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 Tarahumara - Raramuri


The Raramuri are known by outsiders as the Tarahumara (TAR-a-hu-MAR-a). These people live in the canyons of the northern Sierra Madre (Spanish for Mother Mountains) Occidental in Mexico. They are private people, secluded, often living great distances from one another.  They live in small adobe or wood homes, caves or houses that are constructed partway under outcroppings so that the rock provides the roof. Having lived for generations off of a communication network that was simply narrow footpaths through the canyons, the Raramuri evolved into extraordinary endurance runners. In fact, "Raramuri" means "foot-runner" or "he who walks well". The traditional economy thrives on barter, not cash flow, although during the past twenty years the life of the Raramuri has been changed more than in the previous 300 years

RTarahumara woman weaving baskets at Chihuahua Mexico Pacifico Train Station.

(Roberto Studio, Ciudad Juarez, Chih. Mexico)


Typical Tarahumara Red-on-Brown Jar wrapped with Cow Hide.

Wrapping the vessel with cow hide is a very common attribute to Tarahumara

pottery, even the plainwares are done this way most of the time.



Fleeing from invading Spaniards, the Raramuri retreated to their present location of Sierra Tarahumara and Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre) over five centuries ago. Although these deep canyons (some deeper than the Grand Canyon) gave them a retreat from the Spaniards, this area is rich in silver and other minerals which drew miners as early as the 17th century. The pine forests attracted loggers and in order to make the area more accesible, a railway was started in in the late 1800's and made it's way through Raramuri lands (Copper Canyon) in 1961. The railway now links Chihuahua City with Topolobampo, a port near Las Mochis on the Gulf of California. Today the wood is hauled out by truck and the main job of the railroad is to haul tourists.



The Raramuri make an alcoholic drink from corn, this beverage is used on celebratory occasions. The corn is grown in fields that, to this day, most all of the plowing, planingt, and harvesting is done by hand.

The Raramuri believe that each star in the night sky represents souls from those that have passed away (men have three and women have four).

The ritual of Semana Santa is grand. Drum beating, continuing off and on, night and day, begins three weeks before and is said to keep God from sleeping because this is the time of the year when the devil comes nearest. The Pharisees paint their bodies. Costumed soldiers carry decorated wooden swords. Semana Santa, the crucifixion story, good-over-evil, and pre-Christian reverence for the rain, sun, and the moon. Shoulder-borne bowers contain Jesus and the Virgin. The straw effigy of Judas is burned in a ceremony filled with with drinking of the alcoholic corn beverage and plenty of hot pozole and goat & rabbit

corn stew.

Tarahumara Arrows & Carved Wooden Ladle


From the most recent government count (2008), it is estimated that approximately 106,000 Raramuri live in Mexico. This makes them one of the largest indigenous groups in the Americas. Their culture is being threatened by modernization. At this time, their is no electric in the canyon, but plans of tourism for the area mean that it will not be long until kitchens are equipped with blenders instead of metates & manos. Most of the people welcome the idea of a more modern life. The Raramuri are slowly making the transistion, they already enjoy Maruchan Japanese noodles in the foam containers, potato chips, Coca-Cola and Tecate Beer. One only needs to look around the contryside to see evidence of these convenient food items, after all, there is no garbage service. The Raramuri are being pushed by "chabochi" (name given to anyone who is not Raramuri) from all directions. They struggle with the narcotic industry who displace the Raramuri from their fields so that they can use the area to grow marijuana and opium poppies. They struggle with the health problems that plague the new modern day diet (high blood pressure and diabetes). They already have the Chihuahua Pacifico Railroad going through part of their land and soon their will be a commercial airport along with hotels. Although uncertain and controversal, the officials of the state of Chihuahua plan on building a tourist center on the canyon-rim that includes an artificial "indian-village" where Raramuri vendors could set up with their crafts. 

Raramuri (Tarahumara) Polychrome Pottery Shallow Bowl

Raramuri (Tarahumara) Red-on-Brown Olla with Deer and Trees.




A People Apart

By Cynthia Gorney, November 2008, National Geographic



This page last revised: 07/27/2012

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