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Amerindians in Mexico
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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Among the American continents, Mexico is the country with the most Indians : an estimate of 30%, so about 30 million of the population, divided among more than 50 Indian tribes speaking more than 60 different languages. Most of these Indians live in communities with a village organized in a strong hierarchy. The religious authority is given to a
«chaman», main reference in social life. The idea of group profit is greater than the idea of individual profit. Their livelihood is mainly from traditional agriculture and being craftsmen. They sell their small-scale production in tianguis.

Different groups of amerindians

The states with the biggest concentration of Indians are the state of Oaxaca (1.7 million), the Chiapas (1.3 million), the Guerrero (450,000) and the state of Veracruz with 350,000. The descendants of the Aztecs, the Náhuas represent the most important group (close to 2,4 million). They live in the central part of the country and speak the language called the Náhuatl; the next largest group are the Mayas (1.5 million) living in Chiapas and Yucatán, speaking Maya divided in a dozen dialects, and finally the Zapotecs (506,000) and the Mixtecs (726,000 people) the first mentioned living in the state of Oaxaca, the others in the states of Puebla, Guerrero and Oaxaca. The Otomís with 646,000 are living in the center of Mexico, the Totonacs with 411,000 in the Oriental Sierra Madre, the Tzotzils with 406,000 and the Tzeltals with 384,000 are living in Chiapas.

 Left picture : Náhua of Puebla







indian of Mexico in Oaxaca market


   Right picture : indian of Mexico in Oaxaca market




young tarahumaras ladies with their babies at Cusáraré Some groups like the Yaquis live in the northern part of the country (State of Sonora) or the Tarahumaras (50 000), related to the Indian groups of North America, who live in the canyons and the low lands of the Sierra Madre Occidental (State of Chihuahua and the northwestern part of the State of Durango). They still live a traditional life style and are famous for their long distance running. They live in family groups on the high plateaus along the rios which are dry half the year. When the cold weather arrives, they go down to the canyons. They are different from the other Indian groups of Mexico because of their desire to be isolated. Their clothes are made from white cotton, called tapote, and have the traditional red headband for the men and a skirt and blouse with loose-fitting sleeves for the women. They are farmers, and the men grow corn and red beans, foundations of their food. The women take care of the home and children and make handicrafts. When they are not working, they spend most of their time contemplating : it is a system of thinking based on a spiritual search of happiness and the rise of self-consciousness.

Divided in several autonomic communities, each village has its own governor, chosen by the whole village because of his knowledge and his involvement in everyday life. Religion and beliefs are the foundation of the survival of these people. Their practices are the result of a mixture between Catholicism, brought by the Jesuits during the colonization of Mexico, and numerous ancestral rituals. They meet in Church on Sunday but they also have ceremonies to honor the stars, the sun and the moon. During these rituals, they play drums with a very repetitive rhythm and eat Peyotl - a cactus with very powerful hallucinogenic effects.

     Left picture : young tarahumaras ladies with their babies at Cusáraré


young Tarahumaras
Above picture : young Tarahumaras

Indian on the market The Tarasques Purépechas (150,000) who are good craftsmen (making pottery, masks, furniture), farmers and fishermen, live by the Pátzcuaro Lake and in the mountains of Michoacán.

Don’t miss the Day of the Dead (Nov.2nd), an imposing spectacle.

The Lacandóns, as many as 400, live by the Guatemala border. They hunt and grow cotton, tobacco and corn. They mix Catholicism and ancestral rituals. The amazing dance of the voladores is part of the Mexican folkloric heritage.

     Right picture : Indian on the market




The Totonacs, as many as 272,000, live on the Atlantic Coast, North of Veracruz and in the north of Puebla state. They lead a tough life and live on their cultivations. They eat meat only on holidays.

The Tzotziles and the Tzeltales, estimated at 100,000, live in the high lands of Chiapas. They are big smokers of wild tobacco and live on their cultivations. The Tzeltales live in the foothills while the Tzotziles live above 1500 m of elevation. They wear the most beautiful clothes of Mexico made by themselves (straw sombreros, wool cotton and fiber articles, fabrics made with rustic looms, tanned hides to make sandals (huaraches). They live in villages where the women have the power. They speak a dialect from Maya. San Juan Chamula is the center of the community of chamulas using the tzotile language.

huichols indians The Huichols (18,000) live in the Sierra Madre Occidental and in the Northern part of the state of Jalisco. A craft center about this ethnic group is in Santiago Ixcuintla. It shows their hand made products, one of the richest in the area. They have few contacts with the outside and live on selling their craft products and livestock on the markets. Following an ancestral ritual, they live in isolated houses in order to avoid the fights between women. These women wear large and very colorful skirts. The men wear a white suit made of a tunic with a belt, loose pants whose bottom is embroidered and a hat made of woven straw, the ropero. They are one of the last remaining cultures in the world that has remained true to its ancient traditions, customs, language and habitat. Huichol art - a reflection of their daily lives - is cloaked in a veil of mysticism. Colorful, symbolic yarn "paintings" inspired by visions experienced during spiritual ceremonies, characterize Huichol art.
Left picture : huichols indians

Nice newspaper article about the Huichols on the website www.mexconnect.com

totonac indians going to Cuetzalán market

     Right picture : totonac indians going to Cuetzalán market




Vender going to its market booth in Oaxaca


The population of Chiapas is multiethnic and multicultural. 81.5% of the aboriginal population is concentrated in two areas of Chiapas : Los Altos, the North and the Selva.
The main groups are : Tzotzil 36% of the total aboriginal population, Tzeltal 34.5%, Chol 17.4% then Zoque and Tojolabal.

Left picture : Vender going to its market booth in Oaxaca


Lady from Seris tribe The Seris, who are as few as 400 (seris means « the one living on the sand »), are a tribe of hunters and fishermen. They live in the Gulf of California and on the western coast of Sonora. Their livelihood depends on basket making and wooden sculpture.


     Right picture : Lady from Seris tribe



See the special chapter "Sonora"


The threshold of poverty

A lot of Indian people live under the threshold of poverty ; they don’t have enough land to provide for their needs. Since the seventies, we have heard more about the Indians. In 1991, under president Salinas de Gortari, the Constitution recognized the Indian people and a multiethnic Mexican nation. The recent National institute of the indigenous languages (Inali) is commissioned to promote the use of these languages. But this projection in speech is far from the reality. President V.Fox couldn’t find an agreement with the Zapatista rebels from Chiapas.

Indians with their typical costumes in the area of Oaxaca


Left picture : Indians with their typical costumes in the area of Oaxaca  




a lunch of an indian lady





           Right picture : a lunch of an indian lady





          Below pictures : Nahua indians in Cuetzalán

Nahua indians in CuetzalánNahua indians in Cuetzalán

















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