Introduction / History The indigenous people group of northern Mexico called Tarahumaras or Rarámuri, as they call themselves, is the most primitive tribal group in Mexico. The people group is divided into five language groups: the Alta or Central Tarahumara, the Baja Tarahumara, Bocoyna or Northern Tarahumara, Southeastern Tarahumara and Southwestern Tarahumara. It is estimated that there are 120,000 Tarahumara speakers. 45,000 of them being Central Tarahumara. Many indigenous people identify themselves as Mestizos when a census is taken, so these number could even be more.
Where are they located? The Tarahumara people are located in the south western corner of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. The Central Tarahumaras live between the tourist town Creel and Guachochi the town where most government departments that are responsible for the indigenous people are based. To mark the location of the Central Tarahumara people group between major towns, we have Creel in the north, Guachochi in the south, Nonoava to the east and Baptoilas to the west. You can access the area from the capital of Chihuahua through two routes. You can either go through Parral and then Guachochi or you can go through Cuauhtémoc and then Creel.
Many Tarahumaras also live in major cities and in agriculture areas. The apple picking season of August and September can bring up to 35,000 Tarahumaras to the Cuauhtémoc area. There is also a seasonal population around Hermosillo, Sonora, Samalayuca, Chihuahua, Los Mochis, Sinaloa and around Camargo, Chihuahua. Major cities that have a significant Tarahumara population are Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua, Cd. Juarez, Parral, and some others.
What are their lives like? In years gone by, the life of the traditional Tarahumara was very primitive albeit very complex. They herded goats and planted corn and beans for food and also for a little income to buy sugar and coffee. They lived in make shift houses made out of boards and blankets. Others lived in caves.
The things that concerned them was not their housing nor their clothing. They were and still are trying to keep up good social relationships that involves a very complex tesgüino (homemade corn beer) network. Drinking a homemade beer from corn is the center of their life. They are driven by many fears, especially curses and spells from people that are consider witchdoctors.
Today the Tarahumaras are living in transition. Their lives are uncertain and unstable. Government handouts of cash, food and blankets that should alleviate poverty are often exchanged for alcohol and the drinking goes on. The money that some earn from helping raise drugs locally and going out to Cuauhtémoc and other areas working in apple orchards and vegetable fields is often managed very poorly. Since money was not a part of traditional Tarahumara values many now have a hard time learning how to manage it.
Going out to work, the Mexican public school system, and the stories told on the local radio from Guachochi has really changed the desires of the young people. Respect for parents is very poor, the ancient fear based control over children is losing out because it was strictly animistic and children learning in school quit believing in it.
Today Tarahumaras live in many different ways. There are only a few who live in caves still. Most live in adobe huts covered with a tin metal roof that was given to them from the government. Some are gathering in Ejido centers and starting to live in small towns like Samachique and La Laguna. Many are leaving their rural mountainous setting and either live isolated on farms and ranches all over the state or they settle in slum-like settings in the big cities. Recently the government has built houses and given them to the Tarahumaras both in rural and urban settings. The houses given to them usually do not improve their self-esteem and may actually cause more problems in this transition time.
What are their beliefs? Because I have my information from the Tarahumara people themselves, some of these statements will disagree with most, if not all, books written on the Tarahumaras. This may be because the anthologist that studied the Tarahumaras mainly worked through Mexicans translating for them. It is not uncommon for Mexicans as they hear the Tarahumaras talk about their religion to make false assumptions because of influences brought forth by the Jesuit Missionaries.
The Tarahumaras believe in only one God called "Onoruami." He is the creator of the universe. The Tarahumaras have no idols that they worship. Besides fearing God they also fear all kinds of plants, animals and rocks, weather, and other people. Ceremonies to appease Onoruami are port of their everyday life. The only original ritual they still keep is called Yumari. Other rituals or fiestas that they observe revolve around important Catholic saints. These are very syncretized festivals but none of them is as important as Yumari and the many different curing rituals that are done at home. In many communities they have a ritual of beating their drums every day up to the time of the spring equinox. The beating of the drums is to give Onoruami strength so that he will keep the Sun shining. If they will not keep doing it Onoruami will become angry and he will send darkness over all Tarahumaras and they will starve to death because no green plants will grow; or wild animals will eat them. This ritual is now mixed with a dramatizing of the crucifixion taught to them by the early Jesuit priests. So this ritual is now a mixture of ancient practices with the Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebration of the Catholic Church. The Tarahumaras participate in the catholic celebrations very halfheartedly but their own rituals like Yumari and others like it are done with all their heart.
What are their needs? The Tarahumaras have many physical needs. They need almost everything. Many villages lack clean water, many families need better meals served, their housing is often very inadequate and there is very little employment in the Sierra Tarahumara. Basic health care and educational facilities are lacking or inadequate in many areas.
Relationally they need justice in their dealings with the Mestizo population living among them. The need of forgiveness among brothers, love between husbands and wives, commitment in marriages, obedience in children and many more similar needs.
Many also have psychological needs in dealing with the effects of having been physically and sexually abused by Mestizos and family members. This need, unfortunately, is vast.
The truth just is that if the Good News that the soul can become free through faith in Jesus Christ is not first shared and received, any efforts to meet their other needs is almost useless. One of these things is the deep bondage in the tesgüino network.
Many children suffer the effects of starvation, including death, while their parents eat freely at festivals. The children often do not get food because their parents are drunk days in a row. Older people freeze to death drinking far away from their homes when in their homes they have an overabundance of blankets given to them by the government or other organizations. They die because they were too drunk to walk home not for lack of blankets. Houses and water systems are broken down because there was not enough courage to repair them or because they feel if the government put this water system here, they need to come and fix it themselves.
Yes, the real need is experiencing the love of Christ through sincere brothers and sisters that care and share the good news of salvation with them.
Prayer Points * Pray for more Christian workers prepared to work cross-culturally with the Tarahumara people in their own language.
* Pray that God will open up the hearts of the Tarahumara people to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.
* Pray for adequate translations of the scriptures into the different Tarahumara dialects to be completed soon.
* Pray for God to help existing missionary outreaches to be able to develop a radio outreach to the Tarahumara people.
* Pray for strong indigenous leadership to arise within the local Tarahumara churches.
* Pray for more teaching, training and discipleship materials to be available to the Tarahumara people in their own language.
* Pray for God to use this transition time in the Tarahumara world to draw them to Himself.
* Pray for creativity in reaching the Tarahumara youth affectively before they're drawn away by the world, the flesh and the devil.
* Pray for God's grace to rain down upon the Tarahumara people in a way that will bring great honor and glory to His name.