Spiritual Differences Rankle Aboriginal Community

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The City Apostolic Church, 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 parish priest, Félix Martínez Nava, the church had seven faithful. Today, up to 50 people attend Martínez’s service each Sunday, although most have yet to be baptized into their new faith. Martínez, a Raramuri man raised Catholic, frowns on Holy Week celebrations because he believes such practices do not honor Jesus. “These are 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 their long-distance running prowess – the prize was a sack of beans and corn, which he knew could be used to brew teswino.

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

Nevertheless, even evangelical groups recognize that conversions affect Raramuri culture, especially language traditions. “God says we should be proud of our languages,” says Martínez. “It’s not something we should lose.” But as he preaches in Spanish and in his native Raramuri, a language belonging to the Uto-Aztecan family spoken by around 90,000 people, he notes that many evangelical churches in the Sierra Tarahumara do not have pastors or interpreters speaking Raramuri. The sermons are almost entirely in Spanish – an added stressor, alongside the shrinking of Holy Week, on Rarámuri cultural continuity.

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


TRANSLATION NOTE

Sarah DeVries, GPJ, translated this story from Spanish.

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