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Tourism hurts native Mayans

By Rachel Metea
On March 8, 2010

An egg traced along a young Mayan girl is observed by junior Luke Mathew just before the shaman snaps the neck of a chicken in a sacrifice that goes unnoticed by many. This is the Mayan church of San Juan where pine needles, candlesticks, and Coca-Cola bottles blanket the church floor. Chants be heard as ceremonial cups of Coca Cola and the traditional Maya liquor, Posh are passed amongst clusters of people. In the Mayan town of Chamula, Mexico, DePaul students witness the fusion of ancient and modern traditions in a town entwined in a blend between pre-conquest Mayan and Spanish-Catholic religion.

A town with an autonomous status within Mexico, Chamula is one of the few indigenous Maya villages within the Mexican state of Chiapas where foreigners are allowed to enter.

Outside police or military are prohibited from the village of Chamulas. The town possesses its own laws, many which work to uphold traditional Maya values. Taking pictures without consent is strictly prohibited, and when the law is ignored it is not only acceptable but common to find your camera smashed into smitherarines.

The Maya were at their height from 250 to 900 A.D. but the clicking sound of their ancient Tzotzil language can still be heard in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico. The Tzotzil Mayan language that has been preserved for more than 1,000 years is now spoken in markets where outsiders such as DePaul students shop for Zapatista key chains and trinkets to bring home to Chicago.

"The Maya are slowly being relegated to a tourist attraction," said senior Jessica Schuh who said she witnessed a Mayan girl listening to an i-Pod just five minutes after the girl begged her to take a picture of her for money.

Mayan law in Chiapas strictly forbids the photography of a Maya person without consent. Whether this is because they feel it takes away from their culture or if it is because they can make money by charging tourists for their photo is up to debate.

"It becomes a human zoo if you go and just take pictures of people," said junior Kevin Gorey, an international studies major.

"The more the Maya appease tourists and let them into their community, the more their culture is eroded by the effects of tourism and globalization," said Schuh, a Marketing and Spanish major.

"It seems as if the Mayans are trying to market their culture in the process of globalization," said senior Andres Rodriguez, an anthropology major.

"I was really intimidated by the idea of religious authority walking around able to break cameras and beat you up if you convert to another religion," said senior Joel Lydic, a Spanish and French major.

"They drew a pretty clear line around where how much they were going to accommodate their outsiders and how much they weren't," Lydic said such as Chamula will allow tourists to enter, they still won't let you bring outside customs in such as the photography of people."

DePaul students visited a Maya co-op for women where they witnessed the traditional life of the Maya. The women here use the traditional Mayan technique of back-strap weaving to create handcrafts sold in the markets.

"Despite my best attempt, after about two minutes I was fried," Schuh said. "It was extremely difficult, I don't know how these women do it.

"We witnessed traditions over 1,000 years old. At the same time, we also witnessed a culture that is slowly become less authentic and more globalized. We witnessed a religious ceremony that used ancient customs that had Coca -Cola incorporated in them. It was a very interesting experience.

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