By Cynthia Gorney
National Geographic contributing writer
The Tarahumara of Mexico evaded Spanish conquerors in the sixteenth century. But can they survive the onslaught of modernity?
Each star in the night sky is a Tarahumara Indian whose souls—men have three and women have four, as they are the producers of new life—have all, finally, been extinguished. These are things anthropologists and resident priests tell you about the beliefs of the Tarahumara people, who call themselves the Rarámuri, and who live in and above the canyons of northern Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental, where they retreated five centuries ago from invading Spaniards. The Spaniards had not only firearms and horses but also disturbing beard hair; from their presence came the Rarámuri word chabochi, which to this day means anyone who is not Tarahumara. Chabochi is not an insult, exactly, just a way of dividing the world. Its literal translation, which goes a long way toward evoking the current relationship between the Tarahumara and the rest of 21st-century Mexico, is “person with spiderwebbing across the face.”