On January 1, 1994 a masked indigenous army calling themselves Zapatista took hold of a Mexican army base and five Chiapaneca cities. The Mexican Government responded with unquestionable force & regained control of the region in four days.  Although there have been no major battles since 1997, tensions in the region are ever-present. Human rights observers report continued paramilitary violence and intimidation in the region.

In 2006 the unofficial perspective of the Mexican government is that Zapatistas are good for tourism. Immediately after Mexico lifted its ban on travel to Chiapas, journalists and humanitarian workers inundated Chiapas. Since the violence abated, International students and adventurous tourists have been swarming into Chiapas to taste the revolution.  This sort of Westernization, it seems is good for re-attracting the international business that fled Chiapas in 1994. International corporations such as Nestle, Monsanto, and Chase Manhattan have resumed their interest in Chiapas land and market acquisition.

The extensive sale of Marcos T-shirts, coffee cups, and bumper stickers throughout the state some say, is encouraged by the Mexican government as a means for transforming a serious issue into a passing fashion.

Acquiring Zapatista souvenirs is easy and safe in Chiapas, acquiring information on the situation is not.  The culture of secrecy that dominates southern Mexico is a matter of survival.  The Government, the coyotes, and the intellectuals dawn smiles and invisible masks to cloak a harsh political reality that tourists cannot know.  The facts pertaining to regional conflict are distorted into propaganda and it is easy to be persuaded by conspiracy theories that come from every side.

If there are undistorted facts in Chiapas, they are kept secret by the indigenous population around whom the situation revolves.  The Mayan cultures of Chiapas have recently lost their Constitutional right - -Article 27 of the 1917 Constitution of Mexico-- to native lands. They are rapidly being displaced by cooperate land interest.  There is evidence of torture and assignation by paramilitary groups against the natives who refuse to accept the new situation.  Masked and anonymous, Zapatistas claim to represent the indigenous communities and demand of the reinstatement of tribal land rights guaranteed by Article 27.

The Zapatistas state that media attention is their strongest defense.  They have used art, music, and poetry to attract the eyes of the world.  Simultaneous with the 1994 indigenous conquest, markets throughout Chiapas began selling dolls representing rebel leaders.  The dolls, however, are not made by Zapatista collectives.   Visits to Oventik prove that even the dolls sold at Zapatista camps are imported from San Juan Chamula.

The municipio of San Juan Chamula is an indigenous community ruled by Tribal Law. They have firmly established their self-rule with the Mexican government and live with virtual autonomy. Therefore, Chamulans haven't the need to become involved with the Zapatista struggle for self-rule. Internal conflict plagues the community that has entered a violent religious crisis.

Of the various Maya communities in the Chiapas Highlands, only Chamula has an ancestral history in doll making.  It is obvious in material and technique that The Zapatista Dolls or Marcos Dolls are masked versions of the ancient Chamulita dolls. Sold throughout the tourist markets of Chiapas. The dolls apparently have little significance to their makers except as marketable product.  The addition of the ski mask, however, to the Chamulita doll is read as a symbolic rebellion against global commodification of native cultures.

The Zapatista Dolls are a direct result of the indigenous uprising thus an accurate ethnology of them is both difficult and inextricability bound to politics.  By working directly with the Tzotzil women of Chamula, focused upon the doll making process, this project hopes to relay the historical and cultural conditions while avoiding political affiliation.



        Doll Identification
A visual encyclopedia of the Marcos Dolls.

Locates the source of Zapatista doll creation.

Provides a brief understanding of indigenous politics.

Seeks an understanding of modern indigenous culture.

        San Juan Chamula
Enters Tzotzil village life in the Chiapas Highlands.

        Crisis in the Highlands
Relays the contemporary struggle of the region.

        State of Chiapas
Demographic and economic facts about the region.

Despite the fact that little is said or known about the Zapatista Dolls, they are a popular item on the international market.  The fantastic dolls make their way from the village of Chamula to virtually every city in Chiapas.  Throughout Mexico they are gobbled up by tourists from the First World as souvenirs from the Third.  Import and craft stores across the globe stock the dolls and they are traded on the internet for relatively high prices. The appeal of Zapatista dolls to a Western market is examined in MASKED METAPHORS: Voices of Rebellion in the Global Market.


A Brief History of Mexico @

History of the Maya in Mexico by Luis Dumois

Timeline of Zapatista History from Autonomedia