This small Chamulan community, located about halfway between San Cristóbal and Tenejapa, is home to Chamula’s principal cemetery. A sublime sight, the graveyard occupies a small rise alongside the main road, with a series of high blue-painted crosses at the crest. The graves are also marked with smaller crosses, as well as thick wood boards placed over the earthen mounds.
The boards represent doors, and every November 1 (Día de Todos los Santos, or All Saints Day) the living gather in the cemetery to commune with their dead. The grave of a loved one is first cleaned to appear freshly dug, then decorated with flowers, offerings of food and drink, and a thick layer of pine boughs (evergreens represent eternal life).
Then, holding a shawl over their heads, family members lift an edge of the board and speak directly, sometimes at length, with the spirit of their deceased relative. Photos are forbidden on that day, but travelers are welcome to attend—it’s a remarkable event—and can take pictures any other day.
The boards, flowers, and decorations remain in place until refreshed the following year.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition