Farmers move to jungle, form rebel group

In the town of San Juan Chamula, the villagers enjoy the benefit of private property, which they use to cultivate beans and corn.

Netza Smith

In the town of San Juan Chamula, the villagers enjoy the benefit of private property, which they use to cultivate beans and corn.

Netza Smith

The indigenous communities which have formed the indigenous social movement from within the Lacandona Jungle are primarily formed by Tzeltales. These people came from the haciendas neighboring the towns of Ocosingo, where they lived as pawns.

That was how the farmers who worked the haciendas were called under something similar to the Confederate South’s sharecropping system. The farmers were allowed to work the land and in return received the crops from a portion of the land they worked. The farmers were also given a small plot of land were they were allowed to build their homes.

These farmers usually constructed their homes in one same area, creating a small population within the hacienda. Thus, populations of less than 500 people were the predominant form of indigenous settlements.

The majority of the indigenous farmers did not speak Spanish, and their literacy rate was almost zero. Their knowledge of the world outside of the hacienda was practically none.

In cases of deaths or births, the don of the hacienda would represent the government and lift the according acts. The indigenous people lived to serve their boss and worked from sunrise to sunset for a raquitic level of subsistence.

The conditions under which the indigenous people lived created a strong paternalistic relationship between the land owners and the farmers. This type of relationship made the indigenous people extremely dependent upon their boss. However, the paternalistic relationship also fostered an environment where abuse and injustices predominated.

On the other hand, the indigenous people held a profound feeling of loyalty for their boss. When referring to the boss they used the word kahual which means “my lord.” The indigenous people were also grateful for the protection and support the boss provided with regard to health and abuse issues.

This semi-feudal system remained in existence in Chiapas up until the 20th century largely because of geographical landscape of the region and because of its great distance from the center of the Republic.

The extremely dependent way of life the indigenous people of Chiapas were living began to change during the 1950s when the bravest and strongest decided to colonize the Lacandona jungle.

The disposition of the indigenous people of Chiapas from their homes in the haciendas was also favored by land owners’ realization that their land could be better used by raising cattle. Thus, cattle ranching began to grow while farming declined reducing the need for the indigenous farmers. Land owners began to see the indigenous farmers as an annoyance and thus began practicing an authoritative demeanor.

The hostile environment grew until the indigenous people could no longer stand their boss’ abuse. Also, word began to spread of national land which the indigenous people could obtain from the ejidos. Thus, the indigenous people began to think of owning their own piece of land and began thinking of their liberation from their oppressive past.

The migration and colonization of the Lacandona jungle by the indigenous people grew with the help of the Government, specifically the Department of Agrarian and Colonization Matters.

The colonization of the Lacandona jungle by the indigenous people took place during the late 1940s through the 1960s. The indigenous migration coincided with the arrival of the Catholic Bishop Samuel Ruiz who arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas in 1960. Also, in 1963 the Dominicans of the Holy Name of California returned to the Ocosingo mission, which stretches more than 14,000 km, holding around 30,000 inhabitants who were totally isolated.

The emergence of the Church in the Lacandona jungle was determinant for the indigenous community there, because they planted as their primary objective the following:

“That our church Dionysian in union with the Church of Latin America; proclaim the practice of Jesus and the fraternal and participative communal life; engaging itself and serving the people, placing itself as Jesus in the process of liberation of the oppressed. Where they will determine their history and together we will build a new society in anticipation of the kingdom.”

The new priests were learning about the complex socioeconomic situation of poverty the indigenous population was living and found in the Bible’s book of Exodus the inspiration to teach the indigenous people of their situation.

The priests taught the Indigenous people Exodus from the haciendas, the misery and the oppression, was possible, and they should search for a land that promised food, dignity and liberty.

All of this generated in the Indigenous of the Canadas an aggressive attitude to search for better living conditions, to recognize they had rights and to expect a life of well-being.

The new attitude in the Indigenous of the Lancandona jungle was a definite rupture with the past soft and self-deprecating attitude of the indigenous, that had been fostered by their paternalistic relationship with landowners.

The Church emphasizes the development of the indigenous self-esteem, promoting the valuation of their cultural identity, telling them they descended from an advanced people who were organized and lived with justice. The Church was referring to the Mayas. With all these elements spread through the evangelization, the Church was able to win the confidence of the indigenous communities.

The utopia of liberation the Church promoted consisted of two aspects: the development of the indigenous myth that justifies and reinforces the spontaneous indigenous reactions of excluding the caxlanes (landowners), and

participate and drive through the indigenous idealization of the Canadas a fight of national character for the liberation of the poor and oppressed.

The teachings of the Church in the Indigenous communities in Lacandona correlates with the current beliefs held by these same communities-that natives are from a special culture which deserves protection against foreign pressure to assimilate, that natives should be proud of their cultural heritage, and that they should fight to protect their cultural heritage.

Without saying that, the Church’s influence in the indigenous communities in Chiapas is responsible for the rebellion of 1994. In the two aforementioned points, we can see a defense for indigenous rebellion in these communities. The second example justifies a military rebellion, while the first example explains the self-respecting and strongly cultural attitudes of the EZLN’s demands.