March 26, 2013

Mexico: San Juan Chamula, tradicional village in Chiapas

San Juan Chamula, a small town full of tradition in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, is located a few kilometers from San Cristobal de Las Casas and an hour's drive from the National Park Canyon Sink, of which I will discuss in another post.

Chamula is an adjective used to name Maya ethnic groups that inhabit the highlands of Chiapas: Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Mame, Tojolabal, Chol. San Juan Chamula is also the head of the municipality of Chamula and is located in the highest areas of  Chiapas.

San Juan Chamula, tradición en Chiapas

The curious thing about this location is that its inhabitants have preserved pre-Hispanic cultures and customs. Once you get to San Juan Chamula, gives you the feeling of being out of a time machine and traveled back in time, to another world. You better leave behind beliefs, values ​​and citizenship, because once in Chamula, none of this is useful.


San Juan Chamula, tradición en Chiapas

The costumes of the inhabitants of San Juan Chamula, is traditional. The women wear headscarves, and its characteristic black wool skirt carded by themselves, ranging from below the chest to the ankles and tied with a strip of cloth as a belt. Brightly colored shawls and hair pulled or twisted. Mothers, take the shawl wrapped in the shoulders and chest where they take their young children on their backs.


San Juan Chamula, tradición en Chiapas

We were fortunate to go on market day. All people of Chamula meet in the town square, opposite the church, selling all kinds of food, clothing, kitchen utensils, etc. It come to my mind smells, voices... and that feeling of not being able to look at anyone in the face. We were warned before entering the village, you could not shoot anybody, so with some respect and skepticism, we visited the market in search of prohibited photos. They have their reasons, and the Indians think that if you take a picture of your person, you're stealing the soul, and in San Juan Chamula, are deeply rooted beliefs.

In the market, you can see how older women carding wool to make the typical skirt.

San Juan Chamula, tradición en Chiapas

There's no police, the law is imposed by men dressed in sheepskin wooden jacket with a big stick in their hand. They are the authority, and no one takes the opposite.


San Juan Chamula, tradición en Chiapas

But undoubtedly the most impressive thing, was the Church of San Juan Bautista. Have a picture of a church, with its dome, its cross, its saints, benches... and that's true on the outside, with a white facade with colored symbols, a very beautiful church. But when I entered inside this temple, nothing I've seen before had resemblance to reality.

San Juan Chamula, tradición en Chiapas

Mixing religion and paganism, crowded everywhere, almost no room to pass. The floor is full of herbs, to expel evil spirits, people praying around colored candles where chickens are slaughtered; walls with figures of saints and necklaces of flowers and fruits... if I had to describe it in some way, I'd say it's something between mystical and frightening. This scene leaves the traveler no indifferent. When you leave the church, you do not know if it was real, or it was a stage of Hamlet on a theater. Of course, it is forbidden to take pictures. 

San Juan Chamula, tradición en Chiapas
Photo by Wikipedia
If you travel to Chiapas, do not hesitate to visit San Juan Chamula, the indigenous village will not leave you indifferent.