Tuesday, March 31, 2009

San Cristobal Chiapas

Our next stop was San Cristobal. We stayed there three nights. It is a small place up in the hills, and is a favourite destination for European travellers, although we never quite worked out why. Our accommodation felt like an old Europeran hunting lodge. Lots of wooden floors, & old wooden furniture & panelled ceilings. The whole place creaked when anyone moved about. The most remarkable aspect of our stay in San Cristobal was our trip up to the villages of Chamula & Zinacantan. They are both indigenous towns, proudly hoplding on to their heritage, teaching their own language in their schools. We went with a guide who had been visiting the villages for 18 years. He spoke some of the language & clearly knew a lot of the locals who were friendly to him & on a couple of ocasions offerred him & us some home made posh (cane spirit) to share. We would not have intruded without him. The villages can be visited using a tour group, which is totally inappropriate.
The villages are still somewhat isolated & visits to the church are somewhat controlled which is the only thing saving them I think.
They hold to their own form of religion, which is a strong mix of their own, melded with the Catholic religion. In each village elders are chosen to perform religious ceremonies from shrines put together at their own houses. We went into one & tasted the home made posh from a Corona bottle. There was no one there, but the insence was still warm & aromatic. The shrine had pine needles spread over the floor & a curtain of vines in front of the alter where the baby Jesus doll lay under a green velvert blanket with a gold fringe. There were gourds made into shakers to conduct the singing & control a small gathering.The crosses were all decorated with pine branches.
We then went down into the village church. It is a big church, called the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista. It was built & still operates as a Catholic church, but one where the local customs of the people have to be tolerated.This includes the priest having to tolerate chickens being sacrified during the service. Apparently there is a fairly high attrition rate of local priests. We happened to go to the church on a Tuesday, which is the day that the healers usually come to the church. They chant & use eggs & sacrifice chickens to help heal the sick. When we walked into the church we saw a carpet of pine needles (changed weekly on a Wednesday), and rows, & groups of candles stuck directly onto the floor, all over the floor, lighting the church. (Apparently the church had already burned down once). There were small groups of people seated all over the floor of the church. There were no pews, or chairs. Some were family groups there to worship & drink posh together in the church afterwards, but most were groups with a healer. We saw the healers chanting & waving eggs over people. Each group had brought along a chicken to be sacrified in the church. The evil of the sickness is passed on to the chicken in the ceremony & then the chicken is killed. We heard one being sacrificed, but did not see it happening. There was a lot of insence, dust, dim lighting & smoke from the candles, chanting, lots of people (drinking posh, & offering us some) & chickens. The walls were bare, except for statues of the Catholic saints behind glass along one of the side walls, and a statue of San Juan Bautista at the alter. It was mesmerising. Then a tour group arrived.We left.

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