Blood and candle smoke

The chicken kicks out in vain because the hand holding him is too strong. The church is filled to the rim with people on the floor, candles on tables and smoke to the ceiling. Prayers are being mumbled in languages no Europeans ever understood, not those who came here in 1519 and neither those who come here today. Suddenly the chicken gets a whack over the head. A red spot forms on the stone floor, and he stops kicking. The Gods have been pacified, and for other creatures than him, life can go on.

We are in the church of de San Juan Chamula, a few kilometres from San Cristobal de las Casas in the Mexican highland state of Chiapas. Virtually the entire population of this area are Tzotzil, a Maya people speaking one of the 30 Maya languages still heard in Mexico and Guatemala. They are one of many indigenous groups who survived the Spanish conquest by turning catholic in name only, taking their own spirits and beliefs with them into the European churches. The chicken just scarified on the floor in front of us was not given to Jesus the son of God, but to the Tzotzil idols.

This scene is just one of a long line of examples of how so much of what we see in Latin America is connected to history. In this case the history of a conquered people who found ways of keeping their culture alive. 

This is Mexico City anno 1519 as interpreted by the great Mexican painter Diego Rivera. Emperor Moctezuma II sits in his white robe. In the background the great city and the mountains surrounding it.

In Ecuador we visited Cochasqui, a city that not only preceded the Spaniards, but also the Inka kingdom that the Spaniards fought when they arrived to the Andes in the 1530ties. In Teotihuacan north of Mexico City we admired the huge pyramids put up almost one thousand years before the people we today know as the Aztecs took control of the valley of Mexico. In the anthropology museum in Mexico City ES renewed her fascination for the Olmecs, a civilization dating back yet another one thousand years. And in the Mexico City National Palace Diego Riveras murals showed us Mexico’s violent journey from Cortes and Moctezuma of 1520 via the 1840ties US wars up to the Villa and Zapata revolution of 1914. 

South and Central America has an impressive history that ought to be on the agenda of any tourist visiting this part of the world. The Mayas carved their stories in stone, keeping a calendar as accurate as the one we live by today. The Inkas constructed a network of roads throughout the Andes mountains, and the Azteks built a city that was in their time, and still is today, among the biggest in the world. Their culture was brilliant, but also very violent. Their history is in many ways as bloody as the Spanish conquest of the 16th century.

Our Latin American tour of 2023 was for a large part a journey thru bits and pieces of this history. And also, not to forget, a journey thru our own personal history! DHH started his Latin adventures as a freelance journalist, ES as an aid worker. Our personal Latin American history might not cover half a millennium, but it does cover almost half a century. That is not so bad either!

2 thoughts on “Blood and candle smoke

  1. Alles sehr eindrücklich. Danke für die Erklärung und die Fotos. Frage: was sind das für gegrillte Tiere?


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