Legends: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

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Photo by Vìctor Hugo Garcìa Ulloa.

Zipping through the sun-stained folds of northwestern Mexico’s Copper Canyons are the Tarahumara – the tribe of those who run fast. Here, where both barefoot 90-year-old men and sandal-clad four-year-olds chase birds to death by out-flying them, the tribe, also known as the Rarámuri, can race non-stop for up to 200 miles at a time, at breakneck-speed. They have a saying: children run before they can walk. In other words, they were born to run.

The indigenous Rarámuri ultra-runners were circuiting most of the state of Chihuahua before the Spanish chased them into the high sierras in the 16th century, and they’ve been nomadic ever since, sheltered by the natural cowl of cliff overhangs and shifting homesteads at least once a year.

It is said that they run out of spontaneity, for the swift, immediate thrill of it; for ceremonial purposes, celebrating Tesgüinada with Olympic “foot-throwing” competitions that can run from a few hours up to several sleepless days; and out of necessity, hunting down wild turkeys and deer who simply have nothing on their speed and prowess.

Unfortunately much of modern-day Mexico’s conflicts have caught up to them, changing their way of life more in the last 20 years than it has in the last three centuries years. Drug cartels that have joined forces with logging companies force farmers to grow marijuana and opium instead of their own natural crops, leading the arid land through a hurried process of deforestation, drought, and leaving the tribe with little to live on.

Small junk food shops have popped up around the canyons, integrating processed foods into the Rarámuri diet just as Spanish has been adapted into their Uto-Aztecan lexicon and Roman Catholicism worked into their monotheistic religion, where all non-Rarámuri are referred to as Chabochi. According to an old legend, the Devil fashioned Chabochi out of pure clay mixed with white ash, and the Rarámuri seldom had a reason to use the term until they met the Spanish, when they sensed there was a reason to keep their world camouflaged within the Copper Canyons.

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