Tarahumara People, Language & Culture
The Story of Andres
Andres is a husband, a father of three, Raramuri. Andres was born of the mountains, rivers and trees of his native Sierra Tarahumara. He has spent his life memorizing the paths, medicinal plants and animals that are all intertwined and significant to his daily life.
The walks he takes on the paths around his home, with his goats and children are a place where he thinks of his roots and of his, the Raramuri, belief that all of nature, his surroundings, are significant, and alive. Andres was raised in a culture that respects everything that has life.
As a father, Andres is teaching his children, two girls and one boy, to respect the life that exists in nature.
Much like any other day, Andres must go out into the Sierra, and gather materials for his home. His family needs a new spoon for cooking. Andres goes to the trees, the perfect tree, to make into a spoon for cooking. He is teaching his young children to make that spoon and helping them understand to respect everything that has life
When he says to them “This spoon, made of the trees of the Sierra Tarahumara, is valuable.” He isn’t speaking of it’s price at the market, he teaches them that the spoon, made of the trees from their home, was made to stir their own beans, not to be sold.
There are many like Andres in the community of the Sierra Tarahumara. Some only see the price to get by selling a spoon made of those trees. This Andres, however, is teaching his children to respect their value. Value that comes from the life in the mountains, the rivers, the paths, and the trees that are their home.
— Story by Chunel Palma
The Sierra Tarahumara or Copper Canyon area is a spectacular system of mountains and canyons located in the southern part of Chihuahua, Mexico approximately 345 miles from the US El Paso/Cd. Juarez Mexico border. It is also an area of rich cultural and biological diversity. Today, 4 native indigenous groups inhabit the mountains and canyons – the Tarahumara, Pima, Warijo and Tepehuanes.
The Spaniards gave the Indians the name Tarahumara, but they call themselves Rarámuri “the people”. They are the largest indigenous group in the region, with a population estimated at about 90,000.
They are one of the last groups in North America who have maintained their language and traditions intact. Part of the reason may be their isolation in small villages where their social organization including a local governing body and customs and rituals, allow them to reproduce their language and culture. They have a strong sense of community where values such as justice, reciprocity and respect towards one another are a common practice.
In their weekly sermons delivered by their traditional authority the importance of “el buen camino” (following the good road) is emphasized.
In addition, the Tarahumara people are known as the best long distance runners in the world. They practice a traditional ball game called rarajipame, which consists of running and throwing a wooden ball with their foot; this can last for more than 15 hours. The women play ariwéta a game where they run throwing a hoop with a stick. Today, Tarahumara runners have competed in marathons all over the world. In 1994, 25 year-old Tarahumara runner Juan Herrera from the indigenous community of Choguita in the Sierra Tarahumara broke the 100-mile Leadville Colorado record winning in a record time of 17 hours and 40 seconds, and held the record for many years.
Many foreigners throughout history have been drawn to the area and have published their work. Carl Lumholtz, Norwegian explorer, came to the Sierra Tarahumara in the late 1800’s and published Unknown Mexico in 1902; a record of five years’ exploration among the tribes of the western Sierra Madre. He says in his book, “Luckily withal the Tarahumare has not yet been wiped out of existence…but it may take a century”. He ends by saying, “(The Tarahumare)…one of those wonderful primitive tribes that were the founders and makers of the history of mankind”. The Tarahumara people continue to exist today. Christopher McDougall, in his bestselling novel Born to Run describes the Tarahumara people by saying, “The Tarahumara are perhaps the healthiest and most serene people on earth, and the greatest runners of all time”.