Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender

pp 877-884


  • Felice S. Wyndham

Alternative Names

Tarahumara are also known as Rarámuri and Tarahumar.


The historical homelands of the Tarahumara are the mountain ranges of the Sierra Madres, western Chihuahua, northern Mexico, covering approximately 35,000 square kilometers on either side of the continental divide (Merrill, 1988, p. 17). Today, in addition to highland (sierra) and lowland (barranca) communities, a significant number of people live in urban settlements in Chihuahua City and Juárez, Chihuahua, and are found in every Mexican state.

Cultural Overview

The Tarahumara are of Uto-Aztecan descent, and are predominantly subsistence agriculturalists, though many now work as teachers, health workers, and laborers in agriculture and other industries. Rural Tarahumara’s main field crops are corn, beans and squash; other foods include wheat, potatoes, cabbage, apples and peaches, and a variety of greens and wild foods. Goats, sheep, and cattle are kept primarily for the manure’s value as fertilizer, though they are eaten on ritual occasions. Most Tarahumara live in ranchos or homesteads dispersed across mountainous landscapes but are affiliated with ejidos, political entities which include mestizos (Mexicans), usually centered around a church, school, and other missionary or government facilities. Local governance is by elected Tarahumara officials, who are responsible for organizing community feast days, advising on correct behavior, disciplining wrongdoers, and mediating with outsiders. Many families move seasonally between summer and winter residences, and also between multiple ranchos to tend their various fields. Thus the Tarahumara have been described as transhumant or residentially mobile agriculturalists (Graham, 1994, p. 18). The basic social unit among Tarahumara is the nuclear family, in which married partners play equally important and highly complementary roles in subsistence, social relations, and control of resources. Increasingly, Tarahumara rely on seasonal work outside of their communities for supplemental cash income, and thus travel to and from Mexican communities during the year. Logging enterprises throughout the Sierra Tarahumara are often operated jointly by Tarahumara and mestizo ejido members, and most Tarahumara communities have a long history of interaction with Mexicans through local trade, missions, land disputes, and schooling. The Tarahumara population is between 60,000 and 80,000 strong, in a territory that is geologically and biologically diverse, and until recently difficult to traverse. As a result, Tarahumara communities have diverse histories, dialects, religious practices, and lifestyles, making generalizations about their culture difficult. The information here pertains generally to high-sierra Tarahumara and specifically to the pagótame (“baptized” or Christian) communities in the Basihuare area, in the municipality of Guachochi.

Cultural Construction of Gender The two prevalently recognized gender categories among

Tarahumara are female (bamirá) and male (owiira). These terms also apply to nonhuman animals. Homosexual women and men (nawiki, rineki, or kamu) are also recognized, though relatively uncommon. Gender is biologically determined but not restricted; in other words, people are born as females or males but may undergo gender changes during their lifetimes. Often, “homosexuality” is more akin to “transexuality,” conceived of as a monthly switching back and forth between female and male identity (Kennedy, 1996, p. 232). One way for this to happen is for a person to visit a certain mountain where an ancient rock shelter home still contains household tools. If the person approaches without the proper knowledge and propitiation (i.e., they are not owirúames or healers), and handles ancient household items associated with the opposite sex, they will, in theory, from then on experience periodic shifting of their gender. Women are generally thought to have four souls and men three, and these are the symbolic numbers associated with each gender (for a thorough discussion of Tarahumara souls see Merrill [1988]). This is reflected in almost every ceremony and ritual by women performing in sets of four and men in sets of three (e.g., four death fiestas are required for deceased women and three for men; four quemas or ritual burning of babies’ hairs for girls and three for boys, etc.). Women are thought of as having less “strength” than men, because their souls go out wandering more than men’s do. One of a woman’s souls is almost always out wandering, exploring, leaving the other three “at home” taking care of the body. Upon return, the wandering soul switches off caretaking duties so that another soul can go out. Men’s souls wander less, which is why they have more “strength” to run long distances, for example. Women also use up extra strength while carrying babies and giving birth.

The two main gender categories, female and male, are marked culturally in dress, hairstyle, and accepted behavior. From a young age (6 months to 1 year old) girls and boys are dressed to resemble their elders: girls are usually dressed in hand-sewn tiered cotton skirts and blouses, often with a head kerchief and small rebozo or shawl; boys are dressed in premanufactured shirts and trousers or, more rarely now, in sitagora, the traditional men’s muslin loincloth. Women now generally wear their hair long, tied at the back, with a head kerchief, though older women adhere to earlier styles worn by both genders of a short bob below the ear with a long cloth headband tied and hanging down the back. Similarly, most young men today have adopted hairstyles like those of mainstream north Mexico: short all around, topped with a cowboy hat. Older men and some young men wear longer hair, bobbed to mid-neck or shoulders, with a bandanna or headband. Though a cultural ideal of physical attractiveness is not rigidly defined for either sex, being well-dressed and well-kempt is valued in a mate, as is individual beauty, and for both men and women, ability and willingness to work hard, intelligence, and good humor.

Gender Over the Life Cycle

There are at least three generally identifiable life-stages for the Tarahumara. These correspond roughly to childhood (prepuberty), adulthood, and old age. Shortly after birth (ideally 3 days after for boys and 4 days after for girls), babies are given a ceremony called rajirepema (passing fire between pots, which is also performed for other curing purposes) or na’yé ta muuchi (burning babies). It is usually a quiet family affair conducted by an elder, often a healer or relative of the baby, who gives the baby a “burn” name and then becomes the “godparent of the burn.” Prayers are said, protection from lightning invoked for the baby, and smoldering corncobs (again, three for boys and four for girls) are passed over the crown of the baby’s head to sever invisible threads that connect them to the world from whence they came (see Levi [1993] for a discussion of non-Christian “baptism by fire”). Girls are called tiwe, tewe, or tiweke (plural iwé) from birth and boys are called towi (plural kuruwi). These names are used throughout childhood, both to refer to girls and boys in general and as terms of address. They are used to refer to married or elder people jokingly or affectionately. Children, regardless of gender, are called kuuchi. Some time after puberty a woman is called muki (plural, muí) and a man rejoi (plural, rejoi or rarámuri). Elder women are called weráame and elder men, chérame. Passage from one stage to another occurs gradually and is generally unmarked for both genders. Social responsibilities, governance and economic power are generally assumed by adults of child-raising age; religious and healing responsibilities fall mainly to elder men, though it has been reported that in earlier times it was more common for women to be healers as well.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Girls and boys are equally valued in most Tarahumara families, though ideally a family has some of both. Gender socialization starts in early childhood, as girls and boys are expected and encouraged to start helping with gender-specific household tasks as soon as they are able to “think,” talk, and walk. Thus, girls learn to prepare and cook food, care for younger siblings, wash clothes and dishes, sew, and weave baskets and textiles. Boys learn to fetch and chop firewood, plough fields, and fish. These tasks are only generally gender specific, and it is common to see either girls or boys performing “cross-gender” tasks. Both girls and boys herd goats and sheep from an early age, fetch water for family use, gather wild foods, and help plant, weed, and harvest corn and bean fields. Children learn their expected roles primarily from parents, but also from grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and peers. Young babies and lap children are doted upon, regardless of gender, by a wide circle of extended family. They are in bodily contact with their caregivers almost constantly, either in arms or carried on the back in a rebozo (shawl). By about age 5 or 6, children begin to assume responsibilities and help with household tasks.

Puberty and Adolescence

Adolescence is not named among Tarahumara, nor is it marked by specific rites or celebrations. The transition from childhood to adulthood is gradual, individually paced, and consists primarily of an increase in responsibilities. Menarche is not particularly celebrated, but is considered to be part of a natural and healthy transition to womanhood. Adolescents who go to school are exempted from many household responsibilities, and are often discouraged from drinking tesgüino or other alcohol.

Attainment of Adulthood

There are no special rites of passage indicating a transition from boyhood to manhood or girlhood to womanhood. This change in status is gradual, though generally considered to come with marriage and especially with attendance at tesgüinadas (corn-beer parties). A marriage may or may not be officiated publicly, depending on the wishes of the couple and their parents, but if so, it is usually after the couple has lived together for a while. Both girls and boys tend to marry between the ages of 14 and 20 and to assume adult responsibilities at this time, though they usually still live with and are guided by the wife’s or husband’s family. Married women and men are expected to work hard and help their relatives and neighbors in subsistence activities. Childbirth is considered a private affair, the responsibility of a woman, helped perhaps by her husband or mother and often performed in the woods or in a remote house. Midwives and formal birth assistants are rare or nonexistent in Tarahumara communities. Both young men and young women spend a great deal of time with their new babies, learning to parent and care for them with the help of extended family. Adult women ideally should avoid speaking with members of the opposite sex who are not their relatives and be modest in dress, behavior, and speech. These rules apply to young men as well, but to a lesser extent, as men are expected to interlocute with the non-Tarahumara world and thus permitted more leeway. Young adults begin to take on religious responsibilities, and may join a group of dancers, host their first tesgüinadas (corn-beer parties) on religious fiestas, and are expected to attend Sunday meetings in which community political and religious matters are dealt with.

Middle Age and Old Age

It is usually in middle age that Tarahumara men assume public leadership roles. Political leaders are ideally elected for their experience, ethical integrity and spiritual wisdom, all of which are thought to be undeveloped in the young. Healers, sorcerers, and spiritual leaders (almost all men nowadays) are self-identified or chosen by God through dreaming, usually during middle age, though some are chosen in youth. Middle-aged women may take on more vocal and influential leadership roles within women’s social circles, and in general may behave more freely. Elder women and men who can no longer subsist on their own are considered the responsibility of their younger relatives, and ideally are fed and cared for by their families until their death (and after, in the form of death fiestas). Elders, especially elder men, are generally respected as sources of wisdom and tradition.

Personality Differences by Gender

Stereotypic Tarahumara female behavior is quiet, soft-spoken, modest, and shy, particularly with strangers, while males can be more outgoing and vocal. In reality, diverse personalities are expressed by both sexes. Children up until the age of 5 or 6 are allowed relatively free expression of their emotions, but as they get older girls and young women are more firmly socialized to avoid unrelated members of the opposite sex, to be soft-spoken in the presence of others, to be nurturing, strong, cooperative, and responsible, and to avoid conflict. Boys are socialized similarly, but are allowed more freedom of movement and a wider circle of social interaction, which increases as they mature into men. Older women and men, especially past child-rearing age, enjoy relaxation of the social norms and often become more outspoken and interact more freely with both sexes. Many of these stereotyped personalities break down during tesgüinadas (drinking parties). It is culturally expected and accepted that, while drinking, both men and women more freely express their aggressions, resentments, jealousies, attractions, and affections.

Gender-Related Social Groups

Tarahumara social organization is neither predominantly male oriented nor female oriented. Though men’s and women’s roles in society are rather strictly separated, they are highly complementary and recognized as interdependent. The basic social unit in Tarahumara communities is the nuclear family, and the bond between husband and wife is important. However, in public, and in the social institutions of governance and religious practice, men and women perform separately. Men are elected as officials and undertake the duties of advising, caretaking, and punishing community members. It is predominantly men who vote for political positions, as well as female (sole) heads of households, who exercise this right more often than married women. Religious events are orchestrated primarily by men, though one or several women may be appointed as tenanche or ceremonial hostess for a particular event. She is responsible for overseeing the preparation of corn beer and meat stew for the fiesta. In daily life, the association of neighbors, relatives, and friends in tesgüinadas or corn-beer parties is an essential part of economic, religious and social practice. Men and women attend equally, but usually maintain gender-separated groups during the communal work and drinking (at least in the beginning of the festivities).

Newly married couples are neither strictly matrilocal nor patrilocal, but decide to live with the parents of the husband or wife depending on which benefits them most (more fertile land, available living space, food security) or which family needs them most (many young children to care for, an ailing relative, extensive land to work) or, simply, which family they prefer. Couples may move back and forth between households for several years or all their lives, often building houses and maintaining fields in several sites. Though kin terms distinguish mother’s relatives from father’s relatives (e.g., mother’s mother is referred to differently from father’s mother), there are no distinct matrilineal or patrilineal kin groups.

Gender Roles in Economics

Both men and women inherit land and property bilaterally. Married couples work their lands together but maintain individual ownership; in the event of separation, each retains their own. At death, land ownership is divided among the deceased’s children or, if there are no children, to a sibling—very rarely to a spouse. In general, men are responsible for maintaining corn and bean fields (clearing, plowing, fertilizing), gathering firewood, woodworking, hunting, building, and working for ejido (communal lands) lumber operations. Women are responsible for preparing food, childcare, sewing clothes, weaving wool and baskets, fetching water, preparing tesgüino, and, usually, caring for livestock (goats, sheep, horses, and cattle). Both genders participate in planting, weeding, harvesting, and storing crops, and gathering wild foods and medicines. Many men and some women work outside the community for cash on a seasonal basis, often as migrant agricultural laborers in the lowlands of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Chihuahua. Others work permanently in Mexican cities, coming to the sierra only to visit on holidays. Some women (and fewer men) sell traditional artisanry for cash and there is limited employment in the tourist trade of the Copper Canyon, mostly as guides and hotel employees. Some families participate in drug-growing businesses in the barrancas. Division of labor is defined but not immutable; depending on personal affinity men may participate in any or all of “women’s work” and vice versa (though women tend not to travel and work far from home) without fear of ridicule or censure. Homosexuals or people of “reversed” gender will often be identified primarily by their affinity for the work and lifestyle of the other sex, rather than by sexual practices.

The most important form of trade in Tarahumara communities is labor trade, in which both men and women participate. Though fertile land and its produce is owned by individuals, the bulk of it is worked in cooperative work-tesgüino parties. Often, those who work together are kin or fictive kin (e.g., coparents) and the harvest will be shared later in the year if one family runs short. Other forms of trade include deals between individuals for the exchange of livestock, food, liquor, clothes, and land (and increasingly money). Noráwa are formal trading partners or clients, usually among the most wealthy men or women of the community, and will preferentially trade or sell livestock to one another. Property is redistributed among community members through gambling on the outcome of footraces. Both men and women (and boys and girls) run, in separate events, and the two team’s supporters, often geographically determined (e.g., “up-valley” vs. “down-valley”), stake large amounts of clothes, money, blankets, woven belts, cloth, soap, beads, and other personal belongings on the success of their team runners.

Parental and Other Caretaker Roles

Biological mothers and fathers are the primary caregivers for children, but from birth both girl and boy babies are cared for and socialized by an extensive network of family. Older siblings, especially sisters, spend a great deal of time carrying, feeding, and entertaining children. Grandparents, aunts, and cousins often play important caretaking and socializing roles too. Though women spend the most time with babies and children, and are thus the primary physical caregivers and discipliners, both men and women are openly affectionate and tender with youngsters, and both take responsibility for guiding and socializing their children. Babies are cherished as “gifts from Onorúame (God)” and are closely attended, breast-fed, and seldom out of bodily contact with their caregivers. Children stay near home or close to their mother or sisters as babies and toddlers, but by the age of 4 or 5 are considered to begin “thinking well” enough to venture out accompanied by siblings or other children, to play, explore, gather wild foods, and help herd goats. It is around this time that girls and boys will tend to form separate peer groups and begin to learn and play overtly gender-specific roles, such as grinding clay to make mud tortillas and driving wooden trucks around extensive miniature dirt highways. Fathers will increasingly take sons to help them in their tasks, and girls will accompany and help their mothers. As children grow, girls are usually closer to their mothers and boys to their fathers, in terms of confidences shared, friendship, and mutual cooperation. Children have especially close and affectionate relationships with their grandparents, who are respected and cherished for their role in imparting traditional values, stories, and technologies (Merrill, 1988, p. 59). Beyond family members, the elected authorities are considered responsible for the moral education of youngsters, and may be called upon to chastise or advise a child who has seriously or repeatedly misbehaved. A large proportion of children with access to schooling do attend, starting at about age 6 and depending on whether they are needed at home to care for goats or younger siblings. Often, one daughter in a family is exempted from schooling to stay at home and help her mother with household tasks and in raising younger siblings. In general, boys are more encouraged than girls to study past the sixth year, as it is considered more appropriate for boys to learn Spanish, interact with Mexicans and foreigners (generally those in control of the schools), and work outside the community.

Leadership in Public Arenas

Public leadership is dominated by men. Elected authorities are male, and it is almost exclusively men who vote. This is probably due to Spanish/Mexican influence, as the positions of governance in Christianized communities are modeled after early colonial political organization (consisting of a hierarchy of governor, lieutenant, general, captain, mayor, soldiers, and tenanches). In some communities with more contact with mainstream Mexico, women are elected to leadership positions. Historically, Tarahumara women have limited their interaction with non-Tarahumara, probably because of threats of sexual violence, thus predominantly restricting their political influence to the private sphere, where their opinions and ideas are respected as equal to those of men. Widows and other single women do exercise their voting rights in order to receive the benefits due to ejido community members. Tarahumara men are increasingly involved in indigenous rights movements in Mexico as representatives from particular communities (there is as yet no pan-Tarahumara political representation structure in place).

Gender and Religion

Public religious practice is also dominated by men, especially when it is associated with political leadership. Political leaders are expected to give spiritual advice and deliver “sermons” on Sundays and religious holidays in addition to their governing and judicial roles. On Catholic feast days, the ritual offices are performed by the elected male authorities, with the exception of a female tenanche or moréami (Kennedy & López, 1981) cargo responsibilities. Women play an essential, though less visible, role in the preparation and distribution of special feast foods and tesgüino (corn beer). Ritual costumed dance is dominated by men, though women do dance, especially the yúmari, pascol, and nutuá (offerings dance). In general, women play a more central role in indigenous religious events that take place on local ranches rather than the church, such as death fiestas and curing ceremonies. Often, a healer’s wife will play an active supporting role in his healing practice, which is essentially religious in nature, and may specialize in particular illnesses or treatment of babies and women. Onorúame, or “he who is father,” is a male creator deity now modeled after the Christian God, but also associated with the sun. The moon (mechá) is considered to be female, identified also as Eyerúame, or “she who is mother,” an entity that loves and cares for her Tarahumara children at night (see also Levi, 1993, p. 290). In Christian Tarahumara worship, the moon has likely been assimilated into the identity of the Virgin Mary, and as such become part of a spiritual hierarchy, sometimes identified as “God’s wife” and sometimes below God and Jesus in power. The sun and moon may have been considered the male and female aspects of one spiritual entity, rather than two beings dually opposed. The devil is male, and sometimes is conceived of as having a wife. Other minor spirit beings that inhabit (or inhabited) the landscape, such as little water people and giants, are conceptualized as consisting of both males and females. Most Tarahumara human origin myths identify the first humans as a pair, man and woman or boy and girl, who were created at the same time and became the parents of all Tarahumara.

Leisure, Recreation, and the Arts

Leisure time and recreation is not expressly demarcated in Tarahumara culture, but exists in a continuum of work, religious practice, sports, and play. In general men have more leisure time than women, mainly because agricultural responsibilities sometimes wane, while household tasks do not. Women and men spend their leisure time in similar ways, primarily socializing among family and peers at tesgüinadas (though work is often integrated here). At tesgüinadas men and women play music, dance, drink, tell stories, and joke with each other. Usually the genders start off drinking in separate areas of a rancho, but become more and more mingled as festivities progress. Another form of recreation is the footrace. Both men and women (and boys and girls) run races of between 20 km and several hundred kilometers, in which the supporters (those who have bet on their team’s winning) run portions of the race along with the runners to light the way in the night (men run while kicking a small ball ahead of them; women flipping a small hoop with sticks). Men often play throwing games in their free time, such as cuatro, in which they take turns throwing stones or coins into a square court. Pennington (1963, pp. 174–177) describes several other stick-throwing dice games, gender-specific team games, and archery games. Both men and women spend free time visiting friends and family, often in distant ranches, and most enjoy spending time “in the woods,” hunting, fishing, or gathering wild foods.

Relative Status of Men and Women

Tarahumara men and women are valued equally in society, as different but intrinsically complementary to one another. Both men and women control their personal land and property throughout their lives but contribute their resources to the family as a whole, recognizing the mutual dependence of couples and family in subsistence farming. Women are considered to be intrinsically strong and possess an additional soul (total of four), which may help in the conception of babies. Men are considered faster and better at handling heavy work; they can travel farther from home and deal with external politics. The responsibilities and contributions of both men and women are considered essential to living well, and are equally valued. Most important decisions, such as the sale of livestock, when and where to move households, or children’s schooling choices, must be discussed and agreed upon by both husband and wife. In cases in which the Tarahumara family is in more contact with mainstream Mexican culture and cash economy, gender equality may be compromised, as women have less access to the Spanish language, paid work opportunities, and control of resources outside of their home communities. Men who work seasonally outside of their communities not only bring back cash and manufactured goods, but may also bring hard liquor and associated domestic violence, new ideas about gender hierarchy, or awareness of gender-equality issues in public governance. In general, women and men control their own sexual activity and marriage choices, though in the recent past it was more common for marriages to be arranged, even against the will of either party, often between young adults aged 12 or 13 years. However, sexual promiscuity is censured more in women than in men. Fertility choices (e.g., the use of contraceptives, or fertility curing ceremonies) are important to both partners and likely result from discussions between them.


Both men and women generally view sex among Tarahumaras as natural and healthy, but private, as is the physical expression of affection. Thus the flaunting of one’s sexuality in dress, speech, or behavior, especially in women, is considered immodest and usually inappropriate except in overt joking. Sexual activity with non-Tarahumara is generally considered to be dangerous and polluting, with high risks of contracting venereal diseases, HIV, or other illnesses. Sexual urges are considered to be strong, and thus it is often assumed that men and women alone together will give in to them. For most Tarahumara, marriage consists of starting a sexual and domestic relationship with a partner, and it is expected that couples go through a “try-out” period of living together before any official ceremony is performed, though the official ceremony is not needed for them to be considered “married.” If they find that they do not get along, they may separate and look for another mate. Thus teenage sex is expected for both genders, while they look for long-term partners, though sexual promiscuity is frowned upon for both men and women. Extramarital sex at any stage in life is considered to be bad behavior for both genders (though perhaps more condemned, and less common, among women) and is a considerable preoccupation and cause of jealousy and fighting (whether the infidelity is real or imagined) among insecure couples. Physical modesty is encouraged for both men and women, primarily in the avoidance of showing the pubic area and buttocks, and to a certain extent women’s hair, which is properly covered with a kerchief. Women’s breasts are not particularly sexual and are often exposed in breast-feeding. Physical affection is rarely shown in public, though flagrant transgressions of modesty occur during joking and play at tesgüinadas. Both men and women may lift skirts, loincloths, grab their own or other’s genitals, make lewd and suggestive jokes, and simulate intercourse in public, generally breaking the rules that apply when sober. Usually this sexual play occurs between individuals linked in joking relationships, and is also used, in more subtle ways, in everyday life. Ramoelma—joking play—is expected between children and their classificatory grandparents (which includes great-aunts and great-uncles), and their aunts and uncles, and between in-laws, especially brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. Sexual joking occurs equally between relatives of the same sex or opposite sex, and includes young children and babies. Aside from this sanctioned joking, children and adolescents, especially females, are not encouraged to express their sexuality in public, and adults primarily only do so while drinking. In general, Tarahumara extend the same respect for individual choice to men and women who “switch gender.” It is considered natural, if unusual, for certain men or women to identify with the other gender in dress, behavior, and sexual desires. They may be somewhat marginalized, but their difference is respected if it does no harm to others in the community. Prejudices and homophobia may be increasing as more Tarahumara work outside their communities and interact with mainstream Mexican ideas about gender and sexuality.

Courtship and Marriage

Tarahumara marriage is generally monogamous and almost ubiquitous. Few people never marry. It is not uncommon for people to have had several husbands or wives in a lifetime, owing to deaths or separations. Most people start looking for partners and marry between the ages of 15 and 20, and if separated or widowed, will usually start looking for a new spouse within a few years (there are no specific rules or preferences for remarriage). Love is considered important in successful marriages, though mutual respect and companionship can also lead to satisfactory unions. To be alone or single is considered intrinsically sad, and as sadness is dangerous and contagious, it is in some ways considered the responsibility of the whole community to make marriage matches. It is also difficult in practice for a man or woman to make a living alone owing to the many tasks involved; single adults often remain in or return to their parents’ households. Nowadays most courtship is undertaken by unmarried men and women themselves, especially among those teenagers who attend school together, but in the recent past (15–30 years ago) matches were often made by an elected official, the mayoli (“mayor”) (Kennedy, 1996, p. 199). In the past most families lived in greater isolation from each other, and youngsters may have had very little chance to interact with unrelated peers. The mayoli is approached by the parents of youths of marriageable age and asked to find appropriate mates for them. Suitable matches must be unrelated (no traceable blood connection) and usually partners of similar ages, though this is flexible. It is not uncommon for young men to be married to women twice (or even three times) their age; it is less common for young women to marry much older men. Men or women identified as cross-gendered may cohabit with and marry members of either the opposite or same biological sex, depending on personal preference. Marriage with another Tarahumara is preferable to matches with other ethnic groups, though partners may be sought from distant communities to fulfill the unrelated rule. In the past marriages were often forced against the will of the youths, even to the point of sending soldados (soldiers) to capture dissenting girls or boys, who sometimes managed to escape by running away to live with other relatives. In the event that a ceremony is performed, it is integrated into another public celebration, commonly Easter or Epiphany. The couple kneel together before the siríame (governor), who gives a speech about correct married behavior. The couple may hold hands. The ceremony is short and simple, and the couple are expected to dance later on in the celebrations. Polygynous marriages are very rare, accepted but considered feasible only for wealthy men. In such cases the wives (usually not more than two) live in separate households.

Husband-Wife Relationship

The husband-wife relationship is ideally characterized by love, privately expressed affection, companionship, mutual dependence, and respect. It is the central relationship upon which households are built and subsistence depends. Husbands and wives and their children eat together, sleep together, work together, and make important household decisions together. Many household tasks are quite clearly divided into women’s work and men’s work, but cross-over occurs frequently, as needed. Men may cook, or weave, or wash clothes if their wives are ill; women may search for firewood or plow fields if necessary. Married couples rely on each other for friendship, successful subsistence, problem solving, physical caretaking, emotional support, and intimacy. Both husbands and wives count on considerable freedom and autonomy, in that either may leave a union if they wish. This may contribute to sexual jealousies, a common source of conflict and resentment between couples. Domestic violence is not uncommon, usually associated with alcohol consumption, and is perpetrated by both women and men against spouses, though it seems that serious physical harm is more often caused by men. Illness and death by sorcery perpetrated by a spouse is a perceived threat for many Tarahumara. Unsatisfactory marriages may be dissolved by mutual consent, or by the fact of either partner leaving a union for whatever reasons they may have, simply separating their personal lands and belongings, though in cases of physical threat the leave-taking may be difficult and community officials may be asked to intercede. Children may go back and forth between mother and father, or pick one parent to live with (if very young they stay with their mother); in the event of remarriage some children choose to live with grandparents if they do not get along with their stepparents.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers 2003
Show all