The Tzeltales and Tzotziles belong to the great Mayan family, which originally was a branch that emigrated from the High Cuchumatanes in Guatemala to Upper Chiapas. They began to settle in the Altos de Chiapas between 500 and 750 BC. From 1200 onwards, the differentiation of languages and regions was part of the varied settlement patterns of the Tzotziles and Tzeltales, within the framework of a Mexican system called “usages and customs” that sought to respect traditional indigenous authority and politics. The Tzeltales define themselves as “those of the original word”, batzil k’op in the Mayan language.
Currently, they constitute the ethnic majority of Chiapas and 34% of the total indigenous population of the state. Most of them live in the central zone of Los Altos, which has an indigenous population of between 70 and 100%. The mestizo population of the region is mainly concentrated in the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas and in certain municipalities such as Teopisca, Yajalón, Chilón, Bachajón, Pantelho, Ocosingo, Altamirano, Cancuc, Tenejapa, Oxchuk, Huixtán, Amatenango and Teopisca.
In the Tzeltal worldview, their world is composed of a cosmos (chul chan), mother earth (lum balumilal or chul balumilal) and the underworld (k’atimbak). The balance and harmony between these three spaces are rewarded by the protective deities of the universe: the Sun, the Moon and the Mountains.
The custom of the Tzeltal community is the culture of the people. It represents indigenous beliefs and knowledge, practices and technologies. Knowing how to live in harmony and within a frame of reference based on the notions of respect, work, assembly, not to mention a particular sense of bringing the soul to the body and knowing how to manifest itself, which identifies a good person.
Within the regional market, each community has a specialty in the manufacture of crafts. The Tzeltales of Amatenango make clay artifacts and the women of Aguacatenango are famous for their white embroidery of blouses, dresses, nightgowns, tablecloths and pants on loom fabrics, giving an almost transparent cotton texture. Among the handicrafts, the manufacture of woven fabrics has an enormous ethnocultural value for its traditional creations, based on Mayan symbols such as the lozenge (which represents the cosmos), icons of cosmic animals such as the snake, toad, scorpion, etc.. In this art, the women of Tenejapa stand out for the quality of their embroidery.
One of the most important characteristics of this memory and tradition is that it expresses the sense of the sacred that Mother Earth and nature represent for them. This relationship of respect is characterized by the planting and harvesting of plants and flowers on which traditional medicine depends, and respect for the community and its inhabitants.
As for festivals and traditions, the community of Tzeltal strictly follows the celebration of a calendar, in which it thanks Mother Earth for the harvests and gives offerings to the patron saints of the community. All municipalities celebrate the patron saints’ feasts throughout the year, whether it is San Juan, in Cancuc, or San Ildefonso, in Tenejapa. Among the most emblematic celebrations are the carnivals of Tenejapa and Oxchuc.
Also one of the most important festivals of the community is EL CARNAVAL “AKOT WACAX” (“BAILE DEL TORO”) Tenejapa and Oxchuc, which share with other cities of Los Altos the recreation of the image of the bull as the central character of the carnival celebration at the end of February. The end of the year and the beginning of the new harvest are celebrated. The carnival characters spend a whole week mocking what is established, starting with the identity of the men who become “Maruchas” (Marías), dressed in women’s clothing. During this time, they take care to quench their thirst with pox, all sitting in circular rows in the square. The bull represents the struggle for life among the men. He is persecuted, ironized and he sneaks in and maintains the drama with his ramblings until finally, on the last day of the carnival, he is caught and devoured by the participants and guests of the town (who eat meat from a real bull to symbolize).
In everyday life, there are many concepts and values of the Tzeltal man that revolve around corn. Human life is conceived thanks to it, and the task in the corn field is a source of social prestige: such, the notion of work, comes from the corn field and refers to activities related to the cultivation of corn; the man who knows how to work is the one who harvests a lot of corn.
The collective “Malacate taller experimental Textil” is formed by women of this community whose handicrafts are in the solidarity store.