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