Many ethnic groups live in Chiapas, who still keep
their traditions, languages and folklore alive.
Their economy is based on cultivation, corn,
beans, squash, potatoes, vegetable pears, tomatoes
and other plants, and also raising animals, such
as pigs and poultry. In addition, many natives in
Soconusco region work on coffee plantations.
Their ethnic groups now living in the region are
Tzotzils and Tzeltals in the center of the state,
area known as Chiapas Highlands, Chujes, Choles
and Zoques in North, Tojolabalas in Southeast,
Mames, Cakchiquels and Mochos in South of the
state and also part of Guatemala and Lacandons,
who live in Eastern rain forest.
All these tribes speak languages derived from
Maya, except for Zoques, whose language is related
to that of Mixes in Oaxaca State and of Popolucas
of Veracruz. The largest of these groups is that
of Tzeltals, which ranks eighth in size among
Mexico's indigenous people.
Broadly speaking, natives of Chiapas hold various
beliefs that are repeated from group to group. For
example, the idea that every human being has
spiritual animal double in common to almost all of
them. This animal, which shares person's destiny,
may be eagle, margay or showy bird. Until a few
years ago, Choles used the name of a plant or
animal as their second surname.
Ancestor worship is practiced and legends are
perpetuated about super natural beings, demons and
animal doubles that live in rivers, forests and
mountains. Choles, for example, take care of
certain sacred caves, as they believe that they
are homes of spirits, which control rain, wind,
storms and other natural phenomena. Lacandons
still practice rite in honor of the old man Nojoch-yum-chac,
god of rain.
Another characteristic is the religious syncretism
of ancient beliefs and Catholicism. Tzeltals
venerate "talking crosses", sculptures
associated with pre-Hispanic idols, which
according to tradition talk to the the faithful.
Of all the fiestas organized by different groups
of the state, Chamula Carnival, also called Kin
Tajimultic, is the most famous. This is the
most important fiesta of Totzils and includes
cavalcades, ritual dances, procession of flags and
the spectacular fire running. These ceremonial
activities serve to reaffirm the group's identity
and to revive ancestral religion based largely on
Other groups show syncretism in their beliefs:
Choles worship Black Christ in the town of Tila;
Tojolabals organize pilgrimages to visit different
saints, but at the same time venerate sun, which
they regard as creator and protector deity, as
well as moon, the steered of life.
Lancadons still hold to their ancient beliefs and
put them into practice regularly. For example,
head of family line feeds the gods with pozol, a
drink made of corn. This rite is accompanied by
chant reasserting the group's respect for its
environment, its own history and continuity of
Natives of Chiapas practice both sorcery and
traditional medicine, along with their magic and
religious activities. They have their own Ilol,
who is the folk healer with wide knowledge that he
uses to heal both bodies and souls. These special
people believe that sickness is caused by
imbalance between man and his social or
Ethnic communities of Chiapas have various system
of social and administrative power. There are
Stewards (Mayordomos), who are the
decision-making leaders of groups. Choles have
traditional form of government under the care of
elders, while Lacandons recognize the oldest
member of Caribal (traditional cluster of
huts) as their sole authority. Among Zoques, for
example, there are Albaceas, who take care
of images, and Fiscales, who are in charge
of rites, chants and prayers.
Colorful costumes of ethnic groups in Chiapas are
as varied as the countryside that surrounds them.
Large number of their mythological figures are
woven into their clothes.
Tzotzil women wear shifts (Huipiles),
incorporating sun symbols, geometric butterflies,
flowers, cornfields and toads. The brightly
embroidered shifts of Tenejapa in Tzeltal stand
out against the green backdrop of vegetation.
Climate of each region also influences dress.
Lacantons, living in heat and humidity of the rain
forest, wear long white tunics, while Tzeltals in
mountains have to protect themselve from cold,
with thick woolen jackets. Chujes wear Capisayos,
capes made of palm leaves, which are very useful
against rainy climate of the region where they
Among some groups, such as Tzotzils, costume is
not simply clothing, it is a mark distinguishing
group from group. Change of costume signifies
change of personality, culture and home.
Chiapas is also famous for its crafts. Tojolabals
make various articles in wood and clay. Lacandons
produce reed flutes, hammocks, nets, leather bags,
polished and decorated grounds, clay dolls and
necklaces of seeds. Zoques are masters at baskets
and making toys. All groups in general are
Dances are always feature of native festivities.
Choles perform dramatic ones, symbolizing fight
between bulls and jaguars, or between them and
Spanish. In Holy Week, instead of dancing, they go
on pilgrimages, headed by Tatuches or
Zoques have different dances; "Women's
Dance" (Yomo etze), Corn Dance (Mote'
Xu), and the dance of Malinche or Malintzin,
because this woman who helped Cortes in the
Conquest, wasoriginally from Copainanla.