The Raramuri Races

Sonia Rivas

Raramuri races

"Weriga, Raramuri, weriga!" (Run, Raramuri, run!)

Copper CanyonIf you have the pleasure of visiting the Copper Canyon System, don't miss your chance to interact with the indigenous people, the Tarahumara or Raramuri Indians as they call themselves. The word Raramuri means 'light feet' or 'running foot' and running is at the center of their lives and what they are known for worldwide.

To know their way of life you have to understand the geophysical environment from which they come from. The Raramuris inhabit the Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico's second largest mountain range, which lies in southeastern Chihuahua. It is an area spanning 37282 square miles and consists of Lower Tarahumara, which has a warm moist climate almost all year round, and Upper Tarahumara, which has harsh cold weather alternating with long periods of drought. This geographic factor alone forces the inhabitants to migrate regularly, along with their herds, in search of better weather.

Raramuri races"To survive life's hardships, you have to endure", "Those who do not withstand strenuous physical labor are not worth much"; these are phrases that Raramuris hear since birth and it is every young man's goal to become a runner. Raramuris are well built, can withstand hard physical effort for long periods of time, and for thousands of years these men and women have been running through the rugged terrain of the Copper Canyon for distances exceeding 125 miles.

Copper CanyonRaces are carried out in two ways: the men run with a ball or rarajipari, made of the roots of hardwoods which they kick into the air, run to where it lands then kick it again and again; whereas the women run with a ring made of twigs that they hook on a stick with a curved tip, throw into the air, then run to where it lands and so on. This game is so deeply rooted in their culture that the Raramuri say there is no sense running without a ball or ring.

Raramuri racesThe races vary in distance depending on the length of time they have available and the amount of money that has been bet. The long races, which can last up to 20 hrs, are planned months in advance and are eagerly awaited by the people who come from nearby villages to bet their pelts, livestock, cash, cloth, blankets, necklaces, and other items. In medium races, they run between 25 and 30 miles, and in the short ones they generally run about 6.5 miles, and are often joined by people form neighboring communities who are in training for the longer races.

The winners of these races do not display any arrogance for their accomplishment, nor the losers any frustration and they celebrate together after the event, where they might dare each other to run again in future races. There are also other races for spiritual reasons, for instance when someone passes away they run as a tribute to the person, to pay their last respects.

Copper CanyonTraining is a part of everyday life for these people, who are used to running since childhood. As they tend their goats, sheep or cattle which they shepherd along the hillside, or when they want to visit someone, they always take their ball or ring to use the time to train and make the journey more fun.

Raramuri racesEven though Raramuri runners have been invited to take part in races both nationally as well as internationally and have gained recognition and respect for their incredible strength and endurance, their custom remains untouched by external influences to this day.