Pottery, Baskets, Drums and Other Handmade Crafts
The Tarahumara Indians live in the remote regions of the Sierra Madre mountains in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. They are northern Mexico’s largest indigenous Indian tribes, and are a nomadic people who typically live in several different dwellings during the year, including caves.
They refer to themselves as Rarámuri - translated as "runners", "light footed," "fleet foot," "foot runners" and "those who walk well". Long distance running has become a trademark of the Rarámuri culture. Deer are hunted by chasing it until it falls from exhaustion. They also periodically compete in long-distance kickball races. During these races, called rarajipari, the runners may cover distances from 50 to 100 miles while kicking a baseball-sized wooden ball. The ball is made from oak or any other type of tree root and the object is for the runner to run barefoot controlling the ball until he reaches the finish line which may be 100 miles away. Races can last up to two days.
Some Tarahumara live in caves, others inhabit houses made of stone, planks, and poles, built high in canyons of the Sierra Madres. It is a way of life that has changed little over centuries. Although the Tarahumara are considered one of the few indigenous groups in North America that have been able to preserve their culture mostly unmodified despite more than 350 years of contact with outside populations, the increasing contact with non-Indians has put additional pressure on their way of life. This increasing contact has resulted in a rising trend toward the use of Spanish and away from their native language.
In many communities the Tarahumara Indians have adopted western wear. However, men sometimes wear their traditional clothes and women still always do. Both men and women wear bright-colored print blouses and shirts. Skirts are highly regarded by women, who wear many of them at a time, one on top of the other. Men and women alike wear waistbands or belts. They are knitted using their own designs and patterns and are used to hold up their pants, skirts and zapetas (loincloths).
Tarahumara sandals (akaka) have a light sole and leather straps up to the ankle. At present, they make sandal soles out of worn out tires but it is also common to find barefoot women and children. The koyera, a ribbon used to keep hair in its place, is the most distinctive garment among the Tarahumara people and men, women, and children alike wear it with pride.
In the most-populated communities 64% of the Ramámuri over 15 years of age have no schooling; 26% did not finish elementary school; 43% between the ages of 6 and 14 do not attend school; 57% are illiterate (compared to 6% in the state of Chihuahua). There are not enough school alternatives for Indian culture. Most of the schools lack essential teaching material and furniture.
The future for the Tarahumara is uncertain. The threats to their well being and to their survival are numerous: diseases (including tuberculosis, malaria, dysentery, and consequently malnutrition); the scarcity of good farm land, lack of dependable water supply, the harshness of the climate, the general lack of top soil and the overexploitation of timber.
They receive some help from Government agencies. The Instituto Nacional Indigenista have been in charge of looking after Indians in México. There are, however, many more Indians than this agency can hope to help in any significant way.
Can the Tarahumara continue to exist and lead the lives they want? Many who know them think they might not last more than another 50 years. Others argue that the Tarahumara are genetically strong, tough, resilient people who have maintained their culture largely intact while surviving exploitation, western religion, famines, and diseases for many centuries, and that they probably can continue doing so.
Their exposure to the public at Feria Maestros del Arte will help them in two important ways; (1) It will be an introduction to Feria-goers of their handmade handcrafts thus helping to "spread the word" about the varied and almost unknown work of these Indians, and most importantly (2) the sale of their traditonal folk art and crafts helps them earn enough to stay in their communities and preserve their culture.
The baskets made by the Ramámuri are incredibly durable and unique and are woven from pine needles or sotol reed. Pottery and hand carved wood drums covered with goat skin head have a nice tone and are unique additions to folk art collections.
If you wish to read more about the Tarahumara Indians, I recommend this website as a good source of information http://vacacionesbarrancadelcobre.com/tarahumara.htm. This site also offers tours to the Copper Canyon area of Mexico.