Virakota, Mecca and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Virakota, Jerusalem, Mecca, Rom.

The same problem – the right to preserve historical cult centers

But there is a difference. No superpower is defending the sacred place of Virakota – another example of the origin culture´s fragile existence. Virakota is the mythical homeland of the Mexican Wixárica (huichol) Indians. Their rituals include a yearly pilgrimage to the area, close to the city of Real de Catorce, forty kilometers to the east, counted from their present home land in the most inaccessible mountains in western Mexico. Traditionally the journey lasted a month, in a tiresome walking tour. A hardship that underlines the importance the journey has for the wixárica´s cultural identity. Today they go partly by bus as a concession to modern technology, but also because the landscape they had to cover has changed dramatically because of new roads, industries, barb-wired ranches etc.

The need for the connection is however as important as earlier. But now the interest of a mining enterprise has entered the picture. That may be the end of the Virakota cultural centre at the sacred Cerro Quemado mountain, where circles of stones mark the place where Grandfather Fire is lit up when the pilgrims arrive. It is called “The Home of the Old Ones”. On that spot fires had been lit in October and November every year since the wixárica started their pilgrimages several hundred years ago. During rituals the pilgrims present songs telling the forefathers that the wixárica once more have come to honor their ancestors, who live on a place where they will live forever, and so constituting something of eternal value for the wixárica. They make songs for the joy of the learning and knowledge the sacred place presents to them, and that they once more are able to partake

in the wixárica myths and history. They make thanksgiving to Grandfather Fire for protecting their journey, asking him for what they want, presented in signs on arrows, and in return offering him food. Before returning to the west the pilgrims perform rituals which include their being reborn from the “homeland´s womb” as true wixárica.

Mining will destroy this cultural experience both through the enterprise´s physical activities and the changing spirit of the sacred place that will follow. It is more devastating than if a church belonging to a deeply religious community should be turned to ashes and replaced by a mine-cavity and other facilities tied to mining activities. A church could be raised on another spot. But Cerro Quemado is a mountain, irreplaceable and containing the special, unique Virakota association for the wixárica. Therefore Virakota can be compared with The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Kaba in Mecca, S:t Peter´s Basilica in Rom and, and as important, but with quite less power backing up their claims.

The mining project will furthermore make grave havoc for the people living in the area, containing sixteen population centers, now protesting the exploitation. If the project starts, it may become a modern variant of what happened in the eighteenth century, when Spanish enterprises made Real De Catorce one of Spain´s most affluent colonial cities, and the Indians became slaves, killed or fugitives. But the origin cultures today have other possibilities for making their problems known worldwide, and so appeal to a wider audience committed to social justice. And it will be interesting to experience this new confrontation between an area´s cultural significance and shortsighted economic activities. What may be a strong defense for the wixárica case is the central importance the people has in Mexico´s historical development – and the economic value this has for the tourist industry. I wish wixárica success in their battle for cultural survival – and that the intruding forces realize their responsibility.

John Hedberg                                 



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