Luis & José Ruiz Ramírez, Tequila, Jalisco

Luis & José Ruiz Ramírez, Tequila, Jalisco

Luis and José Ruiz Ramírez are Huichol Indians who live in the high mountains of northern Jalisco. The Huichol people are one of the few remaining indigenous Indian groups still living in Mexico in their traditional way. Unfortunately, due to the effects of the modern day conquest (missionaries, land invasion, tourism, loss of autonomy, poverty, disease, social ills, etc.) the Huichols are teetering on the ledge of cultural extinction.

The Huichol Indians are a small tribe of approximately 15,000 living in central Mexico near Ixtlan in the Sierra Madre Mountains. They are said to be the last tribe in North America to have maintained their pre-Columbian traditions. Huichol shamans and healers practice today as they have for generations. In part, their survival is due to the focus of their traditions.

Luis and José make uwene (shaman chairs) as part of their traditional lifestyle and customs. These photos are good examples of a traditional uwene made with a more elaborate back.

The uwene, often referred to as a shaman's chair, is sturdy and can last generations if it is well made from the proper materials and not abused. The preferred wood for the frame of the chair is Brazil wood (ützate), used in combination with mature bamboo (hakute). The woven bamboo seat is attached using thin strips of bamboo that are twisted together and then tied with leather cord. The back is made from lengths of bamboo that have been stripped of the bark so it can be bent without breaking.

Two different native plants are separately ground, burned, and then combined with the ashes to make a sticky substance, called kuetsukuai, that is used to reinforce the chair and affix the decorative back. These two plants must be harvested when they are mature or they will not produce a strong enough adhesive.

The gods are supplied with a similar chair but in miniature. The uwene are utilized exclusively by male shamans. It is believed a woman would become infertile if she sat in a uwene. Each shaman transports his own uwene to the ceremony in which he is to participate.

Luis makes a special miniature version of the uwene that is decorated with many of the items used in Huichol ceremonies.

The Huichol have no history of war. Rather than training for war, they train their hearts to open to the healing powers of love and to the celebrations of life through the seasons. Because of this, they are famous for their strong ceremonial tradition, rich mythology and incredible visionary artwork.

Primarily an agricultural people, the Huichols are dependent upon corn, planting their fields along the steep slopes of their mountain homeland. Corn is life for the Huichol Indians. The yearly cycle of preparing the fields, planting, growing, and harvesting the corn is surrounded by religious ceremonies, as is all of Huichol life.

In purchasing art from the Huichols, you not only gain a beautiful piece of art but you also assist a dying culture in our modern world to continue their self-sufficiency.

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Jose lives in Tequila; family is in sierras