Text, photographs, and illustrations by Totupica Candelario
English translation and plant species identification by Humberto Fernández, Conservación Humana AC
by Patricia Liles, CSEE Board Member
“The Center for Shamanic Education is honored with a long-standing relationship with the Indigenous Huichol/Wixarika people of Northern Mexico. Our donors have made it possible to repair crumbling buildings in a main ceremonial center and provide support to make roofs in the traditional way instead of using sheet metal. The people were called in ceremony to build a Temple of the Moon, and we were able to provide the means to complete that vision. In our current project, we are providing donations to build shaman chairs (uweni) and woven mats (itsi) for the incoming jicareros (shamans). The article provided explains in detail the labor-intensive process of creating these traditional chairs.”
Uweni and Itsi
by Totupica Candelario, translation by Humberto Fernández, Conservación Humana AC
The jicareros or gourd-bearers who are currently in the ceremonial center of “Las Latas” took office in 2017. This position has a duration of five years (it is an honorary position), so in 2022 they will hand over their position to the incoming jicareros that were dreamed by the ancestors. In this change of administration, the outgoing jicareros have to hand over gourds, arrows, uweni or shaman chairs (for men) and itsi or straw mats (for women), among other ritual paraphernalia, so that the new jicareros can take the baton with their new elements. But many of the outgoing jicareros do not deliver the mentioned things, because no matter how much they want to, they do not have the economic resources, since during the five years office they do not receive any personal economic support.
The uweni / shaman chairs and itsi / straw mats are important for the jicareros, since during five years they will have to sit on them in each ceremony that is carried out in the ceremonial center.
Lately, it has been seen that many jicareros use plastic or wooden chairs, because their outgoing companions did not give them their corresponding uweni or itsi, which does not give good presentation inside the Tuki (main temple) for spiritual representatives sitting in an artificial chair. And thus losing authenticity during the traditional ceremony. For example, nowadays in many of the particular ceremonies in family ranches, the guests are offered plastic or wooden chairs for the following reasons:
- Because the people who make the uweni and itsi prefer to do other work, since they are not paid what their work is really worth.
- Because a plastic chair of Chinese origin is cheaper than an uweni.
- Because of how laborious it is to make the uweni and the itsi, fewer and fewer people know how to do this type of work.
- Among other reasons.
It is worth mentioning that the position of jicarero has a duration of five years. The current jicareros are from the period 2017-2022. So, each of the jicareros has to make (for those few who know how to do it) or buy a new uweni and a new itsi, to give it to his new partner who will hold office starting June 2022.
For the elaboration of the uweni and itsi the following natural raw material are required:
- Kwetsukwa. It is a tuber that is used as glue, but for this end, it is given a previous treatment. It grows in the rainy season, and they finish maturing at the end of October.
- Haku. It is a kind of reed (Mexican weeping bamboo, Otatea acuminata) that grows in the hot spots of the ravines. They are cut and have to be dried, then made into small strips, then soaked so that they become flexible. These are the backing of the uweni. (1 & 2)
- Urú kwaxí. (Heliocarpus terebinthinaceus) It is the base of the uweni, it is what supports it (it is the skeleton). (3)
- Tsai. It is a kind of sotol (Agave angustifolia), it has to be collected with time to remove the thorns on the edges of the leaves. With this, the itsi of the women are made and it is also the base of the seat of the uweni. (4)
- Tunikurí. It is a very flexible and resistant wood (Guazuma ulmifolia) that goes in the base of the uweni.
- Deerskin or cowhide. Serves to give the mooring to the base of the seat.
If you share the Center for Shamanic Education’s vision of preserving Indigenous shamanic practices and would like to ensure that the next generation is able to learn and continue traditional ways, please contribute to our project. We are incredibly grateful for your interest, generosity, and alignment with our purpose.