Tarahumara Dances
(by Victor M. Mendoza, reprinted from http://www.indigenouspeople.net/tarahuma.htm)

The simple primitive dances of the tarahumaras are still vehicles for all their prayers. There used to be the rutuburi and yumari, but now both are combined in the dutuburi, which is danced at all fiestas, on all ceremonial occasions, as well as for curing the sick and dispatching the dead. All Tarahumaras have dance patios near their huts and are constantly giving small and big tesguinadas -dancing, drinking, and praying parties. To make the prayers effective, an animal must be sacrificed and his blood offered to Father Sun, who commanded the people to dance.

Men and women take part in the dutuburi but dance separately. The women line up to the right of the chanter, each one holding the left hand of the one in front with her right hand, and perform a skipping step which begins with the left foot and ends on the right in a slight hop and stamp. They dance back and forth and form an arc, while the men walk forward and backward with the chanter. The chanter repeats a simple refrain to the steady shaking of his rattle, continuing his singing even when the dancers stop to rest for long intervals during the night.

This dance is always performed out of doors, so that Father Sun and Mother Moon may witness it, and near three crosses, because the dancing and singing is directed to them as well. Another small cross is placed at the edge or just outside of the patio when the dutuburi is being danced to ward off sickness. When food is placed on the altar, a small vessel of it is put near the cross with the formula, "Sickness is going to eat; after eating it will go away."

The peyote dance is also simple but a little different. About ten men and women take part in it. The women are led into the dance patio by the two assistant chanters, the men following. Then all dance around a fire to a tune played on a violin and guitar, at intervals slapping their mouths and shouting.

The Tarahumaras also have pascola and Matachine dances, which they had adopted at some time in the past, and always perform at Catholic fiestas. The pascolas wear the same rattling tenabari and jingling belts and do clogging steps like those of the Yaquis, but there the resemblance ends. On Friday of Holy Week at Samachique one lone pascola, accompanied by two little boys, enters the church to dance in the four directions and then continues to the music of a violin and guitar in the convent patio, where he is given food and tesguino. Later another pascola may join him. The pascolas also dance for the dead.

The Matachines dance in greater numbers and seem to be more important, their organization and costumes differing in the various villages. Those of Samachique dress more elaborately than others. They wear a red cloth cape with a blue or white lining, reaching to the knees, over an ordinary white cotton shirt; two pairs of trousers, the red outer ones cut so at the knees that the white pair shows bagging; a belt from which hang red bandannas in front and back; long colored stocking and real shoes of any kind available. The crowns made of thin wood or bark and the arch formed of curved sticks are covered with colored paper, mirrors and other shining things, and fitted on the head over a red bandanna tied under the chin. In the right hand they carry a rattle and in the left an adorned wooden wand.

The dance formation and steps are similar to those of the Yaquis. They also have a monarca, who stands in front between the two lines and indicates all the movements with his wand, and all the dancers beat the rhythm as they form their figures to the music of violin and guitar.

The Tarahumara Matachines are not organized like the Yaqui, but in Samachique each dancer is in charge of a chapeon, who stands to one side of him, marking the rhythm of the dance and shouting the changes in figures in falsetto. The leader of the chapeones wears a wooden mask on the back of his head, painted in white lines, with false white hair and beard. This man holds a position of respect in the community; he often dedicates the tesguino at fiestas and sits with the judges when they are trying offenders.

There seems to be no explanation as to why these men are called chapeones, unless there is some remote relation between them and the capeos, Spaniards who used to fight bulls without weapons at certain fiestas. In New Mexico there are chapeones under different names, who pantomime bullfighting in the Matachine dances.

The name matachin is also of Spanish origin. In ancient times it was applied to gay masqueraders, wearing masks and long vari-colored robes, who danced and made merry, dealing blows with wooden swords and bladders filled with air. But those are a far cry from the Matachines of today in their ritual dances.

The mitote is their sacred instrument and is played only for the corn rites. The players are generally old medicine men. One from the village of San Francisco, Nayarit, said that the mitotes are made by God in heaven and sent to earth; that he knew how to play at birth because God had taught him. But his father and grandfather had been mitote players. The fathers teach their sons music, as all the other arts.