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The Semiotics of Powerful Places: Rock Art and
Landscape Relations in the Sierra Tarahumara,
Mexico

Article in Journal of anthropological research · September 2011
DOI: 10.3998/jar.0521004.0067.304

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THE SEMIOTICS OF POWERFUL PLACES 387
Rock Art and Landscape Relations in
the Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico
Felice S. Wyndham
Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, Canada.
Email: felice.wyndham@ubc.ca

KEY WORDS: Apache rock art, Cultural landscapes, Identity and material culture, Memory
and history, Rarámuri rock art, Sierra Tarahumara, Uto-Aztecan/Athabascan exchange
corridors

In northern Mexico, Sierra Tarahumara rock art sites are places of power, danger,
reward, and transformation in both Rarámuri and mestizo worlds. Situated in
places rich in symbolism, relationship, affect, and embodied history, the semiotics
of rock art are interpreted and re-invented by contemporary Rarámuri, non-
Rarámuri locals, tourists, and anthropologists. Rock art provokes narratives of
local history, past interactions with other peoples (especially Apache/Ndee), and
complex identity narratives. Though there is insufficient evidence to determine
authorship of most of the rock art in the Sierra Tarahumara, some of it was
certainly created by Rarámuri people in the past and present, and some is likely
Apache/Ndee. Based on descriptions of rock art as personal marks made by
owirúames (Rarámuri healers) and wa’rura (elders), I hypothesize a uniting theme
for much of the rock art, as signaling the practices, experiences, and relationships
of individual healers, and a reanimation of narratives of deep history.

THE RED OCHER IMAGES ONE CAN ENCOUNTER when walking through the precipitous
canyonlands of the highlands of the Sierra Tarahumara of Chihuahua (Figure 1)
are not simply temporally exotic, unknowable signs, as outsiders often initially
interpret them. For the people who grow up with the images, rock art is part of a
living landscape—part of a complex of signs that situate the viewer in relationships
of identity, history, and spiritual connections related to the landscape. When I first
began to explore the rock art of the highland Sierra Tarahumara, guided by various
Rarámuri (Tarahumara) teachers and companions, I was struck by the differences
between my response and theirs. Standing in the same place, viewing the same
marks on rock, we were both affected, but in different ways. The intention of
my gaze oscillated between appreciative consumer of sensuous, enigmatic art (as
learned in museum-viewing) and deciphering the meaning and origins encoded
in the symbols (as learned in comparative ethnology). My companions’ reactions
ranged from familiar acknowledgment to uninterested redirection of attention,
enthusiasm for the site as a whole but not particularly its contents, and avoidance/
warning of potential danger. Their gaze seemed to be motivated more by particular
relations to the specific place and what might be there as indicated by the presence
of rock art, rather than focused on the signs themselves. A ubiquitous response

Journal of Anthropological Research, vol. 67, 2011
Copyright © by The University of New Mexico

387

388 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH
from many Rarámuri commentators was to say that the art had been painted by
“Apache” (or [k]apache, in the Rarámuri pronunciation) in an unspecified, distant
past. Other comments affirm the continued creation of rock art, particularly by
local elders and children.
This article explores rock art in a focal area of the Sierra Tarahumara from
three perspectives. The “first gaze” is that of local Rarámuri commentators. The
“second gaze” is that of local Mexican/North American public. And the analytical
“third gaze” is my own and that of ethnologists comparing rock art in regional and
historical contexts.
The pinturas (paintings) and their rockshelter sites, found throughout the
Sierra Tarahumara region, are a constant and powerful reminder of the peoples and
lifeways of the past. They evoke stories that accompany family and community
memories and are a source for learning place-rooted visual languages and aesthetics,
as well as ways of relating to other worlds. The images preserved on rock are part
of a living semiotic landscape and are interpreted in diverse ways by different
people (Figure 1). Because most of the paintings are material manifestations made
in the past by people who left no written records, they may also hold clues to
ancient and more recent cultural ties, encounters, and migrations that formed the
connecting roots of the social and cultural landscapes of the Mexican Northwest
and U.S. Southwest.1

Figure 1. Rafael Largo Rejogochi next to a panel at the entrance to the Ajoréachi rockshelter.
The painted plant at right resembles the wild Rarámuri food plant amari (Dahlia sp.) or
siwáchari (sunflower). Note the barely visible kneeling figure at top right. Additional
elements above the kneeling figure (outside the photo) include a tripartite cross, which is
used in Rarámuri ritual patios and for healing. (Photograph taken September 11, 2001, by
the author; all photos by the author unless otherwise specified)

2 Rock art can be a key to understanding the movements and relationships among prehistoric peoples in the North American Great Basin (Murray 2000:29). Southwest has been a fascinating puzzle to decipher through stylistic and comparative analysis. and inaccessible. ethnographic awareness of the valence given to rock art and rockshelters. as well as the North American public audience more generally. Rarámuri communities have been near significant flows of people and goods in a continent-wide trade system. focusing on three key relations that are evoked by the particular examples presented here: relations with and meanings of depicting deer. and stories about past relations with Apaches and Rarámuri ancestors. rock art is romantic. and evocative. After a brief introduction to the region and its social history. relations with and meanings associated with rockshelters and caves. and relationships in a complex and changing Rarámuri landscape. To outsiders. as signaling the practices.” distant past.S. The communities in this area identify as mostly pagótame (baptized/Christian). This hypothesis is based on verbal descriptions of contemporary rock art as personal marks made by owirúames (Rarámuri “doctors”) and wa’rura (elders). experiences. and interpretations of the meanings of the iconography in the rock art itself. They are marks. Then I briefly touch on the “second gaze” of local mestizo interpretations and utilizations of rock art. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 389 For more than a century. . of people’s perceptions. and relationships of individual healers. To local people. To explorers such as Carl Lumholtz in the late 1800s and to succeeding generations of ethnologists. Several rivers transport rain and nutrients from the highlands to the Sonora and Chihuahua deserts on the western and eastern slopes. Rarámuri lifeways and landscapes have been construed by outsiders—both Mexican and North American—as remote. RESEARCH CONTEXT AND METHODS The rock art sites discussed here (Figure 2) are located in the general vicinity of Basíhuare in the highland Sierra Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre Occidental. To the visiting tourist. In the high Sierra. But historically and prehistorically. I hypothesize a uniting theme for much of the Sierra Tarahumara rock art. and as a reanimation of narratives of deep history. The highlands are mostly forested in pinyon-juniper-madrone and temperate pine-oak woodlands. Here I make a preliminary exploration of comparative interpretations within an analytic framework of a sociogeographically networked and culturally interactive past for the Northwest Mexico/Southwest U. the rock art of Northwest Mexico and the U. however incomplete. The lower elevations of the Sierra Tarahumara are arid and semitropical. the petroglyphs are part of everyday life. region. This is followed by a discussion of Rarámuri “first gaze” interpretations of rock art.S. engagements. This is followed by a discussion of interpretations in the mode of a “third gaze”—that of the comparative ethnologist. It has also been a key semiotic element of an “isolating” and “othering” gaze. pre-colonized America—a “primitive. enigmatic. but ultimately of passing interest. and a majority of residents continue as subsistence agriculturalists while negotiating relations in a wider Mexican/North American context. the marks on rock evoke an unknown. I describe three sites of previously unpublished rock art in the Sierra Tarahumara. hidden.

At the beginning of the colonial period Rarámuri communities were primarily located in the western and eastern canyons of the Sierra Madre Occidental and . leaving a ceiling of basalt or other material and a floor of tuff (Martin et al. and storage areas. Present-day Rarámuri-speakers live in rural territories as well as in urban centers such as Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez in the state of Chihuahua. livestock shelters. and shallow caves are materially and symbolically significant places in Rarámuri landscapes—the context and canvas for the majority of the rock art in the region today. (Modified from Graham 1994:3) where plateau basalts came into contact with softer tuff deposits at river level. Rockshelters. Shallow caves/ rockshelters and cliff overhangs were used extensively by prehistoric peoples in the Sierra Tarahumara and today serve as temporary or seasonal homes. Location of fieldwork (shaded) in the Sierra Madre of northwestern Mexico. cliff overhangs. 1998:18).390 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH Figure 2. erosion has commonly created small caves or rockshelters.

women. reliable dating has been difficult or not attempted (Keyser and Klassen 2001:16). if not earlier. completing a study of plant knowledge contextualized in the landscape environments of Rarámuri children (Wyndham 2004a. and colleagues initiated interactions with me over rock art. Given that I noted six to .4 informal interviews during my residence. however. where I lived and worked in 2000– 2002. 2010). or conflict with their Ódami (Tepehuan) neighbors to the south. Others remained in the lower elevations and contributed to the rapidly transformed societies of northern Mexico. interaction and exchange with other indigenous groups along the north-south corridor continued.3 The documentation of rock art was done opportunistically. According to Murray and Viramontes (2006:4). local friends. extended conversations with six or seven people. functionally. I conservatively estimate that over the course of a decade I made inquiries about rock art and its interpretations with 20–25 local men. and as with rock art anywhere. The highland area discussed in this article was probably less populated before European colonization and was settled as a “region of refuge” during the colonial period (late 1500s. usually the “owner” of land (formally. or had recently discovered themselves and wanted to share. such as sun glare or shadow. I am grateful to many individuals in these communities for their guidance and instruction on this topic. The rock art images that I describe and interpret are from a roughly ten by ten kilometer area in Municipio Guachochi. and a decade of research trips to the extended Rarámuri communities near Basíhuare. THE ROCK ART Only a small part of the rock art of the highlands of Chihuahua has been documented. In the highlands. being forced to work in the Spanish mines. At that time many Rarámuri moved into the high Sierra Tarahumara to avoid infectious diseases. as of 2005 only 28 rock art sites had been registered in the state of Chihuahua with the Mexican National Registry of Monuments and Archaeological Zones. often under less than ideal conditions. early 1600s) because of its relative inaccessibility (Crumrine and Weigand 1987). I recorded rock art with photographs and sketches. including encounters with Apache/Ndee (and probably Comanche/Numunuh) bands beginning in the 1800s. and 154 sites have been documented in recent surveys. land is communally owned in the ejido tenure system. and they knew that I was interested in Rarámuri landscapes. My discussion of the interpretations of these images draws on participant observation over my lifetime of visits. Because they had experience with outsiders’ curiosity about rock art. guided by local people who decided where to take me and when. acquaintances. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 391 the fertile foothills to the east and south of the mountains—the present-day areas of Cuauhtémoc and Ciudad Chihuahua (Deeds 1998:12). and children (about 10% of the inhabitants of the valley) and had more focused. or a distorted view or inability to record all the elements in a site because of my position. and history. residence rights and inherited ownership of rockshelters are recognized among the residents). Each rock art site visit was guided by one or more local residents. inviting me to see places they knew of. aside from cultivated fields and house compounds. art.

the descriptive phrases risochí osérame sitákame (literally. the total number of rock art sites in Chihuahua must be much higher. Rock images in this area of the Sierra Tarahumara are mostly painted pictographs. It is daubed onto the desired surface with the fingers. including Murray (1983). Lumholtz (1987 [1902]). to other living things and other peoples narrated in the contexts of contemporary landscape. often situated near a water source or on transit routes through rough terrain. Murray (1983. red ocher is among the medicinal/prophylactic substances used to ritually cure human and animal bodies (Levi 2004:459). even for the restricted focus area treated in this essay. . (2) precontact Rarámuri. 27). “graffiti” made with red “pencil rocks” or charcoal sticks are easily distinguishable.392 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH ten sites (depending on how “site” is defined) within a ten-kilometer radius of Basíhuare pueblo. border areas. Ocher paint is still in frequent use. Mendiola Galván (2002) has given us the most comprehensive account of rock art in the region. Pecked and incised petroglyphs do exist. “red cave writing/embroidering”) and iyótame (anything that is “painted”) were given. in fewer numbers. The paintings are a common and salient feature in the landscape. in an as-yet-undocumented area left blank in his useful comparative map of Chihuahua rock art (2002:22. In the region I discuss. Most pictographs are painted in red or black with ocher (hydrated ferric oxide. (3) European contact (1500s–present). he writes. and considering my experience in other areas of the region. or with a stick swabbed with wool or cotton fibers. locals make ocher paint by simply grinding the mineral with water. This is not a survey of all the rock art. “what we know of is a fraction that does not yet allow us to establish clear stylistic relations with the rock art of other areas. and ceremonial items such as drums and wooden swords. church walls. as denoted by Mendiola Galván. with the commentary that people rarely refer directly to the rock art in speech. In conversation with me the common denotation was to use the Spanish word pinturas (paintings). In some parts of the Sierra Tarahumara. Referring to the southeastern zone of Chihuahua in particular. My aim instead is to explore the ways rock art exists in relation to the past. for decorating pots.S. and Ruiz-Funes (1995). a natural mineral pigment) or charcoal. usually on vertical surfaces in or near rockshelter dwellings. When I inquired specifically for the Rarámuri words used to designate the pictographs. It takes some effort to create ocher paint that effectively sticks to the rock surface: thus. and (4) Apache/Ndee (1800s). Most of the rock art surveyed to date in Northwest Mexico is in the lowlands and U. Rarámuri people do not have a commonly used word or phrase for rock art as such. and also. but they are difficult for outsiders to find without a local guide because they are as dispersed across the mountains and canyon lands as Rarámuri households are. In this article I discuss photographs and drawings of rock art mainly from three sites in the highland Sierra Tarahumara. cited in Mendiola Galván 2002:110) categorizes rock art in this area into four periods: (1) prehistoric pre-Rarámuri. Several writers have described and analyzed rock art in other areas of the Sierra Tarahumara. due to its diverse morphologies we are still far from establishing and defining a local style” (2002:134). Today. Lewenstein (1990). The rock art described here is in the southeastern archaeological subregion of Chihuahua.

barrel chest. On a deteriorating east-facing cliff face are several red ocher pictographs. (Traced from photographs by the author) Figure 4. grew up with his family in a nearby. As indicated by photographs in the possession of a local resident that were taken 10–15 years ago. detail. Figure 3. decorated with loops. in a narrow. it bears a fantastically elaborate set of antlers and an unusual horselike tail. The antlers appear to be meticulously fingertip-daubed. and style. The pictograph that he wanted me to see is an antlered quadruped almost a meter long in red ocher (Figures 3 and 4). steep box canyon. This painting. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 393 Risochí Korákachi About a thousand feet above the valley where I lived is a series of rockshelters called Korákachi. the painting has deteriorated significantly. Though the body of the animal is depicted realistically.75 m tall. Place of the Crow. Photograph of the original pictograph depicted as a tracing in Figure 3. and naturalistic stance. Moreno Vatista. When I visited. Today the small cliff overhang is used occasionally to shelter goats. with a broad back. interpreted as a deer by Moreno. This fantastically antlered ungulate painting (deer? elk?) is approximately 1 m long and 0. and lines of spots. seasonally inhabited rockshelter dwelling. floating spots. My guide and compadre. . the floor had been dug up. The painting technique appears to be finger-pad daubing. except perhaps for the ends of the antlers on the far right. is remarkable for its size.

The dark spot on the lower line (about 30 cm long in total). Though deteriorating. In the middle frame. element is an obscure patch of layers of ocher. Earlier photographs show human figures. Figure 6 shows an edge of the panel with thick. The uppermost rectangular frame encloses two circles with descending lines. The Figure 5. to a square. leading visually inward. sequential ocher circles in a chainlike configuration. near the antlered image in Figures 3 and 4. this narrow surface rayed sunlike element in the lower rectangular is painted with a series of six frame is similar to that seen in the antlers of circles vertically bisected by a Figures 3 and 4.394 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH Near the antlered animal are several additional images (Figure 5 and 6). below are a curved line and (Traced from photographs by the author) three parallel vertical lines. stepwise. Immediately to the Each of the two rectangular frames is right of the panel depicted in approximately 40 cm wide and 80 cm tall. Figure 5. a vertical series of three rectangular frames can be discerned (Figure 5). under the third frame. These elements are painted in red ocher at the Korákachi site. Near this image are four or five human figures. . The bottom frame shows at least three concentric rectangles framing a sunlike element and other indistinguishable features. Figure 6. successively smaller rectangles are configured in a diminishing corbelled arrangement. possibly dancers and/or thunderbirds.

Rafael Largo (Figure 1). . which are in black (presumably charcoal) paint (Figure 7). she let me know that she had made a discovery: “I found some pinturas! Over in the valley downstream from the hot spring. The entire panel is approximately 4 m wide and 4 m tall. except the thick cross at far left. Though Efigenia had heard mention of these paintings within a few kilometers of her home valley. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 395 Risochí Ajoréachi One early summer morning. I was fairly sure that I knew of the place she had stumbled upon—I had been there several years earlier with an elder owirúame (doctor/healer). . earth. Figure 7. All are in red/orange ocher (of different tones and apparent age) except the thick cross and a few of the small elements around it. which are black. After downing her requisite cup of coffee. leaving artifacts. In this rockshelter. whose family territories were in the general vicinity. more than a hundred elements are painted mostly on two facing walls of a spacious former dwelling. then a young woman of nineteen. . and goat droppings in heaps. called Ajoréachi (Place of the Juniper). . the three largest animals at upper right. she had not seen them in person. I was herding my goats over there and I followed a stray up a side canyon—there are some big paintings up there. and three of the largest figures in the scene in the upper right corner. All the elements are painted in red/orange ocher. came to visit me. Traced from photographs taken September 2001 (see Figure 8). my friend Efigenia Ramírez. The floor had been violently dug up. plus a few other small elements. I’ll take you!” Efigenia’s enthusiasm was clear and contagious. The largest panel at Ajoréachi rockshelter.

probably excavated by people looking for “buried treasure. The difficult to see “P-E-N-T” letters and the animal immediately to the lower left (see Figure 7) seem to have been scratched on with a red stone. Some recent additions to the panel are visible in this central area. seemingly dividing it in two upper and lower portions. all of these appear to be made with an ocher “pencil rock” rather than paint. more quadrupeds with ears and tails.” Corn- beer ollas (jars). A number of four-legged animals are drawn below and to the left. along with the scratched outline of an animal just below and left of the “P”. Directly below the keyhole shape is a meandering line with a closed loop. The painted wall more fully represented in Figure 7. and other artifacts of recent and ancient occupation are strewn in the area. . Note the disturbed floor of this shelter. The one on the left is topped with two semi-orbs. probably relatively recently. In the bottom center of the panel. one of them distinctive in its inclusion of a person in the center with what looks like plants growing around the border. Just Figure 8. Upon close inspection. some with raised tails and others with lowered tails. Also found was a rusted sardine can with a coating of what looked like ocher paint still in it. Photograph taken September 2001. stretching across the whole panel. and to the right. it appears that the three middle lines were once contiguous. Beginning at the upper left and working around in a counter-clockwise direction. one of six on the panel that have similar characteristics. tortilla-rolling dowels. the uppermost with rays or leaves. metates. At the upper left is a double-outlined upside-down keyhole or T shape. I direct the viewers’ attention to elements that also will be discussed below in the interpretive sections. Six sets of concentric squares are boldly painted in the panel. six birdlike figures with outstretched wings. At this level there are several human figures with upraised arms. spelling out the letters P-E-N-T(?).396 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH Figures 7 and 8 show two views of the left panel. At the far left of the panel is a thick black cross. two cornlike plants are depicted.

in black paint. in close-up photos. Overall. or mules. is a narrow. Just above this is a two-lobed bulbous outline which. This panel shows 36 of the 50–60 elements on this wall opposite to that shown in Figures 7 and 8. ending at the top in an S shape similar to that of three of the other winding lines in the panel. Figure 9. though some elements were likely painted at different times (Figure 9). In the upper-right quadrant of the panel a group of animals is painted (the largest three in black) among several curled lines (in very faded orange—possibly painted at an earlier time). this scene depicts at least nine people with ungulates. and deer. Two human figures appear to be leading horses or donkeys with ropes. The additional figures not depicted here are found below this scene. Most of the animal figures are about 15 cm long. which because it lacks a local toponym I have called Wi’rí (“long” in Rarámuri). In several areas the floor has been dug up. with a long ocher zigzag line underlining the whole wall. Traced from photographs taken September 2001. others with nursing young—and what appears to be a line of riders ascending a switchback trail. Above these is a striking abstract cornstalk and tripartite cross along with a few additional figures. less clearly distinguishable. Identifiably post-European contact in its depictions of people riding on the backs of horses. which are black. the other human figures are standing or sitting on the backs of animals. At the bottom right we see a line that winds across two sets of concentric squares. it shows a group of four-legged animals— some with one or two curved horns. To the right and left are more human figures. Risochí Wi’rí The third site described here. including horses and possibly mules. including four-legged animals and dynamically posed humans. very steep rockshelter with several dwelling sites (Figure 10). ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 397 above it is a figure with human-looking legs and bird’s wings and head. Under the figures on the far lower right are a human/thunderbird figure and a second humanlike figure. . extended. and birds. All of the figures depicted here are done in red/orange ocher except for the three animals at the far left bottom corner. cattle or bison. donkeys. Blank portions of the panel at lower left may have been gouged and knocked off in an attempt to destroy or carry away the art. strongly resembles the body of a violin. quadrupeds. At least two appear to be nursing young. The rockshelter wall facing the panel described above exhibits a more integrated scene. sheep.

cited in Mendiola Galván 2002:110) and is common throughout the Sierra Tarahumara. Figure 11. The form at the right has two smaller and one large. one of which has a crescent moon shape. outlined. Figure 11 shows a partial view of paintings on a low ceiling. David Ribas. . linked by a line. inspects several “abstracts” painted on the ceiling of the long. A cuadro or rectangle with painted diagonal triangles is juxtaposed with meandering lines. equal-arm-length crosses.398 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH Figure 10. Figure 12 is on a rock wall nearby. It preserves several panels of rock art. and another with four parallel curvilinear lines. exhibit many small circles connected by short lines. The form at the left shows heavier outlines. The “hourglass” cross is reportedly found in some Apache rock art of Arizona (Murray 1983. a visiting photographer. The cuadro images at right are among several curved squares or rectangles that have elements inside them. including those depicted in Figures 11 and 12. María Elena Lirio. their sons and I visited this extraordinarily long. shallow rockshelter in February 2002. The rock art occurs in small panels on the rock-face walls and ceilings in and near the rockshelter. Martín Sanchez. Here. Nearby in a high. one with a distinctive S shape. shallow rockshelter shown in Figure 10. two tapering-spatulate forms. inaccessible area is another series of these cuadros.

. This image (original in orange/red ocher) bears a remarkable similarity to a petroglyph in Sonora.e. including that of god. depicted by Mendiola Galván (2002:56). ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 399 Figure 12. though the ends and intention of the practitioner can differ. and plant allies such as peyote. However. claimed to be a map of nearby irrigation systems. I was told that though most of the rock art was chabé (from “a long time ago”). horses. deer. avoiding frivolous speculation. depicted in Patterson (1992:125). the devil. The silences .g. as in the case of most rock art. listening. identifying the more figurative images (e.. for example. and asking questions when the subject came up in the course of everyday life or travel across the landscape. most Rarámuri residents declined to offer specific interpretations of pictograph meanings beyond. cultivating and managing relations with beings in parallel spirit worlds. the people who expressed themselves on the rock surface are said to have lived in the past). and other local beings. Once this realm was articulated. community leaders and healers) make new paintings as a way to remember their great-grandfathers. In particular. INTERPRETATIONS First Gaze: Rarámuri Interpretations of Rock Art Over the years. the silences surrounding rock art became understandable. oblique references were made to the effect that these paintings are made within the domain of “curing”—in other words. after nearly a decade of opportunistic inquiry. Mexico. corn) and identifying the art as having been made by Apache in the past. It is likely that this domain also includes sukurúame (sorcerer) activity since the means and practices are the same as those for curing. The seeming lack of interest in interpreting specific meanings fits within a more general Rarámuri etiquette of avoiding professing knowledge. It also resembles an element in the Cueva de las Monas panel. Traced from photographs. Chihuahua. today the chérame (elders) and wa’rura (“big” people—i. and avoiding meddling in other people’s lives (even when.

400 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH are in themselves cues to resituate the point of view of the observer of images on rock in the Rarámuri landscape. goat or mutton. The linguistic similarity of the name for deer—chomarí—and the dance—yúmari— (note that the “ch” and “y” vary only slightly in Rarámuri pronunciation) reflects this central ceremonial trope as found . and others (see below). bakánowa (the name for powerful spirit plants such as Scirpus [bulrush]). as well as pre-Christian burials of Apache and/or Rarámuri.” spirit beings. particularly if the paintings are related to jíkuri (peyote. independent meanings that are interpretable. and places in the landscape vary in their levels of safety and danger largely according to their association with these beings. The yúmari was “learned [by Rarámuri] from the deer” (Lumholtz 1987:339). or chomarí. Courteous Rarámuri avoid endangering the ignorant and unprepared chabochi (non-Rarámuri adults). For example. cf. The Rarámuri landscape is peopled by diverse beings.) healing ceremonies or other powerful spirit entities. Thus. silence can be a form of responsible behavior. the listener. and anyone nearby (Burgess 1981:16. “little people. The rock art in general. Based on my understanding of the local perspective. Merrill 1988. This invites inquiry into local meanings and interactions with deer. Specifically. We can also begin to move toward a Rarámuri-centric point of view in which the place and the fact that the markings occur there provides a meaningful context that is intrinsic to interpreting rock art. This is different from seeing the markings as primarily discrete signs and symbols with individual. endowing places with particular connotations and evoking particular narratives and webs of relations. or gará nátame (thinking well). who grew up nearby. it is presumed—usually correctly— would not understand complex or otherworldly implications. Relations with Deer The remarkable antlered ungulate painting at Korákachi (Figures 3 and 4) was identified as a deer by my guide. The white- tailed deer. and sorcerers (Burgess 1981. ghosts. the rock art itself transforms sites. by not speaking casually about things that might bring harm. dislikes having its name spoken aloud (Levi 1999:98). The ceremony entailed sacrificial venison or other wild animals cooked in the tónari stew prepared for the feast. and particularly rock art in risochí. or perhaps uninterpretable. silences around other-world relations are prescribed to ensure the well-being of all involved—the speaker. Rarámuri children. and it is requisite for sipáame (peyote rasper-healers) because of the spirit-strength of the deer. as deer are scarce. Lophophora spp. particularly in relation with the important yúmari dance that gives strength to the world. Rock art is strongly associated with the contexts of risochí—caves/rockshelters—and with a pre-Christian Rarámuri past when most people lived at least part-time in these landscape features. The silences. or declining to interpret images. likely are means to avoid discussing sensitive/ esoteric iconography with an outsider who. and those around them. was until recently of central ceremonial significance to the Rarámuri. I was told that the offering of venison tónari is particularly prescribed when owirúame prepare for their work in the spirit realm. though now this is almost always made with beef. Wyndham 2009). commonly evokes local stories and histories of Apache ([k]apache) raiders who sheltered there and were destroyed there. Levi 2006). Moreno Vatista.

social. Moreno Vatista. When available. Though these associations have not been well documented in Rarámuri iconography. Though few other examples of rock art in this area evoke the functionalist “hunting magic” explanations of early interpreters of Palaeolithic European art (Conkey 1996) and southern African rock art (Lewis-Williams et al. the ethnographic description in this case lends some credence to the possibility that the supernatural image of the deer is related informationally or meta-ritually to the repeated practice of running down deer in this particular landscape. The drums are painted with geometric images in red ocher and then sold or destroyed at the end of the Figure 13. recounted that this box canyon is used today. Deer heads are stuffed with herbs and prepared for use as a headpiece by the chapeyoko (dance crier/leader of matachin dancers) for the January 6 fiesta (Figure 13). seen in rock paintings. etc. as Thord- Gray observed in 1914 (2010:162). 1996). as the final trap for exhausted deer at the end of a long pursuit. the deer may be killed by strangulation. Yoeme. see Hill 1992). O’odame. who grew up near the Korákachi rockshelter paintings (Figures 3–6). and athletic fulfillment (Kummels 2001. A common semiotic complex for these linguistic groups is that of Deer/Sun/Flower/Corn/Peyote (Schaefer and Furst 1996.). deerskin is used to make ceremonial drums at Easter—the Rarámuri ritual time for renewing the world. Upon being trapped. This ancient hunting practice of the long run or chase is complemented by local Rarámuri enjoyment of endurance racing for ritual. Pennington 1963:100– 101). The site . The paintings often have similar head cavity has been stuffed with green leaves geometric themes to those and the jaw is tied with a strip of red cotton. Figures 3 and 4). the painting described here also seems to associate the fantastically antlered “deer” with a sun or flower symbol (see lower- right branches in the antler. The head of a recently killed deer being ritual season. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 401 among most of the related indigenous groups along the Uto-Aztecan language corridor (Wixárika. These drum prepared for ritual use as a dancing headdress. and was used more regularly in the past.

In mestizo lore. Even though the painting in Figure 4 is deteriorating rapidly. and returned to share important elements of what they had seen. spacious homes and are well-loved by their owners. which may be why I (properly) was not told explicitly about the possible connection. Relations with Rockshelters In the past. Apache. and somewhat dangerous for the uninitiated to discuss. the mountain meadow/valley habitats elk prefer extend contiguously south into the Sierra Madres. the belief that if ritual activities are carried out in the proper manner. It is certainly likely that people with extensive experience observing elk (for example. and it is easy to imagine that their range once extended into the Sierra Tarahumara. actions. As Young (1985) describes for Zuni depictions of deer and other hunted animals. However.” The unique qualities and somewhat entoptic features (cf.or supernatural ungulate with special spiritual meanings for the painter and subsequent viewers (Peters 1999:870). Comanche. As so often happens in the description of rock art. Others. when it raises its head and its antlers extend over its back. A possibly complementary interpretation is that the pictograph in Figures 3 and 4 represents a male elk rather than a deer. both potentially dangerous to a person’s health. A particularly large individual.’ the desired result will be obtained” (1985:27). and that some Rarámuri traveled north on quests along the north-south sierra corridor. but this example highlights some of the ways in which we can imagine (and confirm) interrelationships between people’s ideas. which I know to have been held in the general vicinity of the painting in the recent past. Levi (2004:459–60) echoes this for Rarámuri shamans in particular when he describes their role as “symbolically realigning relations of reciprocity that have become unbalanced. private. and representations on rock. 1996) of this particular pictograph (Figures 3 and 4) suggest another possibility: that the painting is related to jíkuri healing ceremonies. might have antlers almost as long as those depicted in the pictograph. and to some extent Rarámuri lore. Jíkuri as a spirit- person is considered especially powerful.402 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH of these pictographs was also reported to me to be a place where floating lights are frequently seen. The naturalistic stance of the animal strongly resembles that of an elk in trumpeting posture. because of their association with burials or . advanced in years. a meta. we have only enough information to speculate (theorize) about connections. The possibility also exists that the ungulate as depicted is an arcane chimeric symbol./ Mexico border. Carrera and Ballard (2003) argue that elk did not populate the mountains south of the U. Floating lights are a sign of the presence of sukurúames (sorcerers) and/or their oromá (spirit-bird familiars). with a ‘good heart. and that reports of historical sightings are not credible.S. Lewis-Williams et al. but in the efficacy of reciprocal relations. not in magic. floating lights indicate buried treasure. this kind of representation is likely less the exertion of power to effect a successful hunt and more an expression of correct ways of thinking: “a belief. it may be in a phenomenological sense recreated in the mind whenever deer are run into this box canyon. and today. or earlier travelers) moved through the study area at times in the past. many rockshelters are comfortable.

such as peyote or bulrush. and transformation. Relations with Apaches and Ancestors Most Rarámuri in the area where I worked agree that local rock art was made by [k]apache in a past that is unspecifiedly distant in time. English: fierce/brutish. Rockshelters known to contain human burials are avoided in person and in speech. with connotations of wild/savage) people. if a man touches an ancient metate (grinding stone) there. can evoke unease and require avoidance as sites of danger. whom I interviewed in 2002. said that los apaches vivieron junto con los indígenas antes pero vivieron aquí en las cuevas. these statements can be misleading for an outsider not familiar with the rather complex Rarámuri understanding of history and identity. they were parúame (Spanish: bravo. However. a basket. Y luego se acabaron. especially at night. Lumholtz also describes Rarámuri beliefs that the dead (chuwí) ambulate at night. . A woman who touches “men’s tools” there. como por decir original de los Rarámuris. such as bows or arrows. Though today the Rarámuri people I spoke with characterize rockshelter burials as belonging to [k]apache because baptized (pagótame) Rarámuri are buried in cemeteries. Other. Even decades later the artifacts may retain dangerous power. he writes that they “come running out of the caves on all fours” and “whistle when they pass the living” (1987:381–82)— the latter of which I also heard in personal accounts a century after Lumholtz. . one may find pottery. One “dangerous” shelter in the valley where I lived is considered to be a site of potential gender transformation. non-burial rockshelters and artifacts therein are often avoided altogether unless one has developed advanced relations with the powerful spirit people that share Rarámuri landscapes. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 403 other spirit-world connections. as does Levi (2011) among simaroni (unbaptized) communities in the 1980s downriver from Batopilas. Martín González. las cuevas que todavía alcanzamos a ver—lo ves. . ahorita todavía alcanzamos a ver esos huesos. Local Rarámuri narrative history tells of a time when [k]apache lived in the valleys that Rarámuri now inhabit. who are still spoken of with ambivalent. Growing up. In many shelters. vulnerability. fearful respect and disapproval. for example. Lumholtz (1987:383) describes Rarámuri rockshelter burials taking place during his time in the Sierra Tarahumara. young people are taught which sites are harmless shelters (often ancestral family homes) and which are potentially dangerous places to be approached with great caution. These are stored away from the home because mere proximity can cause serious harm (particularly soul abduction) to children. he is likely to undergo monthly gender shifts for an indefinite period of time in which he alternately expresses female and then male sexual desires and behavior. and children are taught never to touch such things. no? [gestures to a nearby rockshelter]. may experience a similar type of transformation (Wyndham 2004b). So. no? Esos apaches fueron casi parecido. They are also identified as “the original Rarámuri. and are sometimes described as being venenosos (poisonous). and their entangled genealogies of relations with [k]apache. or the remains of a pouch that once held someone’s powerful plant ally. .” For example.

the caves that we can still see—you see them. I was told the following story by my friend Martha Sitánachi. . [k]apache raiders are trapped in a cave by Rarámuri and killed by a fire set at the entrance and the resulting smoke. don’t you? (gestures to a nearby rockshelter). we can still see their bones. These are the ancestors of the Rarámuri of today. similar narratives that were told to me recount the story of. They had recognized them as the feet of their mother. . The children went into the sky and became the constellation Pamachi (Pleiades). and ocher paintings that are a ubiquitous part of the landscape. One day two children. “once. And later they died out. But earlier they had seen the severed feet of a human in the forest. the sun came down to the earth and burned nearly all of them. In another example. . a woman and a man. Then new people. Rarámuri people from long ago tried to survive the sun’s (~God’s) punishing descent on the landscape by immuring themselves in a cave with mud (Batista 1999:11). This is a variant of a widely told historia (“history” or “story. who writes of a similar story about cannibalistic cave-dwelling “Cocoyomes. Other variants include that of Lumholtz (1987:192–93). explaining the presence of human bones in the local rockshelters: The bones are the remains of the people from long ago when the [k]apaches lived here. killing each other. they were the original Rarámuri.” And. . and knew that she had been murdered and cooked. and their bones are found even now lying there. People at that time behaved very badly. immured burial sites. when the Cocoyomes were very bad. and they frequented areas nearby to the north extensively at least as early as the late 1600s. by others as their ancestors: . that is to say. only a few escaped into the big caves. a brother and a sister who are washed over and over by their [k]apache grandmother and become suspicious that they are going to be cooked (the grandmother is later punished by being thrown over a precipice. when the Cocoyomes . long ago. regarded by some Tarahumares as their ancient enemies.” depending on the context) in the Sierra Tarahumara. . right? Those Apaches were almost the same. the precise location of which was pointed out to me on the landscape). The people took refuge in the caves but even there (especially the shallower caves) they were scorched to death. if not earlier. a brother and sister.404 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH [The Apaches lived together with the indigenous peoples before but they lived here in the caves. Other. asking him to punish all the people on the earth. were given their dinner by their [k]apache grandmother: deer-meat that their father had supposedly killed that day in the forest. They were outraged and grieved so they traveled up to the sky and spoke with God. [k]apache are strongly associated with the rockshelters. were placed on the earth. In another tale. Chiricahua and other Western Apache bands reached this remote area of the Sierra Tarahumara in the 1800s.] In this and other Rarámuri narratives. for example. The sun was then sent down close to the earth to burn the people up.

the label “Rarámuri” could be given to a person who thinks and behaves in traditional Rarámuri ways. rock art) as cues to root oneself deeply in a complex temporal and social environment. and eat corn and relate to landscapes and spirit worlds as Rarámuri do. (3) kiyáwame. 383) describes the use of fire (and thus visible smoke and charcoal remains) at walled-in Rarámuri burials in the first night’s wake for the deceased. contemporary population. raided. The communities around Narárachi. and settled the area both before and during the time of resistance to U.S. Contemporary Rarámuri identity in this area may reflect the reality of Uto-Aztecan-speaking Rarámuri and Athabascan-speaking Apache/Ndee unions in the past and their resulting families. until all of the Cocoyomes had perished from hunger. which nevertheless still draw on the same material in the landscape (rockshelters. (2) unbaptized Rarámuri ancestors.” It is likely that the term connotes some combination of all three of the above. and the hardships undergone by those “who went before. This may be playing on an important theme in Rarámuri identity in this community. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 405 were together in the largest cave. who are known to have traveled through. the ancestors. particularly if they grow. and secondarily as Rarámuri vis-a-vis other ethnic groups in the region. “those who have passed on. grind. and several families in the Basíhuare area speak of [k]apache relatives in their own genealogies (see Robinson 2000:136 and Goodwin and Goodwin 2000:232–35 for a discussion of Western Apache descendants in other parts of northern Mexico). This may have resulted in a layering and repurposing of narratives. but which Lumholtz did. are presently often spoken of as being more [k]apache than other communities. and Rarámuri explanations of [k]apache as both their ancient enemies and the ancestors/predecessors of contemporary Rarámuri. may have amalgamated conceptually with [k]apache in the context of the more recent.e. People may be attributing the art to one or more of the following: (1) the Apache/Ndee. for example. and Mexican control. the Tarahumares besieged them for eight days. who are thought to be in the same category as Apache/Ndee based on assessments of moral behavior (i.” “barbarian” or “savage”). . and mud walls we saw as material evidence of the “histories” outlined above.”5 Lumholtz (1987:70. in which they speak of themselves first as pagótame. the dead. Even in this latter usage. or more generally. the younger people who narrated the landscape to me interpreted the human bones. In the context of these narratives. charcoal. the common attribution of the authorship of Sierra Tarahumara rock art to “[k]apaches” is more complex than it might seem at first. The places evoked commentary or discussion of the nature of being Rarámuri vis-a-vis other peoples.. or baptized Christian people. akin to the category of simaroni: “cimarrón. Though two of the eldest members of the community where I worked recalled that Rarámuri used to bury their dead in caves or rockshelters. which had no spring.” There is a core storyline of a time of immoral/brutal ancestors who were punished and replaced with the morally superior. which I never heard. The ethnic category and histories of the Cocoyome. traumatic experiences of Apache/Ndee encounters in the 1800s. “people from very long ago” (possibly the people who inhabited the high Sierra before it was settled by lowland Rarámuri) or anayáware.

“good thinking. Murray and Viramontes (2006:9) write that this is a widespread problem for archaeological conservation throughout Mexico. The places where rock art is inscribed on the landscape evoke these complex memories and revitalize vernacular local histories that contribute to Rarámuri identities in the present. suffering. but even if successful results in some misfortune befalling the seeker and the treasure’s location remains unknown (Hurley 1951). and probably the world. or (today) drug-traffickers. and some gold. In the late 1800s.” and lifestyle (cf. mercenaries. and later. though each group may tell them slightly differently. The floors of every rock art site I visited had been dug up and perhaps plundered (Figure 8). including much of the western U. probably many times over the years. such as raids on the mining company mule-trains. These tropes are found throughout the Iberian-colonized Americas. revolutionary or federal soldados. it is inherently ambiguous. Stories of finding buried gold and silver abound in this area. I believe that the use of the term [k]apache is not only ambiguous to a chabochi researcher. The common Ibero-American narrative frame of these stories consists of otherworldly signs. perhaps drawing on deeper Moorish narrative roots. and a search undertaken that is usually unsuccessful. conflict. probably transmitted by Spanish settlers. and that some of it may have been buried in rockshelters in moments of crisis. One can easily imagine that silver and gold was relatively available across a broad area of the Sierra Tarahumara. and contact (including familial) with other peoples in an extended regional network. and Mexico. Second Gaze: Mestizo Interpretations of Rock Art Buried Treasure Rock art and rock art sites ubiquitously evoke another kind of intersection with the spirit world and the past for both Rarámuri and mestizo communities in the Sierra Tarahumara. out of the nearby Batopilas and regional mines in past centuries (Merrill 1988). the 1767 expulsion of the Jesuits. I have collected stories from Rarámuri elder men who worked in these mines as young men in the 1930s–1940s. The mere presence of paintings is commonly understood to indicate buried treasure.” Traffic to and from the Sierra was heavy when he visited in 1888. these stories are shared by mestizo and Rarámuri inhabitants alike.S. They are seen in American popular culture depictions in such films as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Pirates of the Caribbean. instead reaffirming that what is most important to (emic) Rarámuri notions of identity is one’s behavior.406 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH The reality of mixed Rarámuri-Apache ancestry blurs our (etic) ethnic categories based on genetic descent or cultural affiliation. through which the Camino Real mule-train route was used to transport enormous amounts of silver. different lifeways. Schwatka (1977:316) estimated that this region was the “richest mining district in America. The Rarámuri accounts often integrate common themes regarding the colonial . This perception draws on deeply rooted tropes of treasure trove tales. reflecting a complex semantic category for Rarámuri speakers that evokes a notion of a distant past. Levi 1993). In the Sierra Tarahumara. or families fleeing assaults by Apache raiders. such as floating lights or seeing a ghostly figure repeatedly in a particular place.

that authorities will take the “treasure” away from you. including one reported discovery of buried gold that occurred while I was there. offerings.” . creating an ambiguity as to whether the writer is announcing a romantic union or the discovery of treasure. As the cut from the recently paved highway eroded. occasionally accompanied by shrines. This message is painted in (misspelled) Spanish on the lip of a rockshelter near the main highway transecting the Sierra Tarahumara. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 407 experience—for example. Because of the danger adhering to that particular place. richly glazed in a green flower pattern. I was shown a number of recently broken potsherds strewn on the ground. but a particularly tortuous switchback along a roadway.” The Spanish we is repeated at the end. and statues. but unsophisticated at perceiving and relating to the spirit world. The Virgin is probably the most common subject for contemporary Mexican rock art. Figure 14 shows a statement written relatively recently in Spanish on the lip of a rockshelter on a high ridge that is easily accessible by a short hike from the now-paved Avenida Gran Visión highway through the High Sierra. Several such treasure site narratives were told to me. the belief that chabochis (whites) are particularly talented at finding and keeping gold. candles. The site was not a rockshelter. a narrative that includes all the classic elements. who knew to avoid the poisonous gas that emerged when he broke the pot and found the gold pieces within. The cliff walls along the highways of the Sierra Tarahumara are liberally painted with her image. an old glazed pot was exposed in the hillside. sometimes in chalk. sometimes in bright paints. I was not told what had become of the gold. local mestizo residents had commissioned a priest to exorcise the ghostly hitchhiker and install a small shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Figure 14. It reads: “NOS AYAMOS UN CORASON DE ORO NOSOTROS. Also. It was found by a local Rarámuri man. if you disclose what you have found. It reads: “WE HAVE FOUND A HEART OF GOLD. It is known as a dangerous curve that had caused many wrecks—not only because of its sharp descending turn among rock-strewn steep ravines but because of a spirit hitchhiker who appeared in the road to startle drivers or catch a ride and cause a wreck.

Sariego 2008a. rockshelters). One or two guides have even begun painting their own “traditional-looking” pictographs in convenient places for them to take customers who may not want to hike kilometers from a paved road to see the rock art. it is clear to whom Lumholtz refers) for making “living cliff-dwellers to suit the imagined want of the public” in Schwatka’s posthumously published book In the Land of Cave and Cliff Dwellers: Travels among the Tarahumara Indians. 2008b. scholars are now turning their gaze to understanding the peoples of the region in the context of long-standing networks in a world system. scholars of the region have become increasingly mindful of the deep historical connections between communities in what is now Northwest Mexico and the Southwest United States (e. Wilcox et al. the “othering” is performed by chabochis not only in social terms but in temporal and spatial terms as well—Rarámuri people living today are construed as being somehow “from the past” (cf.408 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH Rock Art and the Tourist Capitalizing on visitors’ fascination with rock art and “cave-dwellers. Lumholtz goes on to say that the idea of cliff-dwellers is “vague and confused” in the public mind.” local mestizo tour guides regularly take tourists to various rock art sites near the tourist town of Creel in the Sierra Tarahumara. More than a century later. 2008). particularly their rockshelters and their rock art. Art on rock helps the scholar. and Historical Contexts The anthropological viewing and analysis of Sierra Tarahumara rock art began more than a century ago and has been sporadic since then. Regional. the extensive economic trade systems that linked this region with North and Central America. Third Gaze: Academic Observations and Interpretations in Local. living a romantically primitive lifestyle in caves (more accurately.. In his ethnologically naive account. 1888–1889. McDougall (2009:4) describes Rarámuri as a “near-mythical tribe of Stone Age superathletes” who “live in the side of cliffs higher than a hawk’s nest in a land few have ever seen. giving some blame to Frederick Schwatka (though unnamed. which is regularly renewed by . Fabian 1983) and this is semiotically linked to their landscapes. In this section I first treat the question of authorship of rock art in the Sierra Tarahumara.” Thus. rather than as isolated ethnic groups with separate histories. Acknowledging the linguistic and semiotic commonalities. particularly living in rockshelters. Schwatka describes Rarámuri rockshelter dwellers as “strange earth-burrowing savages” (1977:186. In recent years. This chabochi (non-Rarámuri) “othering” narrative was perhaps first commented on in the late 1800s when the explorer Carl Lumholtz (1894:31) wrote about “how attractive the various sections devoted to the Cliff-Dwellers’ Exhibits were to the visitors” of the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. In his bestseller. 230).g. In this and other descriptions Schwatka positions himself as an observer of savagery and primitivism evidenced by material culture. as signs of both cultural expression and movements of people across landscapes. This trade in cultural landscapes plays on outsiders’ notions of the Rarámuri as people forgotten by time. and the movement and interaction of peoples in the past. the remarkable continuity of this colonial narrative is seen in contemporary writing for the general public about the Rarámuri as rockshelter dwellers.

As might be expected. 178–80. Schaasfma 1980:333). of the rock art in the Sierra Tarahumara is of Apache/Ndee origin. which suggest Apachean forms. Chihuahua. and then I elaborate on a selection of graphic themes that link the semiotics of this rock art to living traditions among Rarámuri and other indigenous communities in the immediate and extended region. it remains a strong likelihood that some of the rock art was authored by Apache/Ndee. plus numerous supernatural figures (see Schaasfma 1980: figs. tradition-holders. 278–83. . because so little is recorded about either Sierra Tarahumara or Apache rock art (Brown 1998:52. with a corbelled roof in a traditional overlapping arrangement of logs or branches such that each course extends further from the vertical of the wall than the course below. A few similarities support the Rarámuri assertion of Apache/Ndee authorship for at least some of the highland Sierra rock art. and a curvilinear head and torso enclosed in a triangular cartouche (Lumholtz 1987:203). The frame below it could be seen as an architectural representation of an Apache/Ndee hogan seen from the inside. an Apachean theme. with a large horned serpent and a two-horned human figure resembling an Apache medicine man in his horned headdress (Mendiola Galván 2002: fig. if any. Slifer 1998: figs. However. such as the paintings at El Paso Púlpito. given the amount of time Apache people spent in this area. Overall. Sonora. not enough material is available to satisfactorily answer the question of which. the images shown in the upper panel of Figure 5 suggest twin shields with hanging fringes. Further investigations would benefit by involving artists. New Mexico. strongly suggests Apache authorship. 173–75. the styles of the rock art recorded in this article and that of known Apache pictographs are quite different. including supernatural figures and well-attested shield designs. 270). The Question of Authorship Is it likely that some or most of the rock art described here was authored by Apache/Ndee people? A comparison of Sierra Tarahumara rock art with that of known Apache/Ndee sites in the southwestern United States suggests that the Rarámuri attribution of authorship to [k]apache is not necessarily referencing Apache/Ndee of Athabascan heritage. and historians from both Apache/Ndee and Rarámuri communities in onsite discussions of these possibilities. In the large panel of quadrupeds in Figure 9 we see a variety of horse-and-rider configurations. and their lasting influence on Rarámuri narratives. more strongly resemble Apache styles. 214–16. 7). leaving a square smoke hole in the center. A panel near Paquimé (Casas Grandes). Sonora (Goodwin and Goodwin 2000: fig. Aside from these speculative comparisons. such as masks. Lumholtz photographed a Sierra Tarahumara pecked image near Norogachi in the late 1800s that has a wheel-like double-concentric- circle image like those seen at El Paso Púlpito. and Arizona. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 409 Rarámuri commentary on the art as being made by Apaches. These include a predilection for depicting horses and riders (Schaasfma 1980:335). Apache paintings resemble Navajo/Diné rock art with thick (often white) painted lines and distinctive motifs. Some of the rock art in the borderlands between Chihuahua. horse-and-riders. given their shared Athabascan cultural roots. shields. 25). 6. 201. But this remains an open inquiry. At Korákachi.

This piece was an example of a collaborative creation on rock. contra Murray and Viramontes (2006:3). and transformed over time (e. as a way to remember their great-grandfathers. Recent pictographs at a well-traveled pass between valleys depict a smiling person (interpreted as a child by locals) in a smock (approximately a meter tall).. These. are situated on exposed rock surfaces that erode and weather quickly. I was told that though the majority of the paintings visible today were made in a distant past. a sun with a face. a pock in the rock face that was used to mix the ocher paint. a thick- bodied human figure. community leaders) make new paintings. the one in Figure 15 depicts a large smiling child accompanied by a dog. and several people have told (and shown) me that they have carved shapes. while tending goats).” I have seen Rarámuri boys pecking images of trucks into the patina of sloping rock faces. The new paintings may also have been made by children.g. . as well as the peckings and carvings that I have seen being made by children.. Figure 15. and on some rocks may be seen outlines of feet scratched with stone ‘in order to leave their imprint in this world when they die’” (1987:168). the “highways” of the map were newly “paved” with red ocher mud when I first saw it) by several young authors. Levi took a photograph of a Rarámuri boy in the lowland barranca Sierra Tarahumara beside his recently created pecked rock art (on a boulder) in 1989 (Sanger and Meighan 1990:169. “maps. carved. “the chérame (elders) and wa’rura (“big” people.410 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH We can be sure that at least some of the rock art in the Sierra Tarahumara is authored by Rarámuri individuals. extended. When I asked whether new paintings were being made. it was maintained over at least ten to fifteen years. Just to the right of the image of the “child” is what appears to be the paint-well. Over the years I have seen a few new ocher paintings on the rock walls near well-trodden trails connecting valleys near where I lived. by perhaps four or five children successively. up to and including the present day. 6-12). maintained. who state that no Mexican indigenous group produces rock art today. One carving described to me by one of its creators as a “map of the Sierra” on a horizontal surface has almost completely eroded away over five years’ time. Lumholtz wrote that “in the caves [the Tarahumare] sometimes draw with ocher clumsy figures of animals and women. fig. with a dog or small animal. and three dots. In this case.” or figures onto rock as a way to pass the time (e. in a small valley where they took care of their goat herds. For example.g. These paintings were probably created between 2001 and 2005.

They are discussed in the order they were introduced in the descriptive section above. In Rarámuri thought. Thunderbirds. concentric circles. The many birdlike paintings (figures with outstretched wings). fig. The outlined cross.” This type of intuitively plausible interpretation is commonplace in the academy. Paiute informants are reported to have identified upside-down painted rock art horses as depictions from the world of the dead (Stoffle et al. very similar forms are documented for Baja California by Sanger and Meighan (1990:93. however. and the extended region of Northwest Mexico and Southwest U. Animals. depending on one’s intuitions. perhaps defended by a dog (upper right). may be interpreted as “thunderbirds. The T shape in Figure 7 appears intuitively to be similar to the “altar stones” and doorways of Casas Grandes (Paquimé) and the doorways of (Anasazi) Mesa Verde cliff houses and some other ancestral Puebloan dwellings. the painting in Figure 12 was interpreted by a local non-Rarámuri as the face of a jaguar. surmised to be from the historical period by Mendiola Galván (1998:12–13). The bovinelike figures in Figure 7 resemble four animals depicted in the Los Ojos del Chuviscar site in central Chihuahua. Similarly. T shapes. the human figures seem to be riding and leading animals up what looks like a switchback trail . The groups of animals (apparently deer. although it is “upside-down” in this depiction.S. identified as Anasazi (Slifer 1998: fig. and appealing to many who theorize about the meaning of rock art. 7. The marked boundary (Figures 5. it is difficult to confirm or disconfirm such a statement. I will describe some commonalities that suggest the complexity and range of ancient cultural exchanges in the wider region. These may or may not be plausible interpretations. 3-18). and zigzag lines are a few of these common images. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 411 Graphic Themes in the Semiotics of Sierra Tarahumara Rock Art This section elaborates on some of the patterns that emerge by comparing some elements in the rock art described in this article with those recorded and published by other authors in Chihuahua. horses) in Figures 7–9 stylistically resemble petroglyphs of a “procession of game animals” in Tapia Canyon. New Mexico. some with human-looking legs and feet (Figures 7 and 8). For example. Though I do not venture here to discuss the merits of identifying rock art styles for these regions. At Ajoreachi rockshelter (Figure 9). Concentric squares/rectangles/circles.” The thunderbird with rainlike feathers dripping from extended wings is common throughout northern Mexico and the western United States. As an example of diverse readings. One could interpret these as oxen or perhaps coatimundi or other animals trampling and eating a cornfield. Thus. big-horned sheep. 2000:21). and I highlight a few salient elements and relationships with apparent broader significance. the thunderbird. the settled farmer constructed the world in concentric circles around a granary. spirit worlds are often seen as inversions of the world as we know it—people and beings there live upside down or in mirror image to living human landscapes. Slifer notes that “Indians visiting today are said to be impressed by the experience of power” in that canyon (1998:147). an elaborate academic interpretation might be constructed with some justification. and 8) evokes Leroi-Gourhan’s (1993:327) comments about radial space: “the nomad hunter-gatherer visualized the surface of a territory by crossing it. 140).

Olavarría (2003:101–4) highlights the central importance of the cross as a ubiquitous index of sacred space. Hill (1992) illustrates the extensive reach of the Uto-Aztecan “flower world. Similarly. records that “on the side of a cliff were drawn the figures which appeared on the margin of my previous dilijencia. Patterson 1992:163). which can look like an abstract thunderbird in Rarámuri sashes (cf. particularly used in tripartite form (top. though the latter is of course also highly significant in Rarámuri landscapes today. The thick black “Christian” crucifix at left in Figure 7 raises the possibility that Catholic missionaries (or Christian converts) practiced in northern Mexico the same “censorship” or “exorcism” at rock art sites that they frequently did in New Mexico at Pueblo sites. The outlined “cross” of equal-length arms (Figure 12) has been documented in at least four other sites in southern Chihuahua (Mendiola Galván 2002:49). painting crosses near or over pictographs. sometimes explained as standing in for God (onorúame). and Young (1985:16) describes Zuni conceptualizations of the cross or X as denoting the four (semi) cardinal directions and the center as the heart/navel of Earth Mother. They were erased and destroyed by me. Both the equilateral cross and the kúrusi (crucifix) are highly significant in Rarámuri iconography as sites of transformation and communication between worlds. for the Yoeme of Sonora. The so-called Maltese cross is commonly found in nineteenth-century and contemporary weavings. The standing human figures in Figure 7 almost all have upraised arms. AD 1000. and interpreted to represent the morning star/Venus/Quetzalcoatl (Brown 1998:50. Crosses. Beardsley 1985). with a larger cross flanked by two smaller ones. and in the surroundings we drew crosses and the place was exorcised” (cited in Slifer 1998:86). interpreted by several authors cited in Patterson (1992:161) as a worshiping or praying stance. and in spiritual curing. 134). cited by Levi (2004:459) as a term also used ritually for “cross. and their son (variably kuristo or the morning star/Venus).” At Easter. The (Mayan) Dresden Codex denotes Venus with just such an outlined cross (Brotherston 1992). However. The crucifix is used as an agricultural sun calendar device (Wyndham 2004a:15). Rock art sites were clearly interpreted as having to do with indigenous spirit worlds. God’s wife (eyerúame).” a symbolic complex that includes Rarámuri crosses at least by association—the generic Rarámuri term for flower or sunflower is siwáchari. showy leaf wreaths called siwáchari are hung over the three crosses in the ritual patios. New Mexico. Human figures. as well as in Sinaloa and other states in Mexico. We should not assume that this cross is homologous to the Christian cross. In 1763 a colonial official of Abiquiú. another example of intuitive interpretation. Figure 7). with a herd of animals depicted below. Panels with somewhat similar depictions of groups of ungulates (though no humans) in Texas include one on the Rio Grande and another west of Fort Davis (Kirkland and Newcomb 1967:109. The links between Anasazi and Rarámuri iconography have not been systematically explored. Lumholtz (1987:378) published two sketches of human stick figures with . Schaafsma (1975:86–87) describes an outlined cross at Tularosa Creek in southern New Mexico and suggests it is a southern Mogollon trait possibly related to Anasazi influence ca.412 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH (common in this steep region on the edge of the Copper Canyon complex).

Diverse examples of the “square motifs. strongest symbol of water. as in Figure 11.” Lumholtz writes that “it is the custom of the [Rarámuri] shaman to draw underneath his resonator-gourd a mystical human figure in the sand. which for Rarámuri entails many things done backwards and reversed. Note the detail of the apparent roots in these corn plants. fruiting cornstalk in Figure 7 strongly resembles the corn- cloud terrace-bird complex that Schaafsma describes (1980:230. Lumholtz (1987:220–21) illustrates in detail the elaboration of the inverted triangles design. fig. An important north-south passage through the Sierra Tarahumara. rather than below it as is usual.” originating with the depiction of the double water- gourd of the Huichol/Wixárika jíkuri seeker. Subsequent (probably less ethnologically informed) descriptions by students of rock art label this common geometric element an “hourglass” or the more culturally neutral cuadro (square/ frame). Figure 1 depicts two strangely humanistic elements (in the center of the photo) as well as a figure kneeling before three crosses (not shown). or cuadros” (Schaafsma 1998: fig. The stoppered water-gourd was until recently an essential accoutrement for Rarámuri travelers. which is found in rock art throughout the Uto-Aztecan corridor and in contemporary Hopi and Pueblo iconography. or butterflies. which he elicited when he purchased crafts. as a “magical. Alternative . Winding lines/river/squash tendrils. one labeled “Tarahumare Medicine Figure” and a similar one sent to him by Frank Cushing called an “Ancient Ritualistic Petrograph. . crosses the Urique near an S curve in the river (upper left of Figure 7?). The curvilinear lines with spiral offshoots seen in Figure 7 could be interpreted as depictions of sections of the Urique River. The tall. with one upraised arm. Schaafsma’s example from the Three Rivers Petroglyphs of southern New Mexico also shows the cloudlike motif on the top of the plant. Cornstalks. The stylized stick figures are often found in rockshelters as the only marking. and to place the hikuli [jíkuri] in its centre” (1987:378). “Cuadros” or gourds. which wends tortuously through steep canyons only a few kilometers from Ajoréachi rockshelter. and knowledge of shortcut trails is crucial if one is traversing this area on foot. Though we should not assume that north would be depicted as “up” here. the Camino Real. one only of a number of semi-human mystic monsters” (in Lumholtz 1987:379). . Several Rarámuri described these rock art elements to me as nakaroari. . 189a). located under streams). the angle and direction of the “tributary” loops also generally follow those of the tributary streams to the Urique River near the rockshelter. The inverted-triangles pictograph is found throughout northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. The apparently upside-down plants at the upper right in Figure 7 may connote the underworld (in this region especially. Cushing calls his recorded figure a “water-animal god. Arizona. He leads the reader to believe that his interpretations of this iconography come from descriptions by the artists themselves. Lumholtz’s analysis is convincing yet seems to have fallen out of our conversation over the past century. and the double gourd can still be found hanging in many rural Rarámuri homes. The top radiating lines seen in Figure 7 may represent sun rays or lightning. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 413 upraised arms. 14) are found in the Sierra Tarahumara as well as throughout the Paquimé region in northern Mexico.

As Young describes the Zuni experience of rock art. as externalized. to tell the story of moral transformation after the punishment of the ancient people. and perhaps beyond. The impulse to add to existing rock . Similar themes have been recognized for the rock art of southern Africa (Lewis-Williams and Dowson 1989. or remembrance. that of the Northwest Mexico/Southwest U. rock art in Rarámuri landscapes is informationally connected to choices made in the past for right-living and proper ways of being Rarámuri (cf. morality.414 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH interpretations include these lines as representing squash tendrils or water more generally. DISCUSSION: ROCK ART IN CULTURAL LANDSCAPES Rock art in the Sierra Tarahumara is still alive and meaningful for those who live there. the images “have the power to evoke parts of tales and myths and. The rock art images not only evoke these stories about ‘the time of the beginning’ but also the emotions associated with them” (1985:11). aesthetic delight. They also provide semiotic links to traditions and lifeways in other areas of Mexico and the U. it is this: the paintings are signs of relationships with other (spirit) worlds. Thus. This is a noteworthy example of the alternative interpretations that are possible when we operate at the intuitive level of theorizing (Kuchka 2001). mediation. If there is a uniting theme for the rock art discussed here. persistent representations of ideas and relations that have intergenerational significance.S. 2000). The paintings that I have described here are diverse and likely date from different time periods and cultures. I recognize that children and other doodlers create images for a myriad of reasons. Rock art is an important source of cultural continuity and reinterpretation. danger. among others. whether in curing. Basso 1996). they do so in an affective manner. and relationship to rock art. Australia (Lock and Nobbs 1999). Images on rock are privileged among symbolic artifacts and may have a special role in the reproduction of symbols in that. Rock art is used by local people to reference the time of interaction with [k]apache. intellectual. Many symbols found in local pictographs have contemporary parallels in modern Rarámuri life and artwork. and spiritual information. Lewis-Williams et al. the images on rock evoke a wealth of relations in history. they persist across generations. and if elaborated on. and over generations of changing social and ecological relations. and. but all are part of the contemporary Rarámuri landscape. memories. indeed. and they embody aesthetic. fear. Particularly unique to the rock canvas is the way it allows for collaboration among people who are separated in time. and those of us who have had the opportunity to begin to be educated to their perspectives on the landscape. In addition to the otherworldly relations that are marked by much of the rock art discussed here. interpretation. Southwest. For the Rarámuri. and instantiated in the North American case of the Southern Paiute Ghost Dance rock art site in the Grand Canyon (Stoffle et al. 1996). furthermore. identity. and links to the spirit world. in the right conditions. There are multiple layers of affect. and these change over a lifespan of interaction.S. they are relatively salient in the landscape.

To the North. is the feeling of being in the presence of the past. More broadly. . to participate in the creative process of that place is found around the world. and teachings. Thanks to Monika Wyndham for creating the graphics in Figures 7. by the Apache—as well as time in the distant past and sites of power. Efigenia Ramírez.S. Martha Sitánachi. are known as evidence of a personal whimsy while the artist is spending time in a particular place on the land. as always. What these similarities mean is one of the great challenges facing North American rock art studies. Ma. Irma Chavez Cruz. As we have seen above. depending on context and personal history. Flagstaff. Milwaukee. I thank Bill Merrill for bringing to my attention the semantic layers of what contemporary Rarámuri mean by [k]apache. transformation. and to Jay Levi and Lawrence Straus for constructive commentary. Common to almost all the individuals who see this rock art. . particularly those that are created today by children. and Edie Wyndham for finding many rock art resources. Moreno Vatista and Margarita León. to two anonymous reviewers. the paintings most strongly communicate the possibility of finding buried treasure. the Mississippi valley and south central Great Plains. Above all. for their patience. specific shared rock art styles and traditions include Jornada Mogollon in the Upper Rio Grande valley and Hohokam rock art along the Arizona/Sonora border. 9. Rarámuri recognize mundane and playful aspects of rock art: some petroglyphs. Roberto González Morales. who are most actively contributing to the ongoing narrative. Francisco Cardenal. to leave a mark. ROCK ART AND LANDSCAPE RELATIONS 415 art panels. Other motifs are shared with . many rock art motifs are shared between the Mexican portions of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Wisconsin. generosity. NOTES My thanks to Kelley Hays-Gilpin for editing a previous version of this paper. Other rock art is recognized as markings by owirúames and treated with reserve and respect. and as a poster at the Vías del Noroeste Common Roots/Raíces Comunes conference in May 2006. as well as local mestizos and perhaps tourists. to Susan Matson for Figures 2 and 5. and Martín González for their guidance. the Baja peninsula and the rest of the North American Great Basin. and morality. Rarámuri notions and narratives about rock art are multivalent and diverse. I am particularly indebted to Rafael Largo Rejogochi and his wife Ribechi. just as popular touristic notions of rock art and “cave-dwellers” evoke colonial narratives of otherness. To some. and to Emilie Gladstone for editing assistance. grateful to the women and men with whom I worked in the Sierra Tarahumara. 1. I am. regardless of which social or cultural narrative is evoked. Arizona. of sharing an otherworldly experience with people who once stood at the same place in another time. and 12. In the Sierra Tarahumara it is children at play and elders remembering the past.” . Murray and Viramontes (2006:3) contextualize these relations and the work needed to understand them: “Rock art manifestations in Mexican territory are continuous both northward across the U.-Mexican border and southward into Central America. which allowed me to make follow-up inquiries. An early version of this paper was presented at the sixty-eighth annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in April 2003. Elena Lirio and Martín Sanchez. This research was made possible in part by NSF grant BCS-0135306 and SSHRC grant 410-2008-2740. Rarámuri narratives about the rock art in their landscapes also strongly evoke the ethnic other and notions of primitive/uncivilized behavior—in this case.

71. Brown. I grew up with imaginative stories about the rockshelter places in this Rarámuri valley as well. 2001. Batista. as Jerome Levi heard Rarámuri refer to “uncivilized” inhabitants from the distant past [personal communication 2010]). 73. 3. Keith H. pp. Grace. Gordon. Book of the fourth world: Reading the Native Americas through their literature. Janos. In the 1690s the Cocoyomes appear in the written record as resistors to the Spanish colonizers (González Pérez 2002) in the southern region of the Sierra Tarahumara. said by locals to be made by Cocoyomes (La Razón 2010). That morning. that there had been a big attack “on the other side” (meaning the United States). vast amounts of mineral wealth were extracted by the Spanish from the Sierra Tarahumara. while we washed clothes together in the stream. Rafael Largo and his wife Ribechi invited me to visit the Ajoréachi rockshelter pictographs. and what he thought he saw floating around his Volkswagen pickup truck later that night. La palabra de los antepasados: Anayáwari ra’íchari. Mallouf. that Los Angeles and New York had been bombed with airplanes (it was only later that I was able to piece together what had happened by listening to shortwave radio broadcasts). 4. 5. “Cerro del Diablo. REFERENCES CITED Basso. For example. 1998. Brotherston. Upon our return I was told by a friend. Roy B. Much earlier. Alpine. 1985. Chihuahua: A historic Apache site?” in Rock Art of the Chihuahuan Desert borderlands.” denoting transaction zones of the Apache from the High Plains to the interior of Sonora during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (1989:237). I do not disclose the exact locations of the rock art I discuss: visitors or investigators will properly go through local authorities and landholders for permissions and guidance to any sites on Rarámuri lands. Chihuahua: Cuadernos de Solar Instituto Chihuahuense de la Cultura.416 JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH 2. the Sierra Tarahumara was likely linked into the Paquimé (Casas Grandes) regional networks of trade and travel through what is also an ecological exchange corridor. American Indian Art Magazine 10(4):30–43. recently a cliff-dwelling was “discovered” in a remote area of the Sinforosa canyon. they lie within what Spicer called the “Apache corridor. I first visited the community as an infant. 45–53. TX: Sul Ross State . Edited by Sheron Smith-Savage and Robert J. Dolores. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This has also been called the “Casas Grandes interaction sphere” (Schaafsma and Riley 1999:6). what he found there. My siblings and I would often ask my father to retell the spine-tingling story of his hike to an “Apache” rockshelter with Rarámuri guides. 1999. The Cocoyomes are also known as Tubares (or Tubáriki. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Resource extraction has continued and intensified to the present day. then as a small child with my family on yearly trips in the 1970s. During the couple of hours’ return hike he shared a great deal of information about his practice as an owirúame and the ontologies of the parallel worlds he traverses as a curer. Wisdom sits in places: Landscapes and language among the Western Apache. near the rancho where he had grown up 50–60 years prior. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 1996. Thus. Occasional Papers 3. accompanied by periods of intense social contact. an otherworldly context for my interaction with the rock art was created for me early that day by my guide and later reinforced by the coincidental shifting of world relations that occurred on 9/11. Beardsley. 1992. Design development in Tarahumara and Pueblo sashes. My first guided introduction to rock art in Rarámuri landscapes was on September 11.

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