4. Mexico, Cuba, Carnival and US Invaders

Mexico: Church in San Juan de Chamula near San Cristobal de las Casas | Die Kirche in San Juan de Chamula nahe San Cristobal de las Casas,


The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

Mexico 89: Mystic Easter Processions of the Mixtecs Indios

Mystical Easter processions of the Mixtec Indians in Oaxaca Mexico’s face shines brilliantly, the cradle of archaic high Indian cultures. Both the ancient temples and the richly contrasting, splendid colonial cities of Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas protrude like jewels from the dazzling Sierra Madre. In the homeland of the Tzotziles, Tzetales, Chamulas and Lacandons, the indigenous people are about as original as Valais or Bündner mountain people. And yet these cultures, history and landscape cannot be equated with ours. Their cultures are closer to nature, more anarchic, clan-like and more spiritual.

I spent a few days in Oaxaca, a magnificent colonial-style city. On the way to pick up my laundry, I happened to look into a back yard where a woman with long, curly hair was standing at a strange machine doing a job that aroused my curiosity. She noticed my presence and called me in, and I saw what she was doing. She was standing in front of an ancient French lithography system from the early 19th century and was just printing a few lithographs. Unexpectedly I ran into the studio of the famous Oaxacen painter Tamayo. We started talking to each other for over two hours. Her name was Marcela and she told me that over Easter she was going to the mountains to see the Indians and their processions over the Easter holidays because she wanted to bring school books to a teacher.

That sounded tempting and inspired me, because I always wanted to join the Indios, for whom I had a weakness since childhood through the Winnetou films. He was the role model in my childhood, the Apaches my inspiration. So I immediately joined Marcela Vera and so the next morning we took the public bus into the mountains to Zacantepec at an altitude of almost 3000 meters. The ten hour drive was very arduous. Holding on to the handle the whole time, I stood between sacks, chickens and children sitting on the floor, constantly rocking back and forth, pressed close to the other passengers and Marcela, as the bus hissed over a narrow scree pass road with large, deep holes screwed up into the mountains. There were two rest stops due to the two tire changes. As the only gringo on the bus, I towered over the Indians by head height and so I could not only see the passengers rocking but also memorize their furrowed facial expressions and lively gestures for hours.

In gloomy darkness and thick fog, we arrived in the Zapotec Indio town, which consisted of three stone houses, a zocalo (village square) and a church with a corrugated iron roof. There was a single inn above the only small store that had to offer except for a few clay cans, mustard jars, mayonnaise tubes a few bunches of peppers, some coffee and mezcal liquor. For a week, there was practically nothing to eat. After only three days, Marcela, the picture-perfect painter, and I were in quite a mystical mood, often snuggling close together in the cramped, barren, cold room.

Our hearts began to throb more and more wildly and soon we were making unrestrained love. Still in complete darkness before dawn, the next morning a dark, somber voice in the Indio dialect suddenly rang out from a crackling loudspeaker from the village square, accompanied by heavy somber church music. In addition, melancholy music with wind instruments, drums and marimba sounds echoed through the darkness. We looked out our room window and saw the ghostly fog pouring in from all directions, deeply cloaked Indio figures streaming toward the corrugated iron church.

We left the room and went there too. The women separated in the nave from the poncho-clad men, who for once held their sombrero in their hands to take their seats in separate pews. Children and elderly women knelt in front of the incense burners. Sweet-smelling clouds of smoke filled the room and enveloped the padre, who was the only one dressed in a white cassock, giving him a ghostly, mephysto-like appearance. Now a padre was giving a pastoral speech in the local Indio dialect before a statue of the Virgen de Guadaloupe, the black Virgin Mary. But more fascinating were all the awe-struck Indio faces under their colorful rebozas, the scarves they wore as head coverings and slung over their shoulders.

The sparse candlelight, the clouds of copal incense and the fragrant sea of spruce needles spread out on the floor, as well as the magnificently costumed honorifics with their silver-tipped canes as insignia of their dignity, transformed the nave into a very spiritual and mystical world. The flickering candles illuminated all the serious faces marked by hardships. For once, pride melted away. The uncomplicated, cheerful and hot-blooded attitude to life that concealed the harsh reality gave way to the revelation of the hardships and fears of their long-suffering indigenous mountain existence.

Up until this point, I never thought I would see Indians in such a Christian pose. I had an idea of Indians influenced by Winnetou movies, although I had encountered Sioux Indians in the U.S. before. Then it started! The Indio women shouldered the Virgen de Guadaloupe and the men a statue of Jesus Christ on their shoulders, then the whole Indio troop moved up into the mountains. They split into two groups and I decided to join the women’s torch and candlelight procession and so we climbed up the narrow, slippery paths.

Along the way there were a few Stations of the Cross rituals and at the Seventh Station the two processions gathered in a small clearing with a space around the banner bearers and the women kneeling before their thuribles. Now the Padre gave another speech and just at that moment the sky fully opened for the first time and the sun appeared like a divine spell directed at the small Indian community, as if it were specially blessing this gathering. The chants also put me in a trance. It was extraordinary to live this spiritual experience as the only „gringo“ and foreigner among the Mixtec Indians.

Devout and overwhelmed by this authentic spectacle of deepest indigenous beliefs and moving emotions, we also became part of this world. I merged, so to speak, with them and their ancestors. The Indians must have sensed this as well and gave me their trust and a tribute. When one of the banner bearers came out of the circle of dignitaries and approached us, at first I was very frightened because I was secretly taking pictures of the reunion of Jesus Christ and Mary Virgin. I was afraid that they had caught me taking pictures and that I would be offered as an expiatory sacrifice and impaled on one of the lances. The fear was not unfounded, as tourists have been killed in Chiapas for taking pictures of the local Indians. Instead, as a gesture of their hospitality, I was taken right to the center of the procession and allowed to be one of the three banner bearers. What a gesture and honor for me, which touched me very much, where I had been abysmally critical of them for the time being!

We looked out of our room window and saw how the ghostly fog spewed out deeply veiled Indian figures pouring in from all directions and pouring out towards the corrugated iron church. We left the room and went there too. Inside, a padre in a white cassock gave a pastoral speech in the local Indian dialect in front of a statue of the Virgen de Guadaloupe, the Black Virgin Mary. More fascinating were all the awe-struck Indian faces under their colorful rebozas, the scarves that they wore as headgear and slung over their shoulders.

Sparse candlelight, billows of copal incense and a fragrant sea of ​​spruce needles spread out on the ground, as well as splendidly costumed honoraries with silver-clad sticks as insignia of their dignity, transformed the nave into a very spiritual and mystical world. Until then, I would never have thought of seeing Indians in such a Christian pose. I had an idea of ​​the Indians influenced by Winnetou films, although I had met Sioux Indians in the USA before. Then it started! The Indian women shouldered the Virgen de Guadaloupe and the men a statue of Jesus Christ on their shoulders, then the whole Indian convoy pulled up into the mountains.

They split up in now united, men and women walk the remaining seven Stations of the Cross together until the removal of the carved image of the saint on the Zocalo. The entombment and mass are followed by the blasphemous burning of Jesus Christ. Now the gods and ancestors are worshipped again in the traditional way. According to the Aztec and Mixtec conception, divine authority must be acquired, the teacher of the village school of Zacantepec explains to us. According to tradition, Nanauatzin, who dared to jump into the fire the first time, became the sun, while Teciciztecatl, who followed him, became the moon.

One thing seems clear, that the Christian god is one of the many gods in the Indio world. Therefore at this point the question is allowed, whether it really plays a role in which God, faith or in which Gods and dogmas one believes? Is Allah better than God and are now the Sunnis, Shiites, Wahabites or Alewites on the right path? The Christians or Buddhists more enlightened? Back to the Indians. At least here there is no „holy war“ proclaimed by humans. The Indians prefer to leave that to the gods.

All the more I opened up to the Indios and in the following days and other wacky processions I often fell into a trance to the point of ecstasy, and that without the Nanacatl mushrooms or other drugs like mescaline. Only with half a bottle of mezcal liquor a day, with which I calmed Montezuma’s revenge, that is, the stomach upset. And as a result of the lack of food and the altitude, the alcohol level had a particularly good effect on the intoxicating trance states. There were no more language barriers and the universally unifying overcame all cultural boundaries. Thanks to the young painter Marcela Vera from the studio of the famous Mexican painter Tamayo, I learned more and more about the history and identity of the Mixtecs. From then on, the indigenous peoples on all continents particularly interested me, not to say magically attracted me.

Witnessing Zapatista Indio Uprisings in Chiapas

10 years after my first extended trip through Mexico, I returned to Mexico as a journalist in 1994 when the indigenous uprisings escalated in Chiapas and the Mexican Army soldiers entered the region of the six villages and San Cristobal de las Casas to push back the „MARCOS“ rebels and crush the indigenous uprising. The six letters „MARCOS“ were the initial letters of the six rebellious Indio communities in the area around San Cristobal. „M „argaritas, „A „ltimirano, „R „ancho, „N „uevo, „C „omitan, „O „cosingo and „S „an Cristobal. Ten kilometers away is San Juan Chamula, the village of the traditional Chamulas, where the uprising began on January 1, 1994. From this arose the „Subcomandante Marcos“, known as the leader and always veiled.

The jewel and the crystallization point of the Chamulan world of faith, where God and the gods merge, Christ rose from the cross to be resurrected as the sun, is a baroque village church from the 17th century. There we drove past tanks and roadblocks, military helicopters circled in the sky and soldiers and troop movements were everywhere. In Ocosingo, during the time I was there with a nutritionist for infants from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (DIF), bullets were flying around our ears and we were lucky that none of them hit us, leaving only bullet holes in the walls of the houses.

The Chiapas Uprising was started by the „Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional“ (EZLN), a so-called radical leftist movement that rebelled against new state impositions in the state of Chiapas and was very similar to the Mexican Revolution. The Mayan Indians were suffering from the free trade agreement of globalization and racist policies in the Mexican administration, and they wanted to resist because they were being oppressed and excluded from participating in the political process. The conflict began when, in January 1994, an „EZLN“ offensive occupied four towns around San Cristobal de las Casas, whereupon the Mexican military used violence and repression to end the situation on the ground, including the use of torture methods.

In 2001, under the leadership of MARCOS, the Zapatistas made a march from Chiapas to Mexico City, and on January 1, 2003, they took San Cristobal de las Casas. Only after that did more and more NGOs advocate for peace negotiations and put pressure on the government. In the end, however, the fate of the indigenous communities did not change much for the better.

After I escaped from this incendiary place, I experienced another severe earthquake in Chiapas and a turbulent hurricane in Yucatan. So Mexico really didn’t skimp on impressions. It has always been a hellishly hot country, not to mention all the drug cartels that were fighting each other at the time. Impressive was the river trip through the Sumidero Canyon, on whose slippery up to 1000 meters high rock walls trained climbers pull themselves up over the heads of ravenous crocodiles and also already dozens of vultures waiting for their victims. The misty valleys and enchanting lake and river landscapes of Lago Monte Bellos on the Guatemalan border and the wildly gushing cascades of Agua Azul were also among the highlights of this trip.

I avoided the tourist strongholds, such as Acapulco, Cancun in the state of Yucatan, Ixtapa in Guadalajira and Loreto as well as Los Cabos in Bahia de California and preferred small dreamy places such as Puerto Angel north of Huatulco. But I also visited many Mesoamerican temples from Teotihuatlan to Monte Alban, Palenque, Chinchen Itza and Uxmal and was deeply impressed by the sophisticated drug-flooded high culture. Because one thing has now been scientifically proven clearly come to light: The high priests owed their power and wisdom also and above all to their intensive drug experiences with psychoactive substances and impressed their surrounding tribes and cultures with their spirituality and borderline experiences.

My fascination with indigenous peoples increased steadily with my first encounter with the Mixtecs in the highlands of Oaxaca and with the rebellious Chamulas in Chiapas, as well as with my acquaintance with the Khoi San and tribes in Southern Africa. I felt very connected with them and experienced impressive, not to say supernatural moments and hidden abilities in terms of instincts, intuition and mental abilities such as telepathy. If there was (for me) a life before today’s, then I was for sure an Indian, a shaman or a bushmann.

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