San Juan Chamula is a municipio (municipality) and township in the Mexican state of Chiapas, with over 50,000 inhabitants. It is situated some 10 km (6.2 mi) from San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Chamula is located in the Chiapas highlands, at an altitude of 2,200 meters (7,200 feet), inhabited by the indigenous Tzotzil Maya people, whose Tzotzil language is one of the Mayan languages.
The town enjoys unique autonomous status within Mexico. No outside police or military are allowed in the village. Chamulas have their own police force.
The church of San Juan, in the municipal cabecera (headtown), is filled with colorful candles, and smoke from burning copal resin incense, commonly used throughout southern Mexico. Along the walls of the church, as in many Catholic churches, are dressed-up wooden statues of saints in large wooden cases, many wearing mirrors to deflect evil. The local form of Catholicism is a blend of pre-conquest Maya customs, Spanish Catholic traditions, and subsequent innovations.
There are no pews in the church, and the floor area is completely covered in a carpet of green pine boughs and soda bottles (mostly Coca Cola). Curanderos (medicine men) diagnose medical, psychological or ‘evil-eye’ afflictions and prescribe remedies such as candles of specific colors and sizes, specific flower petals or feathers, or - in a dire situation - a live chicken. The specified remedies are brought to a healing ceremony. Chamula families kneel on the floor of the church with sacrificial items, stick candles to the floor with melted wax, drink ceremonial cups of Posh, artisanal sugar-cane-based liquor, Coca Cola or Pepsi, and chant prayers in an archaic dialect of Tzotzil.
Photography in the town is very difficult as parents will hide their children or they themselves will turn away as soon as they spot a camera. Photography within the church is strictly prohibited as is photographing the Christmas procession to the church. They can throw you out of town if you attempt to violate this rule.
The main agricultural products are corn, beans, potatoes, and cabbage.
Women often make traditional clothing, blankets, and souvenirs that include Zapatista-related items, such as pens with a clay figure on top in the figure of Subcomandante Marcos or Comandante Tacho.