Mexico: Sierra Madre Occidental or Copper Canyon
Materials: Ceramic & slip
This water storage jar was made by the Raramuri (Tarahumara) people of northwestern Mexico. The name Raramuri means “foot-runner” or “he who walks well” and this tribal group is renowned for their long distance running and hiking abilities. The Raramuri came to live in the remote canyons and mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental after encountering Spanish settlers in their previous homelands in the Chihuahua region of Mexico during the 16th-18th centuries. Their first contact with the Spaniards was with the Jesuit missionaries around 1607. In addition to religion, the missionaries also brought new agricultural techniques such as irrigation, the plow and the axe to the Raramuri. During the 17th century silver was discovered on Raramuri lands and much of their territory was confiscated and many of the Raramuri were captured to serve as forced laborers in the mines. This caused the tribe to move deeper into the mountainous areas of the Sierra Madre Occidental, where they made an effort to avoid further outside contact. The Raramuri are primarily farmers specialized in raising corn, goats, cattle, beans, potatoes, and apples but are also expert hunters. In modern times they have also begun selling their pottery, drums and baskets in the tourist trade.
The following video shows how the Raramuri live today.
Pottery has been used by the Raramuri for many years as everyday storage and cooking containers and is often used in their religious rituals as well. Pottery vessels are also particularly important to the Raramuri for the brewing of tesguino, a corn-based beer that is brewed in ceramic jars. Raramuri pottery historically was unpainted and decorated primarily with attached leather and rawhide. Today painted pottery is becoming more common as a part of the tourist trade. The “paint”, a type of thin mineral slip, is obtained from red ochre, iron oxide or hematite and applied by hand or using a feather or cloth-wrapped stick as a brush. The pottery is hand made by coiling a thin rope of clay on top of itself into the desired shape. The surface is then smoothed and the coils are fused together using a piece of gourd, stone or wood. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]