Indigenous People of Mexico: The Huichol

Indigenous People of Mexico: The Huichol

Huuichola ArtistsHuichola Women Artisans
Lupita Huichola Doll

The Huichol are an indigenous people of Mexico living in the Sierra Madre Occidental range in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas, and Durango. They are best known to the larger world as the Huichol, however, they refer to themselves as Wixáritari in their native Huichol language.
Cultural Systems

The Huichol's social and political structures interwine, combining the traditional structure with one imposed by the Mexican government. The basic unit, the rancho, consists of a few nuclear families living and farming the same land. The rancho is also the center of religious activity. A collection of ranchos is a rancheria, with a center called the pueblo for fiestas, cattle sales, schools, legal business, political meetings, and other matters. The pueblo is home to the civil bureaucracy, known as the gobernancia, which governs a collection of rancherias called a communidad. The Huichol political structure contains five rancherias.

The Mexican government has imposed a presidencia to mediate disputes between Huichols and outside parties. The Mexican government has also instituted tax collections and a law-enforcement system. The political system is in flux as the government tries to harmonize its desires with traditional Huichol customs.

The Huichol religion is intricate and elaborate and difficult to separate from social and political practices. The 120 deities of the Huichol include three chief gods: Tatemari, Tayau, and Kauyumaki. Tatemari - "our Grandfather fire" - is the main god, the ruler over the ret of the gods. He led the tribe on the first peyote hunt, built their first temple, and taught the Huichol how to behave."

Tayau is "our father sun," the sun god. He is dangerously powerful and can send misfortunes as warnings or punishments. Kauyumaki - "sacred deer person" - is the trickster god, sometimes clever and sometimes stupid, yet holding magical powers. He taught the Huichol many things through stories, including about sex. He is regarded as having often behaved questionably before becoming sacred.

The primary event in Huichol religious practice is the peyote hunt, an annual pilgrimage that acts out a desire to return to the source of all life and heal oneself. For the hunt, Huichol travel 300 miles to their paradise, Wirikuta. The pilgrimage traces the journey of the original Ancient Ones of the tribe. It begins with a ceremony in front of the community as the pilgrims declare the names of all illicit sexual partners they ever had.

During the journey, which is usually done on foot, the pilgrims assume the characteristics of gods. When the pilgrims arrive at Wirikuta, they hunt for the deer god, the source of peyote, they search for peyote and all eat a piece from the first plant found. They collect enough peyote for a year's supply and then eat enough to have visions. The shaman talks to the gods to ensure the regeneration of the pilgrims' souls. Peyote is central because it allows the shaman to contact the gods. The pilgrimage can be done several times in one's life and is usually regarded as a privilege.

Huichol art broadly groups the most traditional and most recent innovations in the folk art and handicrafts produced by the Huichol people, who live in the states of Jalisco, Durango, Zacatecas and Nayarit in Mexico. The unifying factor of the work is the colorful decoration using symbols and designs which date back centuries. The most common and commercially successful products are "yarn paintings" and objects decorated with small commercially produced beads. Yarn paintings consist of commercial yarn pressed into boards coated with wax and resin and are derived from a ceremonial tablet called a neirika. The Huichol have a long history of beading, making the beads from clay, shells, corals, seeds and more and using them to make jewelry and to decorate bowls and other items. The "modern" beadwork usually consists of masks and wood sculptures covered in small, brightly colored commercial beads fastened with wax and resin.

While the materials have changed and the purpose of many of the items have changed from religious to commercial purposes, the designs have changed little, and many retain their religious and symbolic significance. Most outsiders experience Huichol art as tourists in areas such as Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, without knowing anything about the people who make the items, and the meanings of the designs. There are some notable Huichol artists in the yarn painting and beadwork fields, and both types of work have been commissioned for public display.
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