The Coloniality of Gender and Sexuality

How the Intimate Lives of Wixárika People were Changed Forever

'Maternity of the Gods' © Justo Carrillo de la Cruz y Ximena Carrillo Robles. 2022

In the primordial world Yurianaka is the maternity of the gods, the moist earth which gave origin to the first person Tatei ‘iku, the goddess of maize, and to the second Tatei Haramara. Together they created the world and all that is in it.

The lives of Indigenous Wixárika communities changed forever when Spanish colonisers invaded their lands in North western Mexico. Franciscan missionaries and later representatives and leaders of the independent Mexican state saw Wixaritari (pl) as savages and made them feel ashamed of their ancestral religion, knowledge, social practices and kinship relations.

Every aspect of this process of colonisation was gendered. Over the course of several centuries, relationships between women and men that were complementary and more equal before colonialism, were gradually replaced with the unequal structure of European patriarchy.

'Maternity of the Gods' © Justo Carrillo de la Cruz y Ximena Carrillo Robles. 2022

Wixárika sexuality that had been more freely expressed and sexual relationships more openly practiced by both women and men, were considered immoral by missionaries and colonial powers.  Christian marriage between a man and a woman became the only way of legitimising sexual intercourse and all other encounters became sinful.

When Mexico gained independence new laws and moral codes of conduct were imposed upon Indigenous communities and later enforced with corporal punishment. Although in Mexico today legislation has progressed in terms of gender and racial equality, many customary laws and social arrangements still reflect the values and ideas about marriage, gender and sexuality that were introduced during colonialism.

This is the coloniality of gender, the ongoing process of domination by one social group over another, resulting in unequal patriarchal gender relations that mirror those of the dominant group.

Follow the story


Who are we?

This exhibition, supported by the Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research (SDCELAR) at the British Museum, showcases the findings from Gender, health and the Afterlife of Colonialism: engaging new problematisations to improve maternal and Infant Survival, a Wellcome Trust Funded research project (Project number 215001/Z/18/Z).

We have used archive searches, revision of bibliographical material and interviews as part of the Tuapurie Oral History Project to understand how gender has changed through contact between the colonial State and later independent Mexican Republic and Wixárika indigenous communities.

The research project is a collaboration between:

University College London (UCL), Institute for Global Health

CIESAS Occidente (the Centre for Research and Studies in Social Anthropology) 

Conservación Humana AC (CHAC) 

And members of the The Wixárika Community of Tuapurie, Mezquitic, Jalisco.

Project Director
Dr. Jennie Gamlin,
Associate Professor, Medical Anthropology and Global Health, UCL Institute for Global Health.
view profile

Exhibition Curator
Humberto Fernández Borja,
Conservación Humana A.C.

Archive Research team director
Dr. María Teresa Fernández Aceves
view profile

Archive Research team leader
Dr. Paulina Ultreras Villagrana
view profile

Archival Research
Ileana Cristina Gómez Ortega
Tania Fernanda Aguilar Silva
Frine Castillo Badillo

Field work director
Totupica Candelario Robles

Field work assistant
Claudia de la Torre Carrillo

Susie Vickery

Curatorial, image research and production assistants
Ana Laura Mejía Ruiz Esparza
Daniela Guraieb Elizalde
Lorena Silva Lordméndez
Daniela Altamirano Visoso
Anaïs Oropeza Jochum
Maika Vera Martínez

Jennie Gamlin:
Institute for Global Health,
30 Guilford St., London, WC1N 1EH.

We would like to thank The Wellcome Trust for funding this project as part of a Research Enrichment-Public Engagement award.

Digital exhibition

This exhibition was made possible thanks to the Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research (SDCELAR) at the British Museum and the generosity of Alejandro & Charlotte Santo Domingo, and Mrs Julio Mario Santo Domingo with Andrés & Lauren Santo Domingo.

Digital Curator
Magdalena Araus Sieber
SDCELAR, British Museum

Lilo Web Design
view website

Image credits

We would like to thank the following organisations and individuals for gifting materials and copies of materials that have been used in this exhibition:

Ivan Alechine

American Museum of Natural History Library for gifting prints from the Carl Lumholtz Collection to the CHAC Archive

Archivo General de Indias
[General Archive of the Indies]

Archivo Histórico de Jalisco
[Historical Archive of Jalisco]

Biblioteca Pública del Estado de Jalisco “Juan José Arreola” de la Universidad de Guadalajara
[Public Library of the State of Jalisco “Juan José Arreola” at the University of Guadalajara]

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

CHAC Archive: Conservación Humana AC

Catholic Church Records, 1590-1979, Mezquitic, Jalisco, Mexico
[Registros Parroquiales, Mezquitic, Jalisco]

Fundación Cultural Armella Spitalier

Museo Zacatecano – Instituto Zacatecano de Cultura Ramón López Velarde


Universidad de Guadalajara

Publications related to women’s and maternal health with Wixárika communities by the author of this exhibition


Gamlin, Jennie B. (2013)
Shame as a barrier to health seeking among indigenous Huichol migrant labourers: An interpretive approach of the “violence continuum” and “authoritative knowledge”
Social Science and Medicine 97 75-81

Gamlin, Jennie B. (2023)
Wixárika Practices of Medical Syncretism: An Ontological Proposal for Health in the Anthropocene
Medical Anthropology Theory 10 (2) 1-26

Gamlin, Jennie B. (2020)
“You see, we women, we can’t talk, we can’t have an opinion…”. The coloniality of gender and childbirth practices in Indigenous Wixárika families
Social Science and Medicine 252, 112912

Jennie Gamlin and David Osrin (2020)
Preventable infant deaths, lone births and lack of registration in Mexican indigenous communities: health care services and the afterlife of colonialism
Ethnicity and Health 25 (7)

Jennie Gamlin and Seth Holmes (2018)
Preventable perinatal deaths in indigenous Wixárika communities: an ethnographic study of pregnancy, childbirth and structural violence BMC
Pregnancy and Childbirth 18 (Article number 243) 2018

Gamlin, Jennie B. and Sarah J Hawkes (2015)
Pregnancy and birth in an Indigenous Huichol community: from structural violence to structural policy responses
Culture, health and sexuality 17 (1)