Chanal, Chiapas is a Tzeltal town. Traditional clothing is still worn by many people in the town.
Karen Elwell 14/03/2006
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Chps Tze Chanal
Chps Tze Chanal.jpg
Chanal is a remote Tzeltal community where women wear a European style blouse trimmed with satin ribbons as part of their daily attire. We had seen a drawing of a blouse from Chanal at Sna Jolobil – the textile coop in San Cristobal – and decided to make a trip to Chanal to see women wearing these blouses and try to purchase one. Chanal blouses, with their large collars, are similar in design to the Tojolobal blouses worn in the Saltillo area of Chiapas. Saltillo blouses, though, are much more heavily decorated than those of Chanal – for an example, see the cover photo of "Living Maya" by Chip Morris and Jeffrey Foxx.
We turned off the busy San Cristobal-Ocosingo highway onto a narrow paved road that wound its way through small Tzotzil parajes. Homes and farms gradually decreased in number until we found ourselves driving through uninhabited pine forests. Eventually, we saw a handpainted sign nailed to a tree which read "Siberia," and featured a drawing of an automatic rifle. The rifle barrel pointed the way down a dirt road and into the pine forest. What was Siberia? A Zapatista village? A paramilitary camp? We decided that we didn’t want to go there and find out.

We continued on and finally reached the outskirts of Chanal. It was early afternoon and dozens of teenaged boys and girls were walking alongside the road towards Chanal centro. Secondary school had just ended for the day. All of these kids were dressed in western-style clothing. Chanal is a very small town. The streets seemed largely deserted when we finally arrived at the plaza. As we drove up to the plaza, we passed a cargo truck parked in the road. Fruits and vegetables were being sold from the back of the truck to a small group of five or six women. Several more women were carrying their purchases back home to make their comidas. A few women were wearing the ribbon-trimmed blouses, but most people we saw – both men and women – were dressed in western clothing. The truck’s sound system was blasting out a jaunty Norteno tune with angry anti-US lyrics. It was April 2003 and the Iraq war had begun only weeks earlier.

We drove around the small plaza, and saw no sign of a textile coop or tienda selling clothing. We pulled up in front of a large, stone monument which stated (were paraphrasing now) ´"This monument marks the spot where (a local politician) was hacked to death by any angry crowd on (date)"

Putting a California spin on it, the "vibes" in Chanal were not good for a visit that day. We drove back to San Cristobal and eventually purchased a blouse from Chanal in one of many shops that sell indigenous clothing along Real de Guadalupe Street.