Chichicastenango, Guatemala is the centre of Kiche culture, Kiche being a subgroup of the Mayans. The town is known primarily for two things – its twice-weekly market, and the rituals practiced on the steps of the Church of Santo Tomas.
Every Wednesday and Saturday evening, artisans and farmers arrive in Chichicastenango from villages in the neighbouring central highlands. They set up their booths the evening before sale day, and sleep there – often with their family – so they can open early in the morning. Since the town sits at an altitude of about 6500 feet, it’s often a cold night for the artisans at the outdoor stalls.
On Thursday and Sunday mornings, the market opens at dawn for the highland villagers to shop. We arrived later in the morning, by which time the market was bustling with locals and out-of-towners. Vendors here sell an enormous array of goods, including masks, pottery, fruit and vegetables, chickens, incense, candles and tools. Huipiles, the traditional garments worn by Guatemalan women, are sold along with sashes, tablecloths, and other textiles.
The Church of Santo Tomas, which sits next to the market, is unique in the rituals performed by its members. This 400-year old Catholic church permits the performance of Mayan-influenced rites alongside the more traditional church rituals. Eighteen steps lead up to the church, one representing each month in the Mayan calendar. While we were there, we watched as the Kiche people offered rituals on those steps: they burned incense, lit candles, and spread flower petals. The odor of incense was overpowering, even though we walked in the church by the side door; the front door, shown here, is reserved for Kiche worshippers.