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We Look After What Is In the Forest So As to Continue Being Rarámuri

Owirúame (indigenous doctors) of the Rarámuri people of Choréachi share their method of curing and their 'cosmovision' born of their passage through the world.

Alianza Sierra Madre (Sierra Madre Alliance) is once again fortunate to accompany the community of Choréachi in the development of the project "We Look After What Is In the Forest So As to Continue Being Rarámuri" supported by the Program for the Comprehensive Development of the Cultures of Indigenous Peoples and Communities in its 2010 grant cycle.

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Durante la reunión de owirúame en Choréachi

A different, other life always appears around us, although at times it blends so fully into the surroundings that our senses are not able to recognize it. But there it is, beating. Oftentimes, this life is so far away from us, be it in terms of distance, or emotions, or both, that we do not even have the capacity to perceive it.

The art of caring for life and health has been preserved and conserved with singular determination throughout the Sierra Tarahumara, above all in the places that are not reached by the western medicine provided by governmental institutions. Additionally, the owirúame's art is sought out in some communities which have institutional healthcare services.

conservacion art 005aIt is called an 'art,' because in addition to this technical, chemical, and curative skill is the value of the culture. The majority of Rarámuri doctors, known as 'owirúame,' do their healing through their dreams. They dream of the illness they will cure with plants, roots, and flowers they collect in their forest.

During the development of the project, the owirúame mapped the ranches and settlements in which they live, the number of families they tend to, and the curative practices they use to restore health, as well as the natural and symbolic resources they utilize.

The process taken by this project has strengthened the empowerment of the Rarámuri people of Choréachi, and once more demonstrated its organizational skill and responsibility to its people through its owirúame. In addition to the project's results, they provide significant proof of the importance of accompanying these processes in a supportive and rigorous fashion, applying criteria of differing forms of knowledge from the same people.

Background of the Choréachi Community

The Choréachi territory, also known as Pino Gordo, is located in the biological corridor of the Río Verde watershed (between the municipalities of Guachochi and Guadalupe y Calvo). Due to its location, it has a large variety of plants and animals native to the region which have biological and cultural importance and constitute conservation priorities. It is one of the few regions left in the state with abundant forests and some remnants of old-growth forests left which enable the existence of endemic species and more or less stable microenvironments which would be seriously damaged by commercial forest exploitation. It takes 15 hours by car to get to Choréachi from Chihuahua City.

Its inhabitants are comprised of indigenous peoples of the Rarámuri or Tarahumara ethnicity totaling around 108 families and approximately 800 persons. The economy is based on agriculture and small-scale cattle ranching, and they complement their diet with the collection of plants, hunting, and fishing in the summer. The erosion and exhaustion of the soil has directly impacted the cultivable lands, which has meant a significant reduction in the production of foodstuffs, especially those derived from corn.

The National Population Council (CONAPO) includes the Guadalupe y Calvo municipality in those with high and very high levels of marginalization. Additionally, a study carried out by the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP, 2000-2006) lists the state of Chihuahua in first place in terms of inter-ethnic inequality. While the mestizo population is in ninth place in terms of human development, the indigenous population in the state of Chihuahua lives in similar conditions of marginality as in those which mark the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca. The same study notes that more than 70% of the indigenous population does not have access to any type of health services.

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It takes 15 hours by car to get to Choréachi from Chihuahua City. The last six of these hours are on rough dirt roads which are seriously affected during periods of rain and snow.

More than 10 years ago, Choréachi began a legal process to defend its forests. The tenacity and rigorousness which they have exhibited during these years in trips to Chihuahua City, ratifications, provision of testimonial proof, and in other ways can be explained in large measure by what the forest allows them to do: depend on it to live and reproduce and thanks to the forest, their culture. In this sense, the forest is related to the birth and growth of the medicinal plants which the owirúame utilize for their healings.

Alianza Sierra Madre, A.C.


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