Tzotzil Chamulan Worship Service in Chiapas
One of the things I have enjoyed most since I started my retirement adventure is the flexibility. While visiting San Cristobal de las Casis in Chiapas, Mexico last week we were invited by a friend to go with him and visit a few of the surrounding indigenous communities. He is a director of Foundation Escalera, an NGO whose goal is to bring schools and education to the children of Mexico and accordingly has a good relationship with and a lot of good contacts within the community.
One of the communities we visited, called Nichnamtic opened their hearts, their homes and their institutions to us. We got a tour of the village, a look at the schools and were treated to a special meal in one of the leader’s homes. We also got something even rarer; and an invitation to photograph a Traditional Tzotzil Chamulan Worship Service; from inside the church. Look online! This just doesn’t happen very often. (If you would like to see more of the images of the Traditional Tzotzil Chamulan Worship Service click here).
It all seems like a very organized but raucous celebration. I also found it very confusing and if anyone has information I should add or wishes to straighten me out on something I got wrong please let me know but this is my understanding: In 1867 the indigenous peoples known as the Chamulas expelled the last of the Catholic priests from their parishes and now practice a religion that is a mixture of old pagan rituals and Christianity. At the services quantities of Pox (pronounced “Posh” a liquor made from sugar cane) cigarettes, and Coca Cola is consumed (the latter presumably to create big belches that expel evil spirits from the body). Delicious traditional food is served: A brass band plays, bells are rang, homemade bottle rockets are fired and ritual dances are performed for a variety of saints. There are no pews and the floors are covered with pine needles and thousands of glowing candles arranged so they can “climb” to the saints whose likenesses are encased in glass, booth like containers, at the back of the church.
Lighting was a challenge: Smoke from Pine scented copal incense filled the air and even though we had permission many of the worshipers were understandably shy. It was also intimidating. Everywhere I pointed the camera was something just screaming to be captured. Should I shoot details or should I shoot the overall scene? Should I use a shallow depth of field and leave the background mysterious or should I use a deep depth of field to capture everything because it is all so mysterious? Didn’t really matter; the people of Nichnamtic were so gracious and accommodating I got all the time I wanted. I even got treated to drinks of Posh and bowls of atole (a sweet, warm, surprisingly good boiled corn drink). I was offered beers and bread and tacos. I even got invited back! That is an invitation I will certainly enjoy.