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A PEOPLE APART
The Story of the Tarahumara

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Tarahumara Natives Copper Canyon 

The dignified and reclusive Tarahumara Indians are a tribe who have chosen to live apart from modern western culture. They live primitively, subsisting on corn, beans, and their livestock. In the winter they live in caves, moving into small log cabins in the summer. They are excellent weavers and produce fine wool blankets to provide warmth during the harsh winters of the canyon.

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The Tarahumara like most native American tribes have suffered since the arrival of the conquistadors. Though they were not hit as hard as some other tribes by smallpox and other European diseases their lifespan is, on average, fairly short.

According to the legend of the ancient dwellers of the sierra, the world was created by Rayenari Sun God and Metzaka Moon Goddess. In their honor, in the present times they dance, sacrifice animals and drink "tesguino".

There, where the western Sierra Madre becomes rough and uneven, the Tarahumara who call themselves Raramuri (Light Feet) live. The most important activity among them is growing corn and bean and some raise cattle. Due to the fragility of their economy some look for work in the wood mills.

At present, the Tarahumara consititute the largest indigenous group in the state of Chihuahua. The number varies from 50,000 to 75,000 although is difficult to determine precisely because of the inaccessibility of the mountains, and the deficient communication links.

The Tarahumara are spread in the municipalities of Guerrero, Bocoyna, Ocampo, Uruachi, Chinipas, Guazapares, Urique, Morelos, Batopilas, Guadalupe y Calvo, Balleza, Rosario, Nonoava, San Francisco de Borja and Carichi. The mountainous region is divided in two large regions called Alta and Baja Tarahumara, corresponding the first to the part dominated by the Sierra Madre Occidental and the second to the area west of the same sierra, including the zone of the canyons that forms the warm lands of the state.

The men are svelte, with strong muscles, recognized as the best long distance runners. The women are shorter, with oval faces, black and oblique eyes and straight nose.

The men wear a hairband known as "kowera", huaraches, and loose shirt. The women were a wide skirt and loose blouse, the hair usually covered with a shawl, and a wool waistband known as "pukera". Their language is sweet and with abundance of words referring to customs and their environment, with polite words like: "I greet you, as the dove that warbles, I wish you health and happiness with your loved ones."

Each house has a hearth and in the bowls they make they cook maize and beans that were harvested during the season. Among the Tarahumaras everything belongs to everybody, private property does not exist, so they share food and housing.

They elect a governor a man who distinguishes for his services to others and his intelligence who in turn elect "gobernadorcillos": priests, shamans, and sages. These go all over their correspoding towns preaching the pride of being Raramuri, the customs and morals to uphold; function as judges in problems and are in charge of prayers.

There is always a great deal of reserve between the sexes, especially in the conservative groups. Among the Tarahumara, a man calling at the home of a friend will make his presence known before approaching the door of the house, and if the woman is alone he does not enter but remains at a distance. Unless there is a close relationship, men and women generally talk to one another only when necessary and then at a respectful distance with averted faces.

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