The Huichol people live in Mexico’s Sierra Madre, in in the states of Jalisco, Durango, Nayarit.
They were rediscovered in popular culture north of the border in the 1960s because their religion centers on the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus native to their mountains, and because of their colorful and utterly psychedelic artworks.
In this Wikimedia image of a Huichol mask, the symbol for peyote dominates the forehead, an apt representation of the central role played by the cactus in Huichol life:
Huichol culture is in danger, in part because a generation of elders has died, often without leaving behind students who have mastered the rich and intricate oral traditions that bound the preliterate Huichols together.
Our first video offering, a short 1992 documentary by Ryan Noble, features Huichols from the villages of Las Guayabas and San Andreas, in which one remarks on the threatened loss of the ancient culture: “We want to live and remember so that it doesn’t end.”
Note also the system of agriculture employed by the Huichol, the traditional Mexican milpa, the only system of agriculture which has allowed for continuous cultivation for millennia without the use of either pesticides or fertilizers.
The Huichols: History – Culture – Art
Huichol art a sometimes take on a larger scale, as illustrated in this image from Mexico’s Museo de Arte Popular, a sight to stir twitches of envy in the souls of Berkeley’s own art car ornamenters.
But the mountains that are home to the Huichols are coveted by multinational corporations, which have been logging the trees and devastating the landscape, forcing ever-larger numbers of Huichols to head to the lowlands simply to survive.
And the jobs awaiting them there are killing them, quite literally.
From Huicholes Contra Plaguicidas:
Huichols and Pesticides
Huichols & Pesticides, documents, through witnesses, reports and persuasive images, the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the tobacco fields, and the poisonings, and even deaths, resulting from the use of agrochemicals.
One notable effort to preserve the Huichols and their way of life is being undertaken by the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and the Traditional Arts:
The Huichol Center: A model for cultural survival
This documentary was produced to support The Huichol Center. The Center helps the Huichol people of Mexico maintain their culture, art and spirituality. The Huichols have been almost untouched by modern civilization, and have been able to maintain their ancient ways despite crushing poverty and disease.
With their ancient heritage, their system of sustainable organic agriculture, and an artistic tradition that merges the sacred and the profane in unique ways, the Huichol surely deserve protection from the ravages of corporate imperialism and agricultural toxins.
To close, a final image, via Wikipedia, this time of a Huichol yarn painting: