Tarahumara

Tarahumara

[tahr-uh-hoo-mahr-uh, tar-]
Tarahumara, indigenous people of N Mexico, mostly in Chihuahua state. About 60,000 strong, they live for the most part in the barren wilderness of the Sierra Madre Occidental, subsisting largely by hunting and practicing rudimentary agriculture. They are renowned for their ability to run down deer and horses, but are known chiefly for their religious practices, in which consumption of the peyote cactus figures prominently. The visions and ecstasies produced by mescalin, the active ingredient of this plant, are the culmination of Tarahumara ceremonies. The Mexican poet Alfonso Reyes dedicated to the Tarahumara one of his finest works, Yerbas del Tarahumara (1934; tr. Tarahumara Herbs, 1958).

See W. C. Bennett and R. M. Zingg, The Tarahumara (1935); C. W. Pennington, The Tarahumar of Mexico (1963, repr. 1969).

The Tarahumara are an indigenous people of northern Mexico, renowned for their long-distance running ability.

Originally inhabitants of much of the state of Chihuahua, the Tarahumara retreated to the Copper Canyon in the Sierra Madre Occidental on the arrival of Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century. The area of the Sierra Madre Occidental which they now inhabit are often called the 'Sierra Tarahumara' because of their presence.

Current estimates put the population of the Tarahumara 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 Tarahumara still practice transhumance, raising cattle, sheep, and goats. Almost all Tarahumara migrate in some form or another in the course of the year.

The Tarahumara language belongs to the Uto-Aztecan family. Although it is in decline, under pressure from Spanish, it is still widely spoken.

Athletic prowess

The Tarahumaras' word for themselves, Raramuri, means runners on foot 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 for intervillage communication and transportation. The long-distance running tradition also has ceremonial and competitive aspects. Often, male runners kick wooden balls as they run in "foot throwing" competitions, and females use a stick and hoop. The foot throwing races are relays where wooden 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, for a short race, to a couple of days without a break. The Tarahumara also practice persistence hunting, using their ability to run extremely long distances (sometimes as far as 160km) to catch animals such as deer; the animals eventually tire and slow down, and the Raramuri get close enough to the animal to kill it.

Tarahumara religion

The Tarahumara religion is a mélange of indigenous customs and Roman-Catholic Christianity, characterized by 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. In certain traditions (perhaps those more strongly based on pre-Columbian practice), 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. In Tarahumara 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-Raramuri. 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 Raramuri, 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 Raramuri. The Tarahumara share with other Uto-Aztecan tribes a veneration for peyote, the spirits of which are said to be mischievous and capricious.

The Tarahumara are known for the brewing of tesguino, a corn-based beer brewed in ceramic jars, that features prominently in many Tarahumara religious rituals.

Sources

  • Raramuri Souls: Knowledge and Social Process in Northern Mexico by William L. Merrill

Famous Tarahumaras

See also

Literature

  • Ivan Ratkaj: Izvješća iz Tarahumare (Reports from Tarahumara) (Zagreb: Artresor, 1998)

A modern edition of the first detailed report about the Tarahumara, written by a Croatian missionary in the 17th century. Published in Croatian, German and Latin.

  • Antonin Artaud: The Peyote Dance (transl. Helen Weaver; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., 1976)

An account of Artaud's visit to the Tarahumara in the mid-1930s and of his peyote experience.

  • Joseph Wampler: "Mexico's 'Grand Canyon': The Region and the Story of the Tarahumara Indians and the F.C. Chihuahua al Pacifico" (Berkeley: Self-Published, 1978. ISBN 0935080031)

An account of Wampler's travels on the Chihuahua al Pacifico railroad that winds along the Barranca Del Cobre through Tarahumara lands.

An account of Lumholtz's visit to the Tarahumara and other tribes in the Sierra Madre in the 1890s.

  • Jeff Biggers: In the Sierra Madre (University of Illinois Press, 2006)

An account of Biggers's sojourn among the Tarahumara in the late 1990s.

External links

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