The Sierra Madre Occidental, that amazing and wonderful set of valleys, rivers, mountains, canyons, impressively high cliffs and a unique flora and fauna in Mesoamerica – also known as Sierra Tarahumara – is the ancient home of a culture that has wisely kept its millenarian traditions alive until today: the Raramuri, “light feet” in reference to their ancestral running tradition.

The Raramuri live on one fourth of the state of Chihuahua, one of the mountain range’s highest points, 1,500 and 2,400 meters over sea level. 90% of the Raramuri population gathers in the municipalities of Bocoyna, Urique, Guachochi, Batopilas, Carichí, Balleza, Guadalupe, Calvo y Nonoava.

Ancestral raramuris were warriors and polytheists, believing in life after death and in good and evil beings. Called “tarahumara” by Jesuit colonizers and preachers, who for a long time attempted to transform their culture to turn them into faithful of the Catholic Church, these amazing residents of the heights achieved to keep almost intact their traditions, values, communitarian and social union to continue the lifestyles of their ancestors over the last 15 thousand years.

Jesuit missionaries first came in contact with the indigenous tribes of the Sierra in 1606, which later settled permanently in 1632, causing uprisings among the indigenous for their rejection of evangelizing projects. The murder of two Spaniards was answered with strong repression and in the 17th and 18th centuries, various troops of Spanish businessmen invaded the region, leading the natives into forced work; as a result, many groups climbed into Chihuahua’s cliffs, out of the reach of the Europeans who ignored how to travel through the rocky land.

After the Spanish Empire was expelled through Mexico’s War of Independence, the Raramuri continued living isolated in the mountain’s heights, helping preserve their culture and developing a very peculiar religious syncretism.

Spiritual guides are called “owirúames”; those in charge of doing evil are known as “sokoruames”. White men are known as chabochi, who they flee arguing they cheat, steal, amass, snatch, invade their lands, take advantage, destroy the forest, don’t share and aren’t fair, opposing all the great values that the Raramuris cherish to their full extent.

Without a doubt, the Tarahumara are still one of the best representatives of America’s first dwellers, living according to their religious beliefs, in complete harmony, fusion and respect for Nature and their surroundings.

Of brightly colored outfits, accessories, celebrations and traditions, these sociality equalitarian people respects all of its members, while keeping a social hierarchy in which everyone contributes their effort for the community’s wellbeing. The tribe’s chief or “governor” is selected by all and respected until his death, in charge of maintaining the union, development and peace among the members and neighboring tribes.

For the Raramuri, divinity is formed by various gods who they worship and offer their dances and prayer, as well as spiritual ceremonies where a shaman guides participants in the intake of peyote for achieving an inner awareness. The sun, moon and stars guide their existence, to which they dedicate their ceremonies in request of good harvests, health and wellbeing of their people.

Tarahumaras – men of winged feet – run. One of the most important traditions and traits of these people is their amazing ability to run. They travel great distances on the paths through the mountains that only they know. The run to communicate with other villages, they run to keep informed, as part of competitions with finish lines hundreds of kilometers away.

The axis of society is the family; generally formed by a few members because they don’t have wide enough spaces of land to harvest enough food for many. Each member is devoted to specific activities in the care and maintenance of their possessions: the house or cave where they live, harvesting the corn on which they base their nutrition, and caring for the animals that provide them with eggs, milk and meat.

Raramuri culture is full of knowledge that has been passed on from generation to generation and the current dwellers of the mountains keep alive in their daily use. This includes the herbs that help them heal, the construction of houses from pine trees and other native trees, the creation of crafts and work tools for home, as well as the genuine colorful outfits and mystical rituals that shape their beliefs, values and traditions.

To visit and get to know these incredible places and their dwellers is an inspiring experience, especially recommended on the wonderful Chepe train. Ancestral people who still live the same way their ancestors did for thousands of years, framed by the impressive landscapes of Sierra Tarahumara and Barrancas del Cobre.

Article Produced by the Editorial Team at Explorando Mexico.
Copyright: Explorando Mexico. All Rights Reserved.
Image: SGK