PHOTOS OF A MAYA COMMUNITY

The photos and text presented here are based on my anthropological field work in Zinacantan, Chiapas, Mexico. They were published in Another Place: Photographs of a Maya Community (Scrimshaw Press 1974).  The book has been out of print for many years

My work in Zinacantan began in August 1960 when I went there to do dissertation research as part of Evon Z. Vogt's Harvard Chiapas Project.  It continued sporadically over many years and many ethnographic projects.  By 1971 when I went to Zinacantan to concentrate on photography I had spent more than 24 months there, and had many friends and acquaintances as well as access to families in their homes and to community ceremonies that were often closed to outsiders with cameras.  Most of the photos here (60 of  81) were taken in summer 1971, and all the others in 1961-62

The pictures and text are ordered as they are in the book.  There is an introduction, six topical sections, and a conclusion. The topical sections cover schools, public religious fiestas, trips to the nearby city of  San Cristobal de las Cases, farming in the lowlands, the justice system, and curing rituals.   Portraits and photos of people working or playing at home and walking on public ways are in almost every section – four at the end of each  of the first five topical sections, and others in the introduction and the conclusion.

The Zinacantan pictured here would be hard to find in the 21st century.  Much of life in Zinacantan has been transformed in many ways: by population growth  (from 7,600 in 1960 to about four times that number in 2000), by development of hydroelectric power in Chiapas, the exploitation of petroleum resources in neighboring Tabasco, and the rapid expansion of roads.  It is no longer true that most men in Zinacantan are corn farmers, or that few adult women speak any Spanish.  And, many government programs have influenced everyday life in the hamlets where most of Zinacantan's people live.  Those hamlets now have their own public buildings, jails, and churches -- with attendant civil and religious officials.  So people no longer travel to and from the ceremonial and political center as often as they did in 1970.

The Zapatistas, who announced their rebellion by taking over the municipal building in San Cristobal de las Cases on January 1, 1994, made Chiapas known in much of the world.  While Zinacantan is near but not in the Zapatista zone,  government reactions to the rebellion and the continuing political struggle have changed the lives of its people. And, in retrospect it is easy to see that many of the programs that changed Zinacantan in the 1980s and 1990s were part of efforts to forestall the mobilization that surfaced as the Zapatista movement.

George Collier's Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas (written with Elizabeth Lowery Quaratiello,  Food First Books 1994  and 1999) documents and interprets the rebellion and its causes, and gives many details on recent in life Zinacantan, where Collier has done many years of research.  My The Decline of Community in Zinacantan: Economy, Public Life, and Social Stratification, 1960-1987 (Stanford University Press 1992) documents changes that make it clear that the photos presented here are, in many ways, a record of the past.  Both of these books give references to works on Zinacantan and Chiapas after the photos were taken.

Four excellent recent books of photos on the Chiapas highlands may be of interest. All have text in English and Spanish.  

*Maruch Santiz Gomez, Creencias de Nuestros Antepasados 1998
*Fotografos Mayas de Chiapas (Mayan Photographers), Camaristas 1998
Antonio Turok, Chiapas: The End of Silence, Aperture/Ediciones Era 1998.
Marcey Jacobson, The Burden of Time: Photographs from the Highlands of Chiapas,
Stanford University Press, 2001.


*These two books are published by three San Cristobal de las Casas institutions: Centro del Imagen, CIESAS, and Casa de las Imagenes, and the Mayan photographers who did them are connected with the Chiapas Photography Project and the Indigenous Photography  Archive in San Cristobal.  The books are hard to find.  Information on them and other work of the Project is available at www.chiapasphoto.org.

Brief Bibliography (listed in the original 1974 edition of Another Place).

Vogt, Evon Z. Zinacantan : A Maya Community in the Highlands of Chiapas. Cambridge, 1969.
       (A rich, detailed book)
Vogt, Evon Z. The Zinacantecos of Mexico : A Modern Maya Way of Life. New York, 1970.
       (A widely available paperback overview)

More specialized studies:

Blaffer, Sarah C. The Black-man of Zinacantan : A Central American Legend. Austin, 1972.
Bricker, Victoria R. Ritual Humor in Highland Chiapas. Austin, 1973.
Cancian, Francesca M. What Are Norms? A Study of Beliefs and Action in a Maya Community.,  New York,1975
Cancian, Frank. Economics and Prestige in a Maya Community : The Religious Cargo System in Zinacantan. Stanford, 1965.
Cancian, Frank. Change and Uncertainty in a Peasant Economy : The Maya Corn Farmers of  Zinacantan. Stanford, 1972.
Collier, George A. Man and Land in Highland Chiapas : The Ecological Basis of Tzotzil Tradition. Austin, 1975.
Collier, Jane. Law and Social Change in Zinacantan. Stanford, 1973.

Frank Cancian
January 2002


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