Lacandon settlements

NaháThe Lacandones live in the southeast of Chiapas, Mexico in which is known as La Selva Lacandona. The 700 Lacandones primarily live in three settlements, which are: Nahá and Metzabók (Mensäbäk) in the north and Lacanhá Chansayab in the south. The tropical climate is hot and moisture with and average temperature of 22° Celsius and an average rainfall of 250 cm a year. The most common trees in the rainforest are the breadfruittree, the ceiba, mahogany and the sapodilla. The area contains about 4,000 plants and 25% of al the animal species native to Mexico. In the last half of the twentieth century these numbers have decreased with 40 to 70 percent.


The village of Nahá lies at the lake with the same name at an altitude of 820 meters, approximately 50 kilometres west of the Usumacinta river and 55 kilometres east of the regional capital Ocosingo. The village has about 200 inhabitants. Until now, the missionaries did not succeed to convert the inhabitants of  Nahá to Christianity, therefore Nahá is the most traditional community of the Lacandones. The original religion, the ceremonies, brewing of the balché and polygamy is commonly practised by many.

In recent years many thing has changed. In 1993 the first electricity cables arrived, which resulted in the fact that some households own lamps and a television.

The inhabitants of Nahá acknowledge the existence of Christ (by them He is called Hesuklistos), but look at him as a minor god and son of Äkyantho’, the god of foreigners and their things.

Because of the logging companies around the Lacandon forest it has become an impossible task for the Lacandones to hunt or to cultivate their milpa (cornfield). But the cultural heritage seems to be able to resist these problems.

photo by R. JohnstonMetzabók (Mensäbäk)

The village of Mensäbäk lies at the lake with the same name at the foot of the Siërra Piedron at an altitude of 550 meters. On approximately four kilometres you can find the main road to El Tumbo. This is the smallest settlement of the Lacandones. The rivers and lakes in the direct surroundings of the village provide in an excellent supply of food.

The lake that is named after the god Mensäbäk is the largest of the three to each other connected lakes. The other two lakes also bear names of Lacandon gods: Ts’ibatnah (Painter of Houses), the lord of painting, and Ah K’ak’ (Fire Lord), the god of hunting, courage and in the past also of warfare.

Mensäbäk used to be a large settlement, but when the missionaries settled in the village, many inhabitants moved to Nahá. Today Mensäbäk is only home of a small Lacandon community.

Lacanhá Chansayab

Lacanhá Chansayab lies at the Lacanhá river at an altitude of 250 meter. The village is located 50 kilometres west of the Usamacinta river and 115 kilometres southeast of Ocosingo. The Siërra Cojolita lies in the east. This is the largest community of Lacandones and has about 500 inhabitants.

The village is located at the border of the Monte Azules reserve, near the ruins of Bonampak. It is the most southern community of the Lacandones. In the direct surroundings you can still find the untouched rainforest with more than enough game.

LacanháAlthough the Lacandones of Lacanhá live on a traditional way, they almost don’t practice their traditional religion any more. A yellow fever epidemic in the beginning of the 1940’s was responsible for the death of many elders in the community, and with that the death of many traditions.

After the death of Ceron, the last tah (kind of leader of the southern Lacandones) of Lacanhá, religion was no longer practiced. Traditions were not more than some vague memories. According to the traditions Jose Pepe Chan Bol should have became the new tah, but for unknown reasons he did not wanted this task. The missionaries noticed this and so they began their missionary work. The Lacandones of Lacanhá figured that is was better to have a new religion that to have none at all. Within short time Jose Pepe Chan Bol accepted the new religion and acted as the preacher and leader of Lacanhá. His new function within the community was not different then the function he should have had according the traditions.

One of the first acts of the missionaries was to forbid the Lacandones to eat a great part of the traditional diet of game and fish. The also did not allowed the Lacandones to smoke there tobacco and to drink their traditionally made balché, which is an alcoholic beverage. A man was only allowed to keep his first wife; he had to abandon his other wives, even if they were happily married for years.

Chan K’in’s reaction on the prohibition of alcoholic beverages: “How can the missionaries say that humans can not drink alcohol when the gods had it first and teached the humans how to make it? They say alcohol makes a man loud and mean, but this is not true. Alcohol only shows the true nature of a man. The gods despise loud and mean, when someone drinks or not.”

Today the Lacandones of Lacanhá call themselves Protestants. They visit a small chapel and sing choir songs that are translated in their own language. Another great influence on the small community was the in 2000 completed carretera fronteriza, a paved road that pass Lacanhá on 10 kilometres. This road has to make sure that Bonampak will become a mayor tourist attraction. The future will have to point out what the consequences for the Lacandones will be.