Learning the Mayan way and an amazing canyon
Trip Start Sep 28, 2007
91Trip End Jun 25, 2008
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Mayan village tour
Within moments of arriving at the hotel, we were out again to join a tour that was visiting two Mayan villages.
The first one was called San Juan Chamula, which is fiercely independent. The graveyard had mini crosses, numerous stacked together from different relatives for the same person, coloured to represent the age of the person: black for those who died old, white for those who died young and blue for those who died as adults.
While the Spanish did reach the village, the inhabitants held onto their beliefs and now practice what is called catholic traditionalism. They worship saints, but carry out other traditional rituals, such as burning different coloured candles for different purposes and sacrificing chickens.
Only 10 km from San Cristobal it was an hour behind as they refuse to recognise the daylight saving time adopted when Mexico signed the free trade agreement with the US and Canada. If you asked the villagers for the time, they would ask if you wanted the new time or god's time. I love that.
The people are open to new innovations, such as cable TV and modern music, but if any villagers change religion they must leave the village and only those born there are able to live there.
The villagers take turns being the religious leaders and chiefs for the town. They put their name on the waiting list for a particular saint and then spend the waiting years --one man waited 14 years -- saving as much money as they can to buy the items needed for ceremonies to honour their saint and carry out other duties. This includes pine resin, gunpowder, candles, flowers and fresh foliage.
Interesting to note that the Mayan already used a cross before the Christians arrived, but theirs symbolises a tree and they tie pine to it, as a special tree for them.
We were then allowed into the church which is the hub of the community. What we found there was unlike anything you would ever associate with a Christian church. The marble floor was covered in pine needles and the smoke and aroma from pine resin filled the air. Glass boxes containing replicas of saints lined the walls wearing mirrors and in front of them were tables covered in white candles, which are considered food in the form of corn tortillas for the saints. The villagers clear a small space on the floor from pine needles and set up candles in multiples of three directly onto the marble floor. The villagers then kneel before the candles and chant a mantra.
Villagers also come to the church for healing. Doctors known as pulse readers are there. We saw one little girl, droopy with illness, having her pulse read. Cesar told us the pulse readers can determine whether the illness is from natural causes or has resulted from a disturbance of the spirit.
Many of the customs performed in the church are for restoring the natural spirit. This belief was a way in for the soft drink companies, as villagers think the burping caused by it means their spirit is returning and the evil spirit is being expelled with the burps.
We saw one women in the church with dozens of candles lined up in front of her, bottles of Pepsi and Fanta lined up, a basket of eggs beside her and a friend holding a chicken. Later in the ceremony the eggs would be run over the women's body and then cracked into a bowl with water and read like tea leaves for the cause of the illness or spirit disturbance. The chicken would then be strangled and buried as an offering to the earth to restore her spirit.
Despite its strangeness it was the church I have been in that I felt most at home, perhaps because it didn'tīt have the sense that you had to be silent.
The villagers are harassed by various Christians to convert to 'pure' Christianity, the Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons have been the most active and their success has caused thousands of villagers to be exiled from the village.
Next we went to another village of Tzotzil people called San Lorenzo Zinacantan. More prosperous due to selling flowers, there form of Catholicism is more traditional and their traditional dress is more elaborate with royal blue cotton skirts and tunics, richly embroidered with big, colourful flowers.
We went to a weaving home where they use the traditional back strap loom
The next day we did a trip to the amazing Sumidero Canyon viewed from a boat on the Grijalva River. An 'only in Mexico' shot was the cactus growing on the cliffs where ferns would be in New Zealand.
Very high and narrow, our trip was enhanced by the birds we saw: Blue herons, egrets,various sizes of pelicans and the ever circling black vultures. We also spotted spider monkeys and crocodiles that looked like wood, resting on the rocky beach. So well camouflaged.
The other highlight was the hidden waterfall that mainly falls behind the rock and has created what looks like a masked face and a scalloped skirt.
We spent the afternoon back in San Cristobal, exploring the town and markets. Another pretty colonial town, selling amber as its chief product, it also has a strong hippie/revolutionary feel, with the local cinema showing regular Zapatista documentaries and much cooler as it is quite high.