Huichol Soy Project - Mexico
For hundreds of years the Huichol Indians of Mexico, inaccessible in their Sierra Madre Mountains stronghold, 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.
Patricia Diaz Romo, producer of a video “Huichols and Pesticides”, visited the Nayarit tobacco fields and reported:
“I was horrified! The Huichols were working in sub-human conditions without any information about the (toxic) pesticides and without any protection. They slept in a camp close to the tobacco heaps impregnated with pesticides and were drinking water out of irrigation channels full of pesticides spread by spraying airplanes.”
Despite their present day problems, the Huichol Indians cling to their belief that a “magical beauty” is inherent in their lives and transcends whatever poverty and suffering is visited upon them. It is a shining thread of happiness – even ecstasy – that unites them in an At-oneness with both the physical and spiritual worlds.”
Like their famed Aztec ancestors, Huichol Indians are trained from childhood how to communicate with the Spirit World, to see with Second Sight and to understand the nature of the hereafter. Hence, they possess an intense spiritual-psychic awareness that knows every object, animate or inanimate, human or animal, is imbued with a soul or energy that exists independently of its physical manifestation. To the Huichols, everything is alive, intrinsically sacred and all worlds are one.
Central today to Huichol cultural survival in the face of encroaching Western materialism are their Marakame, the shamans. They alone are the custodians of the ancient, life-sustaining wisdom, the Singers of Sacred Songs who give living voice to the timeless teachings and beliefs of their Aztec ancestors.
The Huichol Indians love of colour suffuses their imagination and finds expression through their fingers in stunning embroidery, bead work and yarn paintings.
There is no doubt that Huichol colour sense comes from hallucinogenic visions caused by their ritual intake of peyote – and that no colours of everyday reality can approach those seen in their “visions”. The peyote cactus is sacred and is obtained by making an annual 20-day pilgrimage to the Wirikuta peyote fields in San Luis Potosi.
“Their beautiful hats, brilliant, heavily-embroidered shirts, trousers, belts and bags set them, like men from mars, in another world and another century. Self-contained, expressionless they move in an unhurried group and Mexicans of Spanish Indian descent, Mestizos, step aside to let them pass.” (Penny Radford 1976.)
Some Huichol quotes
“Let there be flowers. They have come. Lovely flowers are scattered, shaken down, a multitude of flowers. The drum beats. Let the dancing begin.”
“I am a Quetzal Bird, here in Only Spirit’s place of rain, beautifully singing above the flowers. I sing my songs and hearts rejoice.”
“I, the singer! It is not on earth that these good songs, these flowers, are born. What the Sky Bellbird sings, what the Spirit Swans sing, are voices from Paradise. They glorify the everlasting, the Ever Near.”
“Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” Albert Schweitzer
“Let me go make music with the precious birds. Let me enjoy the good flowers, the sweet flowers, those heart pleasers who enrapture with honeyed joy.”
“Wherever I walk, wherever I sing, there is a blossoming of flowers, a rapture of song. And there my heart is alive.”
The Huichol Project
Since the late 1970's Plenty International (a non-profit organisation) has sought to find ways of improving the nutritional intake of Indian families and communities. One of the most successful was to introduce Soy food nutrition into their diets. Soy foods are rich in nutrients, including protein, calcium, iron and B-vitamins. Further, Soy is a good rotation crop as it enriches soils with nitrogen.
The small 1/4-inch Soybean first became a food staple in ancient China approximately 5000 years ago! By 300 B.C. its cultivation had spread to Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia and eventually it reached Europe 1000 years later. In recent years science has confirmed that the Soybean, though "small in size, packs a huge punch when it comes to protecting and enhancing human health." The various compounds in Soy are known to have anti-cancer effects, reduces cholesterol, improves bone health, produces fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory, sustains liver function and boosts the health of the immune, cardiovascular and nervous systems.
A plea from the Huichol Indian people, asking Plenty International to help them deal with the onslaught of new diseases and the breakdown of their traditional food practices has evoked a mutual response from both Plenty International and Onaway. This has led to a two-year project to enhance Huichol nutrition through education and absorption of Soyfoods into their diet and will begin soon.
Though Soy foods are not new to the Huichols, they have not learned good ways to prepare them, nor the importance of high quality vegetable proteins and leafy green vegetables to their family health and well-being.
Plenty International’s Executive Director, Peter Schweitzer, writes:
"We are grateful for Onaway's support over many years. Now, as we seek together to enhance Huichol health and welfare, let us hope that at the two year's end we will have helped to establish a Huichol Nutritional Centre, thereby ensuring the survival of a beautiful people whose culture is both invaluable and unique."
For over twenty years the Onaway Trust has collaborated with Plenty International in realising environmentally friendly projects aimed at sustainable development for Native Americans:
“In carrying out our common purpose as partners, Onaway and Plenty International have helped many indigenous communities improve their standards of living while protecting their traditional cultures and the environment of their habitats. Because of the grassroots relationships and the bonds of trust we have engendered, the projects, for the most part, have been remarkably successful and much appreciated by all, including the Oglala Lakota Sioux of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the Mayans of Guatemala and Belize, the Garifuna of Belize and the Caribs of Dominica.” (Peter Schweitzer)