Tarahumara - Orientation

Identification. In Spanish colonial records the Tarahumara are usually designated as "Tarahumaes" and "Tarahumaras," the names that non-Tarahumara continue to apply to them. The Tarahumara today refer to themselves as "Rarámuri," which means—on increasingly specific levels—"human beings," "Indians" (as opposed to non-Indians), "the Rarámuri proper" (as opposed to other Indian groups), and "men" (as opposed to women). The term "Rarámuri" first appeared in print in 1826 (but spelled "Rarámari" and translated as "Tarahumares"). The etymologies of "Tarahumara" and "Rarámuri" and the relation between the two terms remain unclear. "Ralámuli" is becoming the standard spelling in writings by Rarámuri people. Around 3 percent of contemporary Tarahumara reject a formai affiliation with the Catholic church and are called gentiles and cimarrones. The rest of the Tarahumara identify themselves as "Pagótame" or "Pagótuame" (Baptized ones).

Location. At Spanish contact, the Tarahumara lived across much of what is now central and western Chihuahua, Mexico, from 106° to 108° W and 26° to 30° N. During the colonial period, some Tarahumara entered Spanish economic centers to the south and east of their aboriginal territory, whereas others retreated to the west. The incursions of non-Indian settlers and the integration of the Tarahumara into the emerging mestizo society have reduced their territory to the mountains and canyons of western Chihuahua. In the mountains, summers are cool and winters mild, but the climate of the canyon floors is semitropical.

Demography. The 1980 Mexican census recorded 62,419 speakers of the Rarámuri language over 5 years of age, of which 56,400 resided in Chihuahua and 3,916 in the adjacent states of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Durango. Sixty percent of the Tarahumara in Chihuahua live in the mountains and canyons of the Sierra Madre Occidental, and the remainder around urban centers outside the sierra.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Rarámuri language, of which there are three dialects, belongs to the Uto-Aztecan Language Family. Of extant languages, it is most closely related to Guarijío and Yaqui-Mayo.

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