Saturday, May 2, 2009

Huichol Bead Work

(Double-click on the image above to get a really detailed view of the work.)

I spent several hours this morning with Eduardo, a Huichol Indian from the village of San Andrés high in the Sierra Madre northwest of Tepic. The only way to get to the village besides a very long hike is by air. Eduardo spends the tourist season down in our area selling his beadwork at the Thursday market (which is now cancelled because of swine flu fears) and on the beach near the all-inclusive Los Cocos resort at the far end of Guayabitos. He is getting ready to return to his village for the summer months (much cooler up there!).

He was not happy to return without fulfilling a promise to a friend of his – to sell a piece of artwork she had created, and which would provide the major source of funds for her family this year. She is one of the elders of the tribe, and was one of the first to begin using the colored beads about twenty five years ago. Prior to that, Huichol beadwork was done in earth tones.This kind of beadwork is not sewn, but the little glass beads are embedded in a beeswax surface one at a time. There is no space left between the beads. This particular work took her two months to complete.

It is of a size and value that is beyond the budgets of most of our local tourists, especially this year. She was asking the equivalent of about $350 U.S. dollars. I told Eduardo I would take it to a party we're going to tomorrow, and try to sell it for him there, but I would need to know something about what the picture meant. "It's the story that will sell it," I told him, and this is the explanation he provided as we sat in my kitchen this morning.

In the center we see a ceremonial house which is where all the rituals and prayers take place and are participated in by the jicareros. These are like priests, and the marakame or chaman is like the high priest. Directly below the house, looking like he's carrying a chain saw, we see the marakame who is in charge of ordering the deer hunt for the ceremony.

In order to have a ceremony, Eduardo told me, it's always necessary to have a deer present. "A live deer?" I ask. "No," he says, looking at me like I'm a little slow. "We kill them. All that's necessary to have is the head of the deer." The deer is always "invited" to be present this way because each Huichol considers the deer as his or her older brother. "Interesting way to deal with sibling rivalry," I think. Anyway, for this reason we see to the right of the ceremonial house several invited older brothers who probably have no idea what's in store for them.

The picture seemed to me to be divided not only in three tiers, but in two distinct halves, the left half being feminine, and the right masculine. Eduardo agreed that this was the way it was meant to be. So to the left of the house balancing out the older brothers, we see the corn girls. According to Huichol legend, one of the beautiful daughters of the goddess (who is kneeling just to the right of the six girls) was carried off by a man and installed in his house. When he returned to "claim" her, all he found was a corn plant which grew and flourished. So legend has it that all her daughters were converted to corn plants, which would be a way of not only protecting them, but turning them into objects of reverence. They are depicted in the six colors of corn: yellow, white, blue, purple, brown and pink.

What this picture really deals with, says Eduardo, is the time when the world was lost and covered with water. On the right hand we see the canoe with the man who saved all the animals. "Noah?" I ask. "He could be." "Is this a story the Huichol got from the Bible?" "Well, who knows?" Eduardo shrugs.

(The Huichols and the Kora, which are the indigenous tribes of Nayarit, never were converted to Christianity, and their ferocity in resisting the Spaniards caused the Spanish conquerors to move the capital of "Nueva Galicia" away from Compostela to Guadalajara. And so our adopted home state has remained a remote Mexican backwater for centuries.)

On the left is the woman responsible for the flood. Yes, a woman -- Takutsi Nakawe who is the goddess of rain and water. That's also her in the upper left hand corner taking care of the corn, with her own little "canoe" filled with animals. Just to the right of center on the upper tier is another marakame bringing Takutsi Nakawe an offering of corn from the field behind him.

Having the story definitely made the difference. Right after Eduardo left, I got a visit from one of our neighbors. They bought it! Happy ending and I'm a lot more knowledgeable about the Huichols and their legends.

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