Published on September 1, 2014 by Amy
The people known as the Tarahumara, or Raramuri, which they call themselves, have survived many challenges since Spanish settlers encountered them in the 16th century. Private, spiritual people, they live in and above the canyons of northwest Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental, typically great distances from one another, often calling a cave or small hut their home. They are known for their world-class endurance-running prowess. With 50,000 and 70,000 members, the Tarahumara compose Mexico’s second-largest Indian group.
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Spanish explorers encountered the Tarahumara throughout what later became known as Chihuahua, Mexico. As the Spanish encroached on their civilization, however, the shy, private Tarahumara retreated to the nearly inaccessible canyons of the Sierra Tarahumara. When minerals were discovered in those mountains, the area became desirable to miners and mining companies, forcing the Tarahumara into more remote canyons.
Today the Tarahumara live simple lives undisturbed by modern technology. They are known as quiet, considerate people who are expert farmers. Famine, however, affects them during severe droughts.
The Tarahumara are considered extraordinary endurance runners, living for generations amid a transportation network of narrow footpaths through the canyons. Their word for themselves, “Raramuri,” means “foot-runner” or “he who walks well.” Tarahumara runners have entered events such as the Leadville 100-mile race in Colorado and surprised many people by running in their tire-soled sandals and, in some cases, winning. The concept of foot throwing originates with some of their traditional events. A competition known as “rarjíparo” consists of a small wooden ball that is thrown by the foot by teams in a race to finish before competitors. Some of the races last for days.
Main staples of Tarahumara farming are corn, beans, potatoes and apples. Some Tarahumara raise domesticated animals, such as goats and cattle. Fish, other small game and herbs, which are a Tarahumara specialty, round out their diet.
The Tarahumara regard work as necessary for survival but lacking in intrinsic moral merit and secondary to spiritual obligations and other matters of the soul. Their traditional economy is conducted by barter, not cash, and their word for sharing, “korima,” doesn’t translate directly into Spanish or English; the word’s translation is: whereby someone may open a palm for what may seem charity. A “thank you” isn’t offered, though, because korima implies the obligation to distribute wealth for the benefit of everyone.
The Tarahumara are very religious and desire privacy and respect, including during their festivals. The festivals include Semana Santa, which is Easter week, and the Fiesta Guadalupana in December. Each event is a mixture of Christian and Tarahumara beliefs. Other celebrations, such as harvests, are interwoven with tesguino, an alcoholic beverage made of corn and grasses, which, in some cases, Tarahumara drink until they pass out.