A Helpless Rooster Awaits Sacrifice In Chamula’s Mesmerizing Church.

by | Jan 2, 2024

Smoke rises from the hundreds of candles burning on tables or a floor covered with pine needles. I strained my eyes to see the altar through the smoky haze.  

The Mayan-descended Tzotzil people kneeled and prayed in front of the candles. The congregants face all directions in this spacious Catholic Church without pews. I feel transported but to where? 

Praying individuals crowd the hall. One side displays statues of saints staring down at the believers.  

At the front, they cover the small altar with balloons tied from it to the roof. Wide ribbons flow down from each side, tied from the roof’s peak to the top of the wall below, thus forming an inverted “V” shape. 

Some men wear thick wool black or white ponchos tied with either a wide leather belt or a wide piece of white or red cloth. The women dress in embroidered blouses and woollen dresses. 

Here, Catholicism meets the traditional Mayan religion, where their ancient healing rituals are adapted to their current needs. They killed the priests over a hundred years ago.

I hear crowing. A rooster crows and cries for help from the whitish sac that imprisons him. Some still practice animal sacrifice, and the chicken must await his fate. No more sunrises for him.  

Groups of mesmerized tourists pass, oblivious to the poor cock. All wish they could pull out their cameras. For me, the temptation is great, but I resist. 

The Church forbids photography, and taking a photo could bring a violent reaction. The Tzotzil still possesses suspicious feelings toward outsiders. In addition, many believe photos would capture their two souls. These include a ch’ulel and a wayhel. The ch’ulel represents the personal soul, while the wayhel is a shared wild animal with the wayjei. Whatever happens to the animal spirit in everyone’s life also happens to the individual and the reverse.

I leave after 30 minutes of enthralment and head for the street sellers. They sold Zapatista dolls in the markets, spilling down the streets outside the Church. They covered these small rag dolls in black, holding a rifle with only their eyes exposed, thus displaying the mystery of these mountain towns whose people shed the external world.

Check out my latest posts

Minas Gerais’s Churches Reflect Lost Wealth

Minas Gerais’s Churches Reflect Lost Wealth

South American towns like Cusco and San Pedro de Atacama lie buried under throngs of tourists. However, three of Minas Gerais’s colonial gems wait for foreign discovery.    The settlements of São João del Rei, Tiradentes, and Ouro Preto belong to the...

Meet Ferocious Piranhas Feasting in the Amazing Amazon

Do I Want to Hold a Dangerous Amazonian Anaconda and Eat Piranhas? Dangerous, no? Everyone must hold an anaconda at least once in their life. I fly from Lima to Iquitos, the largest city in the world, inaccessible by road. A blast of hot, steamy air hits me as I...

Secrets of the Draa Valley

Secrets of the Draa Valley

When I reached the Draa Valley at sunset, I gazed at sunlit brown hills, deep valleys, and faraway snow-capped mountains. Despite their beauty, they failed to hint at what lay ahead.    Most people associate sand, camels and intense heat with the Sahara. Few...

Why You’ll Love the Spectacular Tongariro Crossing

Why You’ll Love the Spectacular Tongariro Crossing

Live volcanoes surround you. Warning signs show possible volcanic eruptions. Alpine lakes lie in the black lava from recent eruptions which cover the ground. Steam rises from holes in the side of a nearby mountain. A subtropical forest lies beyond the stark...

Why Should You Visit Amazing Bhaktapur

Why Should You Visit Amazing Bhaktapur

Centuries-old red brick buildings, some restored, others decrepit line Bhaktapur’s narrow, winding streets, drawing me into another era. Away from the tourist shops, little's changed since their construction. Bhaktapur, which means Place of Devotees, has the best...