Despite cartels and climate change, the Rarámuri carry on the tradition

The drum is heard in the distance like a war cry. It’s a thrilling and cutting rhythm in the middle of an otherwise calm scene.

A few gusts of wind blow swirling sand around a large, somewhat empty courtyard. This area soon filled with bright colors – women and girls in elaborate ruffled patterned dresses. The drum intensifies.

The court soon reveals the drummers, men and boys moving in rapid procession. The heads in the front put bandanas around the head and a bow and arrow adorned with raccoon skins. Behind them are young men clad in hoodies and sunglasses with handkerchiefs around their faces.

Some of them carry finely painted swords. Their expressions are stoic and focused. The procession stops just outside the church as groups of brightly dressed women quickly gather inside a striking church, a misión filled with finely crafted murals.

Prayers are said, then as soon as they enter, the group leaves the church. The drum picks up speed and intensifies once more, as the procession of men and women again pours into the village, this time with wooden statues of Jesus and Mary thrown onto the shoulders of the pack. in front of. Jesus is dressed in a flannel shirt with a baseball cap inside out, much like many millennials in town.

Women and girls gather at church during the celebrations to say prayers.

This is a typical scene of Santa Semana or Easter Holy Week, in Cusárare, near the rugged Copper Canyon in Chihuahua.

Cusárare is one of the many Tarahumara or Rarámuri villages that celebrate the period of religious holidays throughout Mexico. The celebrations combine traditional cultural practices, pre-Hispanic traditions and Catholicism.

“It is one of the most important festivals for the indigenous peoples of Chihuahua,” says Jaime Aventura, Rarámuri reporter for the state government and tourist guide. Holy Week in the mountains of northern Mexico is a sight to behold. Outside the famous Copper Canyon is this network of vibrant Indigenous communities that celebrate Easter like nowhere else.

Rarámuri means “runners on foot”. This group is best known for being endurance runners, having won ultramarathons wearing only sandals made of tires. They are also known to maintain their traditions, identity and customs. The group is insular with some members still living isolated in caves in the northern mountains.

According to local anthropologist Guillermo Ortiz, “their population is around 75,000 people in the mountains. That’s over 100,000, including those who have moved to cities. “

In recent years, an increasing number of the population has moved to urban areas like Creel to find work there due to the impacts of climate change on their agricultural capacities or due to violent drug trafficking. Working for the cartels was sometimes necessary to survive.

Men will prepare for the celebrations by marking their skin with speckled white spots.  It means Earth.
Men will prepare for the celebrations by marking their skin with speckled white spots. It means Earth.

During Holy Week, the Tarahumara will dance from dawn to dusk to the rhythm of the drum, which they will play exhaustively without rest. The dances signify a clash between good and evil.

With each step they believe they are weakening the devil and thanking God. There are references to the death, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Here Judas is burnt.

Santa Semana is a time for the group to be close to God.

Distance plays a role in how traditions are maintained.

“The customs of each community have changed according to their remoteness,” explains Aventura. “Places further away from metis regions keep more old traditions alive, compared to communities close to population centers which fall under greater influence of the traditional Catholic Church.

Some of the more remote mountain villages have closed their doors completely this year to outside visitors due to the pandemic.

Moving on to the seemingly eternal rhythm.
Moving on to the seemingly eternal rhythm.

At nearly 75 km, a similar but different scene unfolds. Various communities around Norogachi travel from the depths of the Sierra Madre Mountains for a great collective celebration of Santa Semana. The men here dress in traditional costumes – a tagora, or a long white fabric tied at the waist that is subtly patterned around the edges, revealing only light coverage of the legs.

the tagora ties with a long ribbon, a Kovera they wear around their head.

At the start of Easter weekend, participating males will prepare for the celebrations by marking their skin with white speckled spots. It means Earth. In Norogachi, a group begins to dance rhythmically.

This same group launches the procession with various members of the village. As the day progresses, different groups join in the march until hundreds of people have invaded the town square.

The procession scene is vibrant and full of various characters, dancers, drummers, flautists and captains with flags. The front of the line features a woman from the village carrying a large banner of Jesus, a man wearing a large conical hat resembling a piñata, and various metis ladies carrying crosses made of palm branches and statues of Mary and Jesus. The rest of the village, the women, follow the dancers and drummers through colorful streams.

The procession walks through the city several times with more and more members joining. Some men start collecting firewood for big bonfires. The evenings are cold and the fire is needed to keep dancing and drumming.

A wrestling match where the chamucos, representing the righteous, are opposed to the morocos, the demons.
A wrestling match where the chamucos, representing the righteous, are opposed to morocco, the demons.

And the dancing is endless. He enters the night and the days that follow. At night, the dancers look zoned, but their bodies move relentlessly through the endless rhythm. They basically danced in a trance. Families at home will cook continuously, baking hundreds of corn tortillas to ensure the dancers are fed.

Their main source of strength comes in the form of a cigarette or a can of Tecate beer. According to the villagers of Cusárare, “the beer gives energy to the participants” and “more than one kick to keep dancing”.

Villagers also drink jugs of homemade corn beer called tesgüino.

As the sunrise envelops the valley, the dancers retreat for a brief rest. The yard is dotted with still asleep visiting community groups, empty Tecate cans and embers left over from the previous night’s bonfires. Outside visitors, mainly the media and a few domestic tourists, congregate at the Hostal de Elba, located in the center of town.

Later that morning in Cusárare, the same courtyard at first seems empty, but the drums are more intense than ever.

The doors this time of the misión are closed. Similar to the day before, the yard is finally starting to fill with the same brightly dressed women. They gradually move up a hill overlooking an acre of farmland as the procession of threshers make their way through this field.

Rarámuri celebrations combine traditional cultural practices, pre-Hispanic traditions and Catholicism.
Rarámuri celebrations combine traditional cultural practices, pre-Hispanic traditions and Catholicism.

It’s time for the penultimate event of the Santa Semana celebrations: the lucha, or the ultimate struggle. This is a reversal – a symbolic demonstration of good versus evil, with evil being expelled.

In the most traditional celebration, the villages would be divided into groups – chamucos, representing the righteouss, and morocco, the demons.

For 10 minutes, the villagers hug their backs and wrestle as an excited crowd cheers and dominates. The scene is chaotic – several games underway, bodies stumbling succumbing to the pressure of the weight and limbs and legs thrown on the sand.

Retrieving directions ……

Dust is constantly being thrown into the air and the scene gradually becomes blurred. Some matches seem friendly and full of laughter; others settle or create new accounts.

Once again, as quickly as the prayers began and ended, so did the fight. The villagers gradually come out of the fields and come back running in front of the main square of the church to engage in lively discussions. After days of dancing and processions, there is no sign of fatigue on anyone’s face.

Men and boys rush to the drum. They walk around the city for one last show, a testament to their most famous religious celebrations, resilience, and close ties to their culture.

It’s a wonderful end to another spiritual year, and they can finally rest.

Mexico News Daily


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About Keith Johnson

Keith Johnson

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