Winning is hardly ever a result of who is faster or stronger. It is a result of bewitching. One anthropologist was seen taking the temperature of a runner, and all the opponents quit, certain they were having their spirits injected into him. And, as in any game, bribery is not unknown. Each group of runners has six supervisors, some of whose duties are to keep drunks off the course and to prevent pregnant women, who are a bad influence, from watching the race. The supervisors also try to keep the runners from tripping each other or booting their opponents' kickballs away. The runners are watched for any sign that they are chewing the dried leaves and seeds of the riw�rame plant. It is said that a riw�rame chewer can blow his breath into the face of another runner and cause him to collapse within half a mile. Supervisors are responsible for blocking off the bettors who will race along with a runner to urge him on or to discourage him by suggesting that his wife is up to no good at that moment.
The afternoon of a race is occupied with betting. Poor as they are, the Indians bet bows, arrows, belts, clothing, spools of thread, maize, sheep, goats, cattle, tesg�ino and, very rarely, money. Two or three hundred people will gather at the betting place, drinking and bickering, until all bets are settled. The runners are wrapped in blankets, and their legs are rubbed with warm water. A number of stones corresponding to the number of laps are laid on the ground and studied by bettors. Each bet is certified by a chief, who is not allowed to write it down. After all bets are made, the governor of the home ejido makes a speech and warns the runners that anybody who throws his kickball by hand automatically goes to hell. At a signal, suddenly, the race is on. The runners jump up, shrug off their blankets and begin a race that may take three days and cover up to 200 miles.
Many of the runners chew the tips of j�kuriand peyote as a stimulant. Nearly all have some sort of magic with them—a glowworm, bird feathers or heads, a rattle of deer hooves and bamboo that helps keep them from falling asleep. The runners of the different ejidos are distinguished by the colors of their headbands or by other symbols, such as the white plaster worn on the faces and legs of those from Batopilas. They move out at a steady trot, laughing at the game, for the first 40 or 50 miles. Crowds run along cheering and pointing where the kickballs went, since for a team to lose its kickball means disqualification. Women give the runners warm water and pinole. Pine torches light the course after dark. Within 50 miles some of the runners begin to drop out. Usually the race comes down to a contest in which only the strongest runner from each ejido remains. In a race that was matched for stamina rather than laps, early last spring the runners went from Friday afternoon at 5 until Sunday night at 11 and ran about 170 miles until there was only one man left.
The winner gets no prize but becomes immensely popular with the ladies, a questionable reward for a man who has been running for three days. The custom is for a bettor who has won a cow to give two pesos to the father of the winning runner. For a goat, the father gets half a peso, or about 4�. Other winners may chip in a spool of thread, a piece of cloth, a jug of tesg�ino, whatever their pleasure moves them to contribute. When the big race is finished the Indians go back to a life that one described as: "I get up in the morning and eat pinole, if I have it. I sit on a rock all day and watch my goats. At night I pen the goats, eat more pinole if I have it, and sleep. And sometimes there are races."
As we were trying to organize a race, we found Juan Safiro walking behind a wooden plow in his cornfield in Cusarare—the Place of the Eagles. By Tarahumare standards, Juan is a very wealthy man. He has a house and a few horses and goats and enough water. The canyon walls rise straight up around Cusarare, and you can see the eagles coming down among the boulders. Wiping his face, Juan assured us a race would be a simple matter. We could start it at the lodge. As the days passed with no race we began to wonder if the Indians were reluctant to come to the lodge. Not only were Anglos there, but last spring an Indian named Marino, who had been in Mexico City to inquire about running on the Olympic team, came home and found that his wife had been unreliable and his brother was the villain. For his complaints, Marino was stabbed to death by his brother in front of Caba�as Barranca del Cobre while his own son held his arms. There had been police, and of course it was distasteful. So we spoke to Juan again and located Sebastian, chief of the San Ignacio Tarahumares, in Creel. Both told us that we could see a race, and Sebastian said he would throw in a fiesta. And so at last, one dusk, the Indians appeared at the lodge, to be sent away again and told to go to San Ignacio the next morning.
We were there before noon. Sebastian lives with wives, children, pigs and goats in a large cave looking out on a valley floor. Several hundred Indians had gathered. They had set up a cross in a circle of stamped earth. Some of the men were wearing their matachines—headdresses made of crepe paper. Chief Sebastian's matachine was, to be sure, the grandest, as it was hung with gold-colored ornaments and had in its center a pocket mirror that looked as if it came from a lady's compact. The chief wore a tunic, a loincloth, a cape, a headband under his matachines and had rattles tied to his ankles. The women ran a short hoop race, tossing their hoops ahead of them with sticks, lifting their long skirts daintily as they bounded across the valley floor beneath the high rimrock. "But before the men can race, we must dance," said Chief Sebastian.
The musicians came out with homemade guitars and violins, crude and unvarnished, and with a round Tarahumare drum that is often heard in the mountains. As the men began to do the bascole, an odd, hopping dance, in front of the cross, the violinist and guitarist played da-da-da da-da-da da-da-da da-da-da, over and over again. The sound became a bit irritating. Chief Sebastian kept dashing out to scold and correct the dancers. The fact was, the Tarahumares could not dance very well. After the bascole was finished, Shel showed them how to do a west Texas two-step, a sort of cowboy polka that the Indians admired but found too complicated to imitate. Then Chief Sebastian performed another dance in which he hopped back and forth between two white wooden swords held above his head by two other dancers who shuffled around. When he was through, I asked what the dance signified, thinking it probably had something to do with the Spanish conquest of the Indians.
"I don't know," Chief Sebastian said, as if he considered the question absurd. "We've always danced this way. I guess the swords mean a big man. What difference does it make?"
By now the runners were ready. There were four of them, dressed in burlap diapers. First, though, Chief Sebastian went through some business with a bow and arrow. The idea was that he shot arrows at you to test your courage. The arrows were so crooked that the only danger was to people standing to either side. At last Chief Sebastian was ready for the race to begin. A hundred or so Indians had climbed onto the rimrock for a better view. The runners were practicing with their kickballs, digging their bare toes under the balls and flipping them 30 or 40 feet.
Summoning a tall, noble-looking Indian named Valentine, Shel explained through an interpreter that he wanted the runners to start the race about 50 yards away and come past him as he lay on the ground. Shel pointed to the place he wanted them to go. Valentine nodded and explained to the runners. They looked at Shel, laughed and, flipping their kickballs ahead of them, set off on a path out of the valley, trotting along at a steady pace, yelling to each other like children. Loquito got his cameras ready and sprawled in the dirt. The runners went up the path and out of sight.