The ecology of servitude in Tarahumara
J. E. Lonergan
San José State University
San José, California, 94041, USA
Secrets lie in these paradoxical movements; because it is in paradox and inversion that meaning lies. Roberto Da Matta, An Interpretation of Carnival, Sub-Stance 37-38 (1983), 162-170.
This paper is about the rite of Tarahumara tesgüino servitude, a complex set of metaphorical gestures used in the sacred offering by the Tarahumara Rarámuri, an indigenous tribe of native-American Chihuahua Mexico. The Dance of the Pharisees is a theatrical spectacle commemorating Easter in the Sierra Madre Mexican mountains with a massive convergence for a sacred drinking party and running event. Tarahumara tribesmen and women run (dance), dream (drink), and wake (laugh) the last three days of Semana Santa (Holy Week) to commemorate through visual spectacle the historical enigmas of Norírahuachi the time when they are running in circles (Zingg, 1933/2001).
NÙ-rÁ_-rä (to go around in circles, to whirl around) and -achi (the derivative of the place particle) (Thord-Gray, 1955).
Norírahuachi (nÙ-rÁ_-r -hw -chÁ) n. 1. "Cuando andan dando vueltas de una cruz a otra." [The time when they are giving circles from one cross to another, spinning at each patio erected cross.] (Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1959, 1993).
Introduction to Oral Legend
The Semana Santa (Holy Week) was first referenced as a law to commemorate the Hebrew Exodus (run-event) from Egypt in the Mosaic scriptures. It is know as the 7-day pre-Christian fiesta, the 'Feast of Unleavened Bread' (Exodus, Ch.12, 1491 b.c.). The Tarahumara commemorate this pre-Christian rite through oral legend and ritual Indian dance in the sacred tesgüinada (beer-drinking party) of Norírahuachi. A kurási (cross) is put up at side at every home patio, dancing place, where the Tarahumara dancers will arrive and passover. The wooden crosses mark the path as it meanders in Norírahuachi. The cross is the juncture where the sacramental offering of tesgüino beer and unleavened bread (tortilla) is made. The attempt of the paper is to metaphorically reference the entity of Norírahuachi to the preparation for the Passover as visitation of the Destroying Angel to Egypt.
(Photos by Patricia Small)
Norírahuachi is based on the oral legend of the 'pillars of the sky,' a reference to the very first Passover, a celebration of the escape of the slaves from Egypt. Every Tarahumara male in and around the east-central Tarahumara pueblo of Norogáchi in the Sierra Madre mountains converge and assume the function of high priests to Onorúame (God) during Semana Santa (Holy Week). They believe that they are the chosen people of God (Bennett & Zingg, 1935). In the Dance of the Pharisees, the Tarahumara act (run) as compatriots and allies in this beer-drinking party (serve-event), taking the role of the Fareseos (the Jewish sect at the biblical time of Christ) and as such, they form an alliance with the Mexican Mestizo, a straw stuffed, life-sized effigy dressed as a Texan-cowboy. Both the Chabóchi and Rarámuri are servants together of tesgüino. They are together participants in the 'night-watch.' The soul undertakes a symbolic journey during inebriation to force a waking dream throughout the 'night-watch.' They wake for the 'three-days of darkness,' the final miracle penultimate to the flight from Egypt. The 'passover' of the Angel of God had a dual outcome: 1) the visitation of God to man, or the Tarahumara (which means run by foot) Norírahuachi 'coming out by night,' Moses recorded, Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go forth into the midst of Egypt. - The Book of Exodus, 11: 4. and 2), the Egyptians 'coming out by day': Moses recorded: (3) They departed from the Rameses in the 1st month, on the 15th day; on the morning after the Passover they went out with a high-hand in the sight of all the Egyptians. (4) For the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn which God had killed. - The Book of Numbers 33: 3 -4
The 'Egyptian Book of the Dead' was originally called the 'Book of Coming Forth by Day.' Scribes during Ramses II made reference to the Book of the Dead in the Hunefer Papyrus, a book also dated around 1400 b.c.e. (Seleem, 2001, p. 10).
The hypnotic state produced by the beer is a 'waking dream,' the dream-like soul travels of the large souls during both dead and dreaming and drinking in which visions of the miracles, great and terrible, are witnessed to. It is the great and awesome visitation of the Destroying Angel (Lonergan 2001). The Tarahumara priest-hood create a living theater that satisfies the conditions for all to appear before God.
The Living Theater
The Tarahumara dance the historic Escape, a Tarahumara Rarájipame run-event during the Dance of the Pharisees. The Tarahumara exodus (run) and remain in a wakened state for three days and three nights. The ritual references two distinct time frames. The tesgüino-complex maps together, two distinct concepts: the concept of the Philistine (read: pagan) nature of the Tarahumara and the concept of the Pharisee (read: priest), contiguously onto a single entity, the Tarahumara man. The oral society speaks figuratively and metaphorically to the nature of man when they assume the personages of the Fareséos (Pharisees) and the Moros (Moors) through the application of calíchi, white-clay paint, to their tall and well-muscled bodies. They wear their traditional clothing: loincloth to their knees, draped togas, and open toe sandals. On their foreheads they wear long headbands that identify them as Holiness to God. These Tarahumara priests create the living theater of dreams through inebriation induced soul travel to protect the living by lifting up an ensign. For the Tarahumara, it is a sign of tesgüinada to paint oneself with dirt (Tarda & Guadalaxara, 1676). The Tarahumara Rarámuri paint their black skin with white clay dirt, and begin to refer to themselves as the painted-ones, fareseos.
The serving of tesgüino is reciprocated between the fareseos, Rarámuri priests, appearing as Pharisee allies to drink and serve the Chabóchi (bearded white devil) and all Pichíri (the ancestors of the Mexican mestizo). The Tarahumara include Mestizos (mixed) with all the Chabóchi as children of the Devil (Thord-Gray, 1955). The tesgüinada contains an interconnected set of gestured mechanizations for reciprocating, receiving, and serving tegüino (corn-maize beer). The manner is that no one can drink that is not served. The beer consumption goes on, uninterrupted, continuing for the duration of three-days and three-nights, starting on Thursday night.
The Tarahumara use their special running abilities in a commemorative run along an earthen theatre stage where each dancer greets God at each dirt mound and patio erected cross, spinning from house to house, forming a highway of people. Through the attributes of an obscure mockery of the historical events of the Passover, all the participants begin eating and drinking together on the final night before the visitation. They wake and watch and guard the symbolic journey of the soul and for three-days of darkness (read: confusion), they serve their enemies food and beer. The wake sports an atmosphere in which the Tarahumara, converging with their mestizo (mixed) and chábochi (white) enemies, eat and drink the passover meal together, in a chaotic, yet utopian gesture of brotherhood. The Tarahumara white calíchi (clay painted) bodies and their actions as fareseos (Jewish priests). This includes the mocking of the white-man for his alliance with the Cowboy-god. The unfolding outcome of the alliance fits the definition described by Robert Zingg (1935) as the notion of the Philistine nature of the Tarahumara. Zingg wrote that the genuine values of the Tarahumara culture are the philistine values that are outstanding in the material (read:functional) culture that adjusts the individual to his natural (supernatural) environment (Zingg 1935/2001, p. 257).
The sacred Tarahumara running-event, Norírahuachi, functions as a historical vision for the future. The period of staying awake and waiting for a three-day watch and running for a three-day long foot journey produces a hypnotic travel event. Serving is a gesture, an act of servitude by bowing to the compatriots and potential traitor while the big soul, who thinks better, is outside of the body. The big soul doesn't like the smell of beer, and it is forced outside of the body during inebriation (Merrill, 1998). During inebriation the Devil and God both enter the bodily form of a man (Bonfiglioli, 1995). Judas Iscariot, an apostle of the hailed Christ is among those who are served tesgüino by the Tarahumara priests. On the night of the Passover meal Judas is overcome and possessed by the Devil. He receives a great band of Chief Priests and Pharisees and goes out on the final night of the visualized as a Texan dressed as a mestizo and leading the dance, at the head of the Pharisees. A straw personage of Judas (dressed as a Cowboy) appears with his wife (also dressed in Western clothing), holding a manufactured liquor bottle, a pack of packaged cigarettes, and wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. The cowboy personage is a participant in the tesgüinada and is served and dances at the head, leading the Pharisees, (Tarahumara men in white paint), in a hunt for the hailed Christ.
The Tarahumara gesture in tesgüinada servitude is a sacrament used by the Rarámuri to fulfill their role as priest to Onorúame (God the Father). The ritual of servitude in the tesgüinada functions as a Tarahumara sacrament. The Jesuit priest Joseph Neumann (1730) and Jose Maria Miqueo (1745) wrote: both the gentile (unbaptized) and baptized (Christianized) Tarahumara had their own sacrament that imitate those of the Catholic church and they consider their sacraments to be just as effective as those administered by the Catholic priests. Actually, the Tarahumara consider themselves to be the children of God and look on the others, particularly Gringos (Whites) and Mexicanos (Mexicans) to be children of the Devil (Zingg, 1933/2001). The Tarahumara Rarámuris maintain that their origins are from a land where the pillars reached the sky, where the columns touched the heavens, and that God the Father was at the upright columns. The self-referenced name of the Rarámuri priesthood is the Pillars of the Sky (Gonzáles & Palma, 1985; Levi-Meyer, 1993; Jensen, 1996).
The hyper-reality of the Tarahumara identifying themselves as Pharisees priests, and parading as allies of the Cowboy personage unfolds to the author as a kind of visual metaphor (Lonergan, 2001). The visual metaphor is that during the fareseos (Pharisees) tesgüinada, the sons of the wicked Angel have bad intentions which they demonstrate through sexual jokes and nonverbal sexual activities. During tesgüinadas, cosas malas no son malas (bad things are not bad) and they indulge overtly in illicit forbidden behaviors (Bonfiglioli, 1995). The behavior and disgrace of the transgressors is represented through repeated violations of the norm, inebriation and reference to sexual sin (cómico sexual). The humorists reenact the behavior of the transgressor (the Devil who introduced sexual sin) and the disgrace of those violators (the mestizo compatriots) through comicó sexual, or repeated reference to sexual violations of the norm. The more tesgüino-beer, the more explosions of laughter. Such behaviors create the disorder that sustains laughter throughout the night. The laughter of the ritual ceremony is a functional component of the "night-watch" or preparation for the Passover. The noise during the night serves to communicate to the supernatural mythological beings the annual 'watch' is underway, where the 'sons of God' are waiting, watching, and prepared to ward off the 'sons of the Devil' (Bonfiglioli, 1995, Lonergan 2001).
Inebriated Soul Travel
The dominant means of transportation for the traveling soul, whether outside the body from dreaming (sleeping), the waking dream (drinking), or death (dreaming) is walking or running. The non-stop running (dancing) and the non-stop intertwining gesture of constant beer servitude, carried on between enemies is a instrument of protection for the living not be harmed by the Angel that appeared at Passover. The Tarahumara priests serve the stranger and the enemy beer as their mutual souls are pushed outside the body. The waking dream is the gesture maps out the obscure relations between the Rarámuri (Tarahumara priests) as the 'pillars of the sky', and the Chabóchi (bearded-white devils) as the 'destroyers of the earth'. Weaver and Arrieta (1997) recognize that the demarcations between what is Good and what is Evil are not fixed (p. 430).
The Tarahumara fareseos priests stay awake all night, serve, drink, laugh and carry on in a boast of the transgression of the man, the subject of sex and the sexual sin. They are partying together, the sons of the Devil and the sons of God. In this three-day dinner-event, complex interactions between the representations of Good and Bad personages both become intertwined through the ritual of beer servitude. The gesture of inebriation contains a utopian element of brotherhood, a linking of the sins of the Cowboy-leader with the Pharisee-priests who follow him. The Pharisees are serving the Chabóchi traitors beer until the fateful night. But, the alliance of the Pharisees with the Cowboy-clad Mexican/Texan mestizo (mixed-race) is a failing one. The Devil enters the Tarahumara traitor, the Chabóchi effigy, the bearded-white Cowboy dressed in ropa Tejana (Texan clothing). The traitor is Judas, and he appears with his wife where they are dancing at the head of Norírahuachi, the Western leaders of the Jewish sect of Pharisees. The hailed Sukristo, dressed in purple Kingly apparel and his Tarahumara wife are at the tail of Norírahuachi. The dancers emerge as a two headed entity of a similar body; at all times the Tarahumara dancer spin and turn, they follow the Head, and turn and serve, and follow the Tail. On the Sabbath the Cowboy and his wife have their guts pulled out with huge pitchforks and then they are symbolically killed and burned. The farce ends the last day of Easter Week, Saturday not Sunday. The Pascolero (the one of the Passover) appears on the final day, and the race after the light, outside the city gates begins. The Tarahumara exit the city in the sight of the enemy. The Egyptian came out of the 'three-days of darkness' to begin the massive burial their dead.
This essay incorporates a critical ethnographic interpretation of the Tarahumara pintos (painted-ones) and the ritual Baile de Los Fareseos, focusing on Old Testament references to the gesture of serving. The theme of running (dancing) at each patio erected is taken to extreme and is interpreted as the path of those following the pillars of the sky. A pillar of stones with a positioned wooden cross-mound is also the the path that guides the Tarahumara fareseos, acting as the visiting Angel of the Passover in becoming the entity of Norírahuachi. The Pharisees escape the Death by running although they are the corrupt and followers of the Cowboy-God (who is Judas a traitor) and whose wife is a Chabóchi (white). The Cowboy-god and his wife are ultimately burned in the sight of all, even as the slaves flee the city in the sight of all.
The significance of the indigenous ceremony is that the servitude of strangers and enemies is a sacred instrument for protecting the earth and integrating the life of the human into entering God's celestial realm. The three-day inebriation event pushes the souls out of the body. In a drunken state, the dancers creates the conditions for both the Rarámuri 'chosen' and the Chabóchi 'rejected' to both greet God at the 'kurasi anayawari', cross of the dead (mounted altars with erected wooden crosses at every home patio). The 'path of the cross' reinforces the indigenous beliefs surrounding the animate passing (wandering) of the soul of the man, during sleeping, dreaming, drinking, sickness, and death (Merrill, 1987, 1998). Man is divided: he is both pagan (read: materialist) as a Philistine and priestly (read: enlightened) as a Pharisee.
The three days and three nights are maps of the three days of darkness Three is the number of days that there was no sun in Egypt. Before the first passover, the whole of Egypt was in the dark. Three is also the number of tesgüinadas that the Tarahumara perform for the dead, the number of days of the foot journey out of Egypt and into the Wilderness of Sin, the number of the months before God appeared in Mt. Sinai, the number of days it takes for the Dead (all-dead) to come back to the land of the living, the number of days it takes to travel to the Day of the Dead (which is night). The Tarahumara believe that after three days the dead return. The Tarahumara believe that the dead return to collect the offerings there before ascending to heaven (Bennett & Zingg, 1935; Zingg 2001). Through tesgüinadas and night vigils, the Tarahumara tell you what is the predecessor (there will be no sun) and requirements (serve your enemies) for appearing before God. It is the materialist function of the dual nature of objects (Merrill, 1998) and the Philistine nature of Tarahumara culture (Zingg, 1933). The Tarahumara self-identify as the foot-runners is the prism by which to look at the Indian dance spectacle; the servitude is an operational formula.
Zechariah 14: 6, And it shall come to pass in that day that the light shall be not clear nor dark. Zechariah 14:7, But it shall be one day, ... not day nor night, but it shall come to pass that at evening (night) is shall be light (day).
The Tarahumara observance of the Easter law of serving the enemy beer is an operational and thus materialist (read: Philistine) formula for escaping the Angel of the Lord. ultimately a Destroying Angel. The gesture of servitude of tesgüino, corn beer is a visual hortatory, or body language of dance serves as critical advisement. The Passover beer-drinking wake is implicitly about the chaos surrounding escape and survival. It is encouragement for everyone to contemplate the metaphorical tensions in the gesture of servitude in the Tarahumara ritual tesgüinada and take the same similar action.
The Tarahumara are a native-American tribe of Indians living in and around the Sierra Madre mountains in the northern part of Chihuahua México. The northern border of their native lands extends to the vallé de Juárez, now the international border divided between the U.S.-Mexico at the Río Grande. Three percent of Tarahumara were not assimilated through the mission reduction resisted and escaped. They boast of being pagans and having resisted the Church, they are called Cimarróni (wild) and Páganos (pagan). The Tarahumara Rarámuri will continue the night vigil until God awakens from his drunkenness to take revenge on His enemies. The Tarahumara remain encamped at the edge of the southwestern border of the United States.
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