San Juan Chamula and the Mexican chicken sacrifice

This might sound far more sinister than it is but Mexican chicken sacrifices aren’t all treat common, I only saw it in San Juan Chamula. I had forgotten about this day trip until I was writing about my experiences in Vietnam. Instead of me this time though it was a Mexican chicken sacrifice. You can read about Vietnam here.

Feeding time in Puerto Viejo

San Juan Chamula

San Juan Chamula is a small town outside of San Cristobal In Chiapas Mexico. Home to an indigenous community, like a lot of southern Mexico and a law unto itself.  It is a designated autonomous zone with its own Police and regulations. A by-product of contentious indigenous issues in the region. Here the locals have a distinction of mixing their indigenous beliefs with that of the Catholic church.

This has culminated into a mixture of Catholicism, ancient ritual, chicken sacrifices, and bottled coca cola.

Having lived in San Cristobal for a number of weeks volunteering in the brilliant Puerto Viejo hostel I had a number of visitors pass through telling us about the village. It seemed a bit odd, so definitely something I wanted to check out. Having done virtually nothing in San Cristobal my friends and I decided we would make our way to the town.

Getting there

San Juan Chamula
The Chiapas countryside

Having some friends who spoke Spanish meant we didn’t have to go on a tour. We knew what to expect so there was no need for a guide and collectivos* are far cheaper.

*collectivos are small mini-vans which act as unofficial shuttle buses.

The bumpy journey took about 30 minutes. It took us high up into the Chiapas countryside, some of the views were stunning and it was quite nice to get out of the town for a few hours. Although San Cristobal is a sleepy town we had been there for a few weeks so it was nice to venture out

At the centre of San Juan Chamula is the church where the chicken sacrifices take place. Most days there is a large market at the front of the church but we came on a day when it was relatively quiet. Entering the church requires a small fee to be paid. Care-takers ensure you are not interfering with the ceremonies or taking photographs inside the church.

The chicken sacrifice

There are a number of caretakers/observers who ensure you are not interfering with the ceremonies or taking photographs inside the church. There are no seats inside the church. The congregation sits on the floor and pray to particular saints. Local medicine men prescribe certain remedies for sickness, baptism etc. These remedies include the burning of candles, certain prayers, drinking of local drinks such as posh and sugary drinks, this is where coca cola comes in and also the sacrificing of chickens.

A few of us walked around the church noting the odd ceremonies taking place between groups and individuals. We then stopped to observe a ceremony involving a child. From the description we got, they were passing bad energy/spirits from the child into the chicken and when this was finished the chicken was killed.

We overstayed our welcome with this group and were then asked to leave the church. All in all, we lasted about 10 minutes. It was enough to see the church and understand why people come here to witness the ceremonies. It is definitely one of the odder religious acts I’ve seen. A blend of commercialism, traditionalism, and Catholicism.

Getting back

The rest of the town itself does not have much to see. Perhaps if we arrived on a market day it might have been a little different. We walked back the Colectivo pickup point and made our way back to San Cristobal. It is definitely worth the trip to see something unique and to watch a blend of cultures.

See here for more about South America.

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