In an academic world of structured and formal presentations, spontaneity is hard to find. Educational events involving beads, beeswax and wooden boxes are downright scarce. But that’s just what senior Samantha Raymond and the Anthropology Club have planned.
“Just prepare yourself for anything,” Raymond said.
Rosendo Carillo de la Rosa, a Wixarika Indian from Jalisco, Mexico, will lead an interactive workshop about the traditional art and religion of his people, more commonly known as the Huichol. He will also demonstrate the complex art of decorating bowls and gourds using beeswax and brightly colored beads.
In preparation for the event, Paula Turkon, assistant professor of anthropology, purchased 45 small wooden boxes so students who attend the workshop can make their own traditional art. The boxes are coated in beeswax to provide a base for the decorative symbolic patterns that represent the life and faith of the Huichol.
“In the U.S. we’re multicultural, but mostly live within the same culture,” Turkon said. “When we experience cultures outside our own, as in this event, that’s when we start to realize that people really do have different lives and ideas.”
De la Rosa is from rural Santa Catalina in the eastern Sierra Mountains of Jalisco. The local Huichol name of the community is Tuapurie. Only an indigenous language is spoken among Huichol families in Tuapurie, but children learn Spanish as a secondary language in school and when they travel to cities to sell their art. De la Rosa does not speak English, so tonight’s workshop will be held in Spanish with Turkon and anthropology students translating.
Loni Kantor, a doctorate anthropology student at Arizona State University and a resident of Syracuse, N.Y., met de la Rosa through an adviser and had the opportunity to travel to Tuapurie to meet the de la Rosa family.
“A lot of Huichol are artisans, and it’s another way to make a living without having to give up their way of life in terms of their religion and tradition,” Kantor said.
Alternatives to being an artisan include laboring in fields, menial jobs in cities or migratory work in other parts of Mexico and the U.S.
“[Huichol] live in a place where there’s steep canyons, and they can get around, but it’s very hard for outsiders,” Kantor said. “A lot of the Huichol know the Mexican cities really well, and a lot of them know the U.S. very well. They’re conscious of the bad effects of outside influences.”
Today, Huichol artisans create their decorated bowls to sell on the tourism market. However, even as the art provides a source of income for the artisans, the pieces also retain traditional symbols and significance.
Many beaded bowls portray shapes similar to six-petal flowers. These represent peyote, the hallucinogenic succulent that Huichol consume to communicate with the deities.
“Deer is a really common theme because in mythical times, it was the deer who sacrificed himself for people,” Kantor said. “He led the people on a hunt, and they followed him into the San Luís Potosi desert, where they found peyote. He gave himself up so they could eat after finding the gift for communicating with the deities.”
De la Rosa has done similar workshops at the San Diego Zoo, where he presents his art and culture by creating the art while he speaks.
“[De la Rosa] likes to travel and get to know people and share his culture,” Kantor said. “He knows that people are curious.”
When Turkon heard about de la Rose’s workshops, she jumped at the opportunity to invite him to Ithaca College.
“[Huichol are] trying to spread the word about their culture, but it’s also a way for them to observe and honor their traditional culture and their religion,” Turkon said.
While Raymond does not know for sure how de la Rosa will run the workshop, she knows that it is a unique opportunity.
“This event is really for anyone,” Raymond said. “Whether it’s someone interested in Mesoamerica or Mexico, someone who just wants to listen to him speak Spanish or someone interested in rituals, religion and art.”
The interactive Wixarika beading workshop will be held at 7 p.m. today in Friends 209.