K and I are in San Cristobal de las Casas in the highlands of the Mexican state Chiapas, not far away from Guatemala. San Cristobal is known, amongst other things, for its indigenous population, the indigenous villages which surround it, and for being the locus for the revolutionary Zapatistas, and their Che Guevara-esque leader Subcommandante Marcos. The Zapatistas, who started a brief revolution on 1994, are still alive and around in this area, but have lost much of their power.
We will be staying here through Easter Sunday in order to enjoy the city and its surroundings, to take in a bullfight (Easter Sunday), and to experience Semana Santa, Easter Week, in the second largest Catholic country in the world, after Brazil.
For us, Semana Santa started on Wednesday when K and I went on an organized tour of two of the indigenous villages close to San Cristobal: San Juan de Chamula and Zinacantan. Chamula is inhabited by the indigenous Tzotzil Maya people, and is similar to a US indian reservation – the inhabitants of Chamula have a great deal of autonomy. The inhabitants also have a unique religion, incorporating a blend of Catholicism, Mayan beliefs, and shamans. When we visited them on Wednesday, they were in the process of preparing their saints – I believe they have 128 of them, derived from the catholic church. Each saint has a spiritual leader assigned to him/her, and along with the spiritual leader, a related group of people. Preparation involves many rituals, most of which I did not understand, but also involves cleaning the statue of the saint, cleaning and ironing his/her clothes, burning of much incense, vast quantities of fireworks, and drinking of much alcohol !!
The religious beliefs in the village of Zinacantan, even though its only 15 min down the road, are different, as is the clothing and the rituals. Here we were fortunate enough to see a procession which brought a few of the saints our for a tour of the church plaza. I’m not sure if this was directly related to Semana Santa, or if the saints were brought out to quell unrest in the village and restore harmony – apparently this is done as required during the year.
That was Wednesday; today is Good Friday, or Long Friday as we say in Sweden, the saddest day in the liturgical calendar. Give how Catholic Mexico is, I was surprised that all the shops and markets were open, I had expected everything to be closed.
Starting at 9 am, there were processions carrying statues of Jesus, Mary, and various saints, through San Cristobal. Apparently there was also a live re-enactment of Jesus’ path up to Golgoha – horses, Roman soldiers et al – but we missed that one. The processions we did see, there are numerous ones, sang as they walked down the streets, and would stop at shrines that people had put up along the streets, or at important corners, where the pastor would say a few words before the procession moved on.
The religious festivities continue, I’m curious to see what Sunday brings. Although one thing I know Sunday brings is a bullfight – should be interesting…