The Modern Maya



    The Pre-Columbian practices of Mayan culture live in all their color, glory, and gore in the villages of Chiapas.  Ancient calendars, mythologies, and world beliefs are lived daily by the Tzotzils of Chamula and Zinacantán through ritual, sacrifice, and carnival.  The churches of Chiapas are filled with Catholic symbols which have essentially been sucked into an ever-developing mythology described by the Popul Vuh.  Inside the Templo de San Juan and other municipio churches, a hall of European Saints watch as curenderos (male and female shamens) spit posh on sacrificial chickens.  Posh, like Coca-cola, is a sacred beverage used to expel evil spirits.  Distribution of these items is strictly controlled by Tribal leaders.

Ancient methods of cooperative maize (corn) farming by men and women reaches into the steep slopes of the Highlands.  The wool of el borrego (the sheep) is woven into traditional clothing that provide warmth in the frigid altitude.  Community work incentive focuses upon human sustenance and is not economically driven.  The product is mainly for family use and weekly markets allow villagers to barter goods.  The living mythologies of the Tzotzil-Maya constantly reference the borrego and the maize that provide their community sustenance.

In recent years, men have begun wearing blue jeans and American T-shirts although women and elders strictly adhere to traditional dress codes.  A long wool skirt with a colorfully embroidered shirt is worn by the woman.  The color and decoration of her shirt immediately tells other Tzotzils of her township, heritage, and marital status.  A tribal leader is identified by a wool serape and a hat with flowing ribbons that symbolize the extent of his power.

The indigenous peoples of Chiapas interact daily with the global cultures that have come to see them.  The adaptability of Maya cosmology enriches itself with international ideas while maintaining the customs of Pre-Conquest inheritance.  Anthropologist Gary Gossen describes the blending of ancient and contemporary culture within the community:

                Chamula life and thought-like other Maya cultural expression, both ancient and modern- move forward by reassessing the past in much the same manner that a weaver moves forward on the frame of a loom, building new fabric by returning time and again to the pattern of the work while also adding new material, perhaps also new patterns and designs.
                      (Four Creations XXIII)

               
                                  
                                   Lorenza, a Tzotzil craftswoman of Zinacantán.