About the Tarahumara (rarámuri) Tribe Mexico

The indian tribe has a simple way of life and believes in a simple law called 'the attitude of humble silence', which is love, humility, hope and joy.

The TARAHUMARA is an Indian tribe which lives in the northern parts of mexico. The name TARAHUMARA means: "where the night is the day of the moon"

'raramuri' (uto-aztec) is a description given to the tribes people and means 'the light-footed one'. To be a 'raramuri' you must have time and care for each other, and to love people more than goods.

tarahumara

History of Tarahumara Indians

It is possible that the ancestors of the Tarahumara Indians arrived from Asia, crossing the strait of Bering, approximately twenty thousand years ago. However, the oldest human traces which have been found in the mountain range (sierra), at a site close to Sonora State, are the famous Clovis spearheads. These weapons were typically used by hunters during the Pleistocene megafauna and date back to 15,000 years. This fact enables us to date back the presence of the first settlers of the Tarahumara mountains (“Mexico Desconocido” Magazine).

It was until 1606 when the missionaries established contact with the sierra natives for the first time. It was during the 17th and 18th Centuries when a group of Spanish farmers and merchants invaded this region dispossessing them of a big portion of their land by trading it for soap, salt, blankets, and other trinkets. Some Indians started working for the Spaniards and were forced to work as peons with very little pay. Some other natives fled to the mountains to hide and to protect themselves from being forced to work in haciendas of mines.

Tarahumara belief

A common belief among Tarahumara Indians was the fact that it all started with the sun and the moon that lived alone disguised as children. They were dressed with palm leaves and they lived in shacks made out of sticks and mud and a palm roof. They didn't have any earthly belongings, neither cows, nor goats, nor chickens, nor sheep, nor turkeys. The skin of the two children was very dark and the morning star was the only thing that shed light upon the sinful earth. The moon swallowed the lice from the head of the sun, while the morning star watched over them.

Soon afterwards, hundreds of Tarahumara Indians did not know what to do in such darkness. They could not work and they had to hold each other’s hands to prevent them from tripping down with the rocks and falling off unto the canyon. One day, they healed the sun and the moon by placing tiny redwood crosses soaked in “tesqüino” (corn alcohol beverage) and, gradually, the sun and the moon started shining with a bright light. Then, there was a flood and a boy and a girl, both Tarahumara Indians, went to the top of the Lavachi Mountain, south of Panaláchic.

After the flood, they returned carrying with them three corn kernels and three beans. Since everything was so soft and moist, they planted them in a rock and fell asleep. Later, they fell asleep and that night they had a dream. On time, they harvested and it is said that all Tarahumara Indians come from them.

Where do they live?

They occupy one fourth of the southwest of Chihuahua State (approx. 50 thousand sq. kms.) in one of the highest peaks of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. It is also known as Sierra Tarahumara with an altitude between 1500 and 2400 m. above sea level. The ground is abruptly broken into several regions, which accounts for the extreme temperature. In the highest parts of the mountains the average weather varies drastically according to the season: -20°C in winter and 20°C in summer. At the bottom of the canyon, there is mild to hot weather (15°C average and up to 40°C in summer). 90% of the Tarahumara population is gathered mainly in the towns named Bocoyna, Urique, Guachochi, Batopilas, Carichi, Balleza, Guadalupe y Calvo, and Nonoava.

Habits and Traditions

Great part of today’s Tarahumara tradition relates to that learned from the Jesuit missionaries during the almost 150 years they lived together in colonial times (Luis G. Verplancken). Their mythical and religious festivities are made up of dances, “tesqüino” parties and offerings, where the traditional corn alcohol beverage called “tesgüino” is always present. To them, dancing is a prayer; thus, by dancing, they seek forgiveness, they ask for rain (“dutuburi” dance), they give thanks for the rain and for the harvest, and they help “Repá betéame “– he who lives above-- so that he may not be defeated by “Reré betéame” – he who lives beneath-- that is, the devil.

Holy Week: When the missionaries arrived, they tried to teach the Tarahumara Indians some passages from the Bible regarding Holy Week. Said festivities were welcome by the Tarahumara Indians. At present time, wherever there is a church, these festivities are still observed according to the teachings of the missionaries. During these celebrations, they place pine tree branches showing the way to the various processions. Two groups are the main participants: Pharisees (white flag) and soldiers (red flag). Each group has captains that lead them, “tenaches” that carry saint’s images and “pascoleros” who participate in the “pascol” dance, wearing bells around their ankles and dancing to the sound of the violins and flutes. It is interesting to note that Tarahumara Indians include the white people “chabochis” among the evil ones, the Pharisees, who paint themselves in white and represent those in favor of Judas. Throughout the dance, the Pharisees dance all around controlling every move but at the end they are conquered by those who represent the good, the soldiers.

“Tesqüino”: Tesgüino is a beverage made of fermented corn with alcoholic contests similar to that of beer, thick and nutritious. It is made by placing wet corn next to the chimney to let it germinate. After sprouting, it is ground, boiled and added “basiáwari” to help fermenting.

Talking about the farming cycle, festivities, shared work for the community, from birth to the grave, “tesquüino” accompanies them to stress good social relations, common effort, special occasions. It is basic food to the gods. It is, therefore, offered to the sun and to the moon, to the four cardinal points of the universe, to the corn crops and to the innumerable spirits of the cosmos. “Matachines”: They are dancers who act in church festivities. They are outstanding for their colorful garments. “Matachines” dance is performed by a number of couples, eight or twelve, who dance to the music of violins and guitars. It is a dance full of fast movements, turns and quick swirls, having the dancers divided in two lines under the leadership of their chief. Chaperons mark the rhythm by yelling and they are the only ones that wear a mask. They are also in charge of checking that all the dancers wear the right garments. Ball games (rarajipari) are the most important group activities performed by Tarahumara men. They have to kick the ball (komakali) with the front part of their feet. This ball is made from oak tree or any other type of tree roots, and then they have to run barefoot after it till they grab it. Groups place bets on these races. The winner is the one who makes it first to the goal, which is sometimes 200 kms. away. Races can last up to two days. Everybody in the community helps and supports the runners; they provide water and ground corn for them, lighting their way at night with lit wood sticks, cheering them and even running after them along the route. Women also play throwing two small intertwined rings called “rowena”. With these races they represent the reason for their existence: running.

Shamans (sukurúame) and peyote cactus (híkuli): A shaman is the guardian of all social traditions of the people. Their obligations as ritual and therapeutic specialists bind them to defend traditional order. Their job is to establish a balance between the body and the cosmos. Some shamans use peyote cactus for their healing activities. It is a hallucinating plant that is restricted, and only shamans know the right amount to use, as well as how to collect and to store it. It is used as skin cream to heal rheumatism, snakebites and other ailments

Meaning of Tarahumara

The Tarahumara Indians call themselves Rarámuri. According to Father Luis Verplancken, due to language distortion, the Spaniards called them Tarahumara, which is just the Castilian term for Tarámuri, changed to Tarumari. However, Luis Gonzalez, historian, says that according to Etymology, Rarámuri means "running plant", which in its broadest sense means "those with light feet". This term refers to the oldest tradition of the Tarahumara Indians: running.

Physical Description

Tarahumara Indians are rather thin. Tall men with muscular bodies are very rare. Women are short and rather heavyset. They have elongated eyes, prominent cheekbones, small ears, big nose and mouth, and almost thick lips. Their hair is black, thick and straight; their face is hairless and wide and there is almost no hair in the rest of their bodies; their complexion is dark; their skin is thick and dry due to cold weather; their feet are regular size and their arms and legs are long, similar to those of any athlete or runner.

Tarahumara Religion

As main god, the Tarahumara Indians have a merger of Christ and their god, who is called Onorúame, who made and governs the world. Religious concepts include the concept of soul and its loss. Men are surrounded by good and bad beings; the wind is good and a tornado is bad. They have added to their beliefs the names of Jesus, Mary, God, hell and sin, the use of the Holy Rosary and the Crucifix, as well as crossing oneself.

Tarahumara Rules

The highest traditional Tarahumara authority lies on the governor or “Siriame”, who is frequently the oldest and most experienced in the area. His most significant activity is to preach to the community which is usually gathered on Sundays and to discuss (“nawésari”) any existing problem. Sometimes, the governor is aided by an assistant governor, a captain, a lieutenant, a district attorney, and several soldiers. Spiritual guides or doctors are called “owirúames”

Source and further web links

  • National Geographic: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/11/tarahumara-people/gorney-text
  • Image Gallery: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/11/tarahumara-people/kendrick-photography
  • Wikipedia information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarahumara
  • Tarahumara language: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarahumara_language
  • The Tarahumaras: An Endangered Species