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Huichol Jaguar Head Native American Peyote Art

Huichol Jaguar Head


Huichol jaguar head by indigenous Huichol indian artist Jose Carrillo. Inspired by Peyote and Huichol mythology, the head of this jaguar — the shamanic animal par excellence — depicts the double-headed eagle Tatéi Wérika, the sacred deer Kauyumari and the Peyote cactus. Made by sticking thousands of tiny glass beads onto a jaguar head carved from wood. The entire process is done by hand. From San Andrés Cohamiata community, Mezquitic, Jalisco, Mexico. 10 x 9 x 9 cm.

The Huichol or Wixáritari are Native Americans, 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, Wixarika.

Crafts of the Huichol include embroidery, beadwork, sombreros (hats), archery equipment, prayer arrows, and weaving, as well as "cuchuries", woven or embroidered bags. 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, yarn painting is not only an aesthetic or commercial art form; 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. In more modern times they have been able to develop these art forms in ways they could not before. The colors and intricacy of the yarn and materials for beads are more readily available to make more detailed and colorful pieces of art. Previously, beaded art was made with bone, seeds, jade, ceramics, or other like materials when now the Huichols have access to glass beads of multiple colors. The modern yarn that Huichols use is woven much tighter and is thinner allowing for great detail and the colors are commercial allowing for much more variety. Before access to these materials in cities, Huichols used vegetable dyes. 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.

Wixáritari are relatively well-known among anthropologists for their long tradition of rejecting Catholic influences and continuing traditional shamanistic 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.

Huichol 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.

The Huichol think that two opposed cosmic forces exist in the world: an igneous one represented by Tayaupá, "Our Father" the Sun, and an aquatic one, represented by Nacawé, the Rain Goddess. The eagle-stars, our Father's luminous creatures, hurl themselves into the lagoons and Nacawé's water serpents rise into the skies to shape the clouds. According to Huichol belief, the Sun created earthly beings with his saliva, which appeared in the shape of red foam on the surface of the ocean's waves. New things are born from "hearts" or essences, which the Huichol see in the red sea foam that flowed from Our Father the Sun. The Sun itself has a "heart" that is its forerunner. It adopts the shape of a bird, the tau kúkai. The bird came out of the underworld and placed a cross on the ocean. Father Sun was born, climbed up the cross, in this way killing the world's darkness with his blows.

Kacíwalí is the maize goddess. The wind carried her to the top of a mountain, which was given to her as a dwelling. Kacíwalí's rain serpents are changed into fish. Komatéame is goddess of midwives. Both she and Otuanáka have tiny children in human shape, male and female. Stuluwiákame has the responsibility to give humans children, and Na'alewáemi gives animals their young. Tatéi Kükurü 'Uimari "Our Mother Dove Girl", who was also mother of the boy who became the Sun. Tatéi Wérika, associated with the Sun and often depicted as a two-headed eagle. Tatéi Niwetükame patroness of children, who determines the sex of a child before it is born and gives it its soul (kupuri).

Like many indigenous American groups, the Huichol 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. This pilgrimage takes place annually as a desire to return to where life originated and heal oneself. The Huichol assume roles of gods along the trail that they usually take by foot. Upon arrival in Wirikuta, the hunt begins and the first cactus that is found is shared among everyone. Then they harvest enough peyote for the year (since they only make the trip one time every year). After the work is done, they eat enough peyote (a hallucinogen) to have visions. Because of the visions and effects of the plant, the shaman is able to speak to the gods and ensure the regeneration of the Huichols' souls.

The Huichol say that they originated in the state of San Luis Potosí. Every year, some Huichol journey back to San Luís, their ancestral homeland to perform "Mitote" Peyote (Hikuri, in Wixarika) ceremonies. The Huichol have lived here deep in the mountains of central Mexico for at least 15,000 years according to radiocarbon dating of the ashes from their sacred fireplaces.

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 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 because they are too toxic to use in the countries where they are manufactured. Fortunately, the Huichol live in the mountains above Mazatlán (Sierra de Nayarit) and other coastal tourist meccas, and are able to sell their crafts as another means of income.

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. Although this of course can be beneficial, it was also degrading to the culture as a whole. In 1986, the Huichols continued to live isolated lives very traditionally in every aspect, but since this contact from within their own country, they have had to adapt and change to be more modern.

Currently, one of their sacred mountains, Wirikuta, important in ceremonial migration, peyote hunt, and deer dances, is being purchased for silver mining by a Canadian mining company, First Majestic Silver. On October 27, 2000 UNESCO claimed this site as a protected area for its importance as a cultural route and endemic flora and fauna species. Before a gathering of 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 lixiviation through cyanide, using two kilograms of cyanide per tonne of ore. While open pit mining itself removes entire habitats and landscapes, the addition of sodium cyanide is a lethal method. 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.