Very little is known about the exact origin of the Huichol, but we do know that they call themselves ‘Wirrarika’ which can be translated to mean prophets or healers.
Their dialect comes from the Uto-Aztecan family of dialects. Because of their geographic isolation it was not until 1722, almost 200 years after the conquest of Mexico, that Franciscan missionaries were finally able to penetrate the Sierra and built a church in San Andres Cohamiata.
The missionaries brought with them colorful glass beads to trade with the Huichol in the hopes of converting them to Christianity. The Franciscans were able to exhort a considerable amount of influence on the Huichol, however they were never successful in converting the Huichol and abandoned them after about 100 years. The Franciscans may not have been able to convert the Huichol however they did leave their mark on the culture. The colorful glass beads that they traded to the Huichol were quickly adapted for use not only in their personal adornment but were also used in their votive bowls and other religious artifacts.
We didn’t get our first real look at the Huichol however until the late 1890’s. It was in 1890 that the American Museum of Natural History sent Norwiegn explorer Carl Lumholtz into the Sierra to look for the Anasazi.
Lumholtz spent a total of 8 years traveling through the Sierra and never found the Anasazi but was the first to actually document the Huichol. Lumholtz described caves filled with ceremonial objects like prayer arrow, votive bowls, stone disks and idols sparsely decorated with glass beads and wrote this about the culture:
“In spite of missionary work in the past, today there is no priest among them, the churches are in ruin, and the Huichol are in the same state of barbarism as when Cortez first put foot on Mexican soil. The introduction of sheep, cattle, and iron implements has modified to some extent their mode of life but not so much as one would expect…..Still their ancient beliefs, customs, and ceremonies all remain in their pristine vigor.”