Chiapas, Mexico: Chamula, an Indian village — Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

The next place I visited, with my tour guide Senor Lopez, was the Tzotzil Indian village of Chamula. Despite how close it is to San Cristobal, Chamula is very different. It’s a simpler, more rural way of life. I consider it the most “unspoiled” example of Indian life that I saw during the entire trip. In Chamula, people live the way their ancestors might have, though they have given some nods to modern culture, such as the children who begged us to buy things from them and were interested in our car.

The children, according to Senor Lopez, were stationed outside by their parents to try to get money from visitors to the town. The people in Chamula live in poverty, and from my perspective even some of the basic needs of life are missing. To bring in money to support their families, they often turn to selling handicrafts and to begging.

I thought I was doing the girls a favor by giving them money, but afterward my guide said I shouldn’t have given them anything, because I was reinforcing that begging was a better way to earn money than working. I hadn’t looked at it that way before.

People here try to avoid too much of the outside world, and they aren’t always happy to see visitors. They aren’t as hostile as some of the Indians who live further into the jungle, but if you say or do the wrong thing here in Chamula, you might meet with some unpleasantness.

One of the things they dislike strongly is Protestantism. Indians in Chamula continue their ancestors’ traditions and some also practice Catholicism, like most of Mexico. But their cathedral doesn’t have any seating; worshippers kneel on the floor like ancient Mayans would have done to worship their gods. The Tzotzils here don’t object to Catholicism, but if one of their residents tries to convert to a Protestant religion, they’ll kick him out of the village or even kill him!

Cameras are not a good thing here in Chamula. The Indians are very offended by having their pictures taken, and I’m told they’ve even stoned people for trying to photograph the village and its residents. Despite this, Senor Lopez tells me it’s okay to take pictures of the cathedral and other buildings, as long as I don’t get any shots of the people. I’m not so sure it’s a good idea, but I take a few photos anyway, and fortunately I don’t get stoned.

Johnny Monsarrat: The town of Chamula in its ent
The town of Chamula in its entirety
Johnny Monsarrat: My tour guide, Senor Lopez, wi
My tour guide, Senor Lopez, with some Indian girls in front of a cemetery. These girls are basically parked here by their parents to beg for money. I give them some, and Senor Lopez says tourists who do that are teaching them to beg, not work, for a living. Hmm. Poverty is not so simple here as I'd thought, not by a longshot.
Johnny Monsarrat: You can get stoned for taking
You can get stoned for taking photographs here. I take some photos anyway. Senor Lopez says it's OK, just don't offend people by taking pictures of individuals. They also kill missionaries here. Nobody mistakes me for a missionary. We leave.

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