Ethnic Tourism in the Sierra Tarahumara:
A Comparison of Two Raramuri Ejidos
by Amy Elizabeth Anderson

Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts 1994
(Edited for length, complete text can be found at


Ethnic tourism is becoming increasingly important in the Sierra Tarahumara region of Chihuahua, Mexico as it is elsewhere in the world where indigenous people live. Raramuri residents of the neighboring ejidos of Arareco and Cusarare have taken different approaches to handling tourism. Arareco's outside-assisted project contrasts with Cusarare's inside-initiated approach in regard to four main issues: economic development, tourist attractiveness, inter-ethnic relations, and community cohesiveness. In Arareco, economic development is uneven, tourist attractiveness has declined, inter-ethnic relations between the Raramuri and mestizos have worsened, and community cohesiveness has been disrupted by the uneven distribution of benefits between the genders and locations. In contrast, Cusarare's economic development is slower and better distributed, tourist attractiveness is maintained because of the retention of traditional lifestyle, and inter-ethnic relations are cooperative and mutually beneficial as both the mestizos and the Raramuri profit from tourism. However, the community in Cusarare is also divided but between those who welcome tourism and those who reject it. This thesis further illuminates the debate between inside and outside development strategies within the wider context of ethnic tourism.  


Ethnic Tourism Approaches to Tourism Background IssuesEconomic Development, Tourist Attractiveness, Inter-ethnic Relations, Community Cohesiveness Methodology   ARARECO CUSARARE Comparison and Conclusion

Ethnic Tourism

Ethnic tourism is related to the more popularly known nature or eco-tourism. In nature tourism, people visit a region in order to enjoy its natural beauty. Ethnic tourism is the addition of an indigenous or traditional group of people who live in this environment and interact and depend upon it. Visitors enjoy both the natural environment and the singular ethnic experience. Because of the ethnic groups' dependence on the environment, it is difficult to separate ethnic tourism from the landscape in which it occurs. Hence, nature and ethnic tourism are often interrelated and inseparable. From the visitor's point of view, ethnic tourism is "travel motivated by the search for the firsthand, authentic and sometimes intimate contact with people whose ethnic and/or cultural background is different from the tourists". Tourists are also driven by the desire to see some of the "threatened" cultures that may soon disappear through assimilation into the nation's majority.

Ethnic and nature tourism can help protect indigenous people and their environments by providing a sustainable alternative to subsistence agriculture and extractive activities such as timber harvesting. Ethnic tourism can also have many negative consequences including commoditization of culture, social tension, and loss of cultural identity. The varying controllers of tourism play a major role in the changes and effects wrought by tourism on the resident population.

National parks and similar protected areas are the most recognizable forms of nature and ethnic tourism. These large-scale, federally controlled land management systems preserve land that is often in danger of encroachment and extraction activities. Some national parks are designed to protect the environment and the indigenous groups dependent on that environment. However, federal control of these lands often neglect the needs or input of the parks' residents.

An alternative to national, people-exclusive projects is a project or approach to tourism that includes the resident population and recognizes the value of traditional techniques that can help manage the environment. "Local participation at all stages" is a phrase included in most project documents but not always strictly followed . Outside assistance can provide ideas and needed capital but can also produce many problems.

One alternative to outside assistance is no assistance. This allows an approach to tourism to evolve from the existing social order and within the limits of the natural environment and culture. Of course, economic unfairness and social disruption can still occur (and does). Indigenous-developed tourism has some clear advantages.

Outside-Assistance versus Inside-Initiative

An outside-assisted tourist project or approach entails the influence of a group or organization in implementation, planning, capital, and/or advice. Sometimes that influence is the government, other times the help comes from international organizations. Although all these outside agents aim to help or assist the indigenous group in tourism, often this assistance backfires. An inside-initiated approach is an approach or project to tourism that is initiated, planned, and implemented by the groups themselves. Native people may engage in cooperative relationships with outsiders, but these relations differ from outside-assistance because the exchange is controlled by the indigenous people themselves.

This thesis compares two approaches to tourism that occur in the neighboring ejidos (community ranch land) of Arareco and Cusarare in the Sierra Tarahumara of northern Mexico. Both areas have a similar natural environment, economy, culture, political problems and history so an analysis of their varied strategies can be more easily compared. Although many of the problems with Arareco's and Cusarare's plans may be culture specific, the method in which this study determines and analyzes these problems can apply to other cultural groups dealing with tourism.

Background of Projects

Arareco and Cusarare are neighboring Raramuri ejidos in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. The last twenty years have seen these two areas change and adapt to increased tourism. The two communities lie on the northeastern edge of Raramuri-occupied territory and are near the mestizo community of Creel. Because of Arareco's and Cusarare's proximity to mainstream society, both ejidos are pressured to compete in the modern economy. The two ejidos have been the recipient of increasing number of tourists eager to see the mysterious Raramuri, especially during their Christmas and Easter festivities. However, the bulk of tourism profits have bypassed Arareco and Cusarare while the nearby mestizos have profited by providing services. Arareco's and Cusarare's strategies regarding tourism both attempt to profit from the increasing interest in the Raramuri culture and in the natural environment in which they live.

Tourism in Arareco and Cusarare has been similar in some respects. Most tourists are transported by their hotel to the ejido where they might visit the mission and then take a short hike to enjoy a scenic view such as a waterfall. The tourists view the scattered Raramuri dwellings, either wooded houses or caves. Along the hiking paths, Raramuri women make and sell their crafts which include baskets, pottery, blankets, drums, dolls, purses, and belts. Some Raramuri men offer their services as guides and rent their horses. Most are engaged in herding goats, tending plots, gathering plants, and working around the home, all activities that interest the ethnic tourist.

In April of 1992, the ejido of Arareco started a tourist development project. This project receives money from the federal government and advice and supervision from the Commission for Solidarity and Defense of Human Rights (COSYDDHAC). With goals of economic development, there are plans to pave the roads, build a museum, and provide horse, bike, and boat renting facilities. Currently, the most prominent change is the $3 (U.S.) entry fee and $10 (U.S.) per camera fee that is collected at the time of entry. The money collected from tourists along with that provided by the government is used to carry through the aforementioned projects.

Unlike Arareco, Cusarare has no tourist project but does have a different approach to tourism. Neither requesting nor receiving outside assistance, the residents of Cusarare decided to maintain and build upon tourism in its present form. They are doing this by developing new crafts and increasing craft production. In addition, they began charging $1 (U.S.) per person to visit the ejido mission and waterfall. The money collected is currently being used to fix the mission floor and will later be used for other community projects. Future development plans include maintaining the ecological and cultural elements of the ejido while improving the diet and living conditions of its residents.

Issues of Comparison

Both Arareco and Cusarare want to benefit from the increasing tourism, retain local power, and maintain their cultural identity. The approach each is taking to accomplish these goals is very different in both their method and consequences. To compare these two approaches, four main issues drawn from ethnic tourism literature are analyzed for each ejido.

Issue I - Economic Development
Tourist projects aim to attract visitors who will spend money and thereby increase the income of the area. This influx of income can spur economic development in several forms. Initial income can go to basic improvements such as food and medicine purchase. As more capital is accumulated, residents may adopt modern accouterments including better housing, paved roads, and electricity. However, adapting to modern society is often resisted and development can also take the form of reinvestment into cultural activities such as craft-making and dances.

Issue II - Tourist Attractiveness
Maintaining and increasing tourist visitation is usually the main goal in tourist projects. Attractiveness already exists in the natural environment and indigenous population; an appropriate project would increase that attractiveness. However, the realities of cultural change often break tourist expectations consequently hurting the "authenticity" of the area. On the other hand, there are also problems with upholding tourist expectations as real social and political needs are sacrificed for tourism.

Issue III - Inter-ethnic Relations
Indigenous groups often share their region and/or country with the non-indigenous or mixed-blood majority. The manner in which they relate to these resident "outsiders" helps determine their future cultural individuality or assimilation. These outsiders include the non-indigenous local residents, the national government, and outside organizations. Often these relations are exploitative with the dominant majority forcing their interests over those of the minority. This does not necessarily have to be the case as cooperative relations between ethnically diverse groups can occur to the benefit of all. How the indigenous population deals with the various interests can play an important role in the success of an ethnic and nature tourism project.

Issue IV - Community Cohesiveness
Community cohesiveness is the state of relations that have bound the indigenous group together through cultural, economic, and linguistic similarities. Tourism, with its disparate benefits, can cause and increase divisions in these communities. There are also opportunities to maximize benefits through community cooperation.


There is limited documentation of tourism in Arareco and Cusarare. Even among the hundreds of articles, books, and archive materials, most information on the Sierra Tarahumara deals with Jesuit-written history or ethnographies on the Raramuri with very little on tourism and its impact in the past twenty years. Therefore, most of this study's information was gathered in the field through interviews, attending meetings, and observation. Field research was done in Arareco and Cusarare over a three year period (both formally and informally) with over six total months of residence in Creel during October 1991, February-April 1992, January, March, May-June, November 1993, and January 1994.

Gathering information about COSYDDHAC was difficult. Unlike the United States, which requires non-profit organizations to have an annual report that is available to the public, these laws in Mexico, even if they exist, are not enforced. Therefore, it was a perplexing task to find documentation that indicated the extent of COSYDDHAC's role in Arareco, specifically in regards to money. Problems also arose when interviewing COSYDDHAC members. There were problems in identifying leadership within the group, many contradicted the information given by other members, and several refused to give their names. Because of these difficulties, the Raramuri viewpoint as well as data collected from personal observation is given more weight in this analysis.

Issue I: Economic Development

Tourism is both a strategy and a cause for development, which itself has a multitude of definitions ranging from the provision and enhancement of tourist facilities and services to increased employment and a heightened standard of living for the indigenous recipients of tourism.

In Mexico, Arareco and Cusarare both want economic development but their approaches take different forms. Some of Arareco's plans include building roads, a museum, a tourist lodge, and a restaurant. With government money and an outside human-rights group's ideas and planning, the development is large-scale and rapid. Cusarare, with local ideas and little money, has invested in maintaining the cultural and ecological elements of the ejido by putting energy in craft development and maintaining and promoting nature trails. The lack of outside funds and ideas perhaps keeps Cusarare's ambitions much lower than those of Arareco.

Issue II: Tourist Attractiveness

Tourist attractiveness is the degree to which visitors are lured to a particular area. Much of this attractiveness depends on the tourists' expectations which are cultivated through media and other sources. Indigenous groups can suffer consequences of breaking or even upholding tourist expectations. Some say that tourism is the enemy of authenticity and cultural identity because it can both "commoditize" culture for tourism and change culture through the demonstration effect while others assert that tourism is an incentive to maintain unique traditions and promote cultural identity. Clearly, a controversy exists.

Ethnic and nature tourism should ideally stimulate awareness, appreciation, and understanding of a unique culture and the environment the culture lives in. Unfortunately, many tourists come with expectations and "often prefer to reaffirm their preconceived images of primitive or unusual cultures rather than confront real issues and change" (Harron and Weiler 1992). Guidebooks and brochures often describe the ethnic tourist attraction as traditional, quaint, exotic, and primitive. With these terms in mind, the tourist can become dismayed by the adoption of new clothing or technology by the indigenous group. Tourists might bemoan the loss of purity and innocence of "once dignified, proud peoples" but fail to realize is that this "traditional culture" has been changing for centuries, just as any other culture. While it is naive to expect traditional indigenous peoples to remain static while their visitors' lives are always changing, often the native's livelihood depends on this stasis.

There are many problems with upholding tourist expectations and maintaining a traditional life for tourism, especially if this "maintenance" is done by an outside agent.

Even if tourists' expectations of a "primitive" culture are temporarily satisfied, their very presence as tourists provide stimulus for change. Although there is incentive for maintaining traditional habits, there is also increased income and the introduction of new ideas at a rapid rate. Tourists become disillusioned with the culture as the natives, whose hopes of economic profit from tourism and eagerness to modernize lead them to adopt more of the trappings of modern society. The cultural uniqueness which attracted the tourist in the first place slowly disappears.

Tourist attractiveness might decline if the benefits from ethnic tourism are used as an economic opportunity to "catch up" rather than reinvest in their culture and make ethnic tourism sustainable. Although economic development which leads to acculturation is not necessarily negative, for the purposes of ethnic tourism, development decreases tourist attractiveness. In any case, indigenous people who are subject to ethnic tourism are in a dilemma. Sustainable ethnic tourism means maintaining the cultural attributes which make the people unique. By adopting new technology and "developing," indigenous groups decrease tourist attractiveness. Therefore to sustain attractiveness, development efforts need to maintain profitable traditions and select only those modern conveniences acceptable to tourists sensibilities such as medical care or clean water. However, this strategy can be both difficult and unfair.

The issue of tourist attractiveness is an excellent one for comparing Arareco and Cusarare. The plans for "development" in the two ejidos both attract and deter tourism. Arareco's project has already deterred tourists who have either heard about it or have visited the ejido. As basic services are already provided in Creel, many tourists are disappointed that "primitive" Indians are "modernizing." By mimicking the mestizo-provided services, many feel that the residents of Arareco are accelerating their acculturation into modern Mexican society. Cusarare's development, on the other hand, attracts tourists. The residents of Cusarare promote cultural aspects of the ejido because tourism profits are reinvested in "attractive" traditions. Also, by investing in environmental conservation, the residents of Cusarare are ensuring the sustainability of their land-dependent lifestyle.

Issue III: Inter-ethnic Relations

The issue of inter-ethnic relations is concerned with how the indigenous minority relates, competes, and cooperates with non-indigenous or mestizo neighbors who are often the national majority. Because inter-ethnic relations deal with voluntary cooperative relationships, it differs greatly from outside-assistance whereby an outside group or population aids, influences, and often controls the indigenous tourist enterprises and relations. By learning how to maintain or enter into cooperative relationships with the dominant majority when necessary, the indigenous minority can perhaps maintain their autonomy and improve their economy by working together with their neighbors.

The rural Raramuri of Arareco and Cusarare are surrounded by mestizos living on farms and clustered in lumber towns such as Creel. The mestizos provide services such as hotels and transportation while the Raramuri and their land serve as the tourist attraction. The Raramuri have been able to supplement their income by selling crafts and entering in cooperative relationships with their mestizo neighbors. Hotel-run guide services transport the visitors to ejido land and directly to the craft sellers. Raramuri guides show the hotel guests around thereby completing the "tour." Monetary gain is made by the hotel selling the tour, the craft seller and the Raramuri guide who charges either the guest of the hotel for his services. Arareco's tourist project began charging an entrance fee to the ejido which surpassed the cost of a tour to the ejido. Discouraged, hotels began offering tours to other areas, such as Cusarare, where the entrance fees were more reasonable. By asserting their rights without maintaining cooperative links with the mestizo hotel-owners, the residents of Arareco are suffering from the consequent decline in tourist flow.

Issue IV: Community Cohesiveness

Tourism brings change and can affect the cohesiveness of a community. Factionalism and social stratification can be exacerbated and daily routines disrupted when divisions of power and benefits are uneven or deemed unfair. Cohesiveness can be maintained or fostered by an approach to tourism that incorporates all the people in decision-making and profits.

Both Arareco and Cusarare have divided communities that have resulted, in part, from their approaches to tourism. Arareco's tourist project benefits 30 families directly and 370 indirectly. Of course, the main supporters of the project are those families who are the direct beneficiaries. The short-term results of the project have reduced tourist flow, however, and this has reduced the income of the women who would formerly sell crafts from their homes. This has intensified problems between the craft-making women and fee-collecting men. In Cusarare, the division is also between those who benefit from tourism and those who do not. Many see the opportunities provided by tourism and want to take advantage of it, possibly with a tourist development project such as Arareco's. Others, however, reject intrusion and want to sustain tradition over that of monetary gain.


The Arareco Tourist Development Project is an initiative to make Arareco a major tourist center, providing employment for its residents and income for the community. This chapter describes the ejido setting, the project, and how outside-assistance is relevant to the ejido. The four issues outlined in the previous chapter are used to illustrate project effects.


The Commission for Solidarity and Defense of Human Rights (COSYDDHAC) is the primary agent in the planning, implementation, and current administration of the project. The Commission was founded in 1990 by a Catholic bishop interested in human rights issues involving the Raramuri. Of its eighty-odd members (all mestizo), approximately 12 work as full-time staff members investigating human rights abuses, holding workshops, and organizing activities. COSYDDHAC helped ejido leaders outline the project and are assisting them in spending the $1.3 million (U.S.) awarded to Arareco from the Mexican government's National Solidarity Program (PRONOSOL) for development.

COSYDDHAC has been a strong presence in Arareco since October 1991 when the Raramuri became engaged in a struggle over land with the government. At that time, the Ministry of Agrarian Reform produced a document with Raramuri signatures indicating the abandonment of ejido land around Lake Arareco, a popular sightseeing and camping destination. The 144 Raramuri residents of the lake area were informed by an "Act of Dislocation" document that the ejido land by the lake was to be opened for outside investment (probably hotels) unless they attended a crucial hearing in Chihuahua City. COSYDDHAC became involved and helped to organize over 300 Raramuri to storm a legislative session in Congress. Consequently, the governor of Chihuahua revoked the Act and promised the Raramuri the right to keep their land. Six months later, the Arareco Tourist Development Project, with COSYDDHAC as its main proponent, was implemented.

As stated before, outside-assistance does not necessarily mean that an outside group controls an indigenous group's activities but can merely mean that they have influence. Sometimes, there is a blurry line between bona fide aid that is requested and manipulation by outside agents. COSYDDHAC wavers on that line. Many COSYDDHAC representatives deny direct involvement in the Arareco Tourist Development Project while others boast of their "grassroots" assistance. Interviews with Arareco residents indicate that COSYDDHAC has been the main force behind the Tourist Development Project; their ideas, influence, and administrative role is very well known in the Raramuri community. To outsiders, COSYDDHAC's involvement is evident as they serve as speakers, proponents, and managers of project activities.

One key component of this argument revolves around the control of money; in particular the $1.3 million grant from PRONOSOL. This money is designated for infrastructure and planning and is held in a bank account in Creel. Access to this account is controlled by the Raramuri tourist project leaders who work closely with COSYDDHAC. It is unclear how these "leaders," who are primarily lake residents, were elected and what role COSYDDHAC played in their election. Through interviews of the Raramuri, however, it became clear that expenditures are not made without COSYDDHAC oversight.

Issue I - Economic Development

Since the inception of the project, some physical development has occurred but most of it is loosely planned for the future. These plans have expanded and changed since the project began. For example, the earliest Arareco tourist brochures emphasize the desire to provide small tourist services such as boat rental. Later brochures stressed building roads, a museum, expanding the tourist lodge, and opening a restaurant. More recent pamphlets, however, mention the importance of improving running water and providing latrines for the community. It is unclear what the project's priorities are and how all these sometimes discordant goals will be realized.

In addition to being confusing, the economic plans for Arareco are uneven. Most tourist development is planned for the lake area while the rest of the ejido will remain relatively untouched. The benefits, including infrastructure and employment, therefore, go to the 30 or so families who live near the lake. It is questionable how the other 370 families will benefit "indirectly" (as tourist brochures state). The development planned for the ejido community, such as roads and electricity, need initial capital and maintenance. However, a great amount of investment is needed to establish the tourism facilities around Arareco, maintain them, and provide for those residents. Many residents interviewed feel that the project planners had no intention of "developing" the ejido at all, but merely to enlarge the tourist facilities around Lake Arareco.

Issue II - Tourist Attractiveness

There are many elements of the modern world in the Raramuri culture, but they retain enough traditional attributes to be distinct and therefore attractive to the ethnic tourist. However, the more exceptional aspects of the Raramuri culture have been overemphasized in the tourist literature, brochures, and newspaper accounts. Therefore, tourists often visit Raramuri ejidos, such as Arareco, with certain expectations in mind. When these expectations are not met or not replaced with a pleasing alternative, tourist attractiveness declines.

Tourists' initial reaction to Arareco's Tourist Project was a negative one. Even before any physical evidence of change, tourists were complaining about the project idea. The project, as indicated through brochures, was to provide services for visitors and improve the standard of living for its residents. With basic needs met in Creel, most tourists interviewed said that they do not want additional services in Arareco. By improving the Raramuri standard of living, tourist attractiveness also decreases because it is the very low standard of living (called "traditional" here) that tourists expect and come to see. Without even visiting the ejido, tourists are detracted by these two goals and opt to visit Raramuri ejidos that do not have development projects.

While Arareco's brochures emphasize that the project is an expression of the determination of the Raramuri, many tourists see the Raramuri as "selling out" and becoming incorporated in the modern economy. Part of the Raramuri's attractiveness is the history of their resistance to modernity and their retention of traditional ways. The determination described in the brochures does not ring true to what tourists think Raramuri determination should be which might be a rejection of a project. To make matters worse, the influence of outsiders is apparent. For example, pictured on the walls of the Arareco tourist office in Creel are COSYDDHAC members signing documents, running meetings, and generally overseeing development activities in Arareco. Even without the telling photographs, COSYDDHAC has a visible presence in the ejido as its personnel are seen riding around in trucks and directing different tourist activities. By appearances alone, the Arareco tourist project seems to be controlled by the mestizos (COSYDDHAC) and not by the Raramuri.

In sum, many of the interviewed tourists expressed disapproval towards a project that accelerates development and the accompanying loss of tradition and culture, especially if that project is controlled from outside. Tourist expectations may change with time, however, as Arareco becomes viewed as a resort rather than a stronghold of ancient tradition. Someday, Arareco may become a base, such as Creel, from which tourists make day excursions to see traditional Raramuri in yet to be developed communities.

Issue III - Inter-ethnic Relations

Inter-ethnic relations, in this case, refer to the relations between the indigenous Raramuri and their mestizo neighbors. Many who say they are of Raramuri extraction identify themselves as mestizo. A relationship exists because the two groups share land boundaries and the tourism industry. The mestizos, located near the rail lines, bus stops, and larger population centers, are primarily the tranporters and lodgers of the tourists. In contrast, the Raramuri serve as the attraction, the supplier of crafts, and the residents of the landscape that tourists want to visit. Because the mestizos in Creel have influence in directing tourists to certain areas, it is to the advantage of Raramuri individuals and communities to enter into cooperative relationships with these neighbors.

Before the tourist project, mestizos promoted Arareco because of its proximity, wealth of natural wonders, and traditional-living Raramuri. Tourists would often pay for inexpensive ($3-10 US dollars), mestizo-run tours to Arareco. Those tourists who did not want to pay for tours were given directions on how to walk to the ejido because the mestizos still profited by having the tourists use Creel as their base of exploration. Raramuri families live close to the four main tourist sites in Arareco: San Ignacio mission, Lake Arareco, the Valley of the Monks, and Recohuata hot springs. Tourists were frequently brought by the tours directly to the doors of the Raramuri who would then sell their crafts, give tours of their homes, and offer their services as guides. The tourists would then complete their "tour" by visiting the mission, hiking to the Valley of the Monks, or strolling around the lake. At the hot springs, Raramuri boys and men waited for tour groups at the edge of the canyon where they were then paid by the mestizo drivers to lead the tourists down to the hot springs. The mestizos clearly had the economic advantage in this relationship, even though they were dependent on Raramuri help and, indeed, their very existence. The Raramuri, recognizing the economic power of the mestizos, entered relationships because they saw it as a way to keep from being totally exploited.

Relationships between mestizos and Raramuri have changed with the tourist project, particularly in regards to access. On April 6 1992, there was much confusion within the mestizo community, especially among those involved in tourism, when tour vans and walking tourists began to be stopped at the entrance roads to the ejido and asked to pay an entrance fee. The fee-collectors had no identification, the entry gates were not marked, and by all appearances, it seemed as if loitering Arareco residents were merely panhandling. In response, all tours and promotion of the ejido was stopped until more information could be gathered. After a few days the president of COSYDDHAC revealed to the Creel community the existence of a tourist project.

A meeting was held between a hastily organized mestizo group and COSYDDHAC. The short-term result of the move was a boycott of Arareco by the mestizos who declared that the continuation of tours to Arareco was uneconomical because the entrance fee doubled the tour price. Consequently, tourism declined in Arareco. Although, this was in part due to decreased attractiveness of the region from evidence of planned development, the mestizos were an accessory to this decline by not offering tours, not advertising the ejido, and in most cases, behaving and talking as if the ejido was not even there. Tours were redirected to ejidos which had lower or no fees and cooperative relationships were forged or continued with individual Raramuri living outside of Arareco.

Issue IV - Community Cohesiveness

Community cohesiveness is the maintenance of relationships among a people who are bound by common characteristics. Before the tourist project there were considerably more similarities among Arareco ejido residents than after the project began. These differences, aggravated by an outside-assisted tourist project, have affected community cohesiveness.

A rift developed between the genders when the men's new income opportunities associated with the project began to interfere with the women's already established craft trade. Since long before the project started, the women of Arareco have been making dolls, baskets, yarn belts, and purses. They often sold their crafts directly from their homes or along the paths where tourists would walk. Sometimes, the women carried crafts into Creel, selling them in stores or on the street, but they preferred to stay close to home. Men had relatively lesser roles in tourism. Although some would assist in craft production (such as carved-dolls and instruments), most engaged in agriculture or odd jobs in Creel.

Since project implementation, the flow of tourists has decreased. The tourists who do enter the ejido do not buy as many crafts as they did before. Many of the women said that the high entrance fee keeps the tourists from spending so freely within the ejido. In order to sell crafts, a trip to town is no longer optional for women and their children but a necessity. Unfortunately, there is more competition for selling native crafts in Creel than there was in Arareco. Not only do the Arareco residents have to compete with the several handicraft stores, but also with Raramuri women from other ejidos. This has caused craft prices to be driven down. Meanwhile, the new employment opportunities generated by the project were primarily given to men. These jobs included fee-collection, construction, and running the rental services.

While some blame for the women's situation could be placed on the tourists and the mestizos, as well as the project and COSYDDHAC itself, the women blame the men. Because the project was voted upon in the all-male ejido council-women were excluded from participating. Few of the jobs and none of the decisions were given to the women. Women, therefore, had little to do with the project and distrust the use of potential income that the men control. According to many of the women in Arareco, the money from craft-selling goes to feeding and clothing the family while the men's income is frequently not as well spent. Alcohol abuse is a visible problem among the men and many women interviewed believe that the project supports their alcoholism.

Another disagreement developed, one between those who benefit directly from the project and those who do not. This division is particularly sharp between the Raramuri who live near or around Lake Arareco and those who live in more remote locations. Inequalities soon became apparent as the lake residents began constructing and working on project facilities which were based at the lake. Those Raramuri living away from the lake were involved little in construction and they reaped few benefits. Coincidentally, the main leaders of the project (who are working with COSYDDHAC) are residents of the lake area and benefit the most from this project. The Lake area, unlike other sites, is adjacent to the highway so tourists can visit a limited area of the lake shore without paying an entrance fee. The majority of Arareco's residents live well within ejido borders and away from the highway. Some have no need for tourism benefits but others, especially those who live along popular hiking trails and vistas, have come to depend on tourism. The entrance fees have deterred the tour vans and the individual walking tourist from venturing into Arareco's interior. Therefore, profits disproportionately have benefited lake residents over others.


There are many consequences and unforeseen results of the Arareco Tourist Development Project. Economic development has been inconsistent and unequal in distributing benefits while tourist attractiveness has decreased partly from these same development plans. The inter-ethnic relations between the Raramuri and mestizos have been damaged as a result of this project and Arareco is therefore suffering from this lack of cooperation. The community of Arareco is less cohesive because the project has re-distributed benefits, disrupting gender roles and relations, redistributing income along gender lines, or allowed some to earn over others, like at Lake Arareco. What has not been extensively analyzed here is the crucial role of COSYDDHAC as the main proponent behind this project.


The ejido of Cusarare has an approach to tourism that capitalizes on craft development and promotes visitor experience linked to the natural environment. This chapter explains why this method is a model for inside-initiated development. Then, Cusarare's approach is expanded upon and illustrated using the four main issues.

Inside-Initiated Development

Cusarare does not have what most would call "a project." Instead, the ejido residents have an "approach" that is indigenous in nature, works within the confines of economic and natural resources of the ejido, and relies little (if at all) on outside ideas, funding, or other assistance. It does have objectives and goals that pertain to improving the life of ejido residents while maintaining the ejido's cultural and environmental integrity but it does not fit in a structured project format to allow it to be recognized as such. The strategy behind this approach is one invented and carried out by Cusarare's Raramuri residents.

Issue I - Economic Development

Economic development has been slow in Cusarare. There are few wage-earning opportunities and purchasing power is, therefore, nearly non-existent. However, tourism offers one of the most viable opportunities for economic development.

During the past three years two distinct income-producing activities have been established: the collection of entry fees and the sale of locally made handicrafts. The fee is only collected at the two main tourist sights: the mission and the waterfall. The money is saved until enough is amassed to do something substantial. For example, one of the first expenditures made with the entry money was to buy food for the ejido members whose crop failed in the uncommonly dry years of 1991 and 1992. Other expenditures, such as rebuilding the mission floor, are capital investments as they are directed into the tourist infrastructure. The limited income keeps plans small-scale and selective. In sum, the entrance fee is used by the ejido as a community and considered a community endeavor in both its collection and it’s spending.

Handicraft sales provide other money-making opportunitys associated with tourism in Cusarare. Economic gain is small, but reaped directly by those who invest in crafts on an individual/family basis. Many of the crafts made in the ejido are ubiquitous throughout the Sierra, but Cusarare residents remain competitive by producing a greater number of these crafts with a larger variety of styles. One example is basketry. Cusarare is also acknowledged for producing crafts that are not found in other communities. Snakes made from the twisted branches of the Manzanita are an example of this. The combination of higher quantity and quality of handicrafts has made craft-selling a popular and viable form of livelihood.

The income from crafts has a more significant economic effect than the entry fee money because profits are concentrated in separate family units of the craft maker rather than spread throughout the community. Handicraft sales produce additional income which can be used to buy food if crops fail or to buy cloth and other necessities. Because most crafts require only materials readily accessible from the natural environment (such as pine needles or bark), there need not be any initial monetary investment in the craft trade. Therefore, the handicrafts are an additional wage-earning option for the Raramuri of Cusarare.

The deliberate incorporation of tourist-related activities as income need not necessary replace traditional means of livelihood but merely supplement it. Development in Cusarare, in the form of infrastructure and wage earning capacity, is still slow. The pace allows the Raramuri to engage in a combination of activities such as both subsistence agriculture and handicraft selling. By participating in tourism, even marginally, the Raramuri can better manage the cultural and economic changes that are brought with those tourists.

Issue II - Tourist Attractiveness

Tourists visiting Cusarare get to interact with Raramuri people firsthand; this is especially true along the trail to the waterfall. Raramuri women and children position themselves along the picturesque two-mile trail. Children play as the women weave baskets, fit clothes on pine-bark dolls, and make woolen items on handmade looms. Tourists can look over the variety of handicrafts arranged along the trail-side and witness the process of craft production. The scene gives the tourist a sense of authenticity even though the trail has been marked and widened specifically for tourists and the Raramuri selling crafts along that trail would normally be at home.

The $1.00 entry fee is sufficiently modest to be of little bother to tourists and does not detract them from purchasing handicrafts. In fact, many of the interviewed Raramuri say that since the fee was imposed, tourists have been treating the trail and the Raramuri with more respect. The very existence of the fee makes visitors aware of Raramuri land ownership and the economic necessity of supplying themselves with things that even the ethnic tourist does not begrudge the native, such as enough food. It is attractive for the tourist to support the Raramuri "self-determination," which is maintaining their traditional culture through tourism.

The Raramuri of Cusarare satisfy tourist expectations because they appear uninfluenced and their ejido is less developed. Development in Cusarare has taken an unobtrusive form. It does not draw the attention of the ethnic tourist. Even with the capitalistic and entrepreneurial craft industry, interviewed tourists said that they felt they were supporting a traditional culture by buying crafts. In a way they are, because the Raramuri of Cusarare have incentive to support themselves through craft-making. However, the amount of craft production and the many styles and new forms are a result of increased tourism. These were non-existent earlier and have little functional use. However, for the purposes of ethnic tourism, these contrived expressions of culture have only increased the attractiveness of Cusarare.

Issue III - Inter-ethnic Relations

Cusarare is close to Creel but at 20km is too far for most tourists to walk. Also, no public transportation system such as a shuttle or bus exists. One of the few ways to get to Cusarare, therefore, is by a tour, usually organized by a hotel.

The usual mestizo-run "tour" provides transportation to sites of cultural and scenic interest and usually costs between $7.00-$13.00 (U.S.). A tour of Cusarare usually begins at the mission. The mission is locked so the Raramuri custodian is tipped either by the mestizo or the tourists for unlocking the door. This relationship was formalized with the implementation of the tourist approach. The mission custodian now sells entry tickets that permit access to the mission and the waterfall trail. All other sights are free.

The introduction of Cusarare's entry fee did not cause problems with mestizo relations. There are several reasons for this. First, the fee was forewarned. By word of mouth the tour drivers were made aware of the entry fee "idea" and therefore the mestizos could express their approval or dissent before the fee was imposed. Furthermore, the fee does not interfere with mestizo profits. Because of the locations of collection sites, only the tourists who specifically visit the waterfall or mission pay the fee. The less popular areas of the ejido are free of charge for tourists while the mestizo tour driver and local mestizos continue to pay nothing for all sights.

The implementation of an entry fee and the independent approach to tourism actually improved some aspects of the Raramuri-mestizo relationship. Formerly, the mestizos were repeatedly frustrated at the lack of Raramuri business sense. Besides allowing free access to ejido land, the Raramuri frequently sell their crafts at extremely low prices. For example, the Raramuri craft-sellers often sell all their crafts for the same price from easily-made wrist-bracelets to ornately woven baskets that take days to complete. In the last couple of years, the Raramuri have raised some of their craft prices. This has been received by the mestizos with both support and approval for they see the Raramuri taking their economic development into their own hands while not interfering with mestizo profits. In fact, mestizo and Raramuri ideology have come closer as both ethnic groups work together to profit from tourist trade.

Issue IV - Community Cohesiveness

Communities are cohesive because of a common cultural identity, one based on shared customs and beliefs. An ideal approach to development by means of tourism would maintain this cohesiveness and allow time for people to adjust to change. Cusarare's approach has not been successful in maintaining community cohesiveness in part due to the unequal benefits of tourism. Although there are many Raramuri in Cusarare who are physically removed far from tourism's effects, there are also a great a number who live near the roads, mission, and waterfall and cannot ignore it. Much of the change is slow, but not all ejido residents are capable or willing to adjust.

The most visible divisions in Cusarare are between the entrepreneurial Raramuri who welcome tourism and the traditional Raramuri who resent the intrusion and accompanying change in culture and economy. For the entrepreneurs, tourism has provided opportunities (primarily income from crafts) which has freed families and individuals from dependence on the precarious subsistence lifestyle. The limited economic development, increased relations with mestizo neighbors, and exposure to tourists holds promise for the future of sustainable ethnic tourism.

The traditionalists do not see tourism with the same optimism. These Raramuri, usually the older members of the community, see the changes over time as significant. One example of cultural change is the decreasing occurrence of communal assistance. The subsistence farmer occasionally needs the help of his neighbors to construct a granary or harvest a crop. In Raramuri tradition, this communal aid is followed by a tesgŸinada, a beer party, which reaffirms and strengthens the cultural and communal ties in the area. Alternative income sources have reduced reliance on agriculture and consequently have broken down reciprocal community relationships. Even though Cusarare's approach emphasizes retention of traditional culture, the ejido is not free from the possible commoditization of culture and the commercialization of crafts. An "approach" to tourism may handle the present flow of visitors but it also gives Cusarare the status of a tourist destination that may lead to unwelcome future growth.


This thesis has explored two development strategies used by neighboring native communities. One is an indigenously derived strategy, the other involves external influence. Four issues-- economic development, tourist attractiveness, inter-ethnic relations, and community cohesiveness-- were compared. From this discussion, conclusions are drawn and solutions proposed which relate to the bigger picture of ethnic tourism.

Approaches to Ethnic Tourism: Outside versus Inside

Arareco's approach to tourism, specifically the role of outside assistance, has many disadvantages. Economic development is fast and uneven, tourist attractiveness has declined in large part due to this development, and inter-ethnic relations between mestizos and Raramuri are one of non-communication. Cusarare's approach avoids these problems as economic development is slow and internally controlled, tourists continue to find the ejido attractive, and relations with mestizos are cooperative and mutually beneficial. Arareco and Cusarare both lack cohesive communities but for different reasons. Arareco's divisions stem from outside assistance while Cusarare's is more related to general problems with tourism. This example is important to show that even though Cusarare's approach to tourism has so many advantages over Arareco's, not all problems can be resolved in such a changing environment.

As mentioned in the introductory chapter, Arareco and Cusarare have a similar goal; to benefit from the increasing tourism. Instead of helping Arareco residents achieve this goal, outside-assistance and the project caused more problems than it solved. Arareco residents would probably be better off maintaining tourism in its prior form or handling the tourist project themselves. Perhaps if the project idea was derived by the Raramuri, as well as carried out and implemented by them, there may have been fewer problems. In general, the project was too big and the objectives too broad which necessitated COSYDDHAC's assistance for successful implementation. Cusarare's approach to tourism has many advantages compared to Arareco's. By using resources and ideas from the inside, development and change works within a framework that is most desirous for the Raramuri, as well as for their mestizo neighbors and the tourists. Local ideas, based on a shared history and culture, may be more appropriate and more likely to succeed such as they did in Cusarare.

This comparative analysis of Arareco and Cusarare does have wider importance. Ethnic tourism literature has been neglectful in addressing the effects of outside influence in contrast with a similar area that is not subject to that influence. This thesis has shown that the inside-initiated approach has some distinct advantages over that of the outside-assisted approach. In particular, the problems that occur with outside-assistance are avoided. It is very difficult for outside help to consider all the underlying and peripheral issues that are relevant to the tourism situation. These same issues, some of which were covered in the cases of Arareco and Cusarare, are often implicitly understood by the indigenous population. Therefore, conflicts concerning these "issues," such as inter-ethnic relations, are more easily avoided.

No correct answer or perfect solution is proffered here; rather a presentation of alternatives with examples of what has worked and what has not is offered. The comparative analysis of Arareco and Cusarare has demonstrated that outside-assistance, promoted as "grassroots" because it worked with the people, has not helped the Raramuri manage tourism better. For the purposes of ethnic tourism, perhaps it is better to leave an indigenous group alone to handle their own tourism rather than try to ameliorate already satisfactory conditions. In other words, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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