Xapawiyemeta, the indigenous sacred center threatened by tourism in Mexico

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Photograph of August 1, 2018, showing the Wixárica indigenous José Ángel Díaz practicing a ritual, on the island of scorpions in Chapala, Jalisco (Mexico). Xapawiyemeta is the place where rain was born and humanity emerged after the universal flood, according to the belief of the Wixárika indigenous community, which now sees how this sacred place is threatened by looting and tourism. EFE

Xapawiyemeta is the place where rain was born and humanity emerged after the universal flood, according to the belief of the Mexican indigenous community wixárika, who now sees how this sacred place is threatened by looting and tourism.

This ceremonial center is also known as the Isla de los Alacranes and is located in the western state of Jalisco, on Lake Chapala, the largest in Mexico.

Until that point, the indigenous people arrive on a pilgrimage to raise prayers and leave offerings to their gods, after traveling hundreds of kilometers from their mountain communities.

José Ángel Díaz, an indigenous wixárika from the San Sebastián Teponahuaxtlán community (north of Jalisco), explains to Efe that the history of this sacred center goes back to the universal flood, the second cycle of creation, according to his beliefs.

According to this culture, a man named Watakame embarked on a boat along with a black dog. The ship sank and only part of the prow remained, which formed the crag in which the altar now emerges.

When shipwrecked, Watakame brought grains of corn with him and helped to repopulate the land, along with the little dog that, when humanized, became his wife and is considered the mother of humanity.

“It is a sacred place that the wixaritari have preserved for a long time and we pay homage and ceremony,” says Díaz, who was the traditional governor of the community.

In the wixárika culture, Xapawiyemeta means “the place of our mother” or “the chalate (fig tree) of rain”. It represents the south and is one of the five most important energetic and religious places in its geography.

The rest are in Real de Catorce (state of San Luis Potosí), which represents the east; San Blas (Nayarit), which is the west; Cerro Gordo (Durango), which is to the north, and Mezquitic (Jalisco), which is the center. Together they form a rhombus called “eye of God”.

In these ceremonial centers only the Wixaritari Indians can be, because the rule is that the mestizos do not have permission to attend the rites that take place there, with some exceptions.

Upon receiving Efe in Xapawiyemeta, Díaz performs a purification ceremony at the top of the cliff in which he asks permission from the gods of the island for strangers to remain in the place.

Photograph of August 1, 2018, showing the Wixárica indigenous José Ángel Díaz practicing a ritual, on the island of scorpions in Chapala, Jalisco (Mexico). Xapawiyemeta is the place where rain was born and humanity emerged after the universal flood, according to the belief of the Wixárika indigenous community, which now sees how this sacred place is threatened by looting and tourism. EFE

With eagle feathers and prayers in the Wixárika language, he communicates with them while the mestizos light candles, make a wish and wait in silence.

In this space it is common for the wixaritari to perform a ritual in which they offer to their deities the blood of a deer, a lamb or some other animal sacrificed especially for that purpose.

Once the permit is granted, it is possible to enter the small house where the offerings must be left.

It does not matter if it is an apple, a coin or a very elaborate craft; the important thing is to leave with the heart and thank the gods have come there, says Diaz.

The ceremonial house was built by the wixaritari to safeguard their offerings of weather, but above all of the tourists who come to the site.

For some years, the island of scorpions became a tourist site full of restaurants where hundreds of people arrive every day, due to the proximity to the town of Chapala.

Visitors approach the ceremonial center and enter the house without permission. Some take away the coins and crafts that are left by the Indians, many times to sell them.

“We want the offerings to remain because it is what keeps that sacred place alive, because in the offerings is our heart,” says Diaz with the lake behind him.

The hope of keeping this site protected was revived in 2017, when the Government of Jalisco declared it intangible cultural heritage, which means that there will be actions to prevent the desecration of the sacred center.

“It is important that we know that the Wixaritari exist and we continue to practice our millenary culture, that everyone respects it, recognizes that it belongs to us and belongs to us, of all the sacred places depends on humanity,” warns the indigenous.

For Julio César Herrera, director of artistic and historical heritage of the Ministry of Culture of Jalisco, the declaration will make it possible to disseminate the importance of the site for the Wixárika people, in addition to promoting their protection.

“We recognize the place where they develop their pilgrimage, but we also make known to the entire population the meaning and value that it has for them, so that every visitor who goes takes measures of respect and sees it as an important place,” he concluded.

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