Mexico's Sierra Tarahumara: A Photo History of the People of the Edge
By W. Dirk Raat and George R. Janacek
University Of Oklahoma Press, 1996, 212 pp.
In an age when much of grassroots Latin America is obscured behind statistics and balance sheets, both these books bring the reader closer to the earth. The Sao Paulo of the 1930s was still a frontier town but was visibly turning into an industrial and financial metropolis. Parant was in the process of colonization. Many of the indigenous communities the renowned anthropologist Levi-Strauss visited and photographed between 1935 and 1939, while still isolated from coastal Brazil, were nonetheless composed of people who already represented, in Levi-Strauss' view, "the wreckage of prior civilizations" -- the last escapees from the cataclysm that discovery and subsequent conquest had wreaked on their ancestors. The wonder was that they managed to re-create viable societies; 60 years later, Levi-Strauss is doubtful that even this is now possible.
The roughly 50,000 Tarahumara live in the mountains and canyons of Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental. From southwestern Chihuahua, Raat, a historian at the State University of New York at Freedonia, and Janacek, a photographer, also tell a story of survival and transformation brought about by centuries of Jesuit missionaries, miners, railroad builders, and the timber industry. The images and the text are exemplary.