Little is known for certain about the origins of the Huichol culture in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Nayarit and other adjoining states in Mexico. What is without question is that today’s Huichol – or Wixarika, as they prefer to call themselves in their native language – prefer to olive their traditional lifestyle yet make a major contribution to Mexico’s indigenous art and folk traditions. This artistic legacy has been recognized by leading museums around the world for its unique, intricate and colorful perspective on human culture and its relationship to nature.
It is likely that the Huichol arrival predated that of the Spanish in the 16th century and, according to Spanish writings of the Colonial period, they were one of the very few native cultures in Mexico to remain unconquered by the Europeans. To this day, the Wixarika are insistent on preserving their ancient traditions and lifestyle even as they adapt carefully to the 21st century. This is reflected in a centerpiece of cultural life – an annual pilgrimage to the ancestral sacred ground of Wirikuta to collect the “Hikuri,” a hallucinogenic cactus that plays an indispensable role in their spiritual life. The Huichol present and show their art throughout Riviera Nayarit in various towns including San Blas, San Pancho, Sayulita, Punta Mita La Cruz, Bucerias and Nuevo Vallarta, with proceeds going towards supporting the communities that live in the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Extended Huichol families live in what are called “rancho” settlements built around a communal patio. Related ranchos are, in turn, clustered in “temple districts.” Religious life revolves around four main deities – Corn, Blue Deer, Peyote, and the Eagle, all descended from the Sun God who created the creatures of the earth from his saliva. Making only occasional forays into the modern world to sell arts and crafts, the Huichol live traditionally with arranged marriages. Their traditional diet consists mainly of tortillas made from blue, red, yellow and white corn. They also harvest fruits and vegetables from the surrounding mountains, and hunt deer occasionally in a venerating manner.
Arts and handicrafts that have evolved slowly over the centuries and that portray a strong, unbreakable connection between man and nature are how most of the world knows the Huichol today. Huichol art has been described as a “portal on nature.” Craft objects include embroidery, distinctive hats, beadwork and a variety of woven objects including bags, but it is Huichol yarn painting, and more recently beadwork, that draw the most interest from art collectors, museums and visitors to Riviera Nayarit. Highly symbolic, intensively colored and intricate in detail, the yarn paintings and decorated objects tell the story of a unique people who have much to say about the world and its survival. At the same time, each artwork also is highly personal, a “visual language” connecting the artist to the viewer.
Mariano Valadez, one of Mexico’s most famous Huichol artists ranking among Mexico’s top 100 folk artists who proudly represents Riviera Nayarit around the world, describes the process of yarn painting: “Huichol yarn painting is made by placing strands of yarn onto a thin surface of beeswax mixed with pine resin that has been spread onto a wooden board or shape. The figures and symbols are created first and then the background is filled in with a swirling mosaic design.”
Bead art, with the glass beads used as a more modern material with intricate, colorful designs and symbols, is used to decorate a wide variety of objects ranging from masks and bowls to figurines Among the most important symbols are the serpent and Hikuri, the peyote plant which represents harmony with the gods. Takutzi Nakahue, according to one strand of Huichol culture the mother of all gods and of corn, is variously represented by a sacred tree, the armadillo, bear, water snake or rain. Deer, coyotes, pine trees and whirlwinds are other natural phenomena or creatures that play important roles in the Huichol narrative of the earth, man’s place in it and sacred knowledge.
Travelers to Riviera Nayarit may learn more about the Huichol community by visiting the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditions (www.thehuicholcenter.org) located inside the Tanana Gallery in the “hippy chic” surfing town of Sayulita, where they can find and purchase samples of Huichol art. Other locations where the art can be found include The Hikuri Huichol Gallery in Paradise Plaza in Nuevo Vallarta, The Octopus´s Garden Shop & Café in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and the Huichol Center of Mariano Valadez in Santiago Ixcuintla.
About Riviera Nayarit
Mexico’s newest destination, Riviera Nayarit, stretches along 192 miles of pristine Pacific coast framed by the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains just ten minutes north of accessible Puerto Vallarta International Airport. The region extends along the entire coast of the Pacific state of Nayarit including the resorts of Nuevo Vallarta, the historic colonial town of San Blas, exclusive Punta Mita, picturesque fishing villages, miles of serene beaches and spectacular Banderas Bay. Riviera Nayarit offers countless activities, such as: PGA golf courses, luxury spas, whale watching, turtle release, zip lining, surfing, bird watching, international cuisine, and the local artwork from the traditional Huichol tribe. The region attracts and satisfies vacationers of all tastes and budgets with its wide range of accommodations including chic luxury resorts, eco-tourism boutique hotels and quaint B&B inns. For more information, visit www.RivieraNayarit.com or follow Riviera Nayarit's Fan Page on Facebook.