Interlude: Winding Road to Chenalho, Chiapas

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we traveled to Chenalho with a cake in hand. Or rather, protected from spilling by putting it on the lap of one of our traveling companions! Our adventure took us deep into Tzotzil territory via collectivo taxi, up a winding mountain road to the town of Chenalho. It’s a 45-minute trip on the switchback road, depending on the driver. We started out at the collectivo parking area beyond the market behind Santo Domingo de Guzman Church and we were soon out of the bustling commercial center making our ascent. The scenes are breathtaking. Steep valleys punctuated with terraced corn fields, grazing sheep, houses perched on stilts. We are surrounded by jagged peaks dense with pine forest.

We went about three miles beyond the town center on a secondary road to find what we were looking for. Here women weave and embellish their back strap loomed cloth with unusual raised embroidery that many call Dog Paw. I was a tag along, going with Sheryl and Flora, Carol and Peter, who were ambassadors for the Las Cruces, NM based NGO Weaving for Justice founded by anthropologist Christine Eber. We set out to meet the 30 cooperative members of Tsobol Antzetik, that means Women United in Tzotzil. We said Kolaval and Kolavalik (thank you, both singular and plural) a lot today.

This was another extraordinary day in the highlands for me. This was my first visit to Chenalho although I’ve admired their weaving and needlework skills for quite a while. When we arrived, the babies looked at me, white face with white hair, and cried. It reminded me of the time I went to a remote part of Chengdu, China in the 1990’s when children ran to hide behind their mothers in terror at seeing a foreign face!

Chenalho has not been on our tour itinerary, but I’m going to change that for 2023! Want to come to Chiapas to discover textiles with us? Send me an email to tell me you are interested.

We seized the opportunity to celebrate International Women’s Day because the founder of this cooperative, Flor de Margarita Perez Perez, wrote a song for the 1997 celebration that recognized the struggles of women in Chenalho. This was part of the Oventic meeting of the Zapatista movement for indigenous rights — where a cultural, educational and social center for the Zapatista supporters in the Highlands was established.

Selected stanzas:

We will not surrender. We will continue going forward, asking for justice, men, women and children.

We are not cowards, not like the government. The government feels strong because it has guns, tanks and airplanes. The government ignores the suffering of the people holding hands to protect peace.

These are their stories:

  1. She has one child and weaves to provide for him, pay school expenses.
  2. She weaves to help her 3 children. 
  3. She works to help her daughters. She doesn’t receive help from the government. 
  4. she helps to support her children. During the pandemic, she was not able to sell. Thanks for buying our few things. 
  5. She has 4 children. She weaves and embroiders. 
  6. She makes shawls scarves and shawls and napkins. Appreciates women’s friendships in the cooper and sharing weaving  techniques. 
  7. She works to help her family but she loves to weave. She needs the help to sell weavings to support her family. She values the Friendship and love she receives from the coop women. 
  8. Her father died. It’s up to her to help her mother. She gets support from the group.
  9. Koloval. Thank you. Kolovalik.
  10. She tells us her mother is blind. Her father died. She has responsibility to take care of her family. Women’s cooperative very supportive.

What I hear are women’s universal stories. we share similar hopes and dreams, family responsibilities. We care for our families, we have our housework, we may work outside the home. We depend on our women friends for emotional support and sustenance.

We brought gifts of hair clips, toothpaste, Kleenex, combs, hand cream, ribbon, reading glasses, band aids. The little girls loved the hair decoration and combs.

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