History

The Tarahumara or Raramuri, as they call themselves, live in the Sierra Tarahumara in northwest Mexico or the Copper Canyon, as it is known in the United States. The name Tarahumara was given by the Spanish to these Native American people.

Prior to the Tarahumara, the Paquime civilization dominated northern Mexico and the canyons of the Sierra Madre Occidental. They were farmers and traders whose routes extended to the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico and to other cultural centers in the north such as Mesa Verde in Colorado and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The archaeological and World Heritage Site of Paquime is located near Nueva Casas Grande. Paquime was a pueblo community similar to those found in the Southwest of the United States. It reached its prominence in the 14th century, when it was destroyed and abandoned. Other remnants of the Paquime civilization include adobe cave structures, similar to those of the Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi) of the U.S. Southwest.

The history of the Tarahumara begins with the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1600’s. Due to the lack of a written native language nothing of their prehistory was recorded. The Spaniards main motive for exploring this area of Mexico was the search for gold and silver, as well as saving the souls of the natives.

The Spanish originally encountered the Tarahumara throughout Chihuahua in the 1500's, but as the Spanish encroached on their civilization the shy and private Tarahumara retreated to the nearly inaccessible canyons of the Sierra Tarahumara. The Jesuit missionaries followed around 1607. The Jesuits brought Christianity and introduced agricultural techniques, such as irrigation and the plow and axe. They also planted fruit trees and introduced domesticated animals, such as sheep and goats. During the time when the Jesuits exerted their influence, there were several uprisings by the Tarahumara against the Spanish. Many of the Catholic religious concepts became mixed with Tarahumara native beliefs.

Quantities of silver ore were discovered in the Tarahumara lands during the 17th Century. This brought large influxes of Spaniards into the region. Land was confiscated to provide crops for the miners, and many Indians were captured to serve as forced laborers in the mines. The Spaniards tried to move the Tarahumara and the other natives away from the rancheras into compact villages where they could be "civilized" and more efficiently organized as a labor force.  However, most of the mines in the region did not yield great quantities of ore and after the Jesuits were expelled by the Spaniards in 1767, the Tarahumara were mostly left alone by the government and contact was minimized.


The Tarahumara now are Mexico's second largest Native American group with between 50,000 and 70,000 people.

They live in caves, under cliffs and in small wood and stone cabins in remote areas. They live a simple life undisturbed by modern technologies. They are known as a quiet and considerate people who are expert farmers and runners. Rarámuri has been translated to mean "runners" in their native language.

Due to severe drought in northern Mexico, the Tarahumara have suffered famine in recent years. Corn and beans are the main staple crops. Potatoes and apples can also be found. Some Tarahumara raise domesticated animals, such as goats and cattle. Fish, small game & herbs round out their diet.

Traditional clothing for the Tarahumara consists of a white cloth shirt, sometimes with colorful prints, white cloth pants or wraparounds with colorful belts or accessories. Headbands, usually red, are worn on their heads. Sandals or huaraches are the footwear of choice.

The Tarahumara are best known around the world for their running skills. Various organizations have entered Tarahumara runners in events, such as the "Leadville 100-Mile" in Colorado. The runners have surprised many by running in their tire-soled sandals and winning some of these long distance races.

Running or "foot throwing" has always been a tradition and necessity of the Tarahumara. It is their only mode of transportation and many of the small communities are far apart. They also have their own events, and this is were "foot throwing" comes into effect. It is a competition known as Rarjíparo and consists of a small wooden ball which is "thrown by the foot" by teams in races to finish before the other teams. The races can last days. The Tarahumara are very religious and desire their privacy and respect if one should happen unto their festivals. Two larger events are Semana Santa (Easter Week) and the Fiesta Guadalupana in December. These religious rites are a mixture of Christian and Tarahumara beliefs.

There also are other times of celebrations, such as harvests, which are interwoven with tesgüino. It is an alcoholic beverage made of corn and grasses that is good only for a couple of days after it is brewed. Natives will drink until they pass out on occasions.

The Mexican Government recommends asking for permission when taking photos, entering accommodations or crossing Tarahumara land. Respect for all of their celebrations as well as their rights to privacy are due these proud, but quiet people.

 

 

 

 

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