Day of the Dead in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas

Día de los Muertos en San Juan Chamula Photo: Isaín Mandujano


 By: Isaín Mandujano

Year after year, in this community in the Highlands of Chiapas, indigenous Tsotsil people from 22 communities and spots go to the cemetery to celebrate their dead, where Coca Cola is an essential element on the graves.

Local, national and foreign tourists come to this community located a few kilometers from San Cristóbal de Las Casas, towards Tenejapa, but inside the municipality of San Juan Chamula, a little more in front of Cruztón, the mecca of posh, a traditional inebriating drink.

From early on, men, women and children concentrate on this, which is the most important holiday of this town, proud of its traditions, is the largest municipality of the more than 100 communities of San Juan Chamula, and that’s why each year the municipal president has to make his tour of this place with all his closest collaborators.

Next to the cemetery is what’s now the center of the population, a big fair is erected, mechanical games, stalls with food, clothing, and sweets; they sell posh, beer, fermented cane juice and corn beer, they say.

Among the norteño and mariachi groups that sing from grave to grave, the danzantes, kolemal max and free monkeys, in Spanish, stand out. With their wind instruments, accordion, artisan guitar made in this region, trumpets and rattles, the colorful characters dance around the graves and consume the drinks they are offered: beer, posh or whatever they give them. Some of them end up drunk.

A group of small dancers stand out. Pedro Hernández Gómez, from right here in Romerillo, [1] has a group of traditional dancing children, who he encourages not to lose the tradition of that indigenous Tsotsil town in the Highlands of Chiapas. Pedro is a young disabled man whose own children help him walk with his crutches carrying his accordion. With dreadlocks and sports clothes, Pedro strives to see that the children execute each instrument and dance to the beat of the wind music.

On the graves full of sedge, marigolds and candles, the beers also stand out. On some of the other graves they put tamales, atole [2] and agrio, [3] but many put Coca Cola, which they put next to the cross after spilling a little on the earthen grave, which they cover a board.

Photo: Isaín Mandujano

A Multidisciplinary Research Center study on Chiapas and the Southern Border (CIMSUR) reports that the state is the region of the world where the most Coca-Cola is consumed, an average of 821.25 liters per year per person. Jaime Page Pliego, a doctor in anthropology for the CIMSUR, revealed in his study that the increase in consumption was caused by a modification of the social and religious life of its inhabitants. And the most palpable proof is in Romerillo.

Concrete tombs are not allowed in this cemetery, nothing of cement, they say, no bricks; when they die, all are equal in this cemetery.

The cemetery is located on a hill, where 22 gigantic crosses are erected on the high part. There is one for each of the places and communities that has the right to bury their dead in this place.

In Romerillo this weekend is a long fiesta, musical groups liven up the nights. The quarrels are never lacking, but the mayors or police are ready to take the quarrelsome ones away to the community jail where they will spend a cold night.

We are 2500 meters above sea level. The alcohol is mostly what’s left over in this place. And not to doubt it, its neighbors are its brothers from the indigenous town of Cruztón, the posh capital, the mecca of posh. They come from many communities, many municipalities and from other states of the country to this place where the majority of its inhabitants produce posh based on wheat, raw sugarcane and sugar. Others use corn as the basic element.

Now they even make flavors to lower the intensity of the alcohol. Román, a young man who attend to his posh store in the center of Cruztón, says that people come from very far away to even buy tubs of the posh that his family produces. Román says that his neighbors from Romerillo are his main clients in these festivities, where those from Cruztón also have their dead.

Between the pre-Hispanic syncretism, Christianity and new additional elements of modernity, they make sure that the uses and customs, as well as their traditions are preserved in Romerillo, where thousands arrive to see their dead, but also to celebrate family life.


[1] Romerillo is where the cemetery is located in San Juan Chamula municipality.

[2] Atole is a sweet hot Mayan corn drink.

[3] Agrio is a bitter beer drink from corn.


Originally Published in Spanish by Chiapas Paralelo

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee


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