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Chichicastenango

Shades of Religious Syncretism!

Here I sit in sunny Los Angeles. A strong Santa Ana wind is blowing in from the desert, and the humidity is rapidly sinking, giving millions of people in Southern California a bad hair day. (But then, it seems I am living a bad hair lifetime.)

A year ago, I was fantasizing about a New Mexico vacation as I was entering another tax season. Even though it was my last tax season—as I am now fully retired—I am still dreaming about making another vacation getaway, this time to Guatemala. It would be my first stay among the Maya since my many Mexico trips between 1975 and 1992.

The scene above reminds me of my trips to Highland Mayan villages in the State of Chiapas, especially Chamula and Zinacantán. In those villages, the Mayans worshiped in what once were Catholic churches, but after the 19th century expulsion of the priests, were turned into the worship of the Mayan guides. Here is a description of a scene from the church in Chamula, where one is forbidden to take pictures upon pain of violence or death:

A live chicken with its feet bound was removed from a burlap sack and laid down upon the church’s floor. Three rows of perhaps a dozen candles each were placed in front of the chicken, all were fully blazing. A bottle of Coca-Cola sat to the right. A heavy set matured woman in a long dress emblazoned with a purple flower pattern was kneeling behind the offerings, sitting on her heels. A young man was kneeling next to the woman, and an older man with a mustache took up the same position on the other side. All three adults were rocking back and forth, chanting prayers in Tzotzil. The woman then withdrew a kitchen knife, and with a quick flick of her wrist the chicken was sacrificed.

I suspect that the Mayans of Chichicastenango in the Guatemalan Highlands is not too diferent, except that the dialect spoken is not Tzotzil, but Kaqchikel. The town is famous for its handicrafts market and for the devoutness of campesinos visiting Santo Tomás church, shown above. I’ll bet that, as in Chamula, one is forbidden to take a camera into the church.

 

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