The Peoples of the World Foundation

Education for and about Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous Peoples Calendar Archive February, 2014: Tzotzil Sisters Choose Commerce over School
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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

I normally avoid large towns and cities in my traveling, prefering to stay in small communities where you can actually get a feel for and even participate in daily life. One of the few exceptions to this is when a large town or city acts as a natural hub in which to base myself as I visit surrounding smaller communities. One such hub is the town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas State, Mexico.

On my first day there I chose a guide and discussed options with him. There were a few near-by Tzotzil and Tzeltal communities I wanted to visit but I was otherwise open to his suggestions. As he explained various options they all sounded appealing until he suggested we include another large town (in fact the fourth-largest in the whole state), Comitán de Domínguez — a long way from the other places we would visit and almost on the Guatamalan border.

I hadn't researched Comitán in advance so I had a lot of questions for him. While most of his answers were about the colonial architecture and sites in the area that might interest the average tourist his one answer that got me to agree to go there — at least for a few hours — was about the predominantly indigenous Tzotzil and Tzeltal inhabitants.

When we arrived I was pleasantly surprised. The town was very clean relative to some others I'd already seen in the area. I knew there wouldn't be any time to get out of the town itself but that was fine as I rarely visit sites like waterfalls unless they have some specific cultural significance for the local people. Even so, after only a few minutes I already felt myself wanting to stay longer and made a mental note to base myself here next time I'm in the area.

We parked in a central location and walked for a few minutes into the main square. It was late afternoon but the area was a bustle of activity. Street vendors had collectively formed an outdoor market around the square selling all manner of food to locals and all manner of clothes and handicrafts to (mainly Mexican) tourists. I explored this market without my guide and chanced across these two young Tzotzil sisters. I knew schools were in session in the region (I'd already visited a few) so these girls must have already dropped out of the school system despite being, at most, in their early teens. We chatted for a while (in Spanish) and eventually I bought some clothes as gifts for friends.

The Tzotzil Maya are featured in our documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya.

Read more about the Tzotzil people.

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