Tarahumara - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Catholicism has affected Tarahumara ritual more than it has their religious beliefs. Contemporary Tarahumara religion is oriented toward maintaining proper relations with their deities, who tend to be either benevolently or malevolently inclined toward them. Through dances, offerings, and other acts, the Tarahumara attempt to promote the benevolence or deflect the malevolence of these deities.

Religious Practitioners. Indigenous ritual specialists include chanters and curers; of the latter, raspers who direct peyote ceremonies are considered by many to be the most powerful. Curers are compensated for their services, but few are full-time specialists. Catholic missionaries have introduced additional ritual roles, principally matachine dancers and the musicians who accompany them on violins and guitars; the sodalities that direct the Easter ceremonies; and male and female officials who recite prayers, offer incense, and care for the church.

Supernaturals. The principal deities are "Our Father" and "Our Mother," associated with the sun and moon respectively. In many communities, the Christian God (often conflated with Jesus Christ) and the Virgin Mary have been assimilated to these deities. The Devil, considered the elder brother but implacable opponent of "Our Father," has been incorporated as the father of non-Indians. He controls the levels of the universe below the earth, whereas "Our Father" and "Our Mother" control those above. Minor deities and spirits also help or harm people but do not serve as intermediaries between humans and the supreme deities; Catholic saints are almost entirely absent.

Ceremonies. The Tarahumara perform rituals at their homes to cure ailments, to promote good health in people, livestock and maize, and to send offerings to their deities and the dead. They stage their most elaborate ceremonies at the pueblo churches during the Christmas and Easter seasons.

Arts. The Easter pageantry and the matachine dance, with its costumed performers and extensive musical repertoire, are the most highly developed examples of Tarahumara expressive culture.

Medicine. The Tarahumara consider illnesses to be of two types: those that afflict people's bodies and those that afflict their souls. The former usually are cured with plant or commercial medicines and increasingly are treated by physicians in Mexican government or Catholic facilities; the latter, which are usually produced by spirits, deities, or sorcerers, require the intervention of curing specialists who rely on their dreams to discover the causes of illness.

Death and Afterlife. Death occurs when people's souls permanently abandon their bodies. Tarahumara souls ascend to spend eternity with their heavenly parents, whereas those of non-Indians descend to live with the Devil. The souls of the Tarahumara who have committed offenses are punished—with destruction if their crimes are especially serious—but there is no eternal punishment or suffering. Surviving relatives sponsor a series of rituals to provide the dead food and goods and to encourage them to sever their relations with the living. Visitations from the dead, which usually occur in dreams, are feared as potential causes of illness and death.


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