Living in their Sierra Madre Mountains stronghold, for hundreds of years the Huichol People of Mexico successfully resisted the genocidal impact of the Spanish Conquest. Almost untouched, they were able to maintain their traditional culture, language and spiritual way of life.
“Today, the Huichol Indians are less isolated, increasingly vulnerable and exposed to inroads made by the Mexican Government, modern industry and tourism. Although in some areas of their homeland, their traditional co- operative way of life, intricate dress, diverse art forms and ancient shamanic ceremonials remain strong; elsewhere they have become only haunting echoes of the past.
Huichol culture is now in a transitional melting pot, grappling with alcoholism, cultural alienation, suicide and extreme poverty. Huichol Indian communities are some of the most disenfranchised within Mexico, and the Mexican Government’s insidious programme of ‘educating’ them and introducing them to “profitable industry” has led to widespread decline in traditional agricultural practices and to serious nutritional deficiencies.
One of the most destructive incursions into Huichol Indian life has been that of the tobacco industry. By imposing and controlling a large source of Huichol livelihood and making them perilously dependent on a cash-based income, the industry effectively holds them in serfdom. During a large part of the year many Huichol families, their traditional subsistence in abeyance, are now obliged to work as migrant day labourers in the tobacco fields of the State of Nayarit along the Mexican Pacific coast. Pay is minimal and necessitates that both Huichol fathers and mothers (seen with small babies on their backs) toil daily from dawn till dusk, exposed to the deadly toxic chemicals so liberally used as herbicides and insecticides on the tobacco plants. Unsurprisingly, cases of cancer and congenital malformations in children are increasingly reported.”
Produced by Patrícia Díaz-Romo in 1994, “Huichols and Pesticides,” documents the indiscriminate use of pesticides on the tobacco fields and how it has impacted the Huichol.
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