Postcard from Zinacantan, Chiapas, Mexico: Roosters Rule the Roost

Densely clustered deep plum and royal blue embroidered flowers blanket the huipiles of women running errands in San Cristobal de las Casas from the nearby Tzotzil town of Zinacantan. They were my favorites spotted on the streets.

As with San Juan Chamula, male leaders operate the small town of Zinacantan somewhat autonomously, charging a toll to outside visitors. But here the women are not subjected to polygamous marriages.

The feathers young women spend months weaving into their bridal outfits do symbolically spell out their standing in the marriage. The feathers aren’t brilliant parrot or peacock feathers but are those of the humble hen. Unable to fly, hens don’t flee the coop. Chickens stay close to home, subject to the rooster’s whims.

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Several churches abut plazas at the heart of Zinacantan. The church of San Lorenzo dates to 1546. We are not sure why Saint Lawrence was popular, but he is the patron saint of chefs.

As punishment for having distributed the church’s wealth to the poor instead of Roman authorities in the year 258, Lawrence was slowly grilled upon an iron grate. He is alleged to have quipped to his tormenters, “Turn me over; I’m done on that side.” Perhaps Nana (Katherine Ann Conway Brennan, 1887-1972) was prescient in naming my father Lawrence (Lawrence Conway Brennan, 1918-1988), for no one enjoyed grilling a thick sirloin steak, fork in one hand and Bourbon in the other, more than Dad.

San Sebastian has a more obvious connection to a second church built about 200 years later. Some believe the saint who was martyred about the same time as Saint Lawrence miraculously appeared to construct this church in Zinacantan with his own hands, a feat he accomplished in only three days.

Others claim he reappeared in Mexico only to be pierced by arrows shot by Spanish soldiers, as he originally had been in Rome. He died, once again, on the site of the church and was buried there. Saint Sebastian is a patron of athletes and soldiers and a protector against the plague, particularly beneficial when Spanish soldiers are spreading European diseases among the native population with no immunity to them.

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