San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México
In town, we met a law student named Luís who took a group of us to the villages. In San Juan Chamula, we first visited the shaman’s hut for the village, where we learned about the mix of Catholicism and traditional beliefs practised in the village. We then continued on to the village church which was probably the highlight of the visit. Seeing the mix of beliefs being practised there was incredible: everything from prayers to the Catholic saints to burning incense to chicken sacrifices and ceremonial purgings. Photography isn’t allowed in the church and out of respect to the Chamulans, we won’t describe everything in detail on the web, but suffice to say that it was an incredibly worthwhile visit.
Zinacantán is only a few kilometres away, but the villagers speak an entirely different language (Tzeltal). Here, the church is much more traditional, although most villagers still maintain strong ties to traditional indigenous beliefs, such as worshipping the Earth Lord and placing a strong emphasis on the interpretation of dreams. For a more detailed look at the beliefs and culture of the people of Zinacantán, we’d suggest Dreams and Stories from the People of the Bat by Robert Laughlin. This book is a collection of dreams and their interpretations as told by the villagers of Zinacantán, as well as a series of short stories passed from generation to generation in the village.
The town also produces many traditional handicrafts typical of Chiapas: blankets, clothing, dolls, etc. The villagers take these to San Cristóbal to sell them at the markets and on the street. The textiles are all made from hand, from the thread, to hand-weaving and embroidering. Typically, a medium-sized blanket takes two to three weeks to produce.