José Hernandez-Claire


The Huichol Indians are a very unique and united group who over time have kept their culture, traditions, religion, political and social system largely unchanged. Now, however, at the end of the century this group has been threatened by the influx of values from the western world.

The majority of the Huichols are concentrated in Mexico within the State of Jalísco, although they also have a presence in the states of Zacatecas and Durango. Their approximate population is 14,000. The majority of the Huichols remain on the Sierra Madre Occidental and live on the top of isolated mountains which are hard to reach, due to the geography and lack of good roads.

During the tobacco harvest they are hired for very low salaries by the commercial tobacco companies, mainly located in Santiago Ixcuintla within the State of Nayarit in México. Santiago is a small town on the lowlands by the coast with very hot humid climate which during harvest time reaches temperatures above 40º C degrees.

Every season the Huichols come down from the mountains in the north of Jalísco State and move towards the lowlands, they go with their entire families, from babies to the elders, all those who can make the long tired journey. They go to live and work during the harvest season at the tobacco plantations.

All family members live and work under totally adverse and inhuman conditions under "palapas". These consist of huts made from wooden poles and dried palm branches. They lack any sort of running water, electricity or any other facilities whatsoever. On top of the hot and humid climate all family members from babies, children, women and men stay in direct contact with dangerous and poisonous pesticides applied to tobacco plants and leaves,which have caused many of them severe illness and death. Needless to say, they do not have any kind form of health insurance to protect them.

The author wishes to acknowledge the FONCA-CONACULTA ( Fund for the Culture and the Arts and the National Council for the Culture and the Arts) for their support, as well as the Mother Jones Foundation, but above all his thanks to Patricia Díaz Romo who for years has researched these issues and created a video on these subjects under the title of "Huicholes and Pesticides", she was instrumental in providing the needed access to the people presented in the pictures.

José Hernández-Claire works and lives in Guadalajara, Jalisco, México,and can be reached at