During the beginning of Semana Santa, I got to witness the interesting mixture of the Tarahumara’s indigenous spiritual beliefs with the Catholicism that was brought by the Spaniards in the 16th Century. The whole community pours into the courtyard in front of the Mission Style church and prepare for a night-long procession. Men and boys, painted as demons, run around the church, chased by other men and boys armed with spears to drive the demons away.
It’s a sight to see, and it’s nothing I ever expected to see in Mexico. For a few moments, I felt like I was much further away from home than I actually was, and the tribal nature of these rituals seemed outlandishly foreign to me.
This is one of the only traditional Rarámuri men I saw during this entire trip. Not wearing modern clothing, he instead wears hand-made clothing that designates him as a traditional Tarahumara runner. If you look closely, you’ll see his hand-made sandals, constructed out of used truck tire rubber.
Originally inhabitants of much of the state of Chihuahua, the Rarámuri fled into the high sierras and canyons of the Copper Canyon region upon the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century. As a result, the Rarámuri were never conquered, converted, or forcefully integrated; they maintain their own spiritual beliefs, lifestyle, and language (belonging to the Uto-Aztecan family). The area of the Sierra Madre Occidental which they now inhabit is often called the Sierra Tarahumara because of their presence.
It’s estimated that there are between 50,000 and 70,000 Rarámuri (Tarahumara) in existence. Most still practice a traditional lifestyle, inhabiting natural shelters such as caves or cliff overhangs, as well as small cabins of wood or stone. Staple crops are corn and beans, although many of the Rarámuri still practice transhumance, raising cattle, sheep, and goats.
At the end of the day, as the sun begins to settle behind the pine-trees and mountaintops, villagers begin to build fires in their cast-iron stoves for cooking and for warmth. The smell of pine bark blankets the valley, as does a thin haze of smoke. Along the El Chepe railroad line, Tarahumara families start the long walk home; most of them live in small ranch houses several miles outside of town.
The comparison is interesting – most of the women wear the traditional, brightly colored dresses of the Tarahumara, but the men almost all wear modern clothing, as you can see in today’s image. After selling hand-woven bear-grass baskets and colorful shawls in the town square, everybody picks up and heads home. It’s a relatively simple life, but most of the Tarahumara seem very content. Violence is rare among the Tarahumara, and they take pride in boasting little to no sexual violence.
There’s beauty in simplicity, I suppose, and the Tarahumara seem to be an incredibly calm and peaceful people.
Outside of Creel, Mexico, is a curved lake surrounded by pine trees and bear-grass. It’s a bit of a hike from the town center, but worth it. Lake Arareko is one of the most peaceful places in the region. There usually aren’t too many people, and it isn’t overflowing with paddle-boats or kayaks, as one might expect at such a spot in the United States. Along some of the sand and dirt beaches are gatherings of Tarahumara woman, usually sitting on the rocks with toddlers playing in the dirt, weaving baskets to sell to tourists.
This young Tarahumara girl was throwing rocks into the water and amusing herself away from the group, and didn’t seem to mind when I took this photograph of her. Naturally, after taking this shot, she leapt from her perch and asked if I had any pesos. Instead of just giving her the money, I had her pick out her favorite basket (one that her mother had just finished) and I bought it. It sits on my bookshelf to this day, a small circular basket about five inches in diameter. It’s a great place to keep my cuff-links.
Side-note: film isn’t dead. This image was made with my old N80, a camera my parents gave me, using Kodak Portra film.