Tarahumara comes from the native word Raramuri, which means “foot runner.” Some 50,000 of these most primitive North American Indians live in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Chihuahua. The rugged, isolated terrain ranges from high peaks to deep, tropic canyon bottoms.
These shy people live on small, remote family farms as they have for centuries in homes which are picturesque log cabins, stone buildings or caves scattered all up and down the barrancas (steep, rocky slopes). The average family size is five.
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Before the Jesuits and the Spanish military came in the early 1600s, the Tarahumaras farmed, hunted and gathered without metal tools. With the coming of the Spaniards, they adopted metal tools, grain crops, livestock, the violin and guitar, fruit trees and their own version of Catholicism.
Their most common food dishes are based on corn and flavored with an assortment of fruits, beans, squash, seeds, chilis and herbs. Meat makes up about only 5% of their diet, and is eaten mainly at communal gatherings. These corn beer gatherings are planned for special times of community work projects, curing festivals, inter-pueblo races, and religious ceremonies. Sometimes food accompanies the tesquino (corn beer).
These people are noted for their long distance endurance running. Since the time they are able to walk, they are running up and down steep mountainsides on rocky paths. In the 1993 Leadville (CO) Trail 100 ultramarathon, the first, second and fifth place winners were Tarahumaras. Victoriano Churro, 55, won the race in 20 hours, 2 minutes, 33 seconds. Most of the terrain is over 10,000 ft. elevation and twice crosses Hope Pass at 12,600 ft. elevation. The three did it their own way by discarding the fancy running shoes they had been given at the aid station 13 ½ miles into the race, and putting on the sandals from the tires they had picked up at the Leadville junkyard. The Tarahumara heart rate and blood pressure tend to average 20% below ours. They have been known in the past to run a deer to exhaustion. Then they shoot it with an arrow and take it home.
The Tarahumaras are noted for particular crafts. Their double woven baskets of all shapes and sizes are from Apache Pine needles, or the beargrass or yucca. Their woven blankets are from wool, and their belts and purses from wool or acrylic yarn. They carve animals and dolls from pine bark and make violins by hand, which they play for their ceremonies.
Their religion is a blend of Spanish Catholicism and indigenous beliefs and rituals. For the Christianized Tarahumaras, their religious center is the closest mission church. Their principal religious holy days are around Christmas and Holy Week (the week before Easter). Preparation for Holy Week begins at least a month before as dramas are enacted all during the week and everyone has a part to play in the dramas, or the cleaning, decorating and repairing of the church and yard.
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