|This article needs additional citations for verification. (August 2012)|
Two Rarámuri women (one with a baby nursing) at Arareco Lake near Creel, Chihuahua, Mexico. The Tarahumara women wear the traditional brightly colored clothes for which they are famous. These women make and sell hand-made items at the lake.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Guarijío, Huichol, Yaqui|
The Rarámuri or Tarahumara are a Native American people of northwestern Mexico who are renowned for their long-distance running ability. In their language, the term rarámuri refers specifically to the men, women are referred to as mukí (individually) and as omugí or igómale (collectively).
Originally inhabitants of much of the state of Chihuahua, the Rarámuri retreated to the high sierras and canyons such as the Copper Canyon in the Sierra Madre Occidental on the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 16th century. The area of the Sierra Madre Occidental which they now inhabit is often called the Sierra Tarahumara because of their presence.
Current estimates put the population of the Rarámuri in 2006 at between 50,000 and 70,000 people. Most still practice a traditional lifestyle, inhabiting natural shelters such as caves or cliff overhangs, as well as small cabins of wood or stone. Staple crops are corn and beans; however, many of the Rarámuri still practice transhumance, raising cattle, sheep, and goats. Almost all Rarámuri migrate in some form or another in the course of the year.
The Raramuri were first introduced to the Spanish in the 1500s. The Spanish, upon discovering this new tribe, named them the Tarahumara. By the start of the 17th century Spanish mines had been established in Tarahumara territory and the Tarahumara had been exposed to some Spanish slaving raids to obtain more workers for mines. A Jesuit missionary Juan Fonte established a mission at the southern end of Tarahumara territory, expanding from their work with the Tepehuan to the south. The mission was known as San Pablo Balleza. Fonte was killed during the violent resistance of the Tepehuan to Spanish incursion in 1616. The mission at San Pablo Balleza was disrupted by this event; it ceased to operate for over a decade.
With the discovery of the mines of Parral, Chihuahua in 1631 there was more Spanish presence in the Tarahuama lands, and the Jesuits sent more missionaries. There was also increased slave raiding by Spanish mine operators. New missions were established at Las Bocas, Huejotitlan, San Felipe and Satevo.
In 1648 the Tarahumara went to war against the Spanish. They met at Fariagic and then destroyed the mission of San Francisco de Borja. Two of the leaders of this attack were captured by the Spanish and executed. Shortly after this the Spanish established Villa de Aguilar in the heart of the upper Tarahumara county.
The Tarahumara split into two distinct groups from this point on. Those in the lower missions continued to move into the general Christian population and would largely lose their tribal identity. Those in the upper areas went to war under the leadership of Tepórame and a few others. This resulted in driving the Jesuits and Spanish settlers from the area. The Jesuits returned in the 1670s and baptized thousands of Tarahumara, but these people continued to retain a separate identity. Tepórame was executed by the Spanish in 1690. From 1696–1698 the Tarahumara also waged a war with the Spanish, but were militarily defeated.
By 1753 the lower Tarahumara missions were turned over to secular priests. With the dissolving of the Jesuits in Spanish territories in 1767 most of the missions among the Tarahumara were no longer operated.
After a short period of bonanza the jesuits were expelled in 1767 from all Spanish domains. In Tarahumara this meant its replacement by the franciscans which in spite of very devoted and enthusiastic efforts did not match the jesuit feats and the missions declined. The jesuits returned at the beginning of the 20th Century and reestablished the abandoned missions.
Existence in danger
||This section is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (July 2013)|
The Tarahumara were not conquered by the Aztecs, have survived wars with the Spanish, the French and the Americans but nowadays they have to struggle to protect their grounds from being taken by the Mexican army, drug lords or corporations that want to exploit their mineral resources.
Massive deforestation is a major issue as hardly any forest is left in the Sierra Madre since in the end of the 1800s the first loggers arrived. 92% of the indigenous people living in the forests of the Sierra Madre are Tarahumara and they have to defend their territory from large-scale mining and forestry projects. The theft of indigenous land by logging companies jeopardizes their subsistence economy and consequently their future. The Mexican Commission of Solidarity and Defense of Human Rights produced a report in 2000 stating that the government fails in studying the effects of lumber production on the ecosystem. Through the liberalization of laws in the 1990s the situation only aggravated more, resulting in the exhaustion of resources. In 1995 it was declared that "after hundred years of logging only two percent (300,000 acres) of these unique forests remains". That means that this most biologically diverse ecosystem in North America that contains hundreds of medicinal plants, oak types and pine species which is more than any other place on earth, is on the brink of extinction. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) created in the 90s boosted foreign investment which resulted in the privatization of communal land, an alien concept to the Tarahumara, and market-based mechanisms of environmental regulation. This increased logging and the despair of the indigenous people who depend heavily on these forests.
The environmental disaster is also the consequence of mining activities. From the Spanish conquest on thousands of tonnes of mercury and lead were released in the so-called Mexican mining belt which is 2000 km long and stretches from Oaxaca to Sonora in the northwest. The Sierra Madre part of this belt is one of the world's most prolific gold and silver mining districts. Huge areas were deforested to deplete the metal deposits and claim the mineral wealth. The mining history dates back to 950 AD, for the Totec and Mayan civilizations were engaged in mining too. In 2010 Mexico's mining output reached high levels: 19% of the world's silver production for example was extracted in the mining belt which turned it into the world's most productive district as it historically already was. An increase in mining activity was noticed when reforms were accepted in the 1990s allowing foreign ownership. Private investors jumped in, mines were reopened and according to the Secretaría de Economía 204 mining companies with direct foreign investment had 310 ongoing projects in Mexico in 2006. Georgius Agricola mentioned already in 1556 that mining leads to deforestation, the disappearance of wild life and watershed contamination. The environmental impacts are dramatic, resulting in landscape change and the dissemination of heavy metals, all to the detriment of this living area of the Tarahumara.
Their existence is also threatened by drug violence resulting from the cultivation and trade in this region of drugs by kingpins. Deforestation is one of the environmentally damaging consequences. Logging is not only controlled by the Mexican government, but areas are also cleared by illegal cutters and drug lords who use it to grow marijuana or opium seeds or to clear the area for their operations. Right now the Sierra Madre is one of the most productive drug growing regions on the planet. The drug cartels usually have links with logging companies so the latter can launder money earned in the drug trade. The immediate threat of narco-trafficking weighs heavily on the Tarahumara as the drug lords force the farmers to grow drugs instead of their own crops. They are trapped between the narcos and the persecutors of the narcos as the government sprays the illicit growing fields with strong herbicides. This not only kills the intentioned crops, but also those from the Tarahumara people. This drug enforcement only worsens the situation. Add to the problem the pollution and these environmental damages increase even more the misery of the Tarahumara who struggle to survive. The ongoing battles between the cartels affects them too as they are also killed, bribed and tortured.
The Sierra Madre, the refuge of the Tarahumara, is home to peaks and canyons that are hard to reach. The almost inaccessible rugged area has long served to protect them, but in the 1800s, attempts were made to build a railway. Currently, this track is used by the train Chihuahua Pacífico or El Chepe to transport tourists, lured by false representations of the area as pure and pristine, to sightseeing places. It stops near many Tarahumara villages, attracting many visitors expecting to see primitive Indians (the legend of the Tarahumara). However, reality is incongruent with the aforementioned representations, as modernity itself is destroying their habitat. Noodles that come in plastic-foam tubs, foil-wrapped potato chips and plastic bottles of Coca-Cola are all available in the mountains. The Tarahumara seek to economically gain from tourism by attempting to meet travelers' expectations and romanticization of their way of life. To appeal to tourists, they portray authenticism by complying with the stereotypic image of the Noble Savage. However, a more westernized style of living may be unavoidable, as their way of life has changed more in the past 20 years than in the previous 300 years.
In Mexico 2011 is the driest year on record with just 12 inches of rain while an average of 21 should be reached. This drought, already affecting the region for 10 years, has worsened in the last years. The states which are most severely hit are situated in Northern Mexico where the Sierra Madre is located. Agricultural losses in Chihuahua are estimated to be $25 million and 180,000 cattle have already died. The drought is affecting first the people with the least resources. The Tarahumara are considered to be one of the poorest people in Mexico and they suffer deeply. Due to the lack of water, crops were destroyed and famine is spreading. Combined with the freezing temperatures of a cold front which is troubling the region their living conditions are intolerable. Their dependence on the environment worsens the situation as they lack employment opportunities to generate income in non-farming activities. Tons of clothing, food and water are sent to the Sierra Tarahumara, as the mountainous area is also called, to relieve them, but it's not enough. Moreover, this increased contact with the outside world might be damaging as well as it creates dependency. These indigenous people are faced with extreme poverty as is reflected in the Mexican Human Development Index (HDI) which in the Sierra Madre is the lowest in the country: 49.1% below national average. Alberto Herrera, the Mexican director of Amnesty International states that the indigenous people in his country have endured "permanent discrimination, exclusion and marginalization". Their problems are structural and Oxfam Mexico indicates that investment in sustainable agriculture is necessary to enable the Tarahumara to face future crises expected because of the climate change. A very important component in the projects of Oxfam is the fact that the Tarahumara themselves are hired which enables them to replicate the project where needed.
A crucial moment is approaching for the Tarahumara as their civilization is on the brink of collapsing. They need all the help they can get to be able to survive these hardships. The question is whether they ever will be able to restore their balance with nature as modernity is forcing them to adjust to new environments.
The word for themselves, Rarámuri, means "runners on foot" or "those who run fast" in their native tongue according to some early ethnographers like Norwegian Carl Lumholtz, though this interpretation has not been fully agreed upon. With widely dispersed settlements, these people developed a tradition of long-distance running up to 200 miles (320 km) in one session, over a period of two days through their homeland of rough canyon country, for intervillage communication and transportation as well as to hunt. Their running in sandals is described in the book Born to Run.
The Tarahumara also use the toe strike method of running, which is natural for barefoot running. The long-distance running tradition also has ceremonial and competitive aspects. Often, men kick wooden balls as they run in "foot throwing", or rarajipari competitions, and women use a stick and hoop. The foot throwing races are relays where the balls are kicked by the runners and relayed to the next runner while teammates run ahead to the next relay point. These races can last anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days without a break.
The Tarahumara commonly hunt with bow and arrows, but are also known for their ability to run down deer and wild turkeys. Anthologist, Johathon Cassel, describes the Tarahumara hunting abilities, “the Tarahumara literally run the birds to death. Forced into a rapid series of takeoffs, without sufficient rest periods between, the heavy-bodied bird does not have the strength to fly or run away from the Tarahumara hunter.”
||This section contains weasel words: vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. (August 2012)|
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The Rarámuri religion is a mélange of indigenous customs and Roman Catholicism. The result is basically monotheistic: Onorúame -The One Who Is Father- is identified in the more missionized areas with the Catholic God The Father but is still equated in remote and "gentile" areas with the sun, rayénari. Eyerúame, "the one that is Mother", is often mentioned in the sermons "nawésari" of the governors and depending on the degree of acculturation may correspond to the primeval feminine deity married to Onorúame, or to the Virgin Mary, also commonly mentioned in the sermons as "María Santísima." Although some of the Rarámuri religious practices still have the sense of konema i.e. feedind God, the sense of returning to God a little of the much that he has given us is prevalent. Some Tarahumaras stll maintain a belief that the afterlife is a mirror image of the mortal world, and that good deeds should be performed not for spiritual reward, but for the improvement of life on earth. Some scholars have reported that in certain areas(perhaps those more strongly based on pre-Columbian practice)the Tarahumara believe that the soul ascends a series of heavens, is reincarnated after each death, and after three lives becomes a moth on earth, which represents the final existence of the soul. When the moth dies, the soul dies completely. However, this end is not regarded as negative or a punishment, but merely as a continuation of the order of life. Also reported is a variation: in that Rarámuri cosmology, God has a wife who dwells with him in heaven, along with their sons, the so-called 'sukristo' (from Spanish 'Jesucristo') and their daughters, the 'santi'. These beings have a direct link with the physical world through Catholic iconography, respectively crucifixes and saint's medallions. The Devil's world is not necessarily evil, but is tainted through its ties with the 'Chabochi', or non-Rarámuri. The Devil is said to sometimes collaborate with God to arrange fitting punishments, and can be appeased through sacrifices. In some cases, the Devil can even be persuaded to act as a benevolent entity. The Devil and God are brothers (the Devil is the elder) who jointly created the human race. God, using pure clay, created the Rarámuri, whereas the Devil, mixing white ash with his clay, created the Chabochi. Thus, the Devil is as much protector and life-giver to the Chabochis as God is to the Rarámuri. The Rarámuri share with other Uto-Aztecan tribes a veneration for peyote.
There is a high level of integration of music and dance into social life in the Tarahumara culture. The classical pianist Romayne Wheeler writes that Music sanctifies the moment in the life of all the Tarahumaras and All of our actions have musical meaning. During the end of the year cycle they play violins which are masterfully carved but not varnished, the tunes are known as matachín pieces and are danced by dancers lavishly dressed in coloful attairs that resemble north-African garments and accompanied by rattles -sáuraka- During the Lent they play three-hole flutes of river cane that are used in combination with drums.
Food and Diet
Staple crops of the Tarahumara are maize, beans, greens, squash, and tobacco. Chile, potatoes, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes appear in Mexicanized regions of the Tarahumara. Fields for corn began to be fertilized in February and March by oxen. Oxen are often loaned from one to another to cultivate land as not everyone owns one. Corn begins to flower in August; by November the corn is harvested and is either stored or prepared. Some of the common dishes from corn are pinole, tortillas, esquiate, atole, tamales, and boiled and roasted ears. Beans are one of the essential protein rich foods eaten by the Tarahumara which are usually served fried after being boiled. Tamales and beans are a common food which the Tarahumara carry with them on travels. Other foods are wheat and fruits which were introduced by missionaries and are a minor food to the Tarahumara. The fruits grown by the Tarahumara include apples, apricots, figs, and oranges.
The Tarahumara also eat meat as part of their diet, but this only constitutes for less than five percent of their diet. Most of the meats that they eat as part of their diet include: fish, chicken, and squirrels. On ceremonial occasions domesticated animals are killed and eaten including cows, sheep, and goats, but again most of the protein the Tarahumara receive is from beans.
Gatherings for celebrations, races, and religious observations often take place with tesgüinadas, a Tarahumara-style beer bust. These gatherings take place all year around, although most happen during the winter months, and are the social events between the neighboring Tarahumara people. Tesgüinada events include rain fiestas, harvest ceremonies, curing fiestas, Guadalupe Fiesta, Holy week, races and Sunday gatherings, among others. Some of these events take place during and after communal activates, for example when neighbors help another’s family with their fields or building large structures like granaries, houses, and corrals. The harvest and rain ceremonies take place in during the farming months to ensure a good crop season. These events also require the need of either a shaman, curer, or chanter. The job of the shaman and curer are purely religious as the curer is there to diagnose and to cure the sick of the community and chanters lead the tesgüinadas in chants and rhythms to go along with the ceremonies.
Tesgüinadas are an important aspect of Tarahumara culture as it is often the only time the men have intercourse with their wives. The tesgüinadas act as a social lubricant to the Tarahumara as they are known to be very shy and private. Anthropologist John Kennedy describes the institution of tesgüinada as an important social fabric to the Tarahumara cuture which he calls the “tesügino network.” He also states that "the average Tarahumara spends at least 100 days per year directly concerned with tesgüino and much of this time under its influence or aftereffects.”
The religious role of tesgüino is a very imprortant aspect to tesgüinada. Before one can drink an olla of tesgüino they must dedicate it to Onorúame. During the curing ceremonies the olla must rest in front of a cross until the ceremony is over. At the age of 14 a boy is allowed to drink tesgüino for the first time after a short sermon about his manly responsibilities. These rituals can sometimes last as long as 48 hours. Tesgüinadas are usually accompanied by dancing and the playing of fiddles, flutes, drums and guitars.
Tesgüino is a fermented drink made year round from sprouted corn. Sometimes it is also made with still-green stalks, fruits of certain cactuses, shrubs, wheat, and trees when corn is sparse. The process begins by malting the corn and spreading it in a shallow basket covered with pine needles each day for four or five days. It is kept moist until the corn sprouts by which the starch in the corn has fermented. It is then mashed and boiled for eight hours. Different herbs are grounded up and mixed with water into a paste where it is then fermented over night by a fire. After the mixture is combined with the corn liquid and is fermented for another three to four days. Tesgüinadas usually take place soon after as the tesgüino can spoil within 24 hours.
- Isidro Baldenegro López
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- Tarahumara Foundation- Organization that has worked with indigenous communities for twenty years, improving child nutrition, education, food security, water availability and conservation
- Radio Tarahumara: Tarahumara Internet Radio featuring the world's largest collection of Tarahumara music and spoken word audio
- Tesguino and the Tarahumara
- wbgu.org WBGU-PBS local production with Romayne Wheeler in efforts to aid the Tarahumara Indians.
- Raramuri Tale Short film about a Tarahumara child, filmed in the Copper Canyon.
- "The Men Who Live Forever" Men's Health article on the Tarahumara's athletic prowess
- The Tarahumaras: An Endangered Species