Meeting the Tarahumara of Northwestern Mexico
The Rarámuri or Tarahumara are a Native American people of northwestern Mexico. Originally inhabitants of much of the state of Chihuahua, the Tarahumara retreated to the high mountains and canyons — like the Copper Canyon in the Sierra Madre Occidental — when Spanish explorers arrived in the 16th-century. There are about 120,000 Tarahumara today, many of them still practicing a traditional way of life by living in caves or cliff overhangs and sustaining on a diet of corn and beans.
The Tarahumara call themselves Rarámuri, which means “the one with light feet” in their native tongue. They hold the ability to run up to 270 km straight without stopping, or up to 700 km in just a few days. It’s believed that their widely dispersed settlements and the absence of any transportation have caused the Tarahumara to become the best long-distance runners in the world. Their running shoes are simple handmade sandals, which makes their achievement even greater.
A very important part of Tarahumara lives are tesgüinadas, which are social and religious gatherings such as rain, harvest and curing ceremonies with tesgüino, a fermented drink made from sprouted corn. Because the Tarahumara tend to be a reserved people, tesgüinadas play an important role in finding future partners and socializing with members of other communities.
However, the Tarahumara’s traditional lifestyle and natural environment are being threatened and destroyed by various factors. Gold and silver mining has led to deforestation and water contamination, tourism is bringing modernization and the narco cartels are forcing the Tarahumara to leave their land in order to cultivate marijuana and poppy seed plants.