The Tarahumara people, who call themselves the Rarámuri, are one of the ethnic groups that inhabit the Sierra Tarahumara in the State of Chihuahua in northern Mexico. This group keeps traditions alive through celebrations and in particular through a drink.
The Raramuri people have settled down for almost a thousand years in a region among pines and above the canyons of northern Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental. They are small-scale farmers, growing mainly corn. They also keep goats and cattle. Crops are grown in small pockets of suitable soil, and a household’s crops may be separated from one another by several miles.
Settlements are scattered, usually loose clusters of households called ranchos, or rancherias (groups of four to 20 ranchos). Each family therefore lives isolated and visiting a relative often implies covering long distances and travelling through rugged valleys. It is therefore amazing the way in which this tribe has been able to preserve their culture and traditions through isolation and resistance. One of this group’s traditions is the consumption and preparation of the sowiki, the Raramuri’s traditional drink.
Sowiki is a high protein fermented corn drink with low alcohol content (4 percent vol.). Corn kernels are cleaned and soaked in water for two days, then the wet corn is strained and wrapped in a cotton cloth and placed, protected from the sun light, next to the chimney, to let it germinate. After sprouting, it is ground in order to obtain corn paste which is mixed with boiling water and let cook from 10 to 12 hours.
Once the preparation cools down, it is strained and poured into the tesgüineras pots (clay pots made especially for sowiki). The addition of a local grass basiáwari helps the mixture ferment. Finally, the pots are covered with a clean cloth or wari and the drink is left to sit 2 or 3 days until it is fermentedInizio modulo. The entire sowiki preparation takes between seven to ten days of work which is done by the Raramuri women. The drink must be ready for the day of the feast, when the pots are uncovered and are offered to the Father, to Onorúame.
Sowiki for labour and cheerfulness
Sowiki Inizio modulois of overwhelming importance to the Tarahumara in large part because of the nature of their settlement system. Sowiki parties provide a way of bringing the people from scattered ranchos together for social events. The consumption of this drink, therefore, represents a break to the usual isolation which the Tarahumara families are accustomed to. The most common justification for holding a sowiki party is for cooperative labour or a curing ceremony. If a man needs help with agricultural work, building a house, or some other labour-intensive task, he will invite certain nearby households to come and help in return for providing them with sowiki. This drink however, is also connected with several other events such as birth, marriage, death, and harvest.
At these gatherings, the Tarahumara forge important relationships with one another through joking and trading. Whether the gathering is to talk about the farming cycle, festivities or shared work for the community, from birth to the grave, sowiki accompanies the Tarahumara. Sowiki is believed to be a gift from the Father, Onorúame, among the Raramuri, and it acts as fuel that enhances communication, integration and exchange. The sowiki consumption encourages meetings, support, the overcoming of the geographical barriers of the rugged territory and marks the recognition of a shared identity.
The celebrations accompanied by the consumption of sowiki are social institutions among the Tarahumara. During the sowiki parties, the silence of the Sierra is replaced by songs and music, and isolation is interrupted to enhance the partnership spirit. Sowiki is a drink for life, for labour, cures, births and deaths. Since the earliest times of the Rarámuri settlement in the Sierra Tarahumara, the preparation and consumption of this drink has been essential for the preservation of this group’s traditions. Traditions which are there to stay despite the settlements of new groups in the region and the globalizing action of this century. In recent decades the levels of alcoholism have increased alarmingly among the Tarahumara population and this is due to the introduction of commercial alcoholic drinks which do not have any traditional meaning and value and whose high consumption has brought consequences which have not yet been dealt with. (P.M.)