The Colorful Indigenous Cora: Independent and Proud

The Colorful Indigenous Cora: Independent and Proud

Tara A. Spears

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In the isolated rugged mountains and deep canyons of Sierra Madre Occidental live one of Mexico’s oldest indigenous people, the Cora Indians. With less than 25,000 people remaining, this tribe remains true to their ancient cultural traditions and language.

By the early 18th century Coras were an anomaly because they had never permitted the Catholic missionaries to live in their territory. The Coras were a pagan island in a sea of Christian Indians and Hispanic culture. One can only admire the tenacity of this people to preserve their way of life in spite of invading armies and pressure from the dominant culture to assimilate.

According to Rick Warner for the Center for Latin American Studies, “The fact that idols are found throughout both missionary periods should speak for itself: the Coras did not discard their traditional rituals simply because the missionaries and ruling soldiers insisted upon it. Moreover, interviews indicated that Coras were happy to share information about their idols and ceremonial centers. The Coras saw nothing unnatural in subscribing to both traditions.”

The Coras in Jesús María, Nayarit and surrounding ranchos still maintain a high degree of self-sufficiency in spite of all the modern changes in the area. They grow their own fruit and vegetables (corn, beans, and squash during the wet season), raise cattle, gather a wide variety of wild plants, hunt. cora2

During the winter and spring Coras often migrate to the Nayarit coast and work as seasonal workers, picking tobacco, beans, coffee and other crops. Some migrate further north where the Cora men usually work on ranches or as construction workers and the Cora women work in restaurants or hotels. Coras work as venders in Jaltemba Bay in the winter.

One of the unique features of this culture is how the Coras explain sickness and health. Their view is very different from western medicine. To a Cora, it is the balance between a man-nature-cosmos that will keep them healthy. They consider sickness as something supernatural caused by an imbalance around them. Or illness can be a punishment from God for those who neglected their religious obligations and who failed to make appropriate offerings, not only to the saints but also to shrubs in certain sacred caves. “If you are Cora and you don’t participate in the celebration of the Holy Week, you can get sick or have an accident,” explain the Coras. Traditional medicine is very important for the Coras. The traditional healer, Curanderos, are considered to be a bridge between God and man. They visit the house of the sick person and help people with their own healing methods.

In the Cora society every man and woman needs to learn and develop special skills to make a living. The men are hunters, fishermen, builders, blacksmiths, bricklayers,musicians, and healers. The women can work as a midwife, and needle work, weaver, in the kitchen, or take care of the house.

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The combination of geography with isolated locations in the mountains, Cora traditions and language has been a big challenge for the public authorities and medical personnel. The reason some Coras prefer the treatment of traditional doctors is fear, shyness and embarrassment.

Religious practice: The music and dances are the most important parts of the Cora religious festivals; the Coras express their relation with gods through music and group dancing. The fiesta dates are the same in every Cora pueblo but the demonstration varies. Some communities do theatrical performance, they dance, sing, while other groups install statues of the saints.cora9

Mitote ceremonies are performed three times a year and represent three crucial phases of the corn cycle. It is an enjoyable trip to visit one of the Nayarit Cora villages to watch the ancient ceremonies that have been used for hundreds of years.