The Western Sierra Madre Mountains, close to Puerto Vallarta, are inhabited by a mystic yet beautiful culture that constantly creates enigmatic worlds with recurring themes such as moons, suns, trees, labyrinths, spirals, mountains and cosmic oceans. These are expressed in the art, religion and customs of the Huichol, people who have remained unaffected by external influences over the centuries.
Even though the origins of this fascinating culture are uncertain, an undeniable fact is that survivors from many different ethnic groups fled to the Western Sierra Madre during the Spanish Conquest to escape the trail of destruction carved by the Spanish soldiers. Since the Sierra Madre was basically inaccessible, it was never conquered by the Spaniards and thus kept its new inhabitants safe.
Of course, the Huichols have a quite different version of the facts. If you ask the Huichols about their origin, they will tell you fantastic stories about ancient gods rising out of the sea and walking deep into the eastern side of the Sierra Madre. The Huichols believe history is knitted from the many threads of their countless myths and these are the roots that have determined their social and religious behavior.
The Huichols believe sickness is due to a lack of piety for the gods and one must give offerings to mend the mistake. Other causes of illness could be a 'curse' or 'losing the soul'.
It is due to the importance of the sacred world and its intrinsic bond to the Huichol lifestyle that one can find their cosmogony and myths expressed on every Huichol art piece. All of the handicrafts that have not been made to be sold have been created to portray the religious experiences of their creators. These fantastic pieces, made using vibrant colors and fantastical figures, can only be conceived in the mind of a Huichol artist.
The Huicholes keep struggling to remain removed from the influences of the outside world, and even though the isolated location of their towns has led to the construction of runways in several communities, when you reach these secluded places, one collides against a world where wood is the main fuel, water is still extracted from wells and houses are constructed with adobe, stones, mud and thatched roofs. It is a world where the first three years of school are given by the same professor or provided by a Franciscan mission. A world where men still farm, fish and hunt and the soil is cultivated using an ox-driven plough.
To take a journey into the culture of the Huichol is to find yourself at the doorstep of a fantastic world of ancient customs which have remained intact for centuries. To penetrate into the Huichol world, is to travel into a dimension where the divine and the profane find perfect harmony.
Huichols: An Unchanged Culture
- Mireille Pasos