Marc Becker's Home Page


Find on

Oaxaca and Chiapas 

Sunday, July 22, 2007


San Juan Batista de Chamula has a reputation for being a conflictive and intolerant place, tho with an interesting syncretic religious culture. When I said I wanted to go on my last orphaned day in San Cristóbal, Tomas and Carolina responded with a rather strong "Do not take photos!" I wonder if I had entered the town with no awareness of its history and reputation whether I would have seen it as little different than any other Indigenous town. We go expecting a rather rough and gruff reception, and that is what we get. The cathedral is in the middle of town and its main attraction, and the man at the door informs us that we need to go to the tourist office to buy 15-peso tickets to enter. The man in the tourist office sells us tickets with hardly saying a word. Inside the cathedral on a bed of pine needles with hundreds of candles, tourists gather around a traditional healer to watch as she treats a man with alcohol, tobacco, and a chicken. We are not allowed to take pictures, but the presence of paying tourists seems to turn this into a commodified spectacle. Outside the cathedral, a tourist attempts to take a picture of a religious procession but angry officials in traditional dress scream and run at her as if to beat her with their staffs. Then then turn on another man who apparently took a picture with a cellphone and chase him around to the back of the municipal building where they lock him in a cell. Had we not known the history of this community, we would have been quite shocked by this vigilante justice. As is, it just seemed to confirm for us the image of the community's reputation.

In the late afternoon we climbed the hill to the San Cristóbal church. Fireworks have been celebrating the town's patron saint. This morning a long parade of cars decked out with balloons and honking their horns crowded the city center. At the back side of the church, a priest was blessing a seemingly endless line of cars with holy water. Police officers directed traffic, and tried to hurry up those who lagged behind. The priest went thru the motions seemingly mechanically after hours of this work, with two young girls in tow carrying a collection plate for donations and a plastic jug of holy water. Rain had been threatening all afternoon, and finally it began to sprinkle and chased us back to the house.

And so Chiapas comes to an end, and I head back home tomorrow. I'll try to write up the rest of my notes on the plane on the events of the last couple days.

| Marc Becker's Home Page | |