In the summer of 1993, two of our California Native guides, Doug Stewart and Lynn Reineke, escorted a small group of Indians from the depths of Mexico's Copper Canyon to Leadville, Colorado, where they astounded the world of marathon racing by coming in first, second and fourth place in a 100 mile ultra-marathon race, wearing their native garb and sandals made out of discarded tires.
Who were these strangely-dressed people, who came from obscurity to outpace
hundreds of experienced runners?
They call themselves the Rarámuri, the Runners, and they inhabit
the rugged and remote area of mountains and canyons in Mexico known as
the Barrancas del Cobre or Copper Canyon. They are known to the outside
world as the Tarahumara.
No one knows how long the Tarahumara have lived in their rugged homeland.
Archaeologists have found artifacts of people living in the area three
thousand years ago, but it is not known if they were the ancestors of
the present day Indians.
There is no recorded history of the Tarahumara prior to the coming of
the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. Their first European contact
may have been with Coronado's expedition as it passed through the Sierra
Madres searching for the legendary Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. In
1607 the Jesuit missionary Father Juan Fonte established the first Jesuit
mission in their territory.
During the next one hundred and fifty years, the Jesuits built twenty-nine
missions and introduced the Indians to Catholicism, domestic animals,
the plow and the axe. Their influence came to an abrupt halt in 1767
when the King of Spain expelled their order from the New World. The Franciscans
took over from the Jesuits, but their influence on the Tarahumara was
minimal and the Indians were pretty much left alone until the Jesuits
returned in 1900.
The Tarahumara have traditionally lived in isolated family units and
small settlements. The Spaniards tried to bring them into more concentrated
communities but the strong-willed Tarahumara managed to resist these
efforts, and today a large number still live in small, isolated groups.
During the time of the Jesuits, mineral wealth was discovered in the
region and many Indians were forced to work as slaves in the mines. This
and the encroachment of the Spaniards upon their lands, led to many bloody
revolts throughout the seventeenth century.
Today the Tarahumara number around 50,000. They still inhabit the same
region they have for centuries—the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental
of northern Mexico. They live in caves and small wood or stone cabins
and practice subsistence farming. The majority practice a form of Catholicism
liberally inter-mixed with their traditional beliefs and ceremonies.
Among the peoples of North America, the Tarahumara are considered to
be the most primitive, the least touched by modern civilization. They
are also the most unmixed of any of the Indian tribes of Mexico.
Many of the men and most of the women still dress in their traditional
styles. The ladies wear wide multiple skirts, full sleeved blouses, a
head band or bandana, and a shawl for carrying a child or other objects
on their backs. The little girls dress the same as their mothers and
often carry a little brother or sister on their backs. The men wear a
breech-cloth held together by a wool girdle wrapped around the waist,
a cloth head band, and a loose cotton shirt.
Running up and down the steep canyons is an important part of the Tarahumara
culture, not only as a means of transportation and communication in this
rugged area, but as a sport in which villages compete against each other.
From the time they are small children the Tarahumara take great pride
in their running skills.
In the Rarámuri philosophy, respect for others is of prime importance.
They give greater value to persons than to objects, and business matters
take second place to respect for human beings. On our monthly trips through
Copper Canyon we also learn to respect other people, especially the Rarámuri,
as we meet them, discover their unique culture and perhaps adopt some
of their philosophy into our own lives.
Click Here for information on our Copper Canyon Tours.