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Costumbreros Preserve Prehispanic Rituals in Chiapas
“People still use these places to conduct rituals and ask deities or powers for their intersection. Photo: INAH.

MEXICO CITY.- As they did 2,000 years ago, caves and rocky shelters at walls of Sumidero Canyon, in Chiapas, are still sacred spaces where humans meet ancestors and deities, a practice observed by costumbreros.

According to archaeologist Enrique Mendez Torres from the National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH), in places near Tuxtla Gutierrez, Capoya Plateau, the Mountain Range and Sumidero Canyon are distributed spaces such as rocky shelters, caves and gullies that have been used with ritual means since Prehispanic age.

“Many of these places were important in the Prehispanic age because rituals and prayers to ask for rain took place there, and, in spite of the Conquest and Catholic Church prohibitions, during 16th and 17th centuries they were still used by Indigenous people; at least 5 Inquisitorial processes were filed for idolatry conducted in this region”.

Constant persecution during Colonial time caused the abandonment of these sites as places of adoration and encounter with ancestors. Nevertheless, these practices survived until our days.

“People still use these places to conduct rituals and ask deities or powers for their intersection. According to Zoque worldview, spirits of water and fertility dwell caves, as well as ancestors.

“To present, when Zoque people needs advise or to ask for permission to conduct festivities, a group goes to the cave, makes offerings, and share the knowledge obtained with the community”.

Archaeologist Mendez, who participated at the 5th Week on Mountain Anthropology organized by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), mentioned that inhabitants of zones near Tuxtla Gutierrez maintain 3 different stances regarding this matter. One of them is held by costumbreros, who conduct activities with Prehispanic reminiscence.

The other group is formed by Christians from communities close to Seven Day Adventist Church, and the third group is represented by “white or mestiza” people who are not involved with these practices.

In spite of frequent conflict between them, Chiapas State Government has maintained an open position towards costumbreros and their rituals, and to present some of them give tours to visitors, helping to avoid vandalism at caves and rocky shelters.

Archaeology of a Cliff
Enrique Mendez made a review of Sumidero Canyon archaeological sites. In 1999 Escala de Chiapas group descended 500 meters down the cliff and found a balcony that had a set of arranged stones in the edge, as well as a metate (grinder) and 2 censers in the center.

“It is remarkable that Prehispanic people climbed the cliff walls to access these places”, mentioned the archaeologist.

Construction of Chicoasen Reservoir in the 1970’s decade led to archaeological salvage at this side of Sumidero Canyon. Archaeologist Alejandro Martinez Muriel reported 53 caves, and archaeological material, mainly ceramics, in 23 of them. In 18 caves, rock paintings were found.

In the opposite side of the canyon is found La Ceiba rocky shelter, which is 10 meters high. Human presence evidence found here dates from 7000 BC, as well Prehispanic rock paintings and contemporary designs.

In the left wall of the canyon are found 4 balconies where more than 100 rock paintings are distributed, as well as hands imprints, most of them from Prehispanic period, concluded Mendez Torres.

Mexico | National School of Anthropology and History | Enrique Mendez Torres | Chiapas |

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