Deep in the heart of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, one can step back in time into land that is home to the Huichol people. By the 16th century, this indigenous tribe had settled in the state of Nayarit, living peacefully among other groups who were already in the area and harvesting corn and other crops. Today, the Huichol culture is a vibrant and sacred part of the larger Mexican culture, and Huichol art can be found throughout Riviera Nayarit. Understanding more about Huicholes and their proudly preserved culture will give you a glimpse into the multicultural and spiritual ways of life in Mexico.
The Huichol people are easy to spot at festivals and events in Riviera Nayarit in their brightly embroidered linen clothes. Brillant pinks, purples, blues, and greens are sewn into elaborate flowers and animals across the pure white cotton of women’s dresses and men’s shirts. Hats decked in feathers and yearn protect them from the sun while strands of beads add more color to their outfits.
Huichol music, art, and culture are deeply rooted in the group’s spiritual beliefs. Huicholes believe in both good and evil spirits and pay respect to their ancestors who, though they’ve passed away, are not too far from our world. Every year, thousands of Huichol people embark on pilgrimages to sacred mountains and land in Nayarit and surrounding states. Part of the Huicholes’ sacred ceremonies includes the hallucinogenic peyote plant, which grows naturally in their holy lands. To preserve this ancient part of Mexican culture, the government allows them to legally use peyote in religious ceremonies.
Huichol art history has developed over the years with the introduction of new technologies, but it’s vibrant colors and intricate patterns are still unmistakable. Their traditional art begins in religion, as the artist prays and meditates to visualize their creation. Many Huichol artists create yarn paintings: designs of brightly colored yarn laid with wax on wooden boards in intricate designs. Others adorn carved animals with vibrant beads in detailed patterns, but further back in Huichol art history, artisans first used seeds instead. Each piece is unique to the Huichol artists because they find their designs in holy inspiration, not a standard blueprint.
All of their designs in clothing and art include Mexican culture symbols dating back hundreds of years and tell the stories of their myths and folklore. Throughout Riviera Nayarit, you can spot wolves, deer, and flowers on signs and in decorations. Wolves are prominent in their traditional art because their ancient myths tell of how wolves evolved into humans, and shamans are still believed to have the ability to transform back into wolves. Huichol artists depict deer in many of their artworks to honor Kayumahli, the spiritual guide of shamans. Hunting and killing deer is considered a sacred ritual with the blood offered to the guardian spirit of animals. As in many other places, Mexican culture symbols include flowers to represent new life, crops, and harvest. Within their traditional art, it can also represent the sacred peyote plant.
Huichol music is as beautiful and spiritual as the other elements of their culture, playing an important role in ceremonies, festivals, and dances. Because of the simplicity of their culture, Huichol music is played with a few simple instruments, including violin, flute, guitar, drum, and a gourd rattle. Their songs are played on a five-tone pentatonic scale, and the rhythms and melodies are filled with trance-like repetition.
Huichol culture is treasured and respected for its rich history, vibrant art, and profound spiritual beliefs. Learning about Huichol art history and their spiritual dedication allows us to continue to keep Huichol culture a part of Riviera Nayarit’s story. The next time you visit Riviera Nayarit, keep your eyes open for Mexican culture symbols from the Huichol people and try finding clothes with their vibrant designs to take home.