Chamula, Mexico

Chicken Sacrifices for the Cleaning of the Soul

A few miles outside of San Cristobal de las Casas is the small village of San Juan Chamula. Kevin and I drove over one day to see what life was like outside the big city.

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The area is primarily mostly agriculture. Most families have small farms in the valley and in the hillsides.

Kevin and his father work in sustainable agriculture/development and they work with a lot of local farmers in the area. You would think that many of the farms in the small villages would use farming practices passed down from previous generations but most now use seeds and pesticides from the big agro companies. Kevin works with local farmer to use unmodified seeds and shows them sustainable practices.

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Arriving in Chamula, the first part of the city we visited was the graveyard. We parked the car and local kids selling handmade crafts came up hoping we’d buy their goods. Kevin comes here often so everywhere we went the kids recognized him and he said he’d buy something if they could remember his name. Pedro? Juan? They never guessed it so we continued the tour. As soon as I saw the graveyard all I could see were what looked like recently dug graves. Every grave looked like a fresh pile of dirt. I wondered what just happened here. Kevin quickly explained that for Dia de los Muertos it’s the tradition to clean the graves off. They remove all the grass and lay down fresh pine needles and flowers.

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The graveyard in Chamula

The thing that draws most people to visit Chamula is to see the church and the unique religious practices done here. The church here practices a mix of Catholicism, pre-conquest Mayan religion, and a combination of other things. When we walked in we were asked if we needed a spiritual cleaning. Kevin told me that the priest would sacrifice a chicken in a strange ritual for a few dollars if I wanted.

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Iglesia San Juan Chamula

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Photography inside the church is strictly prohibited (they will kick you out of town) and you have to pay an entrance fee to go inside. Spelling mistakes on signs are allowed though.

Inside the church there are no pews or chairs and the floor is covered in pine needles. Along the walls are large tables with wooden statues of saints on top. The saints all have a necklace with a large mirror on it to deflect evil. Kevin said that usually there are many rituals taking place in the church but it was quiet today.

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In the plaza in front of the church is the central market. Like other towns this was the busiest place in town.

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The Chamulans dress in a distinct local style. The women wear skirts made of a black fur and the men wear tunics made of white wool and most seem to wear cowboy hats.

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On the main street in Chamula

We drove a few miles to the town of Zinacantan and walked around. Even though it’s only 5 or so miles away, the local dress is completely different. Different fabrics and colors.

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The church in Zinacantan near Chamula.

 

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