Mesoamerican Culture, History, and Religion

Posts tagged “survival

Breathing Room For Wirikuta

I’ve got an update on the threat to Wirikuta, a sacred site of the Wixarika (Huichol) people I blogged about the other day, and the news is good!

*****

The judiciary grants the Wixarika people a suspension to detain mineral exploitation by the La Luz project in the Catorce municipality of San Luis Potosí

Feb. 26, 2012

The federal courts have definitively granted the suspension of the violations claimed by the Wixarika (Huichol) People in order that no exploitation permit be granted for the La Luz mining project, in the Municipality of Catorce in San Luis Potosí, so long as the core issue remains unresolved… Click HERE to continue the article on the Wirikuta Defense Front site.

*****

This is an important step in resolving this problem for good, but the fight’s not over yet. The pressure to do the right thing here needs to stay on First Majestic and the Canadian and Mexican governments, whether it’s in the courts, on the streets in peaceful protest, online, or in your prayers. Keep it up!


Wirikuta

Today I came across some interesting news articles documenting the ongoing struggle of the Huichole (Wixáritari) people to protect one of their holiest sites in the state of San Luis Potosí, Mexico.   The site in question is a beautiful mountain region named Wirikuta in the Huichol tongue, which Spanish-speakers call Cerro del Quemado.  In English, the name is roughly translated as “Burned Mountain,” a fitting name for the place where the sun ascended from the Earth’s surface to the skies in traditional belief.

Despite being considered an internationally-recognized protected site by UNESCO and the Mexican government, Wirikuta is currently under threat from foreign mining interests.  In 2009, the Canadian mining company, First Majestic Silver Corp., bought mineral rights to the area, and plans extensive extraction of silver, a process which will consume a significant portion of the area’s limited water supply, as well as expose the countryside to dangerous chemicals used in silver mining, such as cyanide, which have a deadly tendency to seep into the groundwater and render it undrinkable.  This threat to the mountain and the fragile aquifer rooted at it is all the more horrifying when one recalls that mountains were and still are considered to be hearts of earth and water, or “houses of mist” all across Mesoamerica, a belief uniting the imperial Mexica-Tenochca with their present-day Huichol cousins.  Viewed through this lens, it’s not at all surprising that a threat to Wirikuta is a threat to the aquifer and all life in its nourishing influence.

In addition to the physical destruction that mining unavoidably brings, there will be spiritual destruction.  Wirikuta is home to many sacred plants, such as peyote, animals, and divine beings, particularly deities associated with rain.  Destroying the mountain will destroy these creatures and desecrate the site, which will sever the Huichol from their spiritual root.  Drawing a Judeo-Christian-Islamic parallel, Dawn Paley likened digging up Wirikuta to “bulldozing Eden for a golf course” in her detailed coverage of this issue in This Magazine.   Furthermore, this mountain is not only a place to gather vital religious supplies, but it is also a natural temple, a place to conduct ceremony.  Cerro del Quemado, the sacred center of Wirikuta, is the destination of a traditional 800 kilometer yearly pilgrimage conducted by the Huichol people to renew bonds of community and deity.

This February, the journey had an additional goal of seeking guidance in protecting the holy ground from destruction, and by extension, themselves — the Huichol view themselves as inseparable from the sacred site so intimately intertwined with their culture and ancestry, and have stated they view First Majestic’s plans to dig as a “war of extermination” against them.  The Esperanza Project has a beautiful account of the ceremony held on February 6-7th, 2012, complete with numerous photographs and interviews with several Huichol community leaders and observers about the meeting and the ideas and hope flowing from it.  They were kind enough to allow journalists to record some footage of song and ceremony from this holy gathering, which you may watch below.

Courtesy link to Mysticalfrequency’s original YouTube posting

To view video statements by the Huichol against this impending desecration and in support of their traditional spirituality and lifeways, please click HERE.  The linked site, www.nierika.info, also contains many interesting articles on this matter if you would like to read more, both in English and in Spanish.

Below, for those who wish to learn more, I’ve included a short video discussing this crisis and calling for action.  I can’t seem to get it to embed properly, so please click the link below to check it out.

Click to watch on Venado Mestizo’s Vimeo page

You may be wondering where you can go to read and watch more, and learn how you can get involved in putting pressure on First Majestic to abort their plans for this site.  I would like to highlight the Wirikuta Defense Front’s excellent site (click for English or Spanish).  They are an action group composed of people from the Huichol community, as well as local and international allies, and are seeking volunteers to help.


As The Dust Settles

It’s taken a few days, but I’ve finally got the site fully restored and running again, including cleaning up all the links.  Fun fact — importing an old WordPress blog onto a new domain, still using their software, doesn’t auto-update links to pages and posts, internal or external.  When you realize that is when you also realize just how many links you’ve built up over the course of two years.  Good times.  On that note, if you spot any broken links while navigating the site, please shoot me a comment or email (cehualli <AT> hotmail <DOT> com), it’ll help me fix anything still wrong faster.

*****

Matters of housekeeping aside, I’d also like to point out that I’ve opened the Post-Colonial Modern History page in the History section with its first entry, a collection of John P. Schmal’s papers and research on the numerous indigenous nations within Mexico in the modern era, hosted on Somos Primos.  It’s valuable beyond its core informative value as it also serves to highlight the very important fact that, yes, the Aztecs (Mexica), the Maya, the Huaxtecs, and all the other indigenous peoples one frequently reads about in the past are not gone, they are still here, even if the Conquest and incorporation into a modern, European-style Republic has left its mark on their lifeways.  This might seem like an odd thing to make a big deal about, but it’s a serious issue when discussing First Nations people, as they’re so often stereotyped as archaic, vanishing, or extinct, creatures of the past, and these aren’t harmless cliches.  They hurt people, real, living people.  If you’d like to get a bit of an intro on the issue of damaging stereotyping, check out Adrienne K.’s recent posts on her blog, Native Appropriations, HERE and HERE.  If you’d like to dig deeper and read a concise paper on the results of a 2008 Stanford University study by Dr. Stephanie Fryburg, please go HERE for a downloadable PDF.


Tigre Boxing In Acatlan: Jaguar & Tlaloc Masks

Up today is another video about the Mexican Tigre combat phenomenon I discussed  a few weeks ago.  This one shows a style of fighting practiced in Acatlan.  Instead of rope whip-clubs as in Zitlala, these competitors duel with their fists.

Courtesy link to ArchaeologyTV’s page on YouTube for this Tigre combat video.

A particularly interesting feature of this video is the variety of masks.  Not only do you see the jaguar-style masks, but you’ll also see masks with goggle eyes.  Goggle eyes are, of course, one of the signature visual characteristics of Tlaloc, the very Teotl this pre-Columbian tradition was originally dedicated to.  (And still is in many places, beneath the surface layer of Christian symbols.)  If you look closely, you might notice that some of the goggle eyes are mirrored.  The researchers behind ArchaeologyTV interviewed one of the combatants, who said that the significance of the mirrors is that you see your own face in the eyes of your opponent, linking the two fighters as they duel.

This idea of a solemn connection between two parties in sacrificial bloodshed was of major importance in many  of the pre-Conquest religious practices of the Aztecs.  It can be seen most clearly in the gladiatorial sacrifice for Xipe Totec during Tlacaxipehualiztli.  During this festival, the victorious warrior would refer to the man he captured in battle as his beloved son, and the captive would refer to the victor as his beloved father.  The victim would be leashed to a round stone that formed something of an arena, and given a maquahuitl that had the blades replaced with feathers, while his four opponents were fully-armed.  As the captor watched the courageous victim fight to the death in a battle he couldn’t win, he knew that next time, he might be the one giving his life on the stone to sustain the cosmos.


Tigre Rope Fighting In Zitlala

Following up on last week’s post discussing the survival of Precolumbian gladiatorial combat in honor of Tlaloc in Mexico, I’ve got a video today that actually shows part of a Tigre whip match at Zitlala.  Now that this activity has come to my attention, it’s something I’ll be watching for videos of in addition to Danza Azteca.  It’s interesting getting to actually see the story behind the jaguar mask and contemplate the deeper meaning behind the fighting.

Courtesy link to ArchaeologyTV’s page on YouTube for this Tigre combat video.

In case you’re wondering, the special rope club used by Tigre fighters in Zitlala are called cuertas.  The modern cuerta itself is actually a “friendlier” version of heavier rawhide and stone clubs used previously, which in turn were descended from stone and shell clubs used when the battles may well have been lethal.  For obvious reasons, the present-day trend has been away from fatal contests, though the underlying meaning of giving of oneself to Tlaloc for a plentiful harvest endures today among those who remember.


Tlaloc In Zitlala

Came across an interesting photograph recently that’s quite interesting, as it shows an aspect of a Pre-Columbian ceremony still surviving today in Zitlala, Mexico.

Tigre Fighter With Whip & Jaguar Mask. Copyright 2008 by the Associate Press/Eduardo Verdugo.  Used without permission.

Tigre Fighter With Whip & Jaguar Mask. Copyright 2008 by the Associated Press/Eduardo Verdugo. Used without permission.

Link to original photograph source.

Original Caption:

“A man dressed as a tiger carries a small whip made from rope in Zitlala, Guerrero state, Mexico, Monday, May 5, 2008. Every year, inhabitants of this town participate in a violent ceremony to ask for a good harvest and plenty of rain, at the end of the ceremony men battle each other with their whips while wearing tiger masks and costumess. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)” [Cehualli’s note — “tiger” is a common mistranslation of “tigre,” when the context makes it apparent a jaguar or other large cat is meant.]

Now…there’s a lot more going on here that the photographer doesn’t get into in his note.  Specifically, that this is a modern survival of traditional indigenous religious practices.

Why do I think this?  Let me explain.

There’s a certain ancient god of rain in Mesoamerica who has traditionally been associated with jaguars… and that’s Tlaloc.  In the codices, if you look carefully you can see that He’s always depicted with long, fearsome jaguar fangs.  The growl of the jaguar resembles the rolling of distant thunder, and the dangerous power of such an apex predator fits the moody, explosive-tempered Storm Lord quite nicely.  The jaguar as a symbol of Tlaloc is a very ancient tradition that appears across the whole of Central America, whether the god is being called Tlaloc, Cucijo, Dzahui, or Chaac.

The whip-club is another hint.  Flogging has been done as part of rain ceremonies for Tlaloc for centuries (I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s symbolic of lightning).  Additionally, though the photographer didn’t mention this, one knows what happens when people strike each other hard with whips like the one the man in the photo is shown carrying — you bleed.  A lot.

In Prehispanic Mexico, one of the important rituals for Xipe Totec, the Flayed Lord, god of spring and new growth, is called “striping.”  Striping involved shooting the sacrificial victim with arrows for the purpose of causing his blood to drip and splash on the dry earth below, symbolizing rain that would bring a good harvest.  Similar rituals specifically devoted to Tlaloc were also done, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the gladiatorial combat done for Xipe Totec had the same basic idea in mind, sprinkling blood over the ground done to call the rain.

The next part is due to my good friend Shock and her impressive knack for research.  While we were discussing this photo, Shock directed me to an excellent article about this phenomenon known as “Tigre Boxing” that still exists all throughout Mexico today.  It even discusses this specific form of battling with whips in Zitlala that this photograph is of.  I highly recommend checking it out, as it’s loaded with more information about the surviving practice of gladiatorial combat for rain, complete with many excellent photos of the jaguar masks, sculptures, and even videos of the combat!

Click HERE to go to the Tigre Boxing article.


Danza Azteca: Aguila Blanca

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a dance video, and I have to crash so I can get up for work in the morning, so I think I’ll kill two birds with one stone here. Speaking of birds (and bad puns), I’ve come across a video of the White Eagle Aztec dance (Ixtakcuauhtli in Nahuatl, Aguila Blanca in Spanish) on YouTube. This one is also courtesy of our friends Miguel Rivera and alexeix. Once again his performance is interesting not due to elaborate regalia, but due to the clear demonstration of the steps and drum rhythm, as well as his spirit and agility.

Courtesy link to alexeix’s page on YouTube for this danza video.

As to the meaning of this dance, I’m currently sketchy. I’ve seen it referenced as a warriors’ dance, which would go well with the strenuous acrobatics required and the traditional military symbolism of the eagle in traditional Aztec culture. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything conclusive one way or another at this point. I’ll have to keep looking and post an update when I find more. In the meantime, enjoy the dance!