Report on trip to the Sierras and Nayarit October - December 2005

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One of the more important aims of my journey to Mexico in mid-October 2005 was to distribute issues of the magazine Artes de Mexico, on Huichol art, to many of the people who had made it possible for me to portray it therein. José Benítez Sánchez presented a show of his recent yarn paintings in Mexico City, at the headquarters of the magazine, when it heralded its bilingual publication #75 "Huichol Art", on October 20th and he was one the guest speakers at this event. In an interview by Ericka Montaño Garfias published on November 6th, in La Jornada, José Benítez warned that "Huichol art, unlike its crafts, is in danger of extinction"; he stated it was being recognized as a modern art form in Mexico and losing its anonymity, although there were few creators. He went on to say: "The Huichol themselves recognize that crafts are something pretty, but they are only a copy without meaning, they are only designs and they have no spiritual and religious value."

On October 19th, I visited with Yauxali, the only other artist whose work is illustrated and who is still alive today. Like Guadalupe González in his latter days, Yauxali, a.k.a. Pablo Taizán de la Cruz, has lost much of his eye-sight and does not dedicate himself to his art anymore. He, his wife and pilgrimage companion, Cuainurie, and one of his elder sons, were very glad to receive a copy of the magazine. At the time they were entertaining a few outsiders with glimpses of a peyote dance in a wooded spot between the mountains and Guadalajara. Yauxali, and my other guide, Guadalupe González Ríos, became shamans, who would express themselves visually in archetypal forms that had never been conceived as clearly.

The last major assembly of the year for the community of Tuapurie, where I had taken most of the photographs of the people illustrated in the magazine, took place towards the end of October. Patricia Díaz Romo, who has collaborated with us for over 20 years to stop the spread of pesticides and herbicides, as well transgenic corn in these indigenous lands of Mexico, coordinated her journey carefully so she could accompany me on this trip; in the United States she has received the backing of the Pesticides Action Network North America. At the communal headquarters of Tuapurie, a major internal matter was resolved on the first day of the assembly, when the new, yearly selected traditional authorities were presented to the community, according to the counsel of the permanent 'wise elders' (kawiterutsixi). Thus, the new governor, tatuani, and other members of the government, as well as their messengers, or agents, tupilitsixi, had been appointed among the members of the community who had shown up for the assembly. They were due to take over as new authorities in early January 2006. Aware of this, Patricia and I decided to arrive the next day, hoping to receive an opportunity to present our cases to the community before the end of the assembly. I gave the authorities several copies of the magazine and my petition to address the assembly and we were both allotted time to speak the following day. I talked about art, education, and ecological issues, while Patricia discussed the problem of pesticides in the tobacco plantations where many Huichol work as day laborers.

The president of communal goods, along with the traditional authorities and the educational masters of the communal school system, passed around the samples of the magazine they received. The members of the community were overtly pleased and the next day, they commented to me about how the images were adequate mirrors into their culture. Xauleme, the head teacher at one of community's two schools, spoke about the importance of making the magazine available to the Huichol children attending the community schools, and urged me to translate the Wixarika Web site into Spanish. He asked me to find the necessary funding to do this, so our website material would be available to their students. On this occasion three copies of the magazine were given to the community government. Other copies were distributed to people, whose photographs appeared in the issue, including the families of important elders who are now deceased, but whose photographs are prominently displayed.

This meeting took place in the heart of the Huichol Sierras, where the last effort of the current government's program to cross the Chapalagana River with a road, uniting the central canyon areas to eastern and western Mexico, through the mountains, has met with adamant resistance. In this community, the Wixaritari (huicholes) feel the responsibility to guard their ancient ways. In the last two years, a road was built to facilitate the installation of posts and cables and provide them with electricity, which they are only using at the location of one of the community's schools. Beyond that, they have refused to electrify their headquarters, ranches, and ceremonial centers. Elsewhere in this Community, the only light comes from solar sources.

Members of the community discussed the construction of the nearby dam of "El Cajón", next to the Río Grande de Santiago, which is the largest and most important project of the current President, a program sponsored by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. When completed, it may have the world's second highest wall for a hydroelectric dam (186 meters), next to the Three Gorges Dam in China. The benefits of the dam are disputable, and some specialists reject the need for such a high wall, given the average water flow of the affluent streams in the area.

There has been some information in the media about El Cajón recently. In the first place because its location, Santa María del Oro, which has drawn the attention of archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History, since major areas will be flooded in the foreseeable future. The magazine Arqueología Mexicana, #71 from January-February, 2005, mentioned in its news that INAH 'salvaged' four "human faces sculpted in stone, whose orientation reveals the cult to the ancestors and the fertility of the earth". It states the ceramic objects recovered in the excavation could be dated at between 900 and 1530 A.C.; the 'faces' looked like sacred Wixárika sculptures called tepárite in their language. An article in the Guadalajara newspaper, El Mural, on November 27, 2005, was titled In El Cajón they rescue a pre-Hispanic Pantheon. INAH has discovered at least 26 ancient shaft tombs dating back to between 400 B.C. and 200 A.C., along with ample evidence of shell commerce, according to the interviewed archaeologists, including Raúl Becerra, the project's coordinator in El Cajón.

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