Vibrant colours, symmetrical figures, minute beads, stories of ancestry, and a flower that shows the truth: all are essential ingredients of Huichol craft. Huichol craft has long been driven and molded by their love for and reliance on their lush mountain homeland. Dig a little deeper into Huichol ways, and you discover more than an appreciation for beauty, though. You begin to see their never-ending focus on maintaining their connection to one another, and to be in balance with the universe.
The Huichol, a fragile indigenous culture, live along the ridge of the Western Sierra Madre in Mexico. Their relatively well-preserved ways offer a window into pre Columbian times. It is said that they were ignored due to the high and isolated mountain ranges were they lived, and the fact that there weren’t any gold mines in the area. Although much has changed in what is now Mexico, the Huichol peoples have managed to preserve much of their traditions, and their traditional ways of governing.
Little is known about Huichol history. Mexicans called them Huicholes, a name derived from Wixaricas which means healers. The name is thought to have been acquired because in the past one out of three Huicholes was a healer, and other indigenous groups would often seek their healing advice.
Huichol culture was documented for the first time by European anthropologist Carl Lumholtz who penetrated the Sierra in l890. It wasn’t, however, until the 1970's, almost a hundred years later, that the Mexican government decided to integrate all indigenous peoples into mainstream society, and opened schools, clinics and agricultural stations to introduce new customs. Huichol children start attending school at six where they learn Spanish, Natural Sciences, History of Mexico, and Mathematics, however often times one may find older members of the community who pretend not to understand speak any Spanish.
The Huichol have held with certainty their ancestral beliefs and their style of government. The most important characters in their communities are the governor, who makes the community respect the laws, and the shaman (maraakame) who cures people and can communicate with nature deities.
Although they used to choose their governors by the dreams of the elderly members, nowadays the community gets together and chooses two elders who then propose two candidates, one of whom will be selected by the votes of the community.
Spiritually, Huichol people celebrate earth and nature. They believe that the political, the human, and the spiritual sides of oneself must all be nurtured to reach balance and to be able to be a good citizen of this world. This helps explain why they have performed ceremonial rituals for centuries: they see these ceremonies as essential to the healing of the Earth and maintaining the balance of nature. Key to the ceremonies is the ritual love offering of the white-tailed deer to their nature-deities.
Huichol crafts are particularly rich in colour. They have a palpable texture and they are of major importance to the community because their art is a literal and physical translation of images that have been visualized in a state of ample consciousness, induced by the sacred cactus peyote -- the flower that tells the truth. Peyote helps the Huichol to connect with nature because by eating peyote they enter a liminal state that allows them to see the truth about themselves and to see the lucid truth about others.
Huichol craft often depicts the three most important symbols in their culture: the peyote flower, the deer as a symbol of fertility, and maize, which represents nature. Huichol say that one's experience of peyote depends on the size of one’s soul, or how well one is in touch with oneself. You have to be in balance with your surroundings and yourself -- which they say explains why not everybody can experience it.
Their craft techniques are varied, including bright embroideries which are mainly used for their ceremonial clothing; yarn paintings; and the most fascinating of all, the chaquira, which are made by laying colourful beads onto a wooden surface that has been previously covered with wax. Chaquira, the name given to colorful 2 millimeter glass beads, are used by the Huichol to create vibrant crafts that range from intricate jewellery and masks, to large sculptures. Chaquira comes in every color imaginable, and in different finishes.
Chaquira sculptures are made bit by bit, as each individual bead is laid onto a wax treated surface. Jewelry, on the other hand, is sewn bead by bead. Within their community, the Huichol people value how well an artist can combine colours or how uniquely and intricately they can express their designs. Their sensibility to color is acute, and their intense combinations always look harmoniously balanced -- as if they had been studying color theory for years. Interestingly, one can always find colour similarities between traditional Huichol crafts and the fashion world's seasonal catwalk choices. Is this just a cosmic coincidence, or a result of Huichol vision?
To purchase Huichol crafts online, visit the Santa Fe International Folk Art Museum's site at http://www.worldfolkart.org/category.php?id=52&sub_id=251