You may already have encountered the impressively wild-looking Lacandón Maya, dressed in simple white robes and selling exquisite (and apparently effective) bows and arrows at Palenque. Until recently, they were the most isolated of all the Mexican Indian groups. The ancestors of today’s Lacandón are believed to have migrated to Chiapas from the Petén region of Guatemala during the eighteenth century. Prior to that the Spanish had enslaved, killed or relocated the original inhabitants of the forest.

The Lacandón refer to themselves as “Hach Winik” (true people). Appearances notwithstanding, some Lacandón families are (or have been) quite wealthy, having sold timber rights in the jungle, though most of the timber money has now gone. This change has led to a division in their society, and most live in one of two main communities: Lacanjá Chansayab, near Bonampak, a village predominantly made up of evangelical Protestants, some of whom are keenly developing low-impact tourist facilities; and Nahá, where a small group still attempts to live a traditional life, and where it is possible to arrange stays in local homes. The best source of information on the Lacandón in Chiapas is Casa Na-Bolom in San Cristóbal de las Casas, where you can find a manuscript of Last Lords of Palenque, by Victor Perera and Robert Bruce. Hach Winik, by Didier Boremanse, is an excellent recent study of Lacandón life and history.

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