By Mark S. McGrew
They are said to be the most primitive tribe above the equator.
I’m not so sure about that.
I have read many so called “expert’s” findings on the Tarahumara and there are few that are accurate. Scientists today exist in a virtual reality world of their own making with little if any facts to back them up. They puff out one hair brained theory after another just to get free Grant money and their names in the News.
I have been to the Sierra Madre del Norte in Mexico possibly fifty times or more. I have stayed sometimes for several days and a few times for a month or more. What I will say here is from actual experience.
The Tarahumara Indians of the Sierra Madre are a separate nation, inside Mexico. They have never signed a Peace Treaty with Mexico. This region of the Sierra is theirs and this is why they call it the Sierra Tarahumara.
Their world is approximately 500 miles by 300 miles, from sea level to over 8,000 feet. There are five canyons, each deeper and wider than the Grand Canyon in the USA. Thousands of smaller canyons weave through the Tarahumara nation making travel by car impossible, except for a few, very rough, dirt roads.
The Tarahumara people call themselves Raramuri and we are told that the word means “Runner”. I don’t know if that is true and many of the Raramuri don’t know if it is true. I have never gotten an answer from a Raramuri as to what Raramuri means. Maybe they don’t know any more than any American knows what America means or where the word came from.
But, they do run. They can run day and night non-stop. They can chase a deer to death, out distance any horse and run down a rabbit for dinner with no more effort than for us to drive to the nearest restaurant.
The young men, in their early teens play a game. Two groups of five men each, have a ball made of wood a little bigger than the ball used by us to play soft ball. They kick the ball to start the game and keep kicking the ball, up and down trails in the canyons, for five days in a journey of near 250 miles. They do not touch it with their hands and they do not stop to eat or drink or sleep or for any other reason. They stay constantly in motion for the five day race. When they return, their feet are cut and bloody and some may be crippled for life.
Another “game” they play is to determine whether their next spring crops succeed or fail. One man is painted white, to signify the white devil Spaniards who enslaved and murdered them for hundreds of years. The white devil pairs off with a Tarahumara standing face to face, and they lock arms and try to off balance one another. The first man to hit the ground loses. If it is the white devil, they will have a good season. If the white devil throws the Tarahumara to the ground, their crops will fail. And many do take this game very seriously as they believe that their lives, every minute and every action is in the hands of the spirits.
The spirits determine everything. So much so, that when a man is bitten by a rattlesnake, it is only because he must have angered the spirits. He will live or he will die from that bite only at the will of the spirits he has angered.
He wears goat skin leather sandals, with rawhide strips laced above the ankle bone.
When he walks through water and later the rawhide dries and shrinks and cuts into his flesh, it is because the sprits have been angered. Gouges a quarter to a half inch deep in his ankles is not unusual, because loosening the straps is not the solution. Pleasing the spirits is.
The most primitive live in caves. Others live in log cabins. The more modern ones live in houses and drive pickup trucks. As in all cultures there are various levels of development.
I have spent the night in log cabins, with no mud to chink the logs to keep the wind and rain and snow out. When the wind is blowing freezing air, it is because the spirits are angry and it is useless to try to defeat them by sealing the walls. They accept their fate.
They will, year after year, plant their crops near a river that floods every year. Maybe many years or centuries ago, it did not flood, but it has flooded every year in their lifetime and they still plant, hoping the spirits will be generous to them this year.
The young ladies make baskets of all sorts, small and large from river grass. The craftsmanship is excellent. Each and every sized basket has a specific purpose.
Raramuri are an amazing people. They marry when they are in their early teens, sometimes at eleven or twelve years old, when they know the ways of the Sierra and have proven themselves to be mature and adult. Normally, their lives are short with only 50 to 60 years to experience the life that God gave them. In America, in revolutionary times, life was short and brutal also and our people married at a young age and graduated from universities in their young teens. Perpetuation of the species is not a crime in any culture.
Their children are raised to be respectful and obedient. Obedient to their parents, to their friends, their elders, to the white man’s Catholic God, to their spirits and to their Gods. Many researchers have said they do not lie. They just do not have that little kernel in their brains that allow them to lie. But that is a fallacy. They can lie and they do.
It is said that they are peaceful, that they do not commit violence, that they can’t. This is another fallacy. They can. They have the ability and the desire at times and they do. They commit murder at times. But it is so rare and the Tarahumara live such an existence of freedom that the Mexican government rarely gives more than a seven year sentence to them. They live in such an open vastness of natural splendor that to be kept inside for seven years is very near a death sentence for them.
I have never known of or ever heard of a Tarahumara who lied for his own profit. Only to protect his lands, his family or his people. If you were to ask one of them to take you to a secret place, he will say there is none. If you ask him to show you where you can find gold or silver, he will say there is none. If you are two miles away from the Lost Cathedral in the small village of Satevo, he will tell you it is lost and no one knows where it is. Yes, they will lie, but I have never seen one to lie with the purpose to cause another person any harm. And, quite the opposite, they will do anything in their power to help a person in need.
They make a corn mash for an intoxicating beverage. It is like a more liquid creamed corn texture. An eight once glass can give you a bit of a weakening of the balance. And I can honestly say that getting drunk with a bunch of Indians in the woods is a lot safer and more enjoyable than drinking at a yuppy bar, a jock bar, a sports bar or the local night club.
Their physical abilities are legendary. They see so well in the dark, that I have been visited by Tarahumara at night because, from two miles away, “We saw you glowing and thought you needed help.” Seeing small objects at great distances has made me wonder if they can switch to “telescopic vision”. They can hear sounds that we can’t. They find water ten feet away from where you or I would die of thirst. They weigh 130 pounds and can carry a sack of beans weighing 100 pounds for 100 miles. And of course they take a rest now and then. Wouldn’t you?
One of many times, I was at the bottom of a canyon poking around. This time I was almost out of water. I saw a Tarahumara coming down the trail and stood up to greet him. He saw an obstruction, blocking the trail and a white devil at that. He took out his machete and approached me with clear intent to eliminate the obstruction. I held up my hands, apologized, told him I was lost, that I was not an enemy, that I was like him, a creature of God and respected all life and needed help.
He came closer, stopped and studied me from toe to scalp for five minutes or more. He was reading my spirit and I held my hands to my side, palms facing out and waited for him to finish. He put down his machete, said he was thirsty and asked me for water. I handed him my bottle with four ounces left and he took a sip, swished it around and spit it out. Then looking me square in the eye, he poured the rest onto the ground. I got mad.
“What’s the matter with you?! Are you crazy? That’s the only water I have!”
He looked at me like a stern father and told me, “It is mine. You gave it to me.”
I couldn’t argue with that and I laughed and agreed with him. Then we sat down and had a very deep talk of God, differences in Tarahumara and Anglo culture, and life in general. We had a really good time comparing the many idiosyncrasies of both cultures. At one point he asked me if it was true that I had no more water and I told him, ‘Yes. I never lie to the Raramuri. Only to white devils and then only to protect myself or my people.”
He dug into his satchel, pulled out four papayas, six oranges, some lemons and limes and handed them to me. While we were eating the papaya, I commented to him how good they were and asked where had he found them. He didn’t tell me but he did say that when I had been in the Sierra long enough that I would know, “No man goes hungry in our Sierra.”
He could have left me to die. And that is how I met Padre Luis. Seventy-two years old, healthy as a horse, five foot seven inches tall, wiry as a goat and a with very strange sense of humor.
After meeting Padre Luis, a Tarahumara priest, not a Catholic priest, I felt more at ease in the Sierra and more comfortable with the people. I think that he put the word out about me, because the Raramuri were more at ease with me as well and were more inclined to stop by and chat. And I learned more from the many visitors. I learned that they can be sitting within 30 feet of me and not be seen.. They blend in with the surroundings. And they are very quiet in their movements. They have been that close to me many times in the night and in broad daylight for hours without me knowing, until “something” caught my eye. I know they had been with me several hours because they told me what I had been doing all that time. It’s a big joke to them and they like to rub it in whenever they can.
I finally learned to believe the story about the Spanish Conquistadors who had 70 of them trapped on a high mesa. The Spaniards could not climb it, so they decided to wait them out. The Indians were to be punished severely for trying to escape their forced servitude in the silver mines of Batopilas. At night, the Spaniards posted guards and went to sleep. In the morning, they saw footprints of the 70 Tarahumarawho had descended the mesa and fled into the darkness, without waking a soul or alerting a single guard. Legend has it that the Spaniards were scared to death to discover that the footprints were within a few feet of the sleeping bodies and behind the backs of the guards. They knew that they could have had their throats slit while they were sleeping.
We think they are primitive. They think we are insane. We think they are ignorant. They see that we can’t even feed ourselves in the Sierra. We think they are superstitious. They think we worship a psychopathic god. We think they have a difficult life. They think our souls are lost. They make their women walk five feet behind them, to protect them from dangers on the trail. We open doors for ladies, a custom from medieval times to insure that if there are enemies inside, the girl gets her brains clubbed out first. They worship life. We worship money and power. They respect nature and live within it’s means to provide for all people. We rip everything apart in the never ending quest for unnecessary wealth.
So……….who is primitive?
They speak of a “Dark Planet”. A planet that we can’t see, but is close by. All races except the Tarahumara came from there. Only the Raramuri are born of this earth. We are the intruders, the original illegal aliens. Such a planet may exist. It may be what scientists call Planet X, a large planet in deep space discovered in 1972, coming this way. It may be the planet Marduk, that Mr. Zecharia Sitchin has written about in his book “The 12th Planet”, described on his web site at http://www.sitchin.com
The Tarahumara have been here for thousands of years. The trails they have used for centuries, in some places are worn down six feet and more down into the rock.
They used to laugh at me for being so “delicate”. I couldn’t function like they could in the Sierra. My skin, compared to theirs, is like a new born baby. Theirs is like rawhide, calloused and thick. When they tease me, I would laugh back and say, “You think so? Wait until I get you in New York City for a couple of days.” They’d shake their heads, “no,no,no…..”
They can’t survive in our world and we can’t survive in theirs. The modern world has and is stealing their lands, stripping their forests and poisoning their culture with drugs. One of several dedicated “Drug Zones” in Mexico is a part of the Sierra Tarahumara. These Drug Zones are off limits to American law enforcement. Mexico prohibits our government from even flying over them. The drug “lords” are forcing slave labor upon the Tarahumara, no less cruel than the Spanish Conquistadors of four hundred years ago in plundering for gold and silver. Murder and rape of tiny children does occur.
Logging companies are decimating their forests. The forest is life. The forest contains everything they need and use. What the logging companies are doing is no different than an invading army coming to your town and blowing up the supermarkets. Tarahumara have been brutally murdered for trying to stop the logging. They have tried sabotage and they have worked through the legal system and pled their case on deaf ears. The destruction of pristine wilderness, home to many rare exotic plants, trees and endangered animal species is accelerating.
The Tarahumara are a good people. All people should aspire to be more like they are. They do not deserve what is happening to them, yet again by the white devils.
If current activities by drug dealers, logging companies and mining companies are not attacked with brutal efficiency, the Raramuri may became extinct in our lifetime. There are only 50,000 of them. Some are so deep in the canyons, hidden away that they have never seen white people. They do not speak Spanish, only their ancient native Raramuri language.
Raramuri are the original human species on Earth. They are the children of the true God that created all life. Their spirit is undefeatable, but their lives can be terminated by disease and murder.
Read about them. Study them. And find a reason and a way to help them in any way that you can. Give yourself a purpose in life by giving them back their lives.
Author’s Note: A couple of new friends gave me the inspiration to write this short article on the Tarahumara people. I did spend quite a bit of time in the Sierra, being a lost soul, so to speak, at that time of my life. I went in green and had no desire to make friends, just to be alone and lost for a while. What I “discovered” was a fascinating, very intelligent people with a thirst for life that I have seen in very few places in the Anglo world. I recently met Jacques and he suggested that I write something that was respectful rather than hateful as I feel about the criminal illegal aliens in America. Key word here is “criminal”. And Jacques is right, hate is not a good feeling to have and I have no desire to run up against a Frenchman that I have angered.
So, here’s a toast to Jacques! As I said to my Tarahumara friends when I was ready to come back to the real world, I would like to say to Jacques, “Thank you my brother, for giving me life”.
Alberto is the grandson of a Raramuri from the Sierra Tarahumara and would be a second generation American. His Grandfather fought in World War Two for his new country and put his life on the line to gain a new life for his family. I don’t believe in borders and I don’t think any person or nation has a Right to tell human beings where they can or can not live. I ask only that all people respect each other and cause no harm. With that philosophy, there is no reason why we can’t all get along just fine. Alberto and his Grandfather are the proof of that. And Alberto’s Grandfather is the proof that the Raramuri of the Sierra are not the primitive people that some would have us believe. Alberto, gracias para su confianza y su amistad. Yo espero que podemos vivir con paz y tranquilidad hasta nos conocemos en la proxima vida.
Mark S. McGrew can be reached at McGrewMX@aol.com
Several years ago, a prominent Indonesian businessman who now resides in Canada, insisted on meeting me in a back room of one of Jakarta's posh restaurants. An avid reader of mine, he 'had something urgent to tell me', after finding out that our paths were going to be crossing in this destroyed and hopelessly polluted Indonesian capital.