Traditional life in the Mexican villages of Chamula and Zinacantán.


Church and market of the indigenous Maya village of San Juan Chamula.


In the mountains around San Cristóbal de las Casas in Mexico two villages with different characteristics are worth visiting. Impressive is the curing ceremony in the church of San Juan Chamula, while in Zinacantán we bump into the annual festival of San Lorenzo.

Church of San Juan Chamula. In the church no pictures can be taken – inhabitants believe their soul is taken away.

In and around San Cristobal de Las Casas, in the region of Chiapas, seven ethnic groups are living. The people of San Juan Chamula are from the largest indigenous group, known as the Tzotzil. They speak their own indigenous language Tzotzil and the mountain village is autonomous. They have their own police force, recognizable by their black woolen poncho and a wooden stab. Women are wearing black fluffy skirts made of the same material: sheep’s wool. Our local guide Dawn Kauffman explaines that sheep are sacred. ‘In this village, sheep are only held because of their wool.’


Flower details from the church of Chamula.

The white church of San Juan Chamula, decorated with green and blue, is an eye catcher. Inside the church the floor is full of pine needles. The aroma of the needles, mixed with hundreds of burning candles, create a special atmosphere. On both sides there are statues of catholic saints, to whom visitors can dedicate their praying. Inhabitants mix catholic with Mayan religion. Several families are sitting on the floor, practicing ceremonies to cure the illnesses of their relatives. They rub an egg on the sick body, so it will take bad spirits away. A local alcoholic drink called posh is shared. Some of the locals are carrying a bag with a chicken, who’s last minutes have arrived. Sacrificing this animal will also help the curing process.


Holy soda
Remarkable is the bottle of Coca Cola, which is also part of the ceremony. Dawn: ‘Local vendors seduced inhabitants to buy their soda because of the holy characteristics it would have. The people recognized the colour, it was the same as their holy Mayan drink in ancient times. As the entrepreneurs told them, they burp after taking a sip of Coca Cola. This will push bad spirits away.’ 

Peanut and pineapple sellers do great business in the crowd that is waiting for the free fight.

After visiting the village of San Juan Chamula, it’s only 6 kilometers to the next village: Zinacantán. While in San Juan Chamula people live from horticulture, inhabitants of Zinacantán are dedicated to floriculture. Greenhouses surround the village in the valley. Today, the 9th of august, we bump into the annual festival of San Lorenzo, patron of the village. Inhabitants proudly wear their purple woven clothing, embroidered with flowers. Weaving is another important source of income in this town.

While some of the inhabitants light noisy fireworks, others make music and dance on the square in front of the improvised church – the real church is closed because of the damages the earthquake caused, September 2017.

Shoe polishers are standing on their boxes to make sure that they don’t miss a glimpse of the spectacle, that is about to start.

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