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|Mexico: approx. 26,000|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Mexico (Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas, Durango)|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Mexico: approx. 26,000|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Mexico (Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas, Durango)|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Huichol or Wixáritari (Huichol pronunciation: /wiˈraɾitaɾi/) are a Native American ethnic group of western central Mexico, living in the Sierra Madre Occidental range in the Mexican 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 ("the people") in their native Huichol language. The adjectival form of Wixáritari and name for their own language is Wixárika.
The Huichol claim that they originated in the province of San Luis Potosí but later migrated westward to the parts of Sierra of Nayarit, Sierra of Jalisco, Desert of Zacatecas, and Sierra of Durango in which the rugged Sierra of the Huichol is found. Once yearly, some Huichol journey back to San Luís, their ancestral homeland to perform "Mitote" Peyote (Hikuri, in Wixarika) ceremonies.
The three main Huichol communities belong to the municipality of Mezquitic, Jalisco and are called San Sebastián Teponohuastlan (Wautüa in Huichol), Santa María Cuexcomatitlán (Tuapuri in Huichol) and San Andrés Cohamiata (Tatei Kié in Huichol). Other Wixarika communities include Guadalupe Ocotán (in Nayarit), and Santa Catarina and Tuxpán de Bolaños in Jalisco. However only around 7,000 Wixáritari live in their homeland while some 13,000 have migrated to other places within Nayarit, and other still live in La Sierra de La Yesca.
The Wixárika arrived in the Bolaños Canyon region after the arrival of the Tepecanos, who until recently inhabited the same region. There are numerous theories among anthropologists and historians about the timing of the arrival of this ethnic group in the region, but according to Wixárika oral history, when they arrived in the region they currently consider home, the region was already inhabited by another ethnic group. Tepecano oral history also confirms that villages currently inhabited by Wixárika, such as Santa Catarina, were Tepecano villages in the past. In addition, there exist no stories of conquest or domination of the Wixárika by the Tepecanos in either of the oral histories of the respective ethnic groups.
The most commonly accepted theory regarding the origin of Wixárika is that they come from the region of San Luis Potosí and that before their migration to the Bolaños Canyon region, they considered themselves part of the Guachichil ethnic group. Central to the traditional religion of the Wixárika is the gathering of hikuri (a hallucinogenic cactus) in the place that they call Wirikuta, that is located in the region of Real de Catorce in the state of Potosí San Luis. Hikuri does not grow in the region of Wixárika, but it is abundant in San Luis Potosí, territory that was at the center of the dominion of the Guachichiles before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Guachichiles were known to be bellicose and fiercely defensive of their territory. It is unlikely that the Guachichiles would have let the Wixárika pass peacefully through their territory to gather peyote unless they recognized them as part of their own ethnic group. This is confirmed by oral history of Wixárika, as well as the similarity between the language of Wixárika, which is more like the language of the already extinct language of the Guachichiles than to that of their present neighbors, the Cora.
Historical documents indicate that during the 16th century, the Wixárika had already arrived in the region that is today northern Jalisco. The writings of Alonso Ponce, that date from the year 1587, indicate that the province of Tepeque was inhabited by an ethnic group who used to unite with the Guachichiles to carry out attacks and incursions on Spanish settlements and caravans. The Spaniards who explored the region that later became Jerez wrote that they were groups of Guachichiles in the region that had pushed out the Zacatecas that had previously resided there. Through this historical evidence one can postulate that the Wixárika arrived in the Bolaños Canyon region around the same time as the Spaniards. The arrival of the Spaniards in territories of the Guachichiles in Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí had certainly brought epidemics to the indigenous communities whose members had no resistance to the diseases of Europe. In addition, those natives who did not die of the epidemics suffered due to the concentrations and encomiendas carried out by the Spaniards in order to work the recently discovered mines of the region. These experiences are also documented in the oral history of wixaritari.
The Wixárika arrived in the Bolaños Canyon region looking for refuge and settled among the Tepecano settlements that already existed there. It is likely that there was mixing among the ethnic groups, as is evidenced by the many traditions, rituals (as the one of the use of chimales, or woods of oration, and the use of peyote in their ceremonies) shared among the groups. It is clear that the two ethnic groups would unite under a single leader to defend themselves from Spanish incursions and to mount rebellions against the Spanish colonial government. There is historical evidence of a rebellion mounted jointly by the two ethnic groups in El Teúl in 1592 and another one in Nostic in 1702.
The Huichol spend significant time working in tobacco fields, which has been ruinous to their health. Owners of these large plantations are no longer allowed to use First World pesticides too toxic to use in the countries where they are manufactured. Fortunately, the Huichol live in the mountains above Mazatlán and other coastal tourist meccas, and are able to sell their crafts.
In summer, when the rains come, they live on their ranchos (farms) in tiny rancherias (hamlets) and make cheese from the milk from their cattle, which they slaughter and eat usually only during celebrations. For the most part, their diet consists of tortillas, made from the Blue, Red, Yellow or White "Sacred corn," beans, rice and pasta, the occasional chicken or pig (from which they make "chicharrones"), chili peppers, supplemented with wild fruits and vegetables of the region, such as "colorines", a legume gathered from trees, or "ciruelas" (wild plums) and guayabas (guavas).
Marriages are arranged by the parents when the children are very young. Huichol usually marry between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. Extended Huichol families live together in rancho settlements. These small communities consist of individual houses which belong to a nuclear family. Each settlement has a communal kitchen and the family shrine, called a xiriki, which is dedicated to the ancestors of the rancho. The buildings surround a central patio. The individual houses are traditionally built of stone or adobe with grass-thatched roofs.
A district of related ranchos is known as a temple district. Temple districts are all members of a larger community district. Each community district is ruled by a council of kawiterutsixi, elder men who are usually also shamans.
The Huichol seek autonomy in their land, but have two governments, one native to the Huichol and one answering to the Mexican Government through "Municipal Agents" in the larger settlements. The government has established schools without much success in the Huichol Zone during the last 40 years, both church and state. A private Junior High School has led to some friction between "Town" and "Gown" among members of the tribe. Friction also exists between converts to Christianity, the scorned "aleluyas," and followers of the old religion, which means the evangelicals and their missions are barely tolerated.
With the building of roads in the Huichol Zone in the last ten years, new influences are impacting the social fabric of the Huichol. Where mules, horses and burros used to be the main forms of transport, trucks are becoming more prominent, importing food, medicines and beer.
|This section requires expansion. (December 2007)|
Their religion consists of four principal deities, the trinity of Corn, Blue Deer and Peyote, and the eagle, all descended from their Sun God, "Tao Jreeku". Most Huichols retain the traditional beliefs and are resistant to change.
Quetzalcoatl is still worshiped by the Huichol
Like many indigenous American groups, Huichols have traditionally used the peyote (hikuri) cactus in religious rituals. Huichol practices seem to reflect pre-Columbian practices particularly accurately. These rituals involve singing, weeping, and contact with ancestor spirits. "It is Wirikuta, where the Huichol go each year to collect peyote." "Before reaching Wirikúta, their final destination, they pass by the sacred springs of Tatéi Matiniéri ("Where Our Mother Lives"), the house of the eastern rain goddess. They cross steppes. The first one is the Cloud Gate; the second, Where the Clouds Open."
Huichols have traditionally believed that in rituals they interact with the primal ancestor spirits of fire, deer, and other elements of the natural world. "A newborn, separated from its umbilical cord, will still have ... the agave plant where the cord was buried. When children grow up they need to obtain cuttings from their protector so that they can bury their children's umbilical cords under them". The "Huichol ... keep ... the souls of ancestors who have returned to the world in the shape of rock crystals."
In traditional Huichol communities, an important ritual artifact is the nieli'ka: a small square or round tablet with a hole in the center covered on one or both sides with a mixture of beeswax and pine resin into which threads of yarn are pressed. Nieli'kas are found in most Huichol sacred places such as house shrines (xiriki), temples, springs and caves.
In the past thirty years, about four thousand Huichols have migrated to cities, primarily Tepic, Nayarit, Guadalajara and Mexico City. It is these urbanized Huichols who have drawn attention to their rich culture through their art. To preserve their ancient beliefs they have begun making detailed and elaborate yarn paintings, a development and modernization of the nieli'ka.
For the Huichol however, yarn painting is not only an aesthetic or commercial artform. The symbols in these paintings are sprung out of Huichol culture and its shamanistic traditions. From the small beaded eggs and jaguar heads to the modern detailed yarn paintings in psychedelic colors, each is related to a part of Huichol tradition and belief.
The first large yarn paintings were exhibited in Guadalajara in 1962 which were simple and traditional. At present with the availability of a larger spectrum of commercial dyed and synthetic yarn, more finely spun yarn paintings have evolved into high quality works of art.
The beaded art is a relatively new innovation and is constructed using glass, plastic or metal beads pressed onto a wooden form covered in beeswax. Common bead art forms include masks, bowls and figurines. Like all Huichol art, the bead work depicts the prominent patterns and symbols featured in the Huichol religion.
Some Huichol shaman-artists have acquired some fame and commercial success: the acclaimed Huichol yarn painter José Benítez Sánchez has had an exposition of his works in the USA.
Wixaritari are relatively well-known among anthropologists for their long tradition of rejecting Catholic influences over their cultures and practices. Indeed, Wixaritari, along with the Lacandons and other ethnic minorities in the country, have fought for their religious and cultural freedom since the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. These ethnic minorities are often portrayed as non-existent or as extremely marginal due to the stereotype of indigenous people in Mexico as fervent Roman Catholics. Wixarika people have also been victims of discrimination, indigenous rights violations and even been stripped of their lands on the grounds of not sharing the same religious faith. Since a couple of decades ago, Wixarika culture has seen the increasing influence of United States evangelical Protestants who, by building churches and helping the community financially, have made their way into Wixarika traditions.
Mobs wielding machetes and clubs in western Mexico's Jalisco state have expelled 80 evangelicals from Agua Fria village, threatening to burn the Christians and refusing to allow their return unless they recant their faith. The mobs reacted against evangelicals' shunning of Huichol native religion, which encourages taking hallucinogenic peyote. Statutes in the village of Agua Fria, where most of the nearly 1,000 residents practice a mix of traditional Huichol animism and Roman Catholicism, specify that residents may live in the village only if they practice Huichol culture, defined in part by religion. On August 14, 2005 the mob targeted all Agua Fria evangelicals, which included members of Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, and Apostolic Faith churches. In February, Huichol traditionalists torched the home of evangelical Hermelinda Vazquez de la Cruz. Severely burned, she escaped with her children and now uses a walker, confirmed Mark Schultz, an evangelical missionary in Porvenir, Baja California, who ministers among Huicholes.
Currently one of the Huicholes sacred mountains, Wirikuta, important in their ceremonial migration, Peyote hunt, and deer dance is being purchased for silver mining by a Canadian mining company, “First Majestic Silver Corp”. On October 27, 2000 United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) claimed this site as a protected area for its importance as a cultural route and endemic flora and fauna species. Before a gathering go 60,000 people at Wirikuta Fest on May 26, 2012, First Majestic silver announced it had returned some of their mining concessions to the national mining reserve to protect Wirikuta, but the Wixarika Regional Council expose this as a farce. Later on June 9, 2001 it was declared as a National Sacred Site under the State of San Luis Potosi's Natural Protection act. Canada's First Majestic Silver Corp still decided to purchase mineral rights on November 13, 2009 with 80% of their interest within the protected land.
The company's current methods includes open pit mining and lixivation through cyanide, using two kilograms of NaCN per tonne of ore. While open pit mining itself removes entire habitats and landscapes, the addition of sodium cyanide, NaCN, is a lethal method requiring only 0.2 grams to kill a person. In April, 2010 the company also opened a new cyanidation plant in Coahuila, Mexico where it has started producing 3500 tons of cyanide a day to help them expand their mining efforts. Currently the Huicholes are trying to find outside groups to help them in the conservation of their land and culture by protecting this mountain, as well as appealing to the President to honor his agreement to protect their holy sites.
Besides the mining conflicts, the Wixarika community has faced further problems by the construction of a road in Jalisco during 2008. The community has made it clear that the persons involved in the project don't have any rights to use Wixarika lands for whatever end; hence, they are committing violation of internationally recognized indigenous rights.
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