Chamula 1San Juan Chamula, about 10km from San Cristobal de Las Casas in the Chiapas highland in southern Mexico, is the commerce and religious hub of the fiercely independent Tzotzil Maya community. The Chamulas still dressed in their traditional attires and have their own police force; no outside police or military are allowed in the town.

Although the town itself is nothing to shout about, hundreds of visitors still descend upon this indigenous town daily, drawn by the exotic culture, native handicrafts, and the strange practices that go on in the town’s church. Described as a mixed of Catholicism, ancient Maya traditions, and Santeria practices, the church of San Juan is filled with colourful candles, smoke from burning incenses, and statues of saints with pale skin and dark eyes.

Chamula 2There are no pews or benches inside the church and the floor is completely covered in a carpet of green pine needle. Worshipers kneel on the floor, light candles and chant prayers. Medicine men diagnosed physical and spiritual problems of the people and prescribe ancient healing rituals, some of which use eggs, bones, and live chickens that are sacrificed inside the church.

With local women in their traditional colourful blouse and black wool skirt it creates wonderful photography, but most local people will turn away the moment they see a camera. It is strictly prohibited to take photos inside the church and during religious ceremonies. If you are caught taking photos, they will force you to delete them, and in the worst case scenario, expel you from the church or even from the town. Chamula 3