Published: December 23rd 2005December 20th 2005
A little girl
The poor (real) side to Chiapas. Too many are like this, hence the Zapatistas uprising.
Having been informed that the security situation and openess to visitors can be a little suspect in the villages surrounding San Cristobal, I booked on a tour. First up, was Zinacantan, and a indigenous house where one women was weaving away and our guide expained how their clothes, traditionally with limited colours due to the natural dyes available and later with more colours from synthetics, were made. They also showed as the traditional way of making tortillas (much the same as you see in town) and the local drink alcholic drink Posh (normally forbided for outsiders to drink, but with money exceptions always seem to be made to traditions).
However I was more interested in the politics and situations amongst the different cultures, so after an explanation of all the above I relentlessly quizzed the guide on this, to which he gave informed, seemingly objective responses (although his explanation for what many consider a massacre in an indigenous village he seemed to explain more as a battle - siding with the government viewpoint).
San Cristobal made headlines worldwide in 1994 when a EZLN Zapalista uprising overtoke the town in protest of a the historical taking of indigenous land, which subsquently they
San Cristobal de Las Cases
The main Plaza, beauty with threatening clouds looming above.
are working on, often in poverty, largelly ignored by the government with little or no support or repect for their way of life. A number of people from a range of villages, of different cultures and languages grouped together to fight, overtaking farms and land and entering a number of towns. San Cristobal was re-taken (infact the rebels walked out before the military arrived) inevitably but some of the re-possessed land is still held by the rebels. The uprising was supported by the Mexican public in a number of places, but the villlages I visited were not supporters (a closer proximity to San Cristobal and closer integration has meant a removal from the problems faced in the other villages - i.e. access to health care etc). The conflict continues but it is more of a political affair now, with the Zapalistas frequently repeating they want a peaceful solution, though little has changed and a return to violence is possible.
Zincantan village is close to San Cristobal and is a real mix of the two cultures. With a certain acceptance of Catholicism though mixed with traditional approaches, it is more westernised then many of the other villages. Relations with the
A weird place. Unfortunately no pictures allowed from inside.
government are good here, which subsidies the village to an extent and whose people are educated, in Spanish, although many of the older generations speak little Spanish. Naturally an increase in formal education must largelly contradict their informal teachings, and ultimately a lot of the traditions will be lost as a result as the young start to question the contradictions (the same reason why a ultimately religion is likely to decrease worldwide as educational standards improves). However the people here seem very keen to maintain a balance and are proud of their routes, which is nice to see, as in many ways they get the best of both worlds, with improved healthcare etc.
Chamula on the otherhand has been for more resistant to Catholicism and western ways (despite the masses of tourists) and subsquently has much more tradition retained. There are masses of Coca Cola signs there due a curious coincidence of the drink having similar properties to one used for religious reasons (black and makes you burp easily) and therefore it recieves good sales here and is offered up in the church! I found this pretty darn funny and ironic how a plce so intent on maintaining it´s culture had introduced Coca Cola as an integral part! There´s plenty of other things suggesting the attempts to keep the culture, such as it´s possible to spend several days in jail if you stay overnight in the village as an outsider, anyone trying to preach or practise any other religion is ousted from the village for life (hence a variety of different faith churches on the outskirts of San Cristobal). The main church is quirky eerie place with grass on the floor, thousands of candels, no masses or priests, saints with mirrors on their chests and coca cola been offered up (plus many tourists). It´s a fascinating place, I felt I was intruding some what, and we probably were, but with number of visitors and interest to tourists they have failed to repress the interest and it brings in lots of money to the local economy (I´m sure lots of places worldwide don´t really want tourists, or more likely only small amounts but the amount of money it can generate makes their acceptance inevitable).
There are many villages further away who are strong Zapalista supporters, subsquently distant from visitors who aren´t welcome in many of them unless they have something to offer the village. They are also distant from Government and have little health care and formal education and subsquently much lower life expectancy and increased poverty. These villages would truly be fascinating to visit but potentially dangerous and unwelcoming. Almost because of the reasons no tourists go there is the reason which makes them so interesting, as they are so cut-off. But you connections to make this possible.
Our guide told us of plenty of oddities of the closer villages. One example was the need to clense the soul before dealing with injuries, hence a guy who badly burnt his arm, after setting his house on fire hammered on Posh, went through a week having his soul ´clensed´(whatever this entails) before having his wounds dealt with. Needless to say the Doctors were none to pleased when they eventually got a look at the man. Overall it seems amazing how the village has managed to maintain a lot of tradition despite the masses of tourists.