Tzotzil of San Andres Larraínzar - History and Cultural Relations

There is no evidence that the different Tzotzil groups formed one unit at any time in history. According to the oral history of the Andreseros, in former times the main village was located approximately 2 kilometers to the south. Until 1591, San Andres had the Tzotzil name "Sacamch'en" (white cave/cliff), translated by the Aztecs as "Istacostoc." Indeed, the place designated in the accounts of the Andreseros is close to a huge white cliff with a cave. Although the spot is located in the municipio of San Juan Chamula, the land there is still cultivated by Andreseros.

The Spaniards first arrived in Chiapas in 1524 but were not able to colonize the area until the arrival of Diego Mazariegos, four years later. During the colonial time, the village was known as "San Andrés Istacostoc" or "San Andrés Chamula." The latter name derives from the fact that San Andres belonged to the parish of San Juan Chamula. In 1933, during the anticlerical campaign, the name of the village was changed to "Manuel Larraínzar," to honor an important Ladino diplomat of Chiapas. Nowadays the village is known as "San Andrés Larraínzar," "San Andrés," or, among Ladinos in San Cristóbal, as "Larraínzar." Changes in the village name alone show that it is not possible to understand the history and culture of San Andrés without taking into account the broader context of its interactions. It also shows that San Andrés was already an established community before the time of the Spaniards. San Andrés, as any other community in this area, experienced huge transformations during the colonial period, as well as after the independence of Mexico in 1821.

During colonial times, the Indians of highland Chiapas were forced to live in villages, rather than maintain the former pattern of dispersed settlements. These villages were largely constructed after the Spanish model, in which the center of the village was occupied by a town plaza and the church. Diseases, brought from the "Old World," high taxes, tribute, and forced labor led to the economic and physical exhaustion of the Indians and resulted in a decline of their population. The Indians were very often forced to give up subsistence maize farming to produce cash crops such as cacao, sugar, or cochineal in the lowland areas for the encomendero, who held the Spanish royal grant for the land and was therefore allowed to collect tribute from the Indians living there. The Conquest not only had an impact on the Indian economy but also on their social and cultural environment. Cofradías , brotherhoods responsible for organizing saints' day celebrations and collecting money for the church, were introduced. These brotherhoods increasingly gained power at the local level. In the nineteenth century these cofradías were almost entirely dissolved, and today individuals called alfereces (sing., alférez ) are responsible for these celebrations. They, together with the other religious officeholders and the ayuntamiento regional (town council), form the civil-religious hierarchy of San Andrés.

To assess the impact of the colonial period on the highland villages is almost impossible because there are few descriptions of individual villages. Spanish chronicles, official letters, royal orders, and letters of complaint are the main sources available. In addition, these are only sufficient to give an impression of the atrocities that took place and to indicate that royal orders from Spain were not enacted very often on a local level.

Most colonial laws were abolished with Mexico's independence, after which non-Indians were allowed to settle in Indian communities. Around 1848, four Ladinos lived in San Andrés but apparently left during the Tzotzil uprising in 1869-1870. In the early twentieth century other Ladinos, some of them enganchadores (hiring agents for coffee or sugar plantations), settled in San Andrés. Through purchase and through land titles granted by the government, but also through fraudulent contracts, coercion, and the indebtedness of some Indians, the enganchadores managed to gain control over most of the land around the main village. They created several cattle ranches and coffee plantations in more distant areas. Because of their connections and their superior economic situation, some of them also gained control of trade within, as well as outside, the village, mainly with San Cristóbal de las Casas, the main trading center of the highlands of Chiapas. These Ladinos' estates often contained gardens of 1 hectare of land, which is more than many Andreseros currently have for subsistence.

Owing to their economic power, the Ladinos also dominated the politics within San Andrés, and the Indians were consistently ill-treated by some Ladinos. Although the presidente of San Andrés was an Indian, the Indians had little access to the state government and the legal system because of their lack of knowledge of the Spanish language. Therefore the Ladinos held most of the power in the village, and were able to treat the Indians as they wanted. As a product of the exploitation, inequality, and injustice of their colonial past, which persisted even after the independence of Mexico, the Andreseros formed a strong identity based on the Indian-Ladino dichotomy. Separate religious festivals were held by Indians and Ladinos. In fact, given that the Ladino community could not exist without the Indians, one could argue that there were two communities in one. At the same time, through the accounts of their parents' and grandparents' experiences, the Indians knew that they were the true "owners of the land," the yahval lum, and that the Ladinos had only recently arrived. Between 1974 and 1976, after several appeals to the government for reconciliation failed, the Indians chased almost all the Ladinos out of San Andrés. Although they threatened and frightened the Ladinos, there was only one serious incident—a landowner who had shot at the Indians, and his son, were subsequently killed.

Today there are approximately thirty Ladinos left in San Andrés, most of whom never left the village during the local uprising. They no longer have large amounts of land, and their main economic activities are running small-scale businesses and shops. They participate as regular community members in the political meetings, but they do not act as alfereces or as authorities in the cabildo. Although the Indians of San Andrés clearly see themselves as being closer to other Indian communities than to Ladinos living in their own village, their ethnic identity is nevertheless bound up with their village. On the other hand, this does not prevent some villagers from organizing at supracommunity levels, even including non-Indians, as was the case during the Zapatista rebellion of 1994.

The Spanish imposed Catholicism on the Indians of highland Chiapas in the sixteenth century. Nowadays most of the Indians of San Andrés are nominally Catholic, but this Catholicism is actually a synthesis of a pre-Spanish religion, of Catholic belief, and also of their own invention over the last 450 years. Since the late 1970s, many Protestant sects have established their churches in the cabecera, the main village, as well as in different hamlets of San Andres.

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