-)







Bags and bags of fruits in hand, we headed back downstairs.  There we were greeted by vendors selling food and items for both locals and tourists.

There was a vendor selling tiny pottery animals decorated in native Mayan patterns.  They were so cute and I couldn't resist picking up a batch for my team back at the office.

No one else was interested in buying anything so we marched on, following Francisco up a narrow set of steps that ran between stores.





Zócalo. At the top of the steps was a big plaza.  At one end, a large group of local men were having a gathering of some sort.











Francisco wanted to quickly drop into the Tourist Information Center. While he was inside, bro decided to take a seat and have round 2 of his breakfast :-) 













A beautiful but strange church....very strange. When Francisco emerged from the Tourist Information Center, we walked across the plaza, heading for the village's church.  You can't miss the stark white structure with brightly painted decoration!


Although it was a Friday morning, the area around the church was packed with people.  We carefully wound our way through the crowd.

I've been to more than my fair share of churches around the world and I can say with all honesty, that this is the most unusual one I have ever been in.  The religion that is practiced here is a blend of Tzotzil Maya customs, Spanish Catholic traditions and subsequent innovations.

From the outside, there was nothing unusual about the church. I entered in and I immediately wondered if I had entered into a space for pagan worship.  The first thing that struck me was the fact that there are no pews and the floor are is covered by a scattering of green pine boughs.  The air was filled with the scent and smoke of burning candles.  Every now again, I could hear someone wailing.  It was a very startling and sad sound.

Cameras are strictly forbidden inside the church so I didn't
take any pictures or video to post up. I did find this rare picture
on the web. It's exactly what I saw inside.
Chamula families mark off areas on the floor that they kneel on and pray, chanting prayers in an archaic dialect of Tzotzil.  There, amid the pine boughs, they stand up tapers and light them. Ceremonial offerings which included bottles of Coke, no Pepsi or 7 Up or Sprite) as well eggs and a live chicken being offered up.  I've since learned that these are healing ceremonies for the families and that what they bring as offerings were prescribed by curanderos (medicine men) who diagnose medical, psychological or ‘evil-eye’ afflictions.  Apparently, only the most dire of conditions require a live chicken to be sacrificed.

As I walked around the church, I kept fearing someone would knock over a bunch of candles and the whole place would go up in flames but everyone was very mindful and respectful of what was going on.

The only thing that reminded me that this is a Spanish Catholic church was the altar and dressed-up wooden statues of saints that adorned the side walls.

It was a very surreal experience being in the church.  A little bit familiar but oh so different at the same time.





Back outside,we headed back towards the plaza.  There, in raised podium, a large group of village women had gathered to have a meeting.  I guess the men have theirs in one part of the plaza and the women in another part.






More fruit buying in the plaza. Francisco could resist buying a bag of fresh passion fruit and of course, Ayşe had to tried one.  We can't have her come all this way and not taste one.










While they were busy with fruit, I was busy people watching.  The native Tzotzil costumes intrigued me.  There's a lot of furry textures going on particularly with the traditional black skirt that the women wear and the off white, open sided, vest that is commonly worn by the men.  The women have their long hair in two braids that are joined together at the ends.











On the way to Zinacantán. At this point, our visit to Chamula was over - nothing else to see.  So, we backtracked to the van and hit the road.  On the way out of the village, Francisco pointed out a Tzotzil Maya cemetery.  Looks like a Christian cemetery but if it's anything like the church we just left behind, there's probably something unusual about it.  We didn't stick around to find out.


It was just a short drive to Zinacantán.   We got dropped off a short distance away from a store that sold locally woven goods.  Oh God!  Here we go.  Going to get sucked into buying something.  Must resist.

We're in trouble now! We entered in the front door of a house.  There, piled up high on tables and hung up on the walls, were the textiles.  Brightly colored, hand woven pieces.  Oh, there were at least two people who were tempted and one actually bought one....that purple one with the mustard yellow sunflowers and white calla lilies :-)











A woman sat, kneeling on the floor, working a strap loom.  You see the years of her experience doing this reflected in how deflty she manipulated strands of different colors to create the pattern.











I decided to check out the rest of the house.  There, I found Juan Jose and Francisco enjoying some coffee.

*bored* I think I was bored waiting for everyone else to finish up whatever they were doing so I wandered about. A very odd collection of things caught my eyes.   A home altar to Guadelupe.  Quite impressive given that this was in the hallway of the house. A woman making tortillas.  A small tip and one was yours.  And last but not least, a chicken. Dinner.   Not good for me to bored :-)







It was a while before everyone was ready to go but soon enough, we left except for Juan Jose.  We followed Francisco up the street to the village's church.









A simple church. We crossed the street and walked up a short flight of steps to the plaza.  There was the church and a smaller chapel nearby.  Unlike the church in Chamula, this was ye olde ordinary Spanish Christian church.  No pictures inside either.  There was a guy checking at the door.  The interior was as I would have expected from a small village church.  Simple and functional. 









The nearby was just as simple and plain. 









So colorful! But not everything in Zinacantán was plain.   The shawls that are worn by both men and women alike are absolutely georgous.  When you see a group of locals walking by you, it's like seeing a movement of color through space.







































The kids.  Just as we were curious about the locals, they were also curious about us.
















On our way out, we came across a very enterprising group of children here, approaching tourists and asking them if they want to take a picture of Tzotzil children......for a fee of course :-)  They tried out all their best sales lines on Francisco but no luck.  I had a feeling he had been through this same routine countless times before.






And that was it for Zinacantán.  Juan Jose was waiting for us just on the other side of the entrance to the plaza. We piled back in for the short ride back into town.  Read to check out San Cristóbal.