Inhabiting the rugged Sierra Madre of northwestern Mexico, the Tarahumara, or Rarámuri, Indians, 55, 000 strong, today form one of the largest indigenous groups north of Mexico City. Because they have preserved much of their native culture despite 350 years of European contact, the Tarahumara have been the subject of many ethnographies, travelogues, and adventure tales written by North Americans, Europeans, and Mexicans for the past century. Now two more works on these interesting people have recently appeared. One, Rarámuri, is a scholarly edited and well translated series of Spanish colonial documents that pertain to various aspects of indigenous history; the other, Tarahumara, is a beautifully illustrated and felicitously written account of present-day Indian life and landscape. Both are welcome additions to Tarahumariana.
Rarámuri is a product of the Documentary Relations of the Southwest project conducted by the Arizona State Museum, Tucson. Aided by various members of the project, the editors selected fifteen Spanish documents, most of which were written by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries engaged in the evangelization of the Tarahumara during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These documents describe Tarahumara lifeways, mission settlements, the Indian revolts of the late seventeenth century, and the perennial conflict between missionaries and Spanish settlers over the use of Indian labor and usurpation of aboriginal lands. The editors emphasize that the documents were selected from a large number to illustrate some major themes of colonial Tarahumara history and to indicate the richness of the primary sources available for the writing of a definitive culture history of the Tarahumara, a task that remains to be completed.
Tarahumara is a labor of love by two observant travelers from the University of Arizona, one a trained anthropologist, the other a university administrator and expert photographer. Their book is more than the usual run of travelogue; it is a popularly written ethnography of the Tarahumara enhanced by spectacular color and duotone photos of people and places. By word and picture the authors acquaint the reader with Tarahumara houses and settlements, native crops and food, dress and crafts, religious practices and social rituals, including the famous Tarahumara running matches (Rarámuri means foot runner). Equally fascinating is the account of the tesgüinada, or drinking spree, the Indians’ most important social event and bane for the missionary, colonial and modern.
Both books point up the persistence of many native and colonial Tarahumara lifeways. But both are pessimistic about the Tarahumara future. New auto roads and railways built into the area have developed lumbering and tourism. Both developments have accelerated the rate of “modernization among the Indians and lumbering has increased the tempo of forest, wildlife, and soil destruction to the detriment of aboriginal culture. Hopefully the volume on colonial documents will encourage more scholars to undertake work on Tarahumara history. At the same time it is hoped that the popularity of the ethnographic book will not lead to the swarming of more tourists into the Tarahumara country.