Day 4: Zinacantan Flowers and Chamula Monkeys

When I started writing this post a couple of days ago, we were traveling in our van, going up the mountain in a fine misty rain on our way to San Andres Larrainzar and Magdalena Aldama. I’ve been trying to give you a daily report of our textile adventure but I haven’t succeeded. Playing catch up now, I must report that our first Chiapas tour goers went home this morning. With relief, everyone leaving to return to the USA tested Covid negative.

We covered so much territory in a week. So, these posts are highlights of the deep cultural experience we have shared with each other and the talented weavers we have visited in the homes in remote villages.

On Sunday, Day Four of our Chiapas Textile Tour, we set out early to the San Lorenzo Zinacantan embroidery and weaving village. Mostly, though, the people Ziinacantan are flower growers. Hundreds of greenhouses dot the hillsides surrounding the village. Flowers are replicated in the cloth they wear — chals (shawls) and enredos (skirts) are accented with vines, roses, lilies, orchids, chrysanthemums.

In Zinacantan we visit master weaver María Emiliana Hernández Pérez who is an award-winning artisan. She spins and twists cotton into two-ply thread to attach chicken feather down to the cotton to weave with it. This was once a prevalent practice. No one else is doing this in this village now. The traditional village wedding dress was made this way. Few few survive since most women are buried in their wedding dresses.

For natural dyes, Maria uses Brazilwood, oak, vines, roots, cempasúchil (wild marigold), palo de noc (Orange), black earth. She started learning plain weave at age 7 and weaving feathers at age 20. At age 54, she has been siting on knees all her life but takes no medicine and nothing hurts. 

For the first time in years since I’ve been coming here, we were given permission to take photos in the chapel with a donation to the church officials meeting there. We noted being here was solemn, serene, and reflective. Not the frenzied market environment of where we would go next: San Juan Chamula.

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In Chamula, thousands of people were gathered on the streets and in the church plaza to celebrate Carnival and St. John the Baptist feast day. The Monkey Man is one of the spiritual figures of the village and many had a symbolic stuffed animal — their spirit animal — dangling from neck, shoulders, or belts. Jaguar pelts figured prominently as did traditional festival costumes that had the look of a French soldier.

I reminded everyone that Mexico has been occupied by the Spanish, the French and the Americans. European immigration to Mexico also added influences from Germans and Italians. African slaves, brought to Mexico to work the sugar cane fields, also co tributed to the multi-cultural mix here, influencing dress, fabric, music and cuisine.

After visiting the Chamula church (NO PHOTOS), we stood apart to review the scene of officials wearing white furry wool felted ponchos, the we walked up the hill for lunch and a great view of the plaza below, finishing our day off with a market meander before heading back to San Cristobal in time for dinner.

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