The dream of the mara'akame. Ethno-fiction, allochrony and indigenous modernity

Reception: January 21, 2020

Acceptance: February 25, 2020

El Sueño del mara’akame

Federico Cecchetti [Tsikiri Temai] (director), José Felipe Coria and María del Carmen de Lara (producers), 2016 CUEC, Estudios Churubusco-Azteca and IMCINE, Mexico.

Wl dream of mara'akame It is about the drama of an indigenous Wixárika teenager (Luciano Bautista) who is dealing with the supposed poles of urban modernity, expressed in popular music, and rural tradition, embodied in his father (Antonio Parra). It is part of a new generation of cinema about Wixaritari, but not yet directed by them (although the director, Federico Cecchetti, manifests a proper name of the ethnic group in parentheses).

Typically, in past decades the ethnographic cinema that emerged alongside the National Indigenous Institute (ini) it posed a space-time distance or incommensurability between Western contemporaneity and the culture of the mystical native, a (neo) colonial configuration that Johannes Fabian (2014 [1983]) long ago denounced as “allochrony”. Instead, this film (nominated for a series of awards and winner of at least two) introduces novel visual, narrative and musical elements. Thus, it creates a more critical and nuanced perspective on the complexities of a people that for centuries have challenged allochrony with a wide range of intercultural relationships. These elements point to an indigenous modernity (Pitarch and Orobitg, 2012) that could mediate the ontological dilemma imposed between two frameworks: the indigenous as traditional and the mestizo as modern. I leave it to the discretion of each seer - and I highly recommend Mara'akame's dream for those who have not seen it - if this film succeeds in the end or if it remains in a rather neotraditionalist stance. In any case, the plot emphasizes the friction generated by the attempt to achieve integration or what Johannes Neurath (2018) calls syncopation of these two frames. I raise this argument more to provoke the critical sensibilities of the people who see this important film (which has circulated in international festivals with subtitles in several languages) than to propose a single reading as the only possible one.

One of the newest aspects of Mara'akame's dream for Wixarika cinema it is the fact that it is a work of ethno-fiction (Sjöberg, 2008); that is, an ethnographic fiction produced with the collaboration of indigenous and non-professional actors, not only in the staging but also in the elaboration of the script and sometimes the most fundamental conceptualization of the play (Zamorano, 2014). This film genre was developed long ago in different regions of the world by Jean Rouch, among other directors. However, its use here stands out because ethnographic cinema on Wixaritari had seldom been so close to the experience and internal conflicts of people of this town through a fictional narrative. To a large extent, this rapprochement has been achieved through Luciano Bautista's sophisticated script and simple but moving performance. In the narrative structure, the spatial and temporal displacements and the parallelism established between two ethical worlds stand out: the morally rigorous shamanic practice and the hedonistic, but politically committed, secular Wixarika music.

This parallelism (which, following Fabian, could be called bichronia) is materialized in two subterranean spaces (the first of them somewhat underground also): a musical den in the center of Mexico City, called the Caverna Forum, and the caves of Tamatsima Waha (The Water of Our Elder Brothers) on the slopes of Cerro Quemado de Wirikuta, San Luis Potosí, where the Sun. The non-linear aspects of this dual narrative can be interpreted as a dream, as the title of the film itself points out. However, we should understand the word "dream" as polysemic or as a type of "boundary object" (boundary object, according to Star and Griesemer, 1989) that connects different audiences thanks to its ambiguity. Here the articulation of audiences depends on the dream meaning that the non-indigenous majority of the seers share and the more divinatory meaning that comes from the shamanic trance that the actors denote with the word heinitsika in the dialogue mainly wixarika from the film.

The whole story of The dream it takes place under the highly publicized threat of mining projects in the territory of Wirikuta and consequently the risk of ending the shamanic world that the once indigenist imaginary had treated as immune to history. By the way, the on-screen preface describes Wixarika as "one of the oldest cultures in Mexico and ... best preserved." However, recognizing that even the most ancient is not eternal, the characters no longer justify the shamanic heart of that culture in terms of its intrinsically sacred nature, but as a tool to save the divine ancestors from extractivism: now the rituals are done "To communicate with the gods and see how we can help them." This message is reinforced in the final image of a group of peyoteros looking across the great plain of Wirikuta towards the hills where the sun was born, with the clink of heavy machinery in the background.

I don't want to reveal the plot too much, but the film seems to value shamanic practice and authority more than urban indigenous culture, at least for the protagonists of this story. Of course, the movie –With its soundtrack of Venado Azul, Huichol Musical, Ultravisión and Peligro Sierreño (the group with which the young protagonist Niereme wants to sing) - is largely a product and consumer object of that same urban culture. But the script points out that such a world perverts the efficacy of shamanic quackery and that it is not serious or authentic enough to defend cultural heritage, even though it shows that Wixarika popular music and its audiences strongly support that end.

Thus, when Niereme tries to use the forced sacrifice of his little lamb (which can be understood as a symbol of his innocent youthful narcissism) in an ancestral place of his community to advance his musical career (39:00) instead of dedicating himself to the goals sacred collectives, the lupine ancestors ('irawetsixi) who inhabit that place seem to curse any form of rural-urban intermediation that the young man tries. This is demonstrated by the events of the last half hour of the film, after the hero finds a stuffed wolf behind a display case and a gang of skaters outside.

As already mentioned, the young man deals with conflicting pressures. On the one hand, there is his traditionalist father, a severe shaman who wants his son to fulfill the vision - which the lord has held since before the young man was born - of following in his footsteps. mara'akame singing healer. On the other hand, there are Niereme's friends, who invite him to accompany them to Mexico City in search of fame, chelas and girls, as a singer of regional music. This mix of rock, rancheras, mariachi from Gran Nayar and Wixarika ceremonial music embodies indigenous modernity. However, it seems to be easier to sustain this modernity in festive performances than in other dimensions of life. Thus, another of the key moments of the drama around Niereme, whose very name (derived from nierika: “Vision”) refers to the visionary experience cultivated by the shamans, it happens in the middle of a concert in the Cavern Forum.

Much could be said about the role of music under the direction of Emiliano Motta, who won one of the awards for The dream. Obviously, it is an attraction for a large part of the public and could not have constituted such a rich dimension of the work if it were not for the proliferation of hybrid genres of Wixarika-mestizo music in recent decades (De la Mora, 2019). In fact, musical syncretism has been part of the ambivalent imbrication of Wixarika culture in regional and national relations since Spanish stringed instruments were adopted during the colonial period. By the way, the very name of the ceremonial music, xaweri, is not derived from something pre-Hispanic, but from the rabel, the tiny Renaissance violin that is played in many rituals. In this sense, musical ontology is more sophisticated than the allochronic representations of the Wixarika world in general.

In the climactic scene that exemplifies the complexity of the cultural field around Niereme, the young wixaritari musicians position their regional music (with all the rock and band touches it incorporates) against the "crazy" techno band. that precedes them on the stage of the Cavern Forum. However, regional music almost immediately gives way to a transition towards a sort of xaweri sick in the background music and finally a portentous music noise environmental. This transition defines the moment when Niereme's cultural dilemma turns into a full existential crisis. The flashy ancestral world subverts his attempt to become a modern secular subject and blocks even his singing voice. In this sense, the network of musical forms encapsulates the positioning of the film between the chronotopes (or spatiotemporal narratives) of the urban-secular and the rural-ceremonial.

According to Niereme's orthodox father, there is no middle ground, or what Neurath would call a feasible syncopation between shamanic purification chronotopes and contemporary urban experience or between corresponding musical genres: “To become mara'akame, you have to stay away from evil ... Singing is something sacred and you should not desecrate it ”(33:05, 34:18). However, this dichotomy is blurred by the fact that the shaman father also gets drunk on his friends and you need money. He, like many Wixaritari, participates in the artisan industry that produces figures inspired by myths and rituals for mass consumption. More significantly, in a brave and satirical scene - considering the film's audience - the mara'akame conducts a peyote ceremony for urban middle class new age with delicate stomachs. Your hostess announces: "the donation has a minimum of one thousand pesos" (46:15). Thus, the desire for recognition of the non-indigenous other attracts both father and son to the city, with the inevitable moral concessions.

In general the newest of Mara'akame's dream is its complex interweaving of the traditional world identified with shamanism and that of chaos and secular cosmopolitanism: the camera pauses momentarily on the sign on the dirt road of the indigenous community of San Andrés Cohamiata with the image of a jet, as if it were an international airport instead of a grass runway; a scene represents a couple of community members discussing the material benefits of planting poppies for the narcos in the area; in another, a soldier who turns out to be a Wixarika tries to help the shaman avoid the disastrous interdiction of his ceremonial medicine; and by the way the mara'akame and his family enjoy a comedy on a decrepit TV next to the ancestral bonfire on their ranch; At the end, the man announces that they must buy a new device. Depending on the degree of interference of local consultants in the elaboration of the ethno-fiction, perhaps this media reference reflects the analogies that the Wixaritari usually establish between the visions and voices imparted in the dream by Grandfather Fuego and the images that appear on the screens of television and cinema.

Likewise, Niereme's first failed attempt to cure a mestizo child suffering from a "great darkness" takes place before a screen full of static, suggesting a communicative void in national popular culture and the young healer himself. Niereme's series of failures to articulate the ancestral-rural and the everyday-urban through curanderismo, art and music culminates in the most famous image of the film: his encounter in the Garibaldi subway with a large deer - the patron Shamanic Kauyumarie– and his powers of vision. He then enters a hybrid space that combines an urban wasteland of construction with the ritualized desert of Wirikuta, where he once again applies his shaman's wand to the sickly boy and begins to sing. The message seems to be that only through traditional shamanic practice can the urban world be successfully managed.

To address this question of the mediations between the countryside and the city at the level of the film's production itself, the end credits acknowledge the support received from the ngos who collaborate with the wixaritari. Highlights include Ha Ta Tukari (Agua Nuestra Vida) by Enrique Lomnitz (which faces the water crisis in the Anthropocene that mining projects promise to exacerbate), Yawi Arte Tradicional (an indigenous arts store in Mexico City) managed by Jerónimo Martínez, and the intercultural ecological ejido Las Margaritas, slp, in which Eduardo Guzmán Chávez has been a key interlocutor for a long time. The credits also indicate several long-term intermediaries who are community members of San Andrés Cohamiata, where a good part of the film was filmed, although for some reason only their names without surnames were screened. They include Chon (Carrillo) and Chalío (Rivera), from the ecoculture company that hosts visitors to the community during the main festivals. It is noteworthy the important role of Rivera and his own intermediation crisis in the series Millenium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World (1992), directed by David Maybury-Lewis almost 30 years ago.

Image 1: Niereme and Kauyumarie in the Metro. Source: Cine Tonalá Tijuana, Facebook

In addition, Nicolás Echevarría, who for 40 years has been a director of films that highlight indigenous alterity, is recognized as a “production advisor”. By the way, in the case of your award-winning Eco de la montaña (2014), Echevarría addresses some of the same contradictions represented in Mara'akame's dream of a Wixarika artist whose powers derive from Wirikuta and who struggles to represent cultural tradition in an urban setting. Finally, this ethno-fiction should also be celebrated for recognizing the extensive participation of the Parras and Bautista families and for the thanks they give to the land of La Cebolleta in San Andrés. Many of the domestic scenes were filmed there, and Ha Ta Tukari carries out part of its rainwater harvesting project.

To conclude on a more historical level, the complex intertwining of urban-commercial and rural-ancestral spacetime in this film shows the collapse of the state patronage of indigenous cinema, not to mention its support for the subsistence of peoples such as the Wixaritari in general. . This change stands out when comparing Mara'akame's dream with the first commercialized documentaries about wixaritari that emerged from the 70s. To Find Our Life: The peyote hunt of the Huichols of Mexico, by Peter Furst (1969), and Virikuta. La costumbre, by Scott Robinson (1975), would be two important examples of the beginnings of the wixarika cinematic representation. The cinema of that initial period shared the trope of the traditional world segregated from the modern world, a chronotope that lasted almost unchanged for more than two decades.1

Then the ini with their paternalistic imaginary and the autonomous agency of the wixaritari themselves began to emerge, new sources of film production and new audiences for the resulting products. A) Yes, Mara'akame's dream It shows how the socio-historical context of indigenous peoples and the mass media now penetrates indigenous cinema in a much more subtle way than 40 years ago. However, the public will decide to what extent this cinema continues to be involved in indigenous alochrony or if it has already taken a definitive step towards a vision based on indigenous modernity.


Echevarría, Nicolás (director) (2014). Eco de la montaña (documental). México: Cuadro Negro.

Fabian, Johannes (2014). Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object (con un nuevo epílogo del autor, prefacio de Matti Bunzl). Nueva York: Columbia University Press. Publicado originalmente en 1983.

Furst, Peter (director) (1969). To Find our Life: The Peyote Hunt of the Huichols of Mexico (documental). Recuperado de, consultado el 25 de febrero de 2020.

Maybury-Lewis, David (1992). Millenium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World. Serie documental, television pública.

Mora Pérez, Rodrigo de la (2019). Los caminos de la música. Espacios, representaciones y prácticas musicales entre los wixáaritari. Guadalajara: iteso.

Neurath, Johannes (2018). “Invented gifts, given exchange. The recursive anthropology of Huichol modernity”, en Pedro Pitarch y José Antonio Kelly (ed.), The Culture of Invention in the Americas. Anthropological Experiments with Roy Wagner, pp. 91-106. Londres: Sean Kingston Publishing.

Pitarch, Pedro y Gemma Orobitg (ed.) (2012). Modernidades indígenas. Madrid y Frankfurt: Iberoamericana Vervuert.

Robinson, Scott (director) (1975). Virikuta. La costumbre (película documental), México, 50 min.

Sjöberg, Johannes (2008). “Ethnofiction: Drama as a Creative Research Practice in Ethnographic Film”, en Journal of Media Practice, vol. 9, núm. 3, pp. 229-242.

Star, Susan Leigh y James R. Griesemer (1989). “Institutional Ecology, ‘Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology”, en Social Studies of Science, vol. 19, pp. 387-420. 10.1177/030631289019003001

Zamorano Villarreal, Gabriela (2014). Indigenous Media and Political Imaginaries in Contemporary Bolivia. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.


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