Tzotzil and Tzeltal of Pantelhó - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Religious beliefs and practices vary widely. Ceremonies range from the dedication of a new water system (to the earth god) to the singing of Baptist hymns on Saturday night. About 70 percent of the people are Catholic, and around 25 percent are Protestant; some profess no religious beliefs.

Local Catholic religious practices involve various saints, to whom certain aspects of Mayan gods are ascribed. The faithful pray to the saints and care for their images. In addition, many Catholics and a few others continue to believe in animal-spirit counterparts ( chulel ).

Religious Practitioners . A Catholic priest holds regular church services and performs other ceremonies, such as baptisms and marriages, in the headtown for Indians and Ladinos. Catechists, lay people who read and discuss the Bible, lead Catholic services in many of the hamlets. Protestant speakers ( predicadores ) lead church services in Pantelhó's several Protestant churches. Few traditional curers live in Pantelhó; most come from neighboring municipios.

The Tzotzil of Pantelhó have an active religious cargo system. Individual men, supported by their families, serve voluntarily in one of two sets of socially ranked cargos. There are fourteen year-long positions (six alguaciles , four mayores, and four regidores). These cargo holders are responsible for the care of the saints as well as the performance of other religious duties. Other individuals take responsibility for major celebrations. Alfereces sponsor the events, often at great personal expense; they are assisted by capitanes.

Ceremonies. The most important communitywide ceremonies occur on important Catholic holidays and saints' days. Carnaval is the largest celebration, followed by the feast days of Santa Catarina (the patron saint of Pantelhó), San Sebastián, San Martín, and Jesus of Good Hope. During these ceremonies, food, drink, and music are provided for all. Holy Week and All Saints' Day (Todos Santos) are also celebrated. Local residents believe their participation shows respect for God and will bring good fortune. Ceremonies devoted to Mayan gods are held in some hamlets before planting. Ceremonies are also held at the inauguration of new public works, on New Year's Eve, and on Independence Day. Curing ceremonies, which involve prayer and the ritual sacrifice of a chicken, are held in individual households.

Arts. Women's richly brocaded textiles are the traditional form of artistic expression. Men play the flute, guitar, and violin during religious celebrations. Peonage, poverty, and hard work have left little time for the development of diverse artistic traditions.

Medicine. A wide variety of medicinal practices can be found in Pantelhó. Doctors are available in the headtown, and antibiotics are widely used. Trained health workers administer Western medicine in the hamlets, and Indian midwives assist childbirth. In addition to Western medicine, herbal cures are widely used to treat digestive and respiratory disorders.

Death and Afterlife. Death may be attributed to natural or supernatural causes. Untimely death is suspect, especially in the case of healthy adults or children, and is often attributed to sorcery.

The dead are buried in unmarked graves in community cemeteries as soon as possible. Funeral celebrations are common and may involve considerable expense. During Todos Santos, the graves are covered with marigold petals, and candles are burned. Women ritually wail over the graves of family members. The dead are thought to return to visit their living relatives on Todos Santos and may bring good fortune if treated well, or bad fortune if neglected.


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