a crystal glow

A crystalline glow - Huichol Art - Marakame

Notes for an adoption of the chaquira among the wixaritari.

Juan Carlos Jimenez Abarca


The link that has been formed between the artistic production of the town wixárika and the crystal beads oscillate between the recent past and antiquity. The origin of the production and use of beads and trinkets for making objects and textiles by native peoples is lost in the night of prehistory. However, it must be recognized that the current configuration of the Huichol works that we appreciate and admire are the result of collective work, of mutual exchanges and influences between local communities and external facilitators (teiwari, that is, non-Huichol people) who contributed to the long process of evolution and acculturation of men and women wixaritari.

Long before beads-covered masks and sculptures appeared as the dominant forms of Huichol crafts, beads were used for textiles for daily and ceremonial clothing. They were made of clay, bone, animal teeth, stones and even gold.[1]. The nierikates or vision discs were made of wood, of rather small dimensions and painted with different colors. In those records and sacred gourds is the germ of what we can see today in the work that Marakame brings together by collaborating with living Huichol artists.

The first glass beads saw America with the raids of Christopher Columbus. This, following the example of Portuguese merchants, introduced the trade of glass beads in the continent and turned them into favorite objects among "the natives". Hernán Cortés, in his first meeting with Moctezuma, placed a necklace of "daisies" and glass diamonds on the neck of the Mexica tlatoani[2]. For the gold and other precious materials of those ancient peoples, not only mirrors were exchanged, but also unsuspected forms of crystalline matter that amazed men and women.

At that time (XNUMXth century) there were already sites in the world with centuries-old traditions of producing glass objects and beads (round glass beads for ornament), which circulated internationally. Venice, the Kingdom of Bohemia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, India and China were the main exporters of this material –particularly small perforated beads– which rapidly spread their use during the hard years of the New Spain Colony.

Furniture inlaid with colored glass, lamps and oil lamps, settings on necks and pectorals of dresses for courtesans and officials, rings, bracelets, earrings. Rosaries. The entire viceregal culture appreciated and valued the clear brilliance of the crystals, and the native peoples were no exception. As merchandise and an object of exchange, from the upper classes the crystal passed into the hands of the servants and from there to the popular sphere. There are not few uses that glass spheres have as a tool for fortune telling and circus arts, for entertainment.

crystal bead generating a wixárika huichol symbol


Beads and beads in the defense of "custom"

Territorial control, evangelization and the establishment of the western way of life developed more rapidly in the central part of New Spain, and the northern and western territories were occupied with greater difficulties.

Although the first Franciscan missionaries were not part of the first incursions of Spanish explorers into the territory wixárika, it is very certain that they had contact with the Huichols, who for a time were called xurutes, uzares o vizurites in places like Tepic, Sombrerete, Fresnillo and Zacatecas, which were points of routes traveled by the Huichols and other indigenous people in the salt trade[3]. The incursions that these first Catholic priests made into the territory wixárika They had the objective of catechizing, transforming the ways of life and traditional beliefs.

The first "contact zone" established by Franciscan friars (Andrés de Ayala and Andrés de Medina) occurred in Guaynamota, in 1580. Evangelization ran into two initial resistances: the towns vizurites They did not accept "civilizing" and much less settling in one place, as the missionaries proposed. They returned to their routes and to the sierra, frustrating the efforts of the priests, escaping religious conversion and conserving their ancestral practices.

If there was violence at that time, it was because the native peoples accepted the presence of the friars but not that of the miners who tried –by force and abuse– to exploit the land and its resources. After several conflicts, the colonial government repressed these towns with an army of whites and indigenous people, taking prisoners, killing leaders, and freeing the rest to return to the mountains.

This complex social dynamic was experienced for centuries. Of the Huichol men in 1620, Fray Antonio Tello wrote that "in their customs they were as gentile as their ancestors, because they did not know Christian doctrine, and they married two or three women, and they brought chokers and earrings, and their hair so long that they reached their knees and with curves, although some wore them braided”[4].

Lázaro de Arregui, during his stay in the area between 1725 and 1728, testified on a visit to the monasteries of Huejuquilla: "the minister brought me a buckler embroidered with beads [circular beads], who had in his hand an idol placed in a new temple that was made deep in a ravine, with other small idols that were the very representation of the devil […]”[5]

Not all external views were so severe as to interpret the "presence of the devil" in religious expressions wixárikas. In 1848, after Mexican Independence, Fray Felipe de Jesús María Muñoz wrote that the inhabitants of San Andrés Coamiata worshiped the gods of nature, the sun, the moon, the chicken, the deer, the cow,

and other monkeys and the figures that I have been able to find […] in other hidden places […] Civilly and religiously their customs seem to derive from those of the Hebrews, either in the way of government, or in celebrity that mark certain days. The part of superiority belongs to the old and they still command those who act as judges [...] their festivals and solemnities are in number and time those commanded by God to the Israelites, making the lamb replace that of those they call of the deer, which is very similar to the ceremonies of that one.”[6]

That is, with the passage of time, efforts to understand and approach the tradition appeared. wixárika from the similarity and points in common that it had with the Hebrew traditions that Christianity inherited. Towards the end of the XNUMXth century, the testimonies of five foreigners in Mexico shed a new reality on the Huichols: the British captains Basil Hall and GF Lyon, the Norwegian Karl Lumholtz, the Frenchman Leon Diguet and the American Robert M. Zingg.

Basil Hall, in 1822, observed a group of Huichols in Tepic and described them as follows:

“They had come to buy corn and other articles […] Their clothing consisted of a coarse cotton shirt of their own manufacture and a pair of leather breeches, loosened at the knees, and fringed with a row of tassels and short strips of leather; each, I was told, represented an article belonging to the wearer: one was his horse, another his bow, another larger and more ornate symbolizing his wife […] Several wear necklaces of white bone beads, the sign, according to reported, that they were married [...] A short old man, who seemed very amused by our curiosity, diverted our attention to a center about two feet long, which he held in his hand, and to the skin of a bright little bird. plumage, hanging from his left knee: he gave us to understand that these two symbols belonged to him as head of the town [...] It was not possible to convince the old man to part with his center or his official bird, nor did we succeed in inducing them to sell, at no price, the part of his clothing that represented the inventory of his possessions and chattels.”[7]

For Karl Lumholtz –who arrived in the region in 1895 with the spirit of a naturalist explorer– the Huichol culture was the product of development free or almost free of external influence. He, however, noted some contributions from the "Mexican" and Spanish world to the world. wixárika: the introduction of beads in the ornamentation and symbolic world of Huichol, the fabric of cloth teiwari (word with which the non-Huichol are named), cattle in both secular and religious life, sheep farming and the use of wool; the appearance of the iron link in daily life, in designs, fabrics and in religion (because of its relationship with Grandfather Fire); various musical instruments, the blanket, the needles and some aspects of Christian mythology fully incorporated into the indigenous culture[8].

Faced with the refusal of the Huichols to sell their personal objects, both Lumholtz and Leon Diguet created their collections of objects wixárika making use of different strategies, such as the purchase of objects that were made "to their liking", that is, according to artistic skills wixaritari that could match the aesthetic teiwari. Diguet became the first promoter of Huichol artists abroad: by 1898 he had invited and installed a Huichol couple on Washington Street in Paris to sell handicrafts.

The impact of these exchanges set the tone for some Huichols to dare to produce a type of art that they could market without running the risk of offending their ancestors. The objects produced did not have, then, an offering purpose for ancestors or deities, but were artifacts made "to order" for the teiwari.

huichol sculpture for sale


New forms, new visions, new artists

Huichol art and “customs” acquired national and international public recognition around the middle of the XNUMXth century after a series of events that led people from different societies and cultures to a positive assessment of the wixárika. The first case is represented by Alfonso Soto Soria, a professional Mexican museographer, hired by the Mexican government at the beginning of the 1950s, to develop the first project of the National Museum of Popular Arts and Industries (MNAIP). He also entered Huichol territory in the company of Alfonso Villa Rojas, commissioned by the National Indigenous Institute (INI) to install the Cora Huichol Coordination Center in the region.

Soto Soria produced two exhibitions of Huichol art: one for the MNAIP in Mexico City (1954) and another for the Guadalajara City Hall, after the Jalisco governor Agustín Yáñez awarded the Jalisco Prize to the Huichols in 1955, in the category of art.

For the exhibitions to be produced in the concept of And not from crafts, Soto Soria introduced some modifications to the materials used at the time. He says that he took calibrated beads, yarn, Campeche wax and thick boards, three-quarters of an inch thick, to the saw, so that the appearance would be of tree wood, not industrialized. In the exhibitions, he set the scene for the presence of traditions through props, clothing and photographs. Among all the objects on display were beaded evening bags and bracelets, of which Soto Soria asked the Huichols for a collection for the Museum, motivating them with cross-stitch designs that he found in European books and other publications.

The public promotion of the Huichol arts had an important development from then on. With the Lerma Plan of 1965 and the HUICOT coordination (a government support plan for Huichols, Coras and Tepehuans) of 1971, they sought to involve government institutions for the sale and promotion of handicrafts. The INI signed an agreement in 1968 so that through the network of CONASUPO stores, materials for artisan manufacturing could be delivered and the production collected to introduce it to the national market. The Craft Houses of Jalisco and Nayarit, the Banco Nacional de Fomento al Comercio (BANFOCO) and FONART did their own thing to turn the phenomenon of Huichol art into an economic success. With the establishment of highways and landing strips for small planes, the way was opened for the entry and exit of more people and exchange goods.

A decisive factor in the development of Huichol art and the social perception of this native people was the hippie movement, among whose common features (in the United States and other countries) were the use of colorful clothing, the search for altered states of consciousness, the rejection of the materialistic values ​​of modern societies, the search for a return to nature and admiration for indigenous lifestyles, and the search for alternative religions.

From the hippie movement, the idea spread that the Huichol art designs came from shamanic and ancestral wisdom that quickly attracted numerous followers.

The massive sale of Huichol art began in the 1960s, when the North American public became interested in Huichol yarn tables, especially the works of Ramón Medina, documented and marketed by anthropologist Peter T. Furst.

The arrival in San Andrés Cohamiata of the Canadian sociologist Peter Collings in 1962 was also a relevant event. He was amazed at the talent of the Huichols to decorate and embroider their clothes, the drawings present in the beaded necklaces and bracelets, their backpacks and sacred objects.

Following the HUICOT plan, the Mexican government built a Health Center in San Andrés. Collings obtained a complete dental equipment by donation from UCLA, which was transferred to the mountains in a small plane loaned by the government. He also moved materials from the United States for craft production: threads, needles, fabrics, and especially beads produced in Bohemia, the Czech Republic, since Los Angeles was a focus of trade for this merchandise.

He did a little more: he brought refrigerators to the community, planted apples and various vegetables, bought land in Tepic where he built an establishment so that the Huichols who came down from the mountains to see the doctor or to work could sleep and settle for several weeks. Suddenly, something happened.

Having studied other indigenous groups, Collings told Jesús Jiménez, a Huichol, how in other cultures they made masks, and invited him to make one. After some time, this wixarika was the first to make a carved wood mask adorned with beads Then, seeing it, others began to do it. They soon learned and they began to work on the elaboration of this type of pieces. Those first masks were taken by Peter to sell in Puerto Vallarta, their production was very slow because they carved the faces in fig wood […] In addition to the masks, they planted gourds that they later decorated with beads and also sold. More crafts began to be handled, since they were not only backpacks, bracelets, necklaces, earrings; now they also made pictures, decorated gourds and made masks. The Canadian put together many pieces and went to the United States to do exhibitions, he got clients in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.[9]

What follows this episode is the growth of mask productions and a great diversity of objects covered with calibrated beads for which Huichol arts are recognized throughout the world. The stylistic differences are due to the personal choices of each artist and the varying depth of symbolism and spirituality imprinted on each piece.

Huichol art and all the tradition that the Wixaritari manifest, both in the pieces that are marketed and those that are not, a territorial and spiritual roots that they resisted abandoning under the difficult circumstances that colonization and acculturation presented to the original peoples.

For the conservation and defense of their "way of being", they have had views that have not only approached with an interest in knowledge, but also actively collaborate in the development of individual and group talents.

This story continues. Marakame links up with communities wixaritari and collaborate with artists wixárika to produce works of high material quality, using Czechoslovakian beads, heir to a stained-glass tradition that dates back to 1548 in the Crystal Valley, in Bohemia.

There is still much to tell.


[1] Maria y Campos, Alfonso de, The paradoxes of beads and other stories. In Castelló and Mapelli, Beadwork in Mexico, Franz Mayer Museum and Arts of Mexico, 1988. p. eleven

[2] Castelló Yturbide, Teresa. Beadwork in Mexico. In Castelló and Mapelli, ibid. page 19

[3] Marin Garcia, Jorge Luis. Rituals and Huichol art: border spaces between the mountains and the pavement, PhD thesis, El Colegio de Michoacán, 2011. p.131

[4] Tello, Fray Antonio, quoted in Marín García, Op. cit. p.133

[5] Alberto Santoscoy, Complete Works, Volume II, Mexico, UNED, 1986. p. 41, cited in Marín García, Idem. p.134

[6] Beatriz Rojas (1992) pp 139–140. Document from the Historical Archive of Zapopan. Cited in Marín García, Op. cit. p.135

[7] Hall, Basil, Voyage au Chili, au Pérou et au Mexique, vol. II, cap XII, Paris 1824, quoted in Marín García, Op. cit. p.138

[8] Marin Garcia, Idem. pp139–140

[9] Marin Garcia, Op. Cit. pp 159.

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