San Juan Chamula was our first stop on Sunday, the big market day in the Tzotzil speaking Maya village located about thirty minutes outside of San Cristobal de Las Casas. This also happened to be a day for baptisms.
The Maya church at San Juan Chamula, no longer Catholic
As we arrived at the Chamula church, extended families were emerging. Children of all ages were dressed in white. A Catholic priest comes once a month to perform the rites, but other than this observance there is little resemblance to traditional Catholicism.
Family outside the church poses for post-baptism photo
Chamulans practice a pre-Hispanic mysticism inside the church. No photos are allowed. The space magical. It is dark inside. Votive candles that sit atop at least twenty wooden tables illuminate the space. On the tile floor fresh pine needles replicate the sacred forest. There are no pews.
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In the Chamula market, how women transport babies
Areas of needles are swept away. Worshipers light red, green, white and yellow candles and affix them with dripping wax to the floor. The colors represent the four cardinal points. They kneel and pray, singing in ancient Tzotzil.
Women wait for weekly government food stipend
Cynthia and Gail shopping for agave fiber woven bags, called ixtle
Sometimes a Shaman will go with the families, holding a live chicken. The Shaman will hold the fowl by its legs, wings outspread, then wring the chicken’s neck. In this way, the ill that is disturbing a family member will pass to the chicken. Then, the chicken is buried and the ailment will go away.
The cemetery is another spiritual center for Maya families
This stuffed fox may be someone’s spirit animal, used in ritual cleansings
Ancient beliefs run deep here. We tiptoe across the pine needles. The officials watch carefully to make sure we take no photographs. We are respectful and don’t try. Stories of confiscated cameras are rampant.
Post-Baptism celebration in the church courtyard
Ducks and a turkey for sale along a hidden market side street
Out on the church patio, the families who celebrated baptism gather along the periphery for a meal, music and refreshment. Cases of beer sit atop tables. Visitors are here from all over the world. I hear German, French and Dutch.
Vendors sell fresh fruit and vegetables
Beyond the church is the vast market where vendors sell everything from fresh fruit, vegetables and handcrafts.
Chickens for sale along a side alley — food or sacrifice?
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Village mayordomos are distinguished by furry white tunics
After a walkabout, we set out for neighboring San Lorenzo Zinacantan. This is a flower growing village. Once allies of the Aztecs, whose empire extended as far south as Nicaragua, Zinacantan enjoyed special privileges as an embassy. Mayas married with Nahuatl speakers and adopted the Aztec practice of incorporating feathers into wedding dresses.
Zinacantan women doing business in a doorway
After the September 2017 earthquake that destroyed the church roof and bell tower, it seems like tourism has dropped here. We hoped for a more robust market, but only a few vendors line the street surrounding the church. We were able to find textiles in a local shop that deals in new and vintage blouses, dresses and skirts.
Zinacantan embroidered chals, a floral display on cloth, photo by Carol Estes
Visitors from Mexico City model the local costume that they bought
Earthquake destroyed church roof, bell tower, walls crumbled
Hundreds of historic churches in southern Mexico were damaged in the 2017 earthquake. Under the purview of INAH, it’s not likely church repairs will take place any time soon. Fear is that neglect will destroy them.
Saints inside corregated metal make-shift church — oops, no photos!
Now, for a brief fresh-off-the-comal tortillas stop to stave off hunger. We entered a smoke-filled room where a young woman prepared masa, patted it, pressed it and cooked it on the comal. We filled the hot, steaming tortilla with fresh beans, ground pepitas (pumpkin seeds), tangy Chiapas cheese, avocado and smoked sausage.
Another view of the traditional kitchen.
Sausages hang over the smokey area to cure and take on flavor.
Preparing fresh, organic tortillas on the comal
Cynthia and Lanita sit back after our hearty snack
We returned to San Cristobal de Las Casas late in the afternoon where we enjoyed lunch at Tierra Adentro, the Zapatista cafe on Real Guadalupe. Another culturally stimulating day!
Pattern on black fabric for embroidering
On the way out of town, San Lorenzo Zinacantan — waddle and daub, tile