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Tarahumara: persistence at the margins

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Understanding the topography, climate, and biota of Tarahumara territory.
  3. The animals found in the Tarahumara territory.
  4. The overall climate.
  5. The Tarahumara who survive today.
  6. The religion of the Tarahumara of today.
  7. The biggest changes to Tarahumara culture.
  8. Innate characteristics of Tarahumara culture.

The Tarahumara are a simple, content, people who live in one of the most rugged places on Earth. They live in Sierra Madre Occidental of Southwestern Chihuahua. The area is often referred to as the Sierra Tarahumara. It contains the tallest waterfall in the hemisphere and canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. The Tarahumaras name for them is Raramuri which literally means fleet foot. It refers to their ability to run ceaselessly in the rugged terrain. Today many Tarahumara live modern or near modern lifestyles in or around Mexican cities. Most, however, retain indigenous lifestyle practicing dry farming with hunting and gathering. Those are the Tarahumara who will be the focus of this paper. They are one of the most culturally intact indigenous groups in Mexico. Examining the Tarahumara culture from contact till now, along with the history of that contact, helps explain how their culture has been so persistent.

[...] The dates for these periods are tentatively at 1 AD AD, and 1300 AD (Pennington 12). Evidence shows that Tarahumara beliefs and lifestyles have not changed considerably since contact. It was seen earlier that Catholicism had little effect in altering Tarahumara beliefs and was merely grafted onto indigenous beliefs. Their simple traditional beliefs in which spirits are responsible for changes in health and weather probably have origins long before contact. Crystals believed to be curing artifacts were found in cave- dweller sites (Bennett 384). [...]


[...] Even sheep, which are highly prized for wool and are better adapted to the cold than goats, are highly out-numbered by goats because of their manure producing capabilities (Zingg 9). The Tarahumara still manufacture most of their possessions. The women are expert basket weavers and very good pot makers, but the results are always very utilitarian. The women also spin and weave the sheep's wool producing clothes and blankets. Tarahumara men build dwellings, corrals, and granaries from stone, wood, or a combination of the two. [...]


[...] In 1767 the King ordered removal of Jesuit missionaries from Mexico. Franciscans would replace them, but Catholic presence would never achieve its former level. No one was left to protect the Tarahumara from abuses of land grabbing and repartimiento. Following Mexican Independence, the 1825 Law of Colonization led to the annexation of much more of the Tarahumaras best land (Fontana 15). As result the Tarahumara retreated further southwest; to the land of the highest peaks and the steepest canyons. Not to say that all Tarahumara retreated. [...]

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