Over the last two decades, the Mexican govemment has attempted to integrate the Huichols into the mainstream of Mexican life by building roads, schools, airstrips, clinics, and lumber mills in the Sierras. The influx of civilization has had a disintegrative impact on all aspects of the Huichol way of life. The Huichols are now discovering they need currency - to pay for high taxes on their land, to purchase costly materials for their native dress and votive arts, to pay their passage on buses so they can make religious pilgrimages once made on foot, and to buy cattle for use in their ceremonies now that the deer is nearly extinct in their homeland. Money has started to play increasingly significant roles in Huichol life, and the activities needed to generate it are threatening the survival of their traditional way of life.
Kieli, The Jealous Ally
The powerful Kieli plant (in the Solanaceae family, an hallucinogenic plant resembling datura), is highly esteemed for its magical properties. Kieli is used by shamans and nonshamans for a variety of reasons: to excel in the shamanic arts, to become good artists, musicians or deer hunters, and for love spells. Different Kieli plants rule over these various powers, and the mara'akames dream about which plants pertain to the desires of each individual.
The Kieli plant is described by Huichols as being a very jealous ally. It won't stand for any sexual relationships outside of marriage by either partner after one of them has vowed to it. This rule stays in effect until the person completes with the plant for a period of five or ten years. If an unmarried person pledges himself to the plant, he is obligated to forego sex until the vow is complete. This is often a difficult restriction for the Huichols to maintain, in spite of the benefits.
Arrow Man comments:
"Many people are afraid of Kieli hecause it can cause great harm to someone who doesn't complete as he should. Most people don't ingest the plant. It's so powerful that just carrying a piece of the branch in one's tacuatsi is enough to gain its powers."
While bewitchers and hexers are scorned by the Huichols, they nonetheless have their following by Indians who wish to avenge and settle 'scores.' The atmosphere of mistrust and hate bred by the hexers looms over Huichol consciousness like a black cloud. People are constantly paranoid about the doings of these black magicians, and those shamans who are famous for their abilities to reverse the damage caused by sorcerers never 'hurt for business.'
"The bad shamans inflict harm onto others because someone has commissioned them to do so. The good shamans know how to do bad things but they don't ever do them. That's because the good shamans aspire to reach very high, and surpass the lowly level of the bewitchers, who are dedicated to using harm and can reach no higher."
The Huichol Center
for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts
801 2nd Ave., Suite 1400
Seattle WA 98105
M a k e a D o n a t i o nCentro Huichol