Sunday, December 15, 2013

Our First Traditional Ball And Hoop Races – The Rarajipare and Ariweta



We got into the remote traditional village of Huisuchi after nightfall, on the night before the big race. The road to get there was washed out and terrible, leaving rough patches of exposed rock and leading to several dangerous river crossings. Three tired gringos, board members Maria and Flint and fellow Mas Loco Patrick Sweeney, were welcomed into a Raramuri house where women were busy cooking and making coffee. Outside, the men chatted about the coming ball race, who was their favorite team to wager on and which champion would lead their group to victory.


We sat down at the table while the women hand-patted delicious blue corn tortillas and served us a warm vegetable stew. I had never been able to be around Raramuri women before; every time I tried, they would shy away quickly or hide their face with their hands. This time, however, something had changed. Was it because of the excitement about the race? Or was it a sign that we, after several trips down to the Barrancas now, were finally starting to get accepted? This was all very exciting.


After enjoying our meal, we joined our friends around the fire. Mama Tita's son, Lupe, was among them and very happy to explain us the ins and outs of Rarajipare. He was soon joined by Raramuri champion Silvino and my friend Javier, who is one of the last running Raramuri of Urique. Getting re-acquainted was easy; he clearly remembered our runs together with Micah, up and down Los Alisos almost two years ago. We shook hands, smiled and exchanged good wishes. Then we all sat around the fire in the biting cold of the high Sierra night, and enjoyed the warmth and presence of each other.

The morning came quickly. We all gathered in the most robust 4x4 trucks and headed out of the village on an even rougher trail, made slippery by recent rainfall. We got to the race site early enough to participate in all the pre-race excitement; the carving of the sticks used for the race, the soaking of the wooden balls, the preparation of the food and, of course, the bets.


Maria Walton preparing two
of the donated bags of clothing
We were bringing a lot of donations in material; warm clothing, running gear, hydration bottles, shoes, socks, blankets and toys for the kids. As part of Norawas' values, we try not to present those as a handout, so we can all look at each other eye-to-eye. The bets represented the ideal way for us to distribute some of our material; each team has a pile of wagered things, ranging from money to household items to farm animals. We would simply put our material in the pile, and of course not collect any winnings after the event.



We made sure that this behavior wouldn't raise any eyebrows. On the contrary; the Raramuri were very happy that we partook in the excitement of the wagers and they made sure to list what we had brought in a little notebook. From the instant we arrived, we were so broadly welcomed that it caught me off-guard; usually, whenever we are in the presence of Raramuri People, we simply hang around, looking down at the ground and nodding softly, exchanging only small gestures and quick looks. Now, we were in the middle of everyone, eating from the same cauldron of pozole, talking to the runners and playing around with the kids.

The kids loved Patrick Sweeney's Frisbees
The biggest hit, on that front, was Patrick Sweeney and his Frisbees; he had brought a full case of brightly-colored discs, which he started throwing back-and-forth with the kids. They were shrieking with excitement, laughing and running around, chasing the flying toys. Before too long, groups of Raramuri kids all over the plain were playing with their Frisbees and more joyful youngster were chasing around Sweeney to either play catch with him or get another disc for some of their little friends.


As the morning warmed up, we all got prepared for the Ariweta, the women's hoop race. We also wagered materials and some money on that event, which added to the excitement. Two groups of girls gathered around an imaginary line, got ready and shot their hoops straight ahead, darting forward at high speed. They had decided on an 8-lap race around a 4k loop, which put the crowd constantly in the middle of the action.

Catalina and Maria, two of the Ariweta players,
receiving brand new shoes
It was amazing to see the girls race, and even more so when Sweeney and I got invited to run among them, cheering and clapping. Sweeney tagged along with the leading girl, a very fast teenager named Maria, and I hung back a little ways with young Raramuri champion Catalina, who was saving her energy for later on. Even at her chill pace, I had a very hard time keeping up, which made her smile shyly. I think she even waited for me a little bit when I was lagging too much behind.


While the girls were still competing, the men gathered, negotiated the last rules for their race and got ready to start. The teams were much bigger than I expected, with about 24 runners on each side. Both teams had a Shaman carefully choose their ball, then dip some sacred weeds in water and splash the runners' legs in a blessing both intended to make them stronger and to keep them safe from the other team's spells.

They took off at blazing speeds, hooting and hollering. For someone used to see them run very quietly on the trails of Ultra Maraton Caballo Blanco, I was very surprised to see them so extroverted and noisy; the Rarajipare is clearly the ultimate Raramuri party!


At the end of each lap, the teams stopped at the side of the trail in different spots where the women would serve them pinole, hot broth and water to keep fueled. While that was happening, the Shaman would go in circles around the runners, splashing their legs and providing secret magic words of fortitude and protection. Then, as quickly as they had stopped, the men would go at it again, surrounded by their supporters, both male and female.


Arnulfo Quimare, sporting
his Aravaipa hat and scarf
The men ran on all day, looping around the same course. Patrick Sweeney and Maria both joined in at various points, running in tune with our friends. It was a beautiful sight, and the true joy of running was shared once again, bridged between peoples. This is what Norawas is all about; celebrating a culture that we also share and joining in as equals, as one.


The Rarajipare continued well into the night, with both teams and their supporters lighting the way with wooden torches. Seeing the orange glow of each group in the night was a unique experience, and one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. Being there at that moment felt right, and sharing this event with our friends, on their home turf, was both an honor and a privilege.

At the end of it all, we had not only shown deep respect and interest through our presence; we had also brought Korima and the good will of Running People from many places in the world, in the form of wagers and in prizes for the winners as well as the losers.

Norawas distributed bags of warm clothing for men and women, over 20 hand-made blankets to families and children, technical clothing for Raramuri runners who want to use it, shoes, socks and numerous colorful Frisbees to the cheerful kids of the high Sierra. The winning Ariweta team was awarded 2 food vouchers per runner, 14 in total. The winning Rarajipare team went home with 24 vouchers. The losing team's last runner, Florencio, who had single-handedly tried to keep his team in the race, was awarded 2 vouchers for his amazing effort. All winning runners were also offered Buffs, caps, visors and wristbands from our generous friends at Aravaipa Running Company, who generated a lot of genuine, happy smiles.


It was a good day for The Running People, and an even greater day for Norawas.


Kuira Ba!



2 comments:

  1. Too Cool, Fint!
    Thank you for sharing. I almost felt as if I were there!
    Kuira Ba, my friend :)

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  2. Excellent report Flint and glad you guys got to experience and contribute! Do not forget to mention the RD Mickey Mahaffey, Barefoot Seeds (http://barefootfarm.org/) and those who worked extremely hard to revive the culture of Rarajipari and Ariweta for the Raramuri. Also Cecy Villalobos from Urique and the Ultra Caballo Blanco, Daniel Lieberman and his support and much more! - It takes a village!

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