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The Huichol Indians Of Mexico

Aug 15, 2008
The Huichol Indians (pronounced "Wee-chol") are an indigenous tribe of traditional people living in western central Mexico, in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit. Many live in small scattered settlements high in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Because of the extreme remoteness of this rugged mountain area, the Huichol were not conquered by the Spaniards, nor greatly changed by Mexican culture. They remain one of the last tribes in North America still living much as they did in pre-Columbian times, maintaining many of their ageless rituals and beliefs. Today it is estimated there are only about 10,000 Huichol Indians still in existence.

The Huichol believe themselves to be "mirrors of the gods" and try to reflect a sacred vision of the world, both physically and spiritually. To the Huichol, everything is alive and has a soul (called kupuri) and is therefore divine. They are a deeply religious people and worship multiple deities. They make offerings and prayers to assure the protection and goodwill of these deities.

The Huichol Indian tribe sees dress as another important way of expressing their religious beliefs. Their colorful clothing is said to give pleasure to their divinities, ensuring the kindness of the deities and protection of the people. The Huichol men wear elaborately embroidered muslin pants, a long tunic that is wrapped around the waist and held in place by a hand-woven belt, and a kerchief which may be embroidered or can be made from a combination of embroidery and felt. Hand-woven and embroidered bags are often worn, and during ceremonies a large hat with feathers may be worn as well. Huichol women typically wear delicately embroidered peasant dresses.

The Huichol are a highly creative people and reflect their strong ceremonial traditions and rich mythology in their visionary art work. These visions are often inspired by their peyote god whose divine gift enables them to communicate with all the gods. These mystical experiences can only be told by the shamans, but all are encouraged to express them in their art and offerings. Through their artwork, whether it be beaded art (chaquira) or yarn painting (nierika), the Huichol encode and document their spiritual knowledge.

The Huichol beliefs are complex and elaborate, involving myth, shamanism, ritual peyote, prayer and ceremony. Much of their current art depicts these religious themes and retells mystical stories. So each piece of art, in addition to being a beautiful work of art, carries its own historical and spiritual significance.

The Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts is a grass-roots project that provides the Huichol people with an interface to the outside world. Concern has become ever greater as some Huichol people are migrating away from their unique way of life in the mountains, and into the cities due to economic pressures. The Huichol Center is helping to transform poverty into dignity through programs which reinforce pride in their cultural heritage. Language and cultural preservation, education, nutrition, and self-sufficiency are the earmarks of their mission.

To learn more about the Huichol and the Huichol Center, please view their website atvwww.huicholcenter.org.
About the Author
Sheila Hull-Summers is the owner of Sunrise Imports, a web retailer specializing in Mexican folk art and other unique handcrafted gifts & decor from Latin America and the United States.
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