Indigenous People’s Day: The Rarámuri Indians

These are the indigenous people of northern Mexico generally known by the Colonial name of Tarahumara. I’m traveling here now, and have wanted more information about them and how to respect their culture. 3 Amigos Tours has provided the following introduction:

The Rarámuri Indians of Copper Canyon, lead gentle lives in a chaotic world. Learn about their culture and history through The 3 Amigos.

The Raramuri (Ra-RA-mu-ree)are a gentle tribe of Indians that have lived in the Upper Sierra for over 10,000 years now.

We shall endeavor to give you some basic information here to help you understand and, hopefully,not misinterpret this culture of gentle and self-sufficient beings.

Tarahumara is not necessarily a correct term

It can be considered a derogatory word. The first mention of the “Tarahumara” term was by a Jesuit missionary named Juan Font in 1608 in a letter as Tarahomaros. Tourism offices all over the world have unfortunately picked up the word ‘Tarahumara’ and now use it to refer to the Raramuri Indians. However, we think it important to let you know that they prefer to call themselves the ‘Rarámuri’ and we like to encourage people to do the same out of respect.

Raramuri Indians

Many Rarámuri are so use to the word “Tarahumara” now that they might even use it themselves. The best way to explain this is by using an analogy with the word “Gringo”. This word is also derogatory in its origin and was once used to describe all people who were not from Mexico and who didn’t understand the culture of the area. It’s meaning was to imply stupidity or ignorance.

This word has certainly evolved over the years to mean mostly “American” now, for reasons unknown, but it was never meant to describe people from any one country. Many people around the world now use this term to refer to themselves, without knowing that the word is not the nicest word to use. The word “Tarahumara” is the same. It is not meant to be derogatory now-a-days either and is used even by many Tourism Departments to describe the Sierra Madre area, as well as many Rarámuri themselves who have grown accustomed to the word, however, it must be noted that it is still incorrect and we want to encourage our visitors to call the indigenous people of the area by their correct name.

Understanding the Rarámuri

The Rarámuri are believed to be the purest and best preserved ethnic group on the entire American continent. Their culture and spiritual values are a result of thousands of years of struggle, which has filled them with an intensity for life and a sense of harmony in human relations and in their relationship with nature, the likes of which our modern society, with all of its technological advancement, has been unable to understand or attain.

Raramuri Indians during Semana Santa

Many of the current Rarámuri traditions are based on their application of what they learned from Jesuit missionaries during 150 years of colonial rule. Expelled from the order in 1776, the Rarámuri reinterpreted Christianity and cast the symbols and rites in their own molds, disregarding that which held no meaning for them and preserving and adapting the rest in accord with their own cultural symbols.

Among the most deeply rooted traditions is that of living in dispersed communities and sowing seasonal crops, especially corn. The corn is essential to life to the Raramuri. There is nothing without it. The corn is harvested to make tesguino, their ceremonial drink of choice. The tesguino is ingested in celebration to bring the rains which grow the corn. The corn grows because the tesguino was used to bring the rains…it is their circle of life.

 

Indian runner feet

The Rarámuri produce an ample selection of handicrafts in various different areas of the Sierra. They are famous for being long distance runners, due to the fact that some of their most important games are the ball race among the men, or Rarajipari, and the game in which the women hurl hoops or rings, known as Rowema. These races are run by teams and cover distances of more than 100 kilometers. The longest race in contemporary memory was one that went on for 750 kilometers.

In keeping with their vision of the cosmos, the Rarámuri consider themselves an integral part of the earth on which they live, of nature, and of the universe. For them, the earth is life itself. They value people more than things and respect for human beings is essential in their culture. Sharing is the basis of their social life and much of their work is done communally. According to their philosophy, God is the Onoruame, both father and mother. The spiritual guides and doctors are the Owuruames, who possess a high degree of authority and influence. For the Rarámuri, the dance is the prayer and it is in this way that they communicate with God.

Indian hands making tortillas

The Rarámuri are the conscience of the Sierra. They are not objects for tourists to observe as they travel through the mountains, but a people that seek to live in accord with it’s own traditions and concepts. Get to know them directly. Respect them and learn about all the positive aspects of their culture, which will surely enrich us all.

Best way to help the Rarámuri:

We must caution those who wish to “help” the Rarámuri, that these people are not in dire need of anything. They are self sufficient, proudly independent and completely capable of taking care of themselves without the interference offered by those who would like to see them progressing in a way that isn’t in line with their own culture or traditions.

If you feel you must help them in some way, please do so with the understanding that you should help them in a way that THEY need, not in the ways that you THINK they need.

By this we mean;

1.) Don’t bring second hand American clothing to them. This only helps to obliterate their own culture. Instead, come to Creel and buy them the beautiful colored cloth that they prefer in 10 meter lengths so that they can sew their own traditional clothing from it. Shoes and socks that they prefer to wear can also be purchased here and used for donations and this will help the economy of Creel as well.

2.) School supplies are lovely but not all Rarámuri attend schools or wish to. There are also HUNDREDS of organizations that visit many of the closest communities yearly to bring them these things. Instead, why not visit a particular area where Rarámuri gather and ask them what they would benefit from most? “Dispensas”, or Care Packages are invaluable to them and you can buy all you need for these in Creel as well.

Matachines Dancing

A great Dispensa will include: Dried beans, dried rice, cornmeal, flour, lard, salt, coffee, tea, sugar and perhaps some cookies for the kids.

3.) Don’t assume that all Rarámuri need or want your help. Instead, go to outlying Rarámuri ejidos rather than the ones near the main towns (these get so much “help” that they can’t seem to remember how to take care of themselves anymore) and ask if you can bring them anything specific or just take Dispensas and cloth for all. The area around large towns have become saturated with “good will workers” and help from abroad. Why not try to find some villages that are so far out that no one is “helping” them? We can offer you suggestions for this if you but ask us.

 

And lastly, please keep in mind that there are very poor Mexicans here as well who would benefit enormously from any help you would like to provide and they would certainly like to see their lives improved in ways that we will all agree with. While some of the Rarámuri do receive a lot of  aid each year, the local poor Mexican families don’t receive any help, with the exception of  a bit from the government every now and then. There is a Rarámuri orphanage in Creel in great need of assistance too. Please ask us for any other information you might need in locating persons or communities in need of a bit of help.

If you’d like to do a private and customized Copper Canyon trip that includes all hotels, train tickets, tours and transfers, please visit our other company website, Amigo Trails. 

Source: The Rarámuri Indians

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