The Tzotzil People

San Lorenzo Zinacantan is a municipality in the southern part of Chiapas, Mexico. The population consist of Tzotzil Maya who have ties to other highland Maya people. The name Zinacantan means “land of the bats” which comes from the Nahuatl language and the locals call themselves “Sots’leb”. The people who now reside here migrated from Guatemala around 1000-1500 BCE. Zinacantan held the monopoly for salt and harvested Quetzalcoatl feathers that mirrored corn and the feathered serpent. Salt, cacao, and coffee were mainly traded with the Aztec traders. In 1524 the Franciscans arrived and imposed Catholicism but within time both the Mayan culture and the Catholic culture emerged as one. The Mexican Revolution of 1911 ended serfdom of the Tzotzil people but many still worked in horrible conditions until the 1930’s. During the 1950’s the Federal Insituto Nacional Indigenista try to address the “Indian problem” thus, creating schools clinics, roads and agricultural programs to civilize/modernize the Indians. On January 1, 1994 NAFTA went into effect which called to an end the ejido system but the Tzotzil people had enough of it and took over San Cristobal De Las Casa and demanded an arrangement with the government. With the help of the internet light was shed on the inequality, suffering, neglect of the indigenous people.

Zinacantan has absolutely beautiful textiles. According to, Ms. Juana when girls turn 5 years old they are taught to make tortillas, wash and do chores around the house. When they turn 10 years old they begin to learn how to do embroidery, and at age 12 they make the textiles on their own and begin to sell them around the streets as a source of income to the household. Making handmade textiles ranges from 3 days to 6 months depending on the type of textile you special order. Many of the women in Zinacantan that do embroidery use the flower in their textile. The type of textile could be as simple as a solid color to a sparkly one with many colors. A lot of the textiles are now stitched on by the machine but many of the women do it traditional style, which is by hand and of course the prices on the textile will differ depending on how it was made. During 1983 and 1989 it was heard that indigenous women would pray to their gods to help them in their work. When the girls would ask the moon virgin for help with their weaving, their designs would reflect the ideas of the gods. Women worked together to increase production of their textiles and they proudly defended their roles as campesinas, mothers, shamans, and weavers. Before the business industry was developed the only source of income for the women was to sell their textiles to tourist but this did not guarantee their pay. As soon as they began to expand their work into the capitalist sector they would receive immediate pay.

The books from the Tzotzil people that survived from that time were burned by the Catholic officials in the mid-seventeenth century. Today 90% of the population is illiterate, mostly women. Less than ½ of the public school teachers speak Spanish and hardly no Tzotzil speaker has a university education. Contrary to what the government says bilingual education is non-existent. Every town has its distinctive dialect and Sna Jtz’ibajom, which was found in 1983, is house of the write which has taught men, women and children how to read and write in their native dialect. Approximately more than two thousand people have learned from there which brings up the next source of learning Tzotzil literacy, by the Protestant missionaries who also teach the native tongue. Language is their main source of identity therefore the Empowerment of Maya Women, tend to focus more on urban women and children who may be losing their ethnic identity.