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by Greg Rutkowski


Mexican Huichol Art And The People

by Greg Rutkowski

Huichol Artisan

by Greg Rutkowski

If you are a lover of art, then the Huichol of Western Mexico and Central Mexico would definitely interest you. Other than art Huichol, we will look at Huichol culture, religious beliefs, cultural ceremonies and general lifestyle.

History Of The Huichol

Mexican Huichol Family

The Huichol, also called Wixàrika, are indigenous people of the United States and Mexico. They live in Durango, Zacatecas, Jalisco and Nayarit, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and California of the US in the Sierra Madre Occidental range. The Huichol arrived in Bolaños Canyon after the Tepehuanes had arrived. Historians and anthropologists have numerous theories concerning the arrival of the Huichol people. However, the oral history of the Huichol people claims that there was already another ethnic community in the Bolaños Canyon region upon arrival. Tepecano's oral history also claims that the villages that Huichol currently inhibit, like Santa Catarina, belonged to the Tepehuanes in the past.

A central aspect of the traditional religion of the Huichol people is gathering a hallucinogenic cactus (hikuri) in the Real de Catorce in San Luis Potosi, in a place they referred to as Wirikuta. The arrival of the Huichol in Bolaños Canyon was in search of refuge.

They settled among Tepecano settlers who already occupied the place. Most likely, the two groups mixed in the process, which is evident in the many traditions that the two groups have in common. One of these traditions is using oration woods, petite, and Chimales.

The two groups would also unite under one leader and defend themselves against the Spanish incursions. They would also rebel against the colonial government, and El Teúl has historical evidence of their rebellion in 1592.

Huichol Language

Mexican Huichol Artisan

Huichol language, also known as Wixàrika, is a coral branch language (Uto-Aztecan) related to Cora. It has four patterns of words:

  1. Type I words- principally verbs and are inflected for mode and person.
  2. Type II words- principally nouns and are inflected for possession and number.
  3. Type III words- principally qualifiers and are inflected optionally for person and gender and case.
  4. Type IV words- inflected.

The major types of sentences in Huichol language include transitive, complemented transitive, complemented, and intransitive. Complemented sentences feature objects like constituents, also known as complements.

True objects don't have a cross-reference with any verbal affix. Complements involve objects from double transitive sentences and quotative phrases. The types of minor sentences in Huichol include exclamations and vocatives. 

Religion and Mythology of Huichol Culture

Mexican Huichol Stormtrooper

Huichol's religion constitutes four deities: Blue Deer, Peyote, the Eagle, and the Trinity of Corn. All these deities originated from "Tao Jreeku," their Sun God. Most Huichol people still retained their traditional beliefs, resisting any attempts to change them.

The Huichol Indians claim that there are two cosmic forces in the world. They use the term 'Our Father" the Sun (Tayaepà), to represent the igneous force and 'the Rain Goddess' (Nacawé) to represent the aquatic one. They claim that their Father's luminous creatures (The eagle-stars) hurl into the lagoons while Nacawé's water serpents rise and shape the clouds in the skies.

According to the belief of Huichol people, the Sun used his saliva to create earthly beings which appeared on the ocean's waves with a red foam shape. They believe that new things come from essences or "hearts" which is the foam in the red sea flowing from their Father the Sun. The Sun's forerunner is its 'heart', and it has the shape that resembles (tau kúkai), a bird. The Huichol Indians claim that this bird placed a cross on the sea after emerging from the underworld. After that came the birth of Father Sun. The Sun climbed up the cross, killing the darkness of the world through his blows.

Kacíwalí is their maize goddess who they claim was carried by wind to a mountain's top, which became her dwelling place. They claim that her rain serpents change into fish. Komatéame is the goddess of the midwives. Both Komatéame and another goddess by the name Otuanàka have tiny kids, both female and male, with human shapes. Stuluwiákame's responsibility among the deities is giving the humans children while Na'alewàemi gives their animals young ones.

Tatéi Kükurü' Uimari is their Mother Dove Girl. She was also the mother of the kid who became the Sun. Tatéi Wérika used to associate with Father Sun and appeared in the form of a two-headed eagle. Tatéi Niwetükame is the children's patroness. She predicts the sex of the children even before birth and gives them kupuri (their soul).

What Role Does Peyote Play?

Mexican Huichol Bull

Like many other indigenous groups in America, Huichol Indians traditionally used hikuri (Peyote) cactus in their religious rituals. Most of their practices seem almost accurately to reflect the Pre-Colombian practices. Their rituals involve weeping, ancestral contact, and singing, and they go to Wirikúta yearly to collect the peyote.

Before they reach Wirikúta, they always pass by Tatéi Matiniéri springs, claiming to be the dwelling place of "Their Mother". They also refer to this place as their eastern rain goddess' house. Along their way, they cross some steps. The first step is the 'Cloud Gate"; the second step is where the "Clouds Open". The pilgrimage occurs every year as the people desire to heal themselves by returning to where life began. While taking the trails by foot, the Huichol Indian typically assumes the roles of the gods.

Once they arrive in Wirikuta, the Huichol begin the hunt, and the first peyote cactus they find they share among themselves. They then harvest enough to last the whole year since they only make the trip once.

Once they finish the work, they eat enough of the hallucinogen (peyote), believing they would have visions. Due to the effects of peyote and the visions, Huichol claim that the shamans can speak to their gods. This association would ensure the regeneration of the souls of Huichols.

Mexican government protection of rituals of the Huichol signify the use of peyote. However, people have developed the habit of using the plant recreationally. Because of this, the Mexican government and other international organizations have put in place laws to allow only for its use for religious practices.

Any other individual using or possessing the plant would serve a sentence of ten to twenty-five years imprisonment. The indigenous people are having difficulty accessing peyote, and they tried asking for the Mexican government's intervention to consider their trial. According to Pedro Medellin, the head of the government study on peyote's population in the sacred areas, the disappearance of the plant would lead to the disappearance of the whole Huichol culture.

Animism in Huichol Culture

Mexican Huichol Panther

Through rituals, Huichol traditionally believe in interacting with their primal ancestral spirits of deer, fire, and other natural elements. For instance, after separating an umbilical cord from a newborn and burying it, they would traditionally plant an agave plant in that same spot. Once the children have grown up, they obtain cuttings or pieces from the protector and bury the umbilical cords underneath the cuttings. The Huichol use rock crystals to symbolize the souls of their ancestors.

Huichol Art

Mexican Huichol Wolf

Nieli'ka Crafts

The Huichol communities have an essential artifact by the name nieli'ka. This ritual artifact can either be a round tablet or a small square covered with pine resin and beeswax on the sides with a hole in the middle. The Huichol would then press threads of yarns through the beeswax and resin. Nieli'kas are very common in sacred places like temples, caves, springs, and house shrines.

Over 40,000 indigenous Huichol have moved to cities over the past 30 years, and they have settled in Nayarit, Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Tepic. Through this migration, they have exposed their rich culture to the world through the arts. They ensured they preserved their beliefs by making elaborate and detailed yarn paintings, which led to the modernization and development of nieli'ka.

However, for Huichol, these yarn paintings are not only for the commercial and aesthetic art form. Every symbol in the yarn paintings, from the jaguar heads and beaded eggs to the highly detailed paintings, represents Huichol shamans traditions and culture.

Modern Huichol Art

With the modern advancements, they have also been developing more advanced forms of arts. The intricacy and colors of the materials and yarn are also readily available, and the Huichols have an easy time making more colorful and detailed pieces. Previously, making beaded art involved using jade, seeds, ceramics, bone, and other similar materials. With the availability of thinner and much tighter modern yarn with commercial colors, Huichol can come up with more variety and incredible detail for their arts. Before moving to the cities, they crafted their arts using vegetable dyes.

The first yarn painting to be established in 1962 in Guadalajara was traditional and straightforward. Today, with many synthetic and commercial dyed yarn types, yarn painting is evolving and becoming high-quality arts.

Beadwork By Huichol Women

The innovation of beadwork is the latest move that The Huichol women are making. Constructing beaded arts involves pressing metal beads, plastic, or glass onto wooden forms with beeswax covers.

The common forms of bead art include bowls, figurines, and masks. Like any other Huichol art, bead art depicts the symbols and patterns that feature in the religion of Huichol.

Mexican Huichol Rooster

Are You After Mexican Cultural Practices?

If you love art, the first place to look is Mexico. Other than the Huichol, different people from North Mexico, Western Mexico and Central Mexico are all engaged in all manner of folk art like albrijes and talavera pottery among others

1 comment

  • Wonderful work. Thanks for posting.

    Ann Stockdale on

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