Spiritual Differences Rankle Indigenous Community

The Apostolic church in town, a small squat structure with pale yellow walls and a sloping roof, began operating in Norogachi five years ago. At the time, according to its pastor, Félix Martínez Nava, the church had seven congregants. Now, as many as 50 people attend Martínez’s service every Sunday, although most have not yet been baptized into their new faith. Martínez, a Rarámuri man who was raised Catholic, takes a dim view of Holy Week celebrations because he believes these practices do not honor Jesus. “They’re traditions that man teaches man,” he says, emphasizing the need to abstain from alcohol.

Francisco Javier Rascón Montoliu, regional director of the Mexican Missionary Cooperation, an evangelical umbrella organization, is more equivocal. When he organized a race among the Rarámuri several years ago — the community is known for its long-distance running prowess — the prize was a sack of beans and corn, which he knew might be used to brew teswino.

“We tell them, ‘You know what you use it for; if you want to do your [feasts involving teswino], go ahead,’” he says. “We do not prohibit. At some point, they stop going to teswinadas and dancing out of conviction.”

Nevertheless, even evangelical groups acknowledge that conversions are affecting Rarámuri culture, especially linguistic traditions. “God says we have to be proud of our languages,” Martínez says. “That’s not something we should lose.” But while he preaches in Spanish and his native Rarámuri, a language belonging to the Uto-Aztecan family spoken by around 90,000 people, he notes that many of the evangelical churches in the Sierra Tarahumara don’t have Rarámuri-speaking pastors or interpreters. The sermons are almost entirely in Spanish — an additional stressor, alongside the dwindling of Holy Week, on Rarámuri cultural continuity.

Lilette A. Contreras is a Global Press Journal reporter based in the city of Cuauhtémoc, Mexico.


Sarah DeVries, GPJ, translated this story from Spanish.

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