Before the colonial period, the Tarahumara (or Raramuri) inhabited most of what is now central and southern Chihuahua. After gold and silver were discovered in Parral in 1631, the Spanish pushed these people north into the high rugged mountains in what is now the Sierra Tarahumara.
Modern pressures have forced the people into the most remote areas of the state, where they cannot grow enough food for survival and weather conditions are very harsh. Many are almost wholly depending on help from the outside to survive.
Handcrafts are one of few ways that the Tarahumara have to earn money to live on. It has become increasingly important as most are culturally unable to immigrate to cities, which are competely alien environments for them.
Most are the tradtional crafts that originally had utilitarian or ceremonial purposes. But as in all communities, some people get creative and incorprate outside ideas mixing and matching to create something new.
Dolores Luna Rodriguez is from a tiny village called Tehuerita in the municipality of Carichí. Luna calls her town and its people forgotten as they are way off the beaten path.
She has spent her life in domestic duties, cooking, sewing, embroidery, and has sold medicinal herbs, baskets, traditional clothing and other handcrafts.
About 20 years ago or so, she came across some cloth dolls that someone had made. Thinking to herself, “I can do this,” she began by making four small dolls. These sold quickly, and she was encouraged to continue.
She has worked to improve her dolls, taking advantage of fairs she has been invited to see what others were doing and how she take home new ideas and techniques. She has particularly concentrated the embroidery of the faces, realizing that an attractive face goes a long way towards selling a doll.
At first all of her dolls were made similar to those that have come into existance among many of Mexico’s indigenous groups. The dolls are simply, sometimes crudely, constructed and stuffed with fiberfill. In Luna’s case, her dolls are simple, but well-constructed, with talented embroidery, thick yarn hair and solid stuffing. Where her and other dolls of this type really stand out are the dress as they are miniature versions of the clothes they already have long experience in making.
However, Luna has invented a twist on her dolls. She has combined her basketmaking with her sewing abilities to make “basket dolls.” The doll’s upper body is made the same way, but without legs. Instead, the upper body is fixed upright onto the edge of a basket that has been woven by hand, then the entire baskets is enveloped in a full skirt. This is possible because Tarahumara traditional woman’s dress consists of a loose blouse paired with a full skirt of the same material.
The basket portion is one of the two types that the artisan makes, depending of the type of plant fiber available at the moment. Depending on said fiber, the basket may be stiff or relatively soft and pliable.
Luna states that she likes the dolls, but admits that her main reason for making them is the money that they earn. She began selling the dolls along with her daughter, at first in the market, enough to buy food. But the dolls caught attention and she started receiving invitations to sell her dolls and dresses at fairs, even as far south as Mexico City.
Originally, she was the only one making dolls but today there are six in her village.
The dolls sell best among foreign tourists and Mexicans outside of Chihuahua. She can sell them in Chihuahua, but finds the novelty is what appeals to those outside of her state.