It had been on our list since arriving in San Cristobal De Las Casas to visit the village of Chamula due to the religious practices in main church. We finally made the visit on our last Sunday in Chiapas. It was definitely worth the visit.
We arrived around 11am in time to see the tail end of the Sunday markets in Chamula. This was the first time in Chiapas I felt like a tourist experiencing something completely foreign, the kind of stuff I would only see in documentaries.
There were live chickens in a clear plastic bag, waiting to be sold. There were sheep being lead through the street; massive tubs of prawns; well presented fruit stacked into 10 pesos and 20 pesos piles, handmade stuffed animal toys, live turkeys on crates, hand made clothes with intricate designs and so much more.
Chamula had a larger variety of clothing designs than what I had seen in the San Cris DLC markets. Apparently different regions have their signature designs as we would see when we visit Zinacantan.
We were warned that some people in of the indigenous don’t like to be photographed so we tried to avoid taking a photo of people unless we could see they were ok with it. But we were still able to capture some of the clothing they wear. We noticed some of the women wear a black woolly skirt folded in a particular way as well as a shiny top tucked in. Some of the men wear woolley vests that could be white or black. We had seen this in San Cris but there were far more people in Chamula wearing the woolley clothing.
The markets end at 12pm so we saw them packing up as we were leaving the village.
The main reason we had come to this church was to see the rituals of the locals. The church was once Catholic but for the last sixty years had been converted to a local temple. We felt intrusive visiting a sacred site as a tourist as opposed to a participant but we were too curious not to go in.
There was a small fee to enter the church if you are tourist. We were directed to the left side of the church, where there is a native garden, to pay. When we entered the church we had to show our tickets at the door.
There are offers for a guide but we declined. As we entered it was already different to the typical Catholic Church that it once was. There was a brass band playing just as we entered the church from the foyer so it was already much louder than your typical church. Instead of rows of pews there were pine needles strewn all over the floor with small groups of families sitting on the floor.
A few people were lighting a row of candles as they prayed. I saw this practice in one of the Catholic Churches in San Cris DLC. Some were simply sitting with their row of candles.
What was familiar to the many Catholic Churches I’ve been in was the smell of incense and myrrh burning. Also there were Catholic statues of saints. But that was where the similarity ended. The sides of the church were lined with statues each in it’s own glass case. They were dressed and adorned with what seemed to be seasonal styles.
At the front of the church was big crowd of people and another brass band playing on and off. The rhythmic music combined with all the smoke created a hypnotic holy feeling. Lots of people right up the front were swaying left and right rhythmically to the music. There was lots of smoke from the burning incense that was sitting on hot coals. We didn’t want to venture too far forward because we already felt like intruders. But we had experienced plenty to stimulate our senses.
Outside the church on the left is a garden with native herbs and plants that are used in healing remedies. Behind the church the garden extends to orchids and bromeliads. This area is dedicated to preserving plants that are disappearing due to the ever expanding urbanisation we humans do. I always find it heart warming experiencing conservation efforts.
We didn’t have a guide to take us through a local cultural experience but we thought we should stop by Zinacantan anyway. It was a Sunday and it seemed their Sunday markets were well over since we arrived around 1pm.
What we noticed was that most people in this town wore a purple garment with embroidered flowers on it. This is their signature clothing. We also saw people sitting outside the church. There was a main church in the square and a hut next to the church that seemed to be used as a temple like Chamula’s.
We didn’t stay here long and if you don’t have a guide I don’t recommend stopping here.
We took a taxi for 100 pesos from San Cristobal DLC outskirts to Chamula, so from the centre of town perhaps it would be 150 pesos.
From Chamula to Zinacantan there were local people offering to take us for 100 pesos (no taxis were around). The two towns are about twenty minutes away from each other.
From Zinacantan no taxis would take us so we took a colectivo for 20 pesos each – no fee for the two little ones but Carmelo and Giselle were charged the 20 pesos.