Tarahumara: Characteristics, Diet, Language, Customs

The tarahumara or raramurisThey are an indigenous community settled in the north of Mexico. Most are concentrated in the highlands of the Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico, others live in the ravines. These indigenous people managed to remain relatively uninfluenced by Mexican culture until recently, mainly due to the harsh conditions of the lands they inhabit and their unwillingness to interact with outsiders.

Many Tarahumara move between the two contrasting climates of the Sierra Madre. The highlands, with a cool climate, provide wood and land for herding sheep, cattle and goats. Wheat and rice are also grown there.

tarahumara people

The tropical climate of the canyons allows the cultivation of fruit trees and tobacco. Many of those who live in the highlands migrate to the ravines to escape the harsh winters and keep their herds safe.

Despite external pressures, the Tarahumara have maintained many of their traditional cultural practices. During the 16th century, Christian missionaries managed to make this ethnic group incorporate various European elements into their lifestyle .


Probably the ancestors of the Tarahumara or Rarámuris came from Asia, approximately twenty thousand years ago. However, the oldest human footprints that have been found in the mountain range (sierra) are the famous Clovis spearheads. These weapons were used during the Pleistocene megafauna and date back 15,000 years.

At the arrival of the conquerors in the 16th century, the Tarahumara or Rarámuris coexisted with the Guazapares, the Chínipas, the Pimas and the Temoris. In that same century, discoveries of copper, gold and silver deposits began in the region. For the exploitation of these mines the Spaniards began to use the labor of these ethnic groups.

Arrival of the Jesuits

From the seventeenth century the Jesuit missionaries began to arrive. They also make use of indigenous labor and build large missions, which began to attract hundreds of indigenous people settled around.

Under the leadership of the missionaries, fields of peas, potatoes, chickpeas, wheat, apples and peaches were established. These plantations were run by the Spanish and, again, the labor was run by the indigenous people.

As the plantations grew, so did the towns around the missions. All these ethnic groups had their different languages ​​and cultural traits; however, the Spanish began to call them Tarahumara alike. This denomination persists to date.

Characteristics of the Tarahumara


At the beginning of the 21st century, the Tarahumara population was approximately 70,000. The territory inhabited by this indigenous ethnic group is a high plateau, cut by deep gorges and ravines.

Scattered settlements

The settlements are scattered. Generally, these are groups of houses called ranchos. Each house has one room and is built of stone or logs. It is common for them to mobilize with the stations.


The climate in these lands is quite cool, but the conditions are not particularly suitable for agriculture. However, the Tarahumara grow corn, beans, squash, and potatoes. These are grown in small bags of soil. They also have goats and cattle.

They added the crops of wheat, chickpea, pea, potato, apple, peach and plum, among others.


As for crafts, the main ones are ceramics, blanket weaving and basketry.

Physical resistance

Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of the Tarahumara is their ability to run great distances without getting tired. In fact, they call themselves rarámuri (the one with light feet).

Furthermore, the Tarahumara have extensive knowledge of the territory they occupy. They can hunt fast animals such as squirrels and deer. In the case of deer, they used to run after them until the animal got tired.

On the other hand, they are good divers. To fish they only jumped into the river and caught the fish with their hands.


Before the colonization of the Spanish, the Tarahumara made their own clothes with the materials they had at hand. Generally, they used the fibers of plants and the skins of wild animals.

Then, in the 17th century, they began to weave with wool. Later, they began acquiring woven cotton fabrics and other imported textiles to make their clothing.

In the 1930s, most Tarahumara clothing was sewn from muslin and other fabrics made elsewhere. However, the sewing was done by the women themselves.

Today, many Tarahumara women continue to do embroidery, especially on blouses, loincloths and bodices. The designs, with commercial embroidery threads, emphasize the forms of life: floral, human and animal. Likewise, they include geometric figures that can represent entities such as the sun and the moon.


Costume Traditional Tarahumara women is a design that dates back to colonial times. They wear wide pleated skirts (sipúchaka), accompanied by baggy blouses (mapáchaka).

At first, they used white cotton to make both the skirt and the blouse. They have progressively introduced strong and bright colors in clothing.

Both garments, the sipúchaka and the mapáchakaThey are reversible: they are sewn in a certain way so that the clothes can be turned over and used on both sides. For the daily, they wear one to five skirts. If it’s cold they use more and if it’s hot they use less. As a sign of elegance, at parties they can wear up to seven skirts.


Men wear shorts (wisiburka) and with a fabric spout sticking out from behind. They accompany their wisiburka with white shirts with pleats and wide sleeves. The breeches are fitted with a woven girdle in bold colors. The hair is attached with a white or colored band calledkoyera.

Regarding footwear, they wear rubber-soled sandals with rim and leather straps (huaraches). As for the women, in their huaraches the leather straps are replaced by decorative ribbons.

Traditions and customs

Walking and running barefoot

Approximately 90% of the population lives in the state of Chihuahua and they occupy an extensive territory that they travel on foot. This practice comes from the belief that the spirit of the ancestors is on earth. Therefore, walking is getting in touch with the ancestors.

Indeed, rarámuri means “the people of swift feet or light feet”. The Tarahumara or Rarámuri Indians are renowned for their physical stamina. Some members of this ethnic group have participated in marathons in Colorado and Los Angeles, and have won in 1993, 1994 and 1997.

In the competitions in which they have not won, they have finished in the positions of honor. Highlight the fact that they prefer to run barefoot or in their traditional sandals than in modern athletic shoes.


ANDThis people bases its philosophy of life on the tradition known as kórima, which It comes from an ancient law that asks all Rrámuris to help each other.

This help includes acceptance into the group as part of the family. Whenever one works under the laws of the kórima, the person giving the aid is paid with food and drink.

Every time a community comes together to help someone, the work ends in music and happy parties. At present the Tarahumara or Rarámuris have learned to live with modern society.

They have taken only some aspects of it, but they retain their beliefs, customs and their language. As a whole, it is considered one of the Mexican ethnic groups that has most conserved its original cultural traits.


Among the different cultural manifestations of the Tarahumara are ceremonial dances. They are dances that are celebrated associated with its agricultural calendar.

For them, dance is the central theme of their social and religious life. According to their beliefs, the dance affirms their land, allows communication with ancestors and is a kind of prayer to their gods. Batari or tesgüino (corn beer) is present in all their dances.

The reasons for their celebrations are varied: cooperative work, healing ceremonies for births, marriages, deaths and harvests. All members of the community participate in these. Generally, the women prepare the food, while the men organize the dances.

Catholic holidays

On the other hand, the Tarahumara carry out celebrations of the Catholic tradition. These include: the local saint, Holy Week, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, December 24 and 25, New Year’s Eve, January 6 and Candlemas Day.

During the healing ceremonies, various rituals are performed. In some places, curing practices are done by using water and herbs in conjunction with the vapors released by glowing stones.


In the same way, the theater is also part of the Tarahumara traditions. The theatrical performances take place within the framework of their parties.

Paintings on the body of the actors abound, with which they try to resemble stripes and spots of tigers, deer and other animals that are part of the work.

Funeral ceremonies

Among their funeral ceremonies is the offering of food to the dead. The belief is that his deceased will need him when they begin their way to heaven.

Community work

Another of the social customs is community work. The Tarahumara are groups very close to each other and are used to communal coexistence. To strengthen these group ties, they help each other to build their adobe houses and prepare the land for planting.    


Members of this ethnic group speak Tarahumara. It is a Uto-Aztec language spoken by some 70,000 people in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. This language is related to Guarijío, which is spoken in the same region.

On the other hand, only about 1% of the speakers of this language can read and write their language. 20% of them can read and write in Spanish.

The Tarahumara language is used in primary schools, local government, and businesses. Also, in some programs on a local radio station they use this language as a form of communication.

However, the term Tarahumara or Rrámuris does not represent a single unified language or dialect. Despite the fact that a Tarahumara language is spoken, under that term there are different ethnic groups with different dialects.  

In the Sierra Tarahumara there are five areas with different dialects. In each one of them a variant of the Tarahumara language is spoken.


Represented by the variants located west of the Barranca de Urique.


The languages ​​of sisoguichi, narárachi, carichí, ocórare, pasigochi and norogachi are spoken.


Represented by the variants of the Guachochi region.

Summit or inter ravine

Represented by the languages ​​located between the Urique and Batopilas ravines.


It covers the variants used to the south of the Barranca de la Sinforosa and to the east of the Tepehuana region.


The Tarahumara or Rrámuris Indians live for the most part in the Sierra Tarahumara area of ​​the Sierra Madre Occidental (Chihuahua). There are also groups in Ciudad Juárez, Baja California, Coahuila, Durango, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Tamaulipas.

In the Sierra Tarahumara they occupy an area of ​​almost 600 km from north to south and around 250 km from east to west. This land has numerous sources of rivers, large and small streams with rapids and waterfalls.

This entire region is divided into high Tarahumara, with mountains and evergreen forests; and low Tarahumara, with ravines and valleys that go from temperate to hot. Temperatures range from -10 ° C in winter to up to 40 ° C in summer.   


This culture has largely accepted Catholicism. Baptized Tarahumara are known as “pay me.” Those who reject baptism and maintain their ancestral beliefs are called “Gentiles.” The former live in relatively large communities around the churches, while the Gentiles live in scattered ranches.

However, their religion is a mixture of elements that predate Jesuit evangelization and elements that they have borrowed from the Catholic religion.

Pre-Columbian gods

From their pre-Columbian roots, they worship two main gods. One of them is Támuje Onorá or Onóruame, whom they call “Our Father” and associate him with the Sun. They also worship Tamujé Yerá or Iyerúame (“Our Mother”), associated with the Moon and the Virgin Mary.

In general, they still retain beliefs inherited from their ancestors. The members of the town gather on Sundays in the church to hear the “prayer of the mestrdi.” Most of the time, this sermon is delivered in the same language. Catholic priests are sometimes invited to celebrate a Catholic mass and impart the sacrament of baptism.


The Tarahumara practice a subsistence economy. They live on their crops, especially corn, and they also raise and care for livestock.

In addition, hunting, fishing and gathering are their alternative means of subsistence. They complement their economy with the sale of handicrafts to tourists.

A minority resort to wage employment in the nearest sawmills or population centers. Most use an ancestral barter system to exchange products for family consumption.


One of the staples of the Tarahumara is chia seeds mixed with water and a touch of lime juice. This mix results in an energizing drink called iskiate.

In addition, one of its most important activities is the cultivation of corn. This is consumed in the form of tortillas, tamales, atole or corn porridge. With this cereal they also prepare a beer calledtesgüino who drink at communal parties.

In recent times, the diet of this ethnic group has changed. Formerly, their diet was balanced. They consumed regional fruits and vegetables and hunted wild animals. At present, industrialized products in your diet do not guarantee that you get the necessary nutritional ingredients.


  1. Painted Curtain, AP (2004). Tarahumara. Mexico: UNDP.
  2. Chapela, L. (2006). Window to my community. Cultural Booklet: the Rrámuri people. Mexico DF: CGEIB-SEP
  3. National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples. Government of Mexico. (2017, August 21). The music in the Sierra Tarahumara, the voice that runs through mountains, plateaus and ravines. Taken from gob.mx.
  4. Customs and traditions. (s / f). Customs and Traditions of the Tarahumara. Taken from customsytradiciones.com.
  5. National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples. Government of Mexico. (2017, April 19). Ethnography of the Tarahumara (Rrámuri) people. Taken from gob.mx.

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