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Published: August 8th 2007
Silently humming Perry Como's 'Magic Moments' while leaving Oaxaca City via the first class bus station, which in comparison to the one we arrived at was more like walking through the final scene of Kubricks 2001. Bright lights, white interiors and many 5ft female security guards armed with whistles and guns. After being frisked by these ladies, finger prints taken, irises scanned, we boarded the coach. The butch security woman stormed up the isles shooting film with a Sony camcorder just in case we caused a raucous, which I thought was a very good idea.
San Cristobel is 7000ft above sea level, which after three months battling the heat was light relief, my idle jeans and warm hoodie came out of hiding and a momentary thought of being wrapped up in a duvet in English winter came to mind. As I ate take-away pizza and scanned the internet, time lost bohemians, new world families and other non categorised travelling folk passed our hotel courtyard gates all looking like they are going somewhere interesting.
This is a strange very old town, it’s believed that the indigenous residents, (one million of whom are of direct Mayan descent) speak mainly Tzeltal and
Tzotzil languages, which are a headache if you're dyslexic, however most people in the region cannot read nor write.
These people have a strong protective community, photos are not allowed to be taken in certain areas and their medical and spiritual traditions have withstood the tests of time, these treasures have been exported to other nations by white shamans and word of mouth twitters, these whispers have been heard by multinational organisations such as a certain fizzy pop company. 10 km northeast out of town is the smaller villages of San Juan Chamula it is alleged they have many strange traditions. One such custom being the coca cola guzzling soul purification purge belching ritual, many also wish to find out what actually does go on inside their very busy and active sacred catholic 18th century church building?
We had a great guide named Alberto from the Hotel Margarita calle real de Guadalupe. He took us to the village and into people’s homes, which were Mayan holy places, 16th century replica builds of traditional mud huts, some had sacred shrines these were handpicked by elders after the towns youth who are now grown men had put their names on
lists many Mayan years back to take temporary residence as the town religious leaders called ‘cargo’ meaning burden for 18 months of 20 days this is counted using the Mayan calendar. These special newly promoted religious cargos transform their lives and homes in to sacred shrines for one particular saint and it costs mega cash to do with no lotto or government funding to help out. They must offer festivals, music, food and drink, incense, flowers, the whole shebang, but daily. Imagine preparing for Christmas day every day for 13 months of 20 days unthinkable stress. St. John of the dead lake did this 8 times in his life and was promoted to ‘mayordomos’ then the highest order of ‘principles’.
I saw many people guzzling fizzy drinks, but no one was really belching in any ceremonial way. Alberto told us it was just hyped up bollocks anyhow, it all started many years ago when some groups of people were low on sugar levels and energy, they functioned for many years on natural stuff called ‘pox’ made from pineapple and sugar cane, then the fizzy drinks thing kicked in and gave them back the sugar and salts needed to sustain
life in an easy to get hold of bottle and it was now possible purging personal evil with more dramatic effects, you 'Can't beat the real thing'
Our whole life is energy; everything we see, touch, do and be is energy. Balance is what is needed to be understood and this is what is so important to these people. The religious men, shamans and chosen curanderos are the energy channels for the people. Their healing talents are based upon the individual’s energy; your pulse speaks volumes not only your physical well-being but spiritual too. Your dreams are looked at and discussed, all relationships are vital to well being and state of minds. Then we went onto the finale, inside the church itself. This was a sight to see, even for me, I was frothing at the mouth desperate to take a photo but this act was a lot more dangerous to consider than a single thought of taking a stolen snap.
On the outside this 18th century church stood tall and strong in foundations, just like many churches in this country. After finally deciding not to risk my camera or myself being stamped on in public show of
16th century old build...
Against 21st century Consumerism
humiliation, I stepped inside the church and the sight before me took my breath clean away. The strong smells of fresh pine and incense seeped through my nostrils. The pine needles had been freshly scattered on the floor in the morning, symbolising one step nearer to heaven. The floor was cleared of all pews and fonts, there were no grand organ or a single bible to be seen and nothing remotely related to a normal Catholic Church remained within. The white marble floor was a clear space and yet tucked between the pine needle swirls were rows of burning candles, incense and glass bottles.
One man clearly displayed his life purpose to me, with his scraper and tin can in hand he kept order by clearing up the discarded melted wax, incense ash and wilted flowers, helping keep the area clear for the next family or individual to set up another momentary shrine and so it moved very quickly onwards. As I walked through this oddness, balanced upon numerous painted wooden tables and along both walls left and right of me were glass coloured shrines of saints gone by, framed in beautiful gold ornate leaf with bunches of sweet
smelling flowers weaved in and around it, flowers are an important commodity in this Chiapas area, the ‘curanderos’ is identified in the towns by wearing one big flower on a red poncho.
In between sat family’s huddles around assorted candles and consumerable offerings. The light from the candles reflected from the glass saint cabinets and fizzy drink bottles glistened. There were rows of Fanta, Coke, Pepsi glass bottles looked like they held urine, im not saying it was urine, it could just be out of date stuff or original ‘pox’ pineapples (sounding like ‘posh) People were drinking from some of them, disappointedly not a gaseous syllable left their chanting mouths. The prayers heard sounded centuries old in dialect. The elderly were rocking, praying, singing and being.
The young were pretending to be rocking, praying, singing and being very curious at all of us gauping back at all of them. At the very end of the church where the vicar and choir should be sitting, I thought I had spotted some oddly dressed belchers in action, but it was six painters and decorators on their break sharing a coke, business as usual for some. I did wonder if this
was this some massive publicity stunt from the Coca Cola regime.
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