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The Tzotzil Maya of the central highlands of the Mexican state of Chiapas are a Native American group, the direct descendants of the Classic Maya. Tzotzil, along with Tzeltal and Ch'ol is descended from the proto-Ch'ol spoken in the late classic period at sites such as Palenque and Yaxchilan. Today, the largest Tzotzil municipalities are Chamula and Zinacantan.

The word "tzotzil" means "people of wool" (tzotz = wool in the Tzotzil language). Tzotzil people make their clothing primarily out of wool. However, according to ancient Maya language, "tzotzil" could also be translated as "bat people", given the association of their culture with this animal in the view of the Mayas.

The Tzotziles were for centuries exploited by Europeans as laborers on coffee and sugar plantations, particularly in the central valleys of the state.

With the collapse of coffee prices in the 1980s, sustainable employment has been hard for many people in the highlands to find. As both population and foreign tourism have risen, the sale of artisan goods has replaced other economic activities. Tzotziles usually sell their products in the nearby cities of San Cristobal de las Casas, Comitán, and Simojovel. Recently, and increasingly, many Maya from the highlands of Chiapas have found migration to other parts of Mexico, and illegal immigration to the United States a way to break away from subsistence farming and abysmal wages.

There still exist some racial/cultural integration issues, especially with white people, mestizos, and westernized Indians (all called ladinos"). Also, most of the enrollment source for the Zapatista guerrilla are tzotziles.

The Tzotzil dialect of the Mayan language had about 350,000 speakers as of 2002.


  • Laughlin, Robert M. (1975). The great Tzotzil dictionary of San Lorenzo Zinacantán. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press. 

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