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About The Tarahumara Indians

The Tarahumara Indians, or Rarmuri, The Runners as they call themselves, are one of North America’s last surviving indigenous tribes.  And, they are said to be the least touched by civilization. They number around 50,000 and still inhabit the same region they have for centuries — the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental of Northern Mexico, also referred to as the Copper Canyon.

There is no recorded history of the Tarahumaras prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century. So, no one knows how long the Tarahumaras have lived in the Copper Canyon region. Yet, archeologists have found evidence of humans living in the area three thousand years ago.

Many of the Tarahumaras still dress in traditional styles. The women and their daughters wear brightly colored multiple skirts, full-sleeved blouses, a headband or bandana and a multicolored shawl for carrying a child or other object on their backs. A few men still wear a breechcloth held together by a wool girdle wrapped around the waist, a cloth headband and a loose cotton shirt.

The Tarahumaras live in caves, huts or small cabins, primarily between 7,000 and 9,000 feet elevation. Yet, a few live closer to the canyon floor. The climate varies from arid to tropical and the extremely rugged terrain is a mixture of mesas, valleys and canyon walls. Running up and down the steep canyons is an important part of Tarahumara culture, not only as a means of transportation and communication, but also as a sport between villages. Consequently, the Tarahumaras are world renown for their endurance.

For over seven years the region has suffered a severe draught. The Tarahumaras are struggling to survive. Twenty percent of the Tarahumara population dies annually from disease and starvation.

The devastating draught has made the Tarahumara's traditional subsistence farming much less viable. The sale of traditional arts and crafts enables them to earn an income, while remaining in their communities and preserving their culture. The Tarahumara art generally breaks down into five major categories: basketry, pottery, weaving, wood working and sewing and embroidery. In many instances a portion of the proceeds from the sale of crafts goes back to the Tarahumara community to fund such projects as the children’s hospital, the food distribution project and local crafts collectives. This process not only support the development of much needed community services, it also provides the Tarahumara with a sense of autonomy and pride in their accomplishments.