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The Huichols:
A Culture in Transition

Written by Susana Valadez,
1994 Windstar Award Recipient

Copyright © 1994 Valadez
All Rights Reserved


While many native peoples in the Western hemisphere have been absorbed into the mainstream of the modern world, Mexies's Huichol people have maintained their traditional culture, language, and spiritual way of life for centuries. The rugged and remote terrain of the mountainous Huichol homeland (in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit in Mexico) has provided a pocket of isolation where an estimated 7,000 remaining descendants of the Aztecs have ingeniously adapted to the demands of their harsh environment. In doing so, the Wixalika (the name the Huichols use in their language to refer to themselves, meaning "prophets" or "healers") have nurtured a value system and way of life that hold many lessons for the modern world.

Today the Huichol culture survives as a window to the past revealing a legacy of indigenous ways which have become, for the most part, long extinct in the americas. The Huichol homeland is a refreshing reminder of how the world used to be when entire communities worked together as caretakers of reciprocity between people and the planet.

Living in harmony in healthy communities that could serve as models in a troubled world, their cooperative lifestyle is rooted in a native spirituality that is reflected in their inspiring colorful dress, diverse art forms, ancient shamanic practices, and mythical ceremonial traditions.

The Huichols believe themselves to be "mirrors of the gods" and try to reflect this sacred vision of the world in the thoughtfulness and the highly disciplined actions they display towads their numerous creator and nature deities.

Their ritual practices invite the reciprocity of the deities, who teach their Huichol "stewards" a variety of esoteric skills that are used hy the shamans to insure equilibrium in their communities. These shamantic techniques have worked for centuries to empower the religious practitioners with the knowledge to maintain nature's delicate balance between opposites such as sickness and health scarcity and abundancg, life and death. It all worked quite well for the Huichol people, until recently.

In some areas of the Huichol homeland the traditions are still strong. In other areas, the voice of the wind and the teachings of the deer have become echoes of the past.

The Huichol culture is in the throes of a difficult transitional period from a flourishing tribe in a once remote location to an accessible, and vulnerable, ethnic group nakedly exposed to a global audience. In no uncertain terms, the Huichols have been invaded by modern "conquistadores" descending upon the Huichols via recently built roads and airstrips, standing in line to divide the "spoils." Social ills such as alcoholism, cultural alienation, suicide and other consequences of extreme poverty and disorientation are taking root. Instead of entering into the limelight of the 21st century as one of Mexico's most beautifully conserved native cultures, many of the Huichol people are lamentedly making their debut as displaced and debilitated beggars on the streets. As this pre-Columbian culture is teetering on the edge of cultural extinction, the whole world is about to lose a direct link