Manataka® American Indian Council






The Tarahumara Indians


Dedicated to Manataka member Feliciano Daniel Benitez, Tarahumara and Deńe



The Tarahumara or Raramuri, as they call themselves, inhabit the Copper Canyon, as it is known in the U.S., or the Sierra Tarahumara in northwest Mexico. The actual name Tarahumara was what the first Spanish called these Native American people.

The Spanish originally encountered the Tarahumara throughout Chihuahua upon arrival in the 1500's, but as the Spanish encroached on their civilization the shy and private Tarahumara retreated for the nearly inaccessible canyons of the Sierra Tarahumara. Only the Jesuit missionaries followed at first and with only scattered success.


After mineral wealth was discovered in the mountains, many areas where Tarahumara Indians lived became desirable lands to the miners & mining companies forcing the Tarahumara once again to head farther into the remote canyons. Today, the Tarahumara are Mexico's second largest native Indian group with between 50,000 & 70,000 people.


Today the Tarahumara 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 the past few years.


Corn is the main staple along with beans. Potatoes, and apples can also be found. Some Tarahumara raise domesticated animals such as goats and cattle. Fish, small game & herbs (a Tarahumara speciality) 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 of cloth usually red are worn upon the head. Sandals or huaraches are the footwear of choice.


Running is what the Tarahumara may be most legendary for in the world. Relief and various organizations have entered Tarahumara runners into 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 the 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 race to finish before the other teams. The races can last days. The Tarahumara are very religious and desire their privacy and respect if you 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 are also 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 passed out in some cases.


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


Athletic prowess

The Tarahumaras' word for themselves, Raramuri, means "runners on foot" in their native tongue, according to some early ethnographers like Norwegian Carl Lumholtz, though this interpretation has not been fully agreed upon. With widely dispersed settlements, these people developed a tradition of long-distance running for intervillage communication and transportation. The long-distance running tradition also has ceremonial and competitive aspects. Often, male runners kick wooden balls as they run in "foot throwing" competitions, and females use a stick and hoop. The foot throwing races are relays where wooden balls are kicked by the runners and relayed to the next runner, while teammates run ahead to the next relay point. These races can last anywhere from a few hours, for a short race, to a couple of days without a break. The Tarahumara also practice persistence hunting, using their ability to run extremely long distances (sometimes as far as 160km) to catch animals such as deer; the animals eventually tire and slow down, and the Tarahumara get close enough to the animal to kill it.


Tarahumara religion

The Tarahumara religion is a mélange of indigenous customs and Roman-Catholic Christianity, characterized by a belief that the afterlife is a mirror image of the mortal world, and that good deeds should be performed not for spiritual reward, but for the improvement of life on earth. In certain traditions (perhaps those more strongly based on pre-Columbian practice), the soul ascends a series of heavens, is reincarnated after each death, and after three lives becomes a moth on Earth which represents the final existence of the soul. When the moth dies, the soul dies completely. However, this end is not regarded as negative or a punishment, but merely as a continuation of the order of life. In Tarahumara cosmology, God has a wife who dwells with him in heaven, along with their sons, the so-called 'sukristo' (from Spanish 'Jesucristo') and their daughters, the 'santi'. These beings have a direct link with the physical world through Catholic iconography, respectively crucifixes and saint's medallions. The Devil's world is not necessarily evil, but is tainted through its ties with the 'Chabochi', or non-Tarahumara. The Devil is said to sometimes collaborate with God to arrange fitting punishments, and can be appeased through sacrifices. In some cases, the Devil can even be persuaded to act as a benevolent entity. The Devil and God are brothers (the Devil is the elder) who jointly created the human race. God, using pure clay, created the Tarahumara, whereas the Devil, mixing white ash with his clay, created the Chabochi. Thus, the Devil is as much protector and life-giver to the Chabochis as God is to the Tarahumara. The Tarahumara share with other Uto-Aztecan tribes a veneration for peyote, the spirits of which are said to be mischievous and capricious.


The truly remarkable thing about them is an ancient religion which has bred into them a moral code so strict that they are unable to tell a lie. Psychologists suggest that over the centuries this value system has actually caused physiological changes in their brain that preclude speaking anything but the truth. Nor can they cheat or fail to aid a fellow tribesman.


Luis G. Verplancken, a Jesuit priest who lived among them for many years and is probably the greatest authority on their history and culture, describes them as loyal to God, to their own traditions and their own culture. Although the majority of them have converted to Christianity, there are still some "gentile" groups who have refused baptism. Those converted have introduced their own ancient concepts into their new religion. God is both Father and Mother. Respect for one another is of prime importance. They give greater value to persons than to things. In their eyes, both the white man and the Mestizo are more pagan than their unbaptized fellow Tarahumara because over the years these two groups have enslaved, lied, cheated and driven them off most of the fertile land they once inhabited.


The Tarahumara are also known for the brewing of tesguino, a corn-based beer brewed in ceramic jars, that features prominently in many Tarahumara religious rituals.



Raramuri Souls: Knowledge and Social Process in Northern Mexico by William L. Merrill


Famous Tarahumaras


Samuel Gamboa Potter, TV producer and actor

Daniel Ponce de León, former WBO world junior featherweight champion

Luis J. Rodriguez, author

Liliana Domínguez, supermodel


See also

Isidro Baldenegro López

List of Spanish words of Indigenous American Indian origin

Multiday races

Tarahumara language



Ivan Ratkaj: Izvješća iz Tarahumare (Reports from Tarahumara), (Zagreb: Artresor, 1998) A modern edition of the first detailed report about the Tarahumara, written by a Croatian missionary in the 17th century. Published in Croatian, German and Latin.

Antonin Artaud: The Peyote Dance, (transl. Helen Weaver; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., 1976) An account of Artaud's visit to the Tarahumara in the mid-1930s and of his peyote experience.

Joseph Wampler: Mexico's 'Grand Canyon': The Region and the Story of the Tarahumara Indians and the F.C. Chihuahua al Pacifico, (Berkeley: Self-Published, 1978. ISBN 0935080031) An account of Wampler's travels on the Chihuahua al Pacifico railroad that winds along the Barranca Del Cobre through Tarahumara lands.

Carl Sofus Lumholtz: Unknown Mexico, New York: Dover Publications, 1987) An account of Lumholtz's visit to the Tarahumara and other tribes in the Sierra Madre in the 1890s.

Jeff Biggers: In the Sierra Madre, (University of Illinois Press, 2006) An account of Biggers's sojourn among the Tarahumara in the late 1990s.

Cynthia Gorney: "A people apart", National Geographic Magazine November 2008


External links

(Spanish) Tarahumara Celebration of Easter in Norogachi.

Radio Tarahumara: Tarahumara Internet Radio featuring the world's largest collection of Tarahumara music and spoken word audio

Puro Chihuahua

Tesguino and the Tarahumara

Tarahumara Images by Kit Hedman WBGU-PBS local production with Romayne Wheeler in efforts to aid the Tarahumara Indians.

Raramuri Tale Short film about a Tarahumara child, filmed in the Copper Canyon.

The Men Who Live Forever Men's Health article on the Tarahumara's athletic prowess


Retrieved from ""




EMAIL          HOME          INDEX          TRADING POST