The Huichols are a Mexican Indian group largely concentrated in the rugged mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, mainly in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit. They are by far the largest Indian group in Mexico to have maintained relatively intact its indigenous religion and ritual, without significant Catholic modification.
The Huichols bear a stronger resemblance to other northwestern Mexican Indians than to those of central Mexico. Their language has a close relationship to Cora, both of which belong to the Aztecoidan branch of the Greater Nahua (Uto-Aztecan) language family. Their own name for themselves is Wixárika, or Wixarite; "Huichol" is a Spanish corruption, perhaps of Guisole or Guachichil, a now-extinct population of desert hunter-gatherers.
The Huichol settlement pattern is one of scattered extended-family farmsteads, most with their own xiriki ("god-house"). There are no villages as such, and until recently the ceremonial and governmental centers in the five indigenous communities were virtually deserted except during community-wide celebrations of Spanish colonial origin. Large circular temples (tuki), with adjacent god-houses, are located in the ceremonial centers and in a few other sacred places in the mountains; the tuki and its ceremonies are in the charge of graded religious functionaries with fixed terms of office. There are also many shrines within and outside the Huichol territory.
The Huichols have a long and well-developed tradition of sacred art and, more recently, of folk art for sale, especially colorful wool yarn "paintings" of mythological subjects. The native deities are mainly those of nature: fire, sun, earth and growth, deer, maize, rain, terrestrial water, and mountains. All are addressed by kinship terms. Among the most important are Tatewarí (Our Grandfather), the old fire god; Tayaupá (Our Father Sun); Takutsi Nakawé, the old earth and creator goddess; and Great-grandfather Maxa Kwaxi (Deer Tail). The culture hero-cum-trickster and Deer Person Kauyumari is the intermediary between mortals and gods and the principal assistant to the mara'akáte (sing. mara'akáme), the numerous shaman-priests who conduct the many ceremonies, some community-wide, others pertaining to the family. Deer, maize, and the sacred hallucinogenic peyote cactus, which is collected on annual pilgrimages to the north-central desert in San Luis Potosí, are conceptually merged.
Precise population figures for the Huichols are hard to come by; a 1959 estimate gives the total as just over 7,000, but this was probably low. The 2000 census gives them a population of 30,304 over the age of five, of whom about half reside within the five indigenous communities in the Sierra. There is a sizable colony on the lower Río Lerma, in Nayarit, dating from the 1920s and 1930s, when some communities were virtually depopulated during the so-called Cristero Rebellion (1926–1929). Huichols have also settled in or near such cities as Tepic, Guadalajara, Durango, and Zacatecas, and even as far away as Mexico City. Most, easily recognizable by their distinctive native costume, continue to maintain ties to their old homeland and religion.
Carl Lumholtz, Symbolism of the Huichol Indians (1900).
Barbara G. Myerhoff, Peyote Hunt: The Sacred Journey of the Huichol Indians (1974).
Kathleen Berrin, Art of the Huichol Indians (1978).
Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas, Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo. "Sistema Nacional de Indicadores sobre la Población Indígena de México." 2002. Based on XII Censo General de Población y Vivienda. Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática, 2000.
Rojas, Beatriz. Los huicholes en la historia. Mexico: Centro de Estudios Mexicanos y Centroamericanos, Colegio de Michoacán, Instituto Nacional Indigenista, 1993.
Peter T. Furst