Thursday, March 13, 2008

More San Juan Copala

The town of San Juan Copala is quite small, I heard one estimate of 500 people. I believe I have mentioned the violence between Triquis that has marred the region for many years. This violence has been between two competing groups, the MULT and the UBISORT and now a third splinter group the MULTI. San Juan Copala recently declared itself an autonomous municipality with the encouragement and support of the APPO. They seem to still be figuring out what this means but the model for this declaration is of course the autonomous communities in Chiapas created by the Zapatistas.

I was there during their annual fiesta so there was no direct evidence of violence and they claim to have stopped the violence since declaring themselves autonomous, at least according to my fellow researcher. If they have stopped the violence then it is literally only within the very small borders of the town itself because violence has definitely continued. In fact, upon returning to the city of Oaxaca I was alerted (by a flyer my Spanish teacher had acquired) that someone was killed the very day I was there! In a later post I will write about the origins of this violence as it has been reported and as I learn more about it.

There is evidence of conflict in San Juan Copala on the landscape. According to my fellow researcher the town was divided into two parts, the MULT side and the UBISORT side. Each side had to have their own road leading to one of the major towns in the area. This picture is taken on the MULT side of town. Their road is not nearly as nice as the road on the UBISORT side of town but perhaps that has something to do with the UBISORT being historically aligned with the PRI.

Upon arriving we walked around town and went in search of the sacred stone one of the municipal officials told us about. As we walked down the hill to the river where the "stone" was located we passed a building that was in a state of half completion. Inside the building was some graffiti laid down by members of UBISORT. As we were on the MULT side of town this was obviously quite a daring and in-your-face act by the taggers. If you click on the picture below you will see it says 1000% UBISORT. There is also a crude drawing of what I think is a woman's body. To put it mildly Triqui women are not exactly highly regarded members of the community, they still engage in the wonderful practice of selling their women to Triqui men. To be more politically correct (please!), the bride's family receives a dowry which can vary depending on certain characteristics (is she a virgin? has she been married before? etc.) which are deemed to be important by the groom's family.

In the same building a bullet hole on the side of the wall.

The picture below is of the sacred stone, a small alter has been built which is the structure you see. The stone was next to the river and several people were bathing in the river as it was said to have some sort of mystical property.

The Triquis go to the sacred stone and wish for certain things, cars or houses, and as part of the process draw pictures of what they want or build small structures resembling the thing they desire. Below on the side of a stone you will see a white chalk drawing that looks like squares but represents a house. Next to it are some sticks leaning against the rock, this structure is also a sort of metaphorical house.

Another small structure built to represent the house someone desires, built with rocks, twigs and some trash from the river. As I was sitting watching people enter the structure and make a wish for things they desired in life, I looked over at a young girl sitting next to me, she must have been 8 or 9, and noticed that she was holding something in her hand and eating bits of whatever it was. Upon closer inspection I realized it was a live grasshopper. She was picking off bits of the grasshopper, parts of its head, legs, wings, while it was still alive (!) and popping it in her mouth!

Another structure.

The picture below is taken from the porch of the municipal palace. This band walked around town stopping in various places and playing a few songs. In between each song they would stop and have a beer or a soda (which they carried with them) and then play another song. A few women were following the band around and I imagine they were the wives of some of those playing in the band. It did not appear that these women were enjoying themselves (to say the least), they were mostly trying to tend to their children whom they brought with them on the walkabout. I won't say much more about my observations of these women but needless to say what I noticed only reinforces the notion that women seem to be very marginalized within this community.

1 comment:

tonee said...

Hi Marissa... Tonee Mello here in Oaxaca. I will drive to San Juan Copala very soon and would sincerely appreciate emailing with you or talking with you before I go... If you have the time can you please contact me at I'd be happy to call you at your convenience if you have a contact number. I use skype.

Thanks kindly...