Thursday, October 22, 2015

Applying History #4 Those Who Run Fast

“The Tarahumara literally run the birds [turkeys] to death. Forced into a rapid series of takeoffs, without sufficient rest periods between, the heavy-bodied bird does not have the strength to fly or run away from the Tarahumara hunter.” Jonathan Cassel.
Their name, Rarámuri, possibly means “runners on foot,” “those who run fast,” or “he who walks well,” but these translations are disputed. The name could also mean “the People,” like self-given names of tribes usually do. They are more famed for their running ability, as one might expect. They have an increased lung capacity but it is unclear whether this adaptation is due solely to their high-altitude home or also their running.
They inhabit the area of Chihuahua, where they have lived for centuries. There are up to 130,000 Rarámuri left today. The Aztecs were unable to conquer them, and even today they consider themselves to an independent nation.
Other names: Tarahumara (corrupted form of Rarámuri), Pagótame (“Baptized Ones,” Christian Tarahumara only). Technically, “Rarámuri” refers to the men alone, and the women are called muki (sing.) or omugi or igómale (pl.).
Clothing: Men wear loin cloths held together with wool girdles, full-sleeved cotton shits, and cloth headbands. Women wear full-sleeved, full layered skirts with flower prints or pastels and cloth headbands. Women can also wear multicolored headscarves. Both exes wear open-toed sandels.
Diet and domestication: The Rarámuri grow apples, apricots, beans, chile, corn, figs, greens, maize, oranges, potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, tobacco, and tomatoes. Oxen are used to plow the land. Maize is eaten boiled or roasted in ear form or made into tortillas. They also migrate on a seasonal basis with their cattle, goats, and sheep, and hunt chickens, deer, fish, mice, rabbit, squirrels, and turkey. Beans and tamales are carried while they travel.
The most important dish is pinole, a mix of water and ground maize. When they run, they take pinole with them, and they often eaten it in small amounts throughout the day. Their most important drink is alcohol, or tesgüino. By some estimates the Rarámuri get drunk every three days on average. The most common form of tesgüino is made from ground and boiled maize, but alcohol is also made from barriers, cactus fruits, crab apples, mesquite seeds, shrubs, peaches, and wheat. A certain variety of grass is used to flavor it.
Housing: Commonly caves, cliff overhangs, stone cabins, notched log houses, hand hewn-plank houses. The Rarámuri live apart from each other, usually in individual homesteads but never anything larger than a hamlet.
Marriage: Individuals may marry and divorce several times before making a stable relationship, because they are discouraged from interacting with members of the opposite sex at all except for family members. Marriages are usually arranged. Newly-married couples will move back and before between their respective families’ homes until they can secure one of their own. Men may, very rarely, have multiple wives.
Mythology: The Rarámuri were heavily influenced by Jesuit missionary efforts, but after the Jesuits were forced to leave the region for a century and a half they were left alone. The result was a mixed pot of old and new beliefs, unmitigated by anyone concerned with enforcing orthodoxy. The two main deities are Onorúame, The One Who Is Father (also called Rayénari, the Sun) and Eyerúame, The One That Is Mother (the Moon), associated with God/Jesus and the Virgin Mary. They have one son, Sukristo, and many daughters, named the Santi.
It is believed that the Devil is Our Father’s elder brother, and that he was responsible for the creation of the Chabochi, or non-Rarámuri people when he and Onorúame made humans out of white ash. The Devil is not exactly malevolent, but he is (usually) antagonistic to the Rarámuri because, like Onorúame and Eyerúame care for their people, he favors the people that he created. To the Chabochi, The Devil is “protector and life-giver” and it is Onorúame who should be feared. There are also minor spirits and divine beings who interfere with mortals for better or for worse, but they do not act as intermediaries.
It is believed that men have three souls and women, because they are the creators of new life, have four souls. Whenever all of a person’s souls have been extinguished, a new star is created. While some illnesses are of the body and can be treated with medicine, others, caused by spirits or sorcerers, afflict the soul and must be treated by an oneiromancer.
The universe has multiple levels. Our Father and Our Mother rule those levels which are above the Earth, and The Devil rules those levels which are below it. When a person’s souls leave their body, the souls either ascend to Our Father and Our Mother or to the Devil, based on whether they are Rarámuri or not. The afterlife is a reflection of this world, and right acts should be performed solely for the sake of improving this world. Some Rarámuri believe that there are yet-higher afterlives which a soul slowly works through over time.
The dead may be punished, sometimes even destroyed, for wrongdoing, but there is no eternal punishment. The living placate the dead with goods in order to encourage them to abandon their relationships with the living; if the dead appear, as they may through a dream, they may bring illnesses or death with them. After a long while, however, the dead reincarnate with one less soul. After the second-to-last soul is expended, a person returns as a moth.
Running ability: They practice long-distance running and are able to travel up to 200 miles in two days. This ability is used for communicating between villages, hunting, and transporting material. They run with the toe hitting the ground first. The ability is honed in “foot throwing races,” where balls are kicked between teammates in a relay fashion. The races can last up to several days and livestock are bet on the outcome. They are also skilled in the bow, but this is often unneeded.
Work: Labor is believed to be necessary for survival, but it lacks any value in itself. Of far more importance is the concept of kórima, a system of open-handed charity which doesn’t ask questions. It is “the obligation to distribute wealth for the benefit of everyone.”
As a final note, it has been reported by some that the Tarahumara are physiologically incapable of lying. The article “Tarahumara Prevarication: A Problem in Field Method,” published in American Anthropologist, would seem to dispute this idea.
Notable sources:
“Tarahumara” entry at Everyculture

Worldbuilding: One of the most consistently interesting things to me as I read up on new cultures is their diet. There are so many possible diets out there, but it seems that most worlds are pretty unimaginative in that realm.

What I am drawn to most in the Rarámuri, however, is their mythology. I quite like the non-malevolence of The Devil in their system. He’s not a bad guy, really, he’s just got his people, and he’s got to look out for them, just like Our Father has his own people. They get along pretty swell, and any problems you might have with The Devil, well, it’s not personal, it’s just business.

I’d like to see a Manichaean kind of world like this, with two (or maybe more) gods who don’t have an problems with each other specifically, but don’t pull any punches about helping their chosen peoples and hindering the rest. The existence of multiple afterlives, one to each creator deity, is also nice.


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