Written by Susana Valadez,
Copyright © 1994 Valadez
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 to humanity's ancient past.
There is so much to be learned from the healthy communities and balanced way of life that characterize the few remaining traditional cultures like the Huichols, who have miraculously survived against all odds into the modem age. Our immense challenge is to use contemporary cultural and technological capabilities to insure the smooth transition of these people into the 21st century, with their valuable troves of knowledge in tact.
It is preciesely for this reason that the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts, a U.S., non-profit corporation (known in Mexico as the "Centro Cultural Huichol") has been working for the past 13 years to empower the Huichols with the strategic thinking they need in order to understand what is happening in the world around them, and how to be successful within it, without compromising the integrity of their core belief system.
The premise of the Huichol Center is that it is entirely possible to provide the Huichols with the opportunities, techinical skills, and problem solving abilities they need in order to interface with the world around them while at the same time protecting their traditional culture and way of life.
The Huichol Center logo stresses the importance of "sustaining cultural identity through trade and tribal wisdom." Center projects have brought together a network of tribal leaders, religious practitioners, healers, artists, naturalists and others who have joined in a concerted effort to solve problems with creative solutions generated from within the Huichol belief system. The focus is on creating projects within three major categories: environmentally sustainable projects that promote a self-sufficient economic base, educational programs that foster Huichol values, and a holistic health program that integrates Western medicine with traditional healing. For example, one of the projects dealing with environmeental sustainability is the ongoing Sustainable Futures program. This cross-cultural, educational project has provided an opportunity for several Huichols to come to the U.S. to learn about ecological retoration techniques, organic gardening, and how to creatively utilize their numerous renewable resources. The program is a joint project of the Huichol Center and the Sol y Sombra Foundation, Permaculture Drylands Institute, and the Center for the Study of Community in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Other Center projects which contribute to the economic and cultural stability of the Huichol homeland include the documentation of tribal wisdom, literacy development, skill training in traditional arts, and principles of trade and marketing. In the area of health care, the Huichol Center provides a range of services including a primary care medical clinic with tuberculosis treatment facilities, a birthing center, and a soup kitchen. Huichol public awareness activities include museum exhibits and cross-cultural tribal interchange with other tribes of the Americas.
It is the Huichol Center's experience that communities which derive a sense of security based on group pride are the ones best prepared to make the hard choices the future demands of them.
While teaching people to value themselves so that they can play a valuable part in the world in which they live, the Huichol Center promotes an integrated problem-solving strategy that combines economic development, cultural preservation, and a health care system. Our goal is to build a sturdy bridge between tradition and the future - a bridge that allows traditional wisdom to enter the 21st century without destroying the people who carry its spirit and substance.
All Huichol Center projects are supported by the sale of Huichol art created at the Center and contributions to our non-profit corporations in Mexico and the U.S.
For More Information Contact:
Centro Cultural Huichol, A.C.
20 De Noviembre 452
Santiago Ixcuintla, Nayarit, Mexico
Huichol Center for Cultural Survival
and Traditional Arts
801 2nd Ave., Suite 1400
Seattle, Washington 98104, U.S.A.
Phone: (206) 622-4067
FAX: (206) 622-0646
Susana Valadez traveled to Mexico about 20 years ago while working on her Master of Arts Degree in Latin American Studies. She completed the degree from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). In the process of studying the Huichol people, her life was changed forever.
In 1981, Susana and her Huichol husband, Mariano Valadez, co-founded the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts, a non-profit, 501(c) 3 organization located in Nayarit, Mexico with an office in Seattle, Washington.
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