The Tarahumara Indians
26 February 2015
Tarahumara Indian Children at the Indian Reservation
January 24, 2015
I hate to say it, but I wasn't impressed with Creel. Situated in the state of Chihuahua, amongst the Sierra Madre Occidental, the town just didn't have the charm of some of the other Mexican towns we have visited. Despite the fact it was named a "Pueblos Magicos." Pueblos Magicos was initiated by Mexico's Secretary of Tourism. This title is meant to promote places by offering a "magical experience - by reason of their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance." (Wikipedia) But what it looked like to us, is the government putting a lot of money into a town to live up to it's new label. Presumably to bring in tourists and generate an emerging economy for the local people.
Not that that is a bad thing. It's a good thing. It is just, meanwhile, what we found were run-down buildings on dilapidated streets with lots of wild, starving and crippled dogs and Tarahumara mothers sending their children out to beg from tourists. The children were shivering in the cold with runny noses and dirty clothes. I know there is much poverty here, but using your children to beg? If they wanted pity, it exacted the opposite reaction and the only thing they got from us was not money, but a cup of hot chocolate to warm their insides. We also supported them by buying some of their exquisite hand-woven baskets.
On the other hand, I left my wallet, with many pesos, at a store in Creel. When it was discovered, the two ladies who were working there, ran out of their store, leaving it empty, and each went in a different direction, looking for me to return my wallet. I was so grateful, I hugged the woman and said "Gracious, mucho gracious." So it would be unfair to say our experience in Creel was all negative. It just wasn't as nice as other places.
The good news is the surrounding area of Creel is beautiful and home to many of the 65,000 Tarahumara Indians that live in these mountains. Our guide called the area in which they live, the "reservation." I have heard it described as the San Ignacio Ejido or community-owned land. It is my understanding that the Mexican government has given the Tarahumara Indians this property. We visited this reservation on day four of our trip to Copper Canyon.
The Tarahumara or, the Raramura, as their native language describes them, are known for their ability to run. They have been known to run for hundreds of miles, days on end, barefoot, or in their native sandals. They are nomadic, traveling up the canyon when it is hot below and down the canyon, in the colder months. Some still live in caves alongside the mountains, but many now live in small homes made of wood or stone. The Tarahumara are private people who prefer to live in solitude. Their homes are built far apart.
Our first stop was to show us how they live, their homes and one of the caves. This cave was not a dwelling, but a place where the Indian women sold their artwork; handwoven baskets, masks, or wooden spoons. They sewed potholders and aprons too. They also sold their shawls, a big hit with the women tourists. We walked around and took some photos before moving on to the next stop, The Valley of the Mushrooms.
The Valley of the Mushrooms is simply a place where the rocks look like mushrooms. Here, again, there were a few Tarahumara selling their goods.
As we continued on, driving through the reservation, we saw homes scattered along the hills, cows walking in the road and a few Tarahumara Indians. Mostly there were women, but a few men. The men's traditional clothing is a loincloth, but many have adapted Western ways - especially during the colder months - and wear jeans and collared shirts.
Our next stop was the San Ignacio Mission, built in the 1700s by the Jesuits. Here they have Sunday services. After the service, the women sit in a room together with the Governor of the tribe who listens to their current needs, offering help where he can.
Not far from the mission is one of the schools. The few schools they have are boarding schools. The children are sent for the week or, more likely, for the entire school year. I am told that the parents send them to school more for the fact that they are going to be fed then for their education. I find it hard to imagine sending my child off for a year, but I realize primary needs rule over the emotional desires of a mother, or rather are the primary desires of the mother, to have their children survive.
As we leave this area, we travel to another beautiful park area called Arareko Lake. Our driver makes a turn and starts down a dirt road and after crossing a few creeks comes to a stop. This is where a young boy of fifteen jumps on the bumper of our truck and rides the rest of the way with us. At first, it is startling. But then we realize, our guide and this boy know each other.
We parked and began our walk to the Cusarare Falls. This boy followed us. He directed our path. He lent us a hand when we walked around rocks or over fallen limbs. It took us a few minutes to figure out, but he was our self-appointed local guide, His name was Alejandro and this was his job. He hops a ride in with the guides and then walks along to help, hoping to earn a tip. And then he rides back to the entrance, once again on the bumper, to await the next tourist group.
He was sweet and helpful and we were glad to support his job.
Along the way, there were more Tarahumara women with their baskets, etc. for sale. We were told that they travel here every day from the reservation. This is how they earn a living. We supported them too by buying some of their art.
The walk, itself, was a nice hike through the woods, alongside a creek until we reached the waterfalls. Though it was heading into the dry season, the falls were still flowing and it was good to get out of the car and stretch our legs.
Five hours later, we headed back to Creel for dinner and a good night's sleep as the next day we had planned a two day trip down to Batopilas. A town that lies at the bottom of the canyon. We were looking for the origins of the region but what we found was a new uncomfortable truth.
(More photos in gallery)