Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

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

There are only 4000-5000 people living in the town center. But for the most important religious ceremonies, Chamula is the center for some 95,000 people who live in outlying areas. They live in small mini-towns called "paraje". Lots of farms basically with no real continuity as a village, except maybe a church.

People come from all over to Chamula for festivals. Children help parents to harvest the vegetables or work around the house. Chamula say they are Catholic, but really are a mixture. The Catholic priest refuses to come to this church. He only comes 2-3 times a year to baptize kids.

People who grow up in an Indian village must at the age of 18 or 20 give social services to the community. For example, "police services", "majordomo" (which is a religious position), "alferez". You get prestige and respect for doing this work. My tour guide did his service as a majordomo, and ended up taking out a loan and spending 60,000 pesos on his job. He got social power.

There's a hierarchy in the religion. There are 40 saints, each with his own festival, and each festival needs 30 families to run it.

There's not much hygiene here, my tour guide says. And this is pretty scary, because later on he says there IS hygiene, when clearly there isn't. So this place must be even worse.

He says that the three crosses on the border of the Indian village are to protect the entrance. When the Christians arrived here, the cross was already a religious symbol. "corn" or "the tree of life". The Indians were confused by Jesus. A man died on the cross? But the cross is life!

There's a creation myth that the first men were made of clay, but they were destroyed by fire because they didn't remember the gods. The second generation of men were made with wood from a sacred tree, but they were also destroyed by a flood because they didn't remember the gods. Then the gods called to wind, air, sky, clouds, and said "take the yellow corn to make men". They had festivals and remembered the gods, and the gods were happy.

The Indian crosses are green, because green is the natural color. Colors of Indian tradition: East is red. West is black. Here is green. North is white. South is yellow. Not so strong light in south. Very strong light in North. All these colors relate to the sun.

Chamula is not as run down as I'd expected. The villages seem less impoverished than those I'd seen in Yucatan. Land is more fertile here than Oaxaca, my tour guide says. Trading is the main activity of the people here. Living standards are rising. We see some stucco buildings, where 25 years ago these would all have been hay and adobe. The 18-year-olds who do community service here spend money here and keep the town in money.

It's a pyramid in San Cristobal: 20% are rich and 80% are poor. In these Indian communities, they are all the same. Each here owns his own home. Indians who take up another religion are forced to leave the villages (or are killed!). So the government tries to convince the Indians to let them stay and have religious tolerance. Unfortunately, tradition and religion cannot be separated. The Protestants says that God does not need festivals, for example. The Zapatistas demand that the Indian tradition be left alone and protected.

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