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San Juan Chamula is a municipio (municipality) and township in the Mexican state of Chiapas. It is situated some 10 km (6.2 mi) from San Cristóbal de las Casas. As of 2010, the municipality had a total population of 76,941.
The town enjoys unique autonomous status within Mexico. No outside police or military are allowed in the village. Chamulas have their own police force. One of the best ethnographic descriptions of Chamula in English is Chamulas in the World of the Sun by Gary H. Gossen.
As of 2010, the town of Chamula had a population of 3,329. Other than the town of Chamula, the municipality had 149 localities, the largest of which (with 2010 populations in parentheses) were: Cruztón (1,756), Yaltem (1,664), Chicumtantic (1,599), Nichnamtic (1,496), Muquén (1,480), Majomut (1,450), Saclamantón (1,348), Catishtic (1,319), Romerillo (1,310), Cuchulumtic (1,275), Narváez (1,207), Bautista Chico (1,173), Las Ollas (1,165), Macvilho (1,142), Tentic (1,121), Arvenza Uno (1,107), Pugchén Mumuntic (1,046), and Tzontehuitz (1,004), classified as rural.
The church of San Juan, in the municipal cabecera (headtown), is filled with colorful candles, and smoke from burning copal resin incense, commonly used throughout southern Mexico. Along the walls of the church, as in many Catholic churches, are dressed-up wooden statues of saints in large wooden cases, many wearing mirrors to deflect evil. The local form of Catholicism is a blend of pre-conquest Maya customs, Spanish Catholic traditions, and subsequent innovations.
There are no pews in the church, and the floor area is completely covered in a carpet of green pine boughs and soda bottles (mostly Coca Cola). Curanderos (medicine men) diagnose medical, psychological or ‘evil-eye’ afflictions and prescribe remedies such as candles of specific colors and sizes, specific flower petals or feathers, or - in a dire situation - a live chicken. The specified remedies are brought to a healing ceremony. Chamula families kneel on the floor of the church with sacrificial items, stick candles to the floor with melted wax, drink ceremonial cups of Posh, artisanal sugar-cane-based liquor, and chant prayers in an archaic dialect of Tzotzil.
Photography in the town is very difficult as parents will hide their children or they themselves will turn away as soon as they spot a camera. Photography within the church is strictly prohibited as is photographing the Christmas procession to the church. They can throw you out of town if you attempt to violate this rule.
- Report of religious conflicts between Catholics and Evangelicals in Chamula in the late nineties
- The Elliott's 'Remedy' Website
- (Spanish) Video from the town square during a festival, including a conversation with two young Chamulas (17 September 2007).