Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17TH, 1999 – CHIAPAS (CONT.)

Many Indians here are barefoot. It's a beautiful white church. Yes, they have the Day of the Dead festival in Chamula. The white church is three stories high: not immense, but a nice clean white stucco on the outside, a little "peeling". The new generation of Indians speak Spanish, the old don't. There's a small procession of twenty people. Guitars, maracas, and a women with bright one-color shawls. Some are holding bowls of burning leaves.

We go inside. Wow! It's one huge room with no seats. Pine needles are all over the ground. There are tables along the walls and mannequins of saints on these tables. Hundreds of painted glasses with candles stuck right into the floor (no holders). The Indians wear sandals and shoes. My guide says that the shaman (medicine man) is the most important person in the Indian society. He interprets between the humans and the saints.

There's burning incense, really overpowering stink. The small procession (including an accordion) walks in and to the front of the church. Men wear white headscarves, sheep woolly sleeveless coats. Harplike instruments. Woman with the torch/bowl thing carry cloth bags of incense.

We go in. Normally, they'd charge us to enter the church, but there's nobody on duty to take the fee. Animal sacrifices are done here, my guide says. They drink alcohol, too. Depending on what the ritual is, they use beverages (like cherry Fanta or pineapple Fanta) that match the right sun-based color system. Coca-Cola is used for black. 25 years ago they had no Coca-Cola here. When they "cure" people, they use a lot of colors.

Above there are white cloths banners with floral patterns hung from the ceiling. At front is a smaller private area. Bells are ringing: clank, clank. Not tonal at all. When they think they have sinned or have a spiritual illness, they come and stand in front of their saints and give a self-confession while looking into the mirrors hung around the saint's necks. There are some saints that are the "no good" saints. They get no flowers, no candles, and no confessions, because a local church caught fire and the saints did not protect it. The candles caught the pine needles on fire.

The saints are painted wooden statuettes in boxes with a door, perhaps 3 feet high. To wish to fix family troubles, a ceremony with red (hate) and yellow (jealousy). At the front of the church is a smoky alcove with even more saints and tons of burning incense.

Sheep are sacred here. They shear sheep for wool but don't kill them. They let the sheep live & die naturally. There are 52 men who are the religious authorities. Also there are political authorities. Their political meetings are always open to the public, which keeps down corruption. One person is the intermediary between the Mexican & Indian law.

Many pilgrims come here who don't like in Chamula but are a part of the Chamula society. The three crosses represent the three suburbs into which Chamula is broken. We're walking through the streets of the living area. Cement brick houses, and a cement walkway. Corrugated iron roofs. Roofs from those rounded red clay tiles. Chickens.

My guide says that in Zincantan it's different: people are more open-minded. Both Zincantan and Chamula are the Tzotzil tribe. Tzeltals are elsewhere. It's very bright here in the sun as we walk back to the car. My guide, Mr. Lopez, pays a kid who's been watching the car so nobody makes scratches in it.

Four girls run up and ask if they can get in and he lets them. They pile into the back seat. They're wearing one-color shawls, all smiles & giggling, black hair in braids and bouncing in the car. I think being in a car is an unusual and fun experience for them. We let them out at the top of the hill leading to the town.

There are chickens loose on the road. He says the Indians don't mind having tourists, but don't take photos of people -- that will make them angry. Instead, take a panoramic photo of a wide area. Some believe that they will lose their souls. But recently most have understood that this is not true.