Mexican Indigenous Group Fights to Preserve Sacred Sites
Global Press Journal
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September 14, 2023

Modesto López Muñoz, left, Mario Muñoz Cayetano, middle, and Santos Rentería de la Cruz, right, leave offerings at the Pacific Ocean in front of Waxie tsut+a, or white stone, the morning after performing an all-night ceremony in Tatéi Haramára, San Blas, Nayarit. (Maya Piedra/GPJ Mexico)

Dressed in white clothing embroidered in colors and symbols representing the sacred universe, Mario Muñoz Cayetano, a man with a good-natured expression and deep gaze, speaks on the importance of a presidential decree to legally protect sacred territory.

“For us, nature is one big, gigantic church, but we don’t need cement or even a building in order to respect it. A hill, a cave, a spring, a river, rocks, mountains … to us, they are temples,” says Muñoz, president emeritus of the Wixárika Union of Ceremonial Centers of Jalisco, Durango and Nayarit A.C., an organization made up of Wixaritari that monitors the conservation and protection of sacred sites.

But the fight to preserve these sacred places for the Wixárika people continues, as extraction projects loom and the authorities fail to enforce the protections that already exist. A decree signed in August by Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador could be the start of a new effort to preserve these sacred places.

Official data indicates that 23.2 million people in Mexico belong to an indigenous nation. Muñoz belongs to the Wixárika group, one of the 71 indigenous nations in the country, situated in the west of Mexico. The Wixaritari, as members of the Wixárika nation are known, speak one of the most ancient languages in Mesoamerica, with more than 60,000 speakers primarily distributed across the states of Durango, Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí. They live on collectively owned land and have preserved their social and political organization, as well as traditional clothing, as part of their identity.

The Wixárika community’s origin story of the world says that the deities who formed the earth came out of Tatéi Haramára, a location in the Pacific Ocean, where life originated. During their journey, they became mountains, bodies of water, wind, fire — everything that allows life on the planet — and created the world. The places they stopped became natural temples, where the Wixaritari have gathered to pray since ancient times. Tracing a line between these five main sacred places reveals the Sacred Geography, an important image to the Wixaritari, known in Spanish as “el ojo de Dios” (“the eye of God”).

Research by Arizona State University shows that “the Wixárika land is much more than a place from which to extract economic resources; above all, it’s a dwelling, a social entity whose elements act consciously, as well as a key source of social identity.”

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