Mexico is one of the countries in the world with the greatest ethnic diversity, human conglomerates with a linguistic, spiritual, cultural, gastronomic and other kinds of heritage that enriches the Mexican nation.
We invite you to learn about the particularities of the most important indigenous groups and peoples of Mexico, in an interesting journey through their habitats, customs, traditions and legends.
The group of Nahua peoples leads the Mexican indigenous ethnic groups in population with 2.45 million inhabitants.
They were called Aztecs by the Spanish and have the Nahuatl language in common. Anthropologists point out that they formed 7 peoples of the same nation: Aztecs (Mexica), Xochimilcas, Tepanecas, Chalcas, Tlahuicas, Acolhuas and Tlaxcaltecas.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, they constituted a powerful conglomerate in the entire Valley of Mexico, with an impressive warrior, social and economic influence.
Their current communities live in the south of the DF, especially in the Milpa Alta Delegation and in enclaves in the states of Mexico, Puebla, Morelos, Tlaxcala, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Oaxaca and Guerrero.
Nahuatl is the indigenous language with the greatest influence on Mexican Spanish. The nouns tomato, comal, avocado, guacamole, chocolate, atole, Esquite, mezcal and jícara, are of Nahua origin. The words achichincle, tianguis, cuate, straw, kite, corn and pamper also come from Nahua.
In 2014, the work Xochicuicatl cuecuechtli, the first opera composed in the Nahuatl language, premiered in Mexico City. It is based on the sung poem of the same name that Bernardino de Sahagún compiled in his collection of Mexican Songs.
Traditions and customs of the Nahuas
Its main ceremonies are celebrated at the winter solstice, during Carnival, on the Day of the Dead and on the occasion of planting and harvesting.
Their fundamental space for economic exchange and social interaction has been the tianguis, the street market that they set up in Mexican towns and cities.
His painting is one of the best known in Mexico made on amate paper, wood and ceramics.
The concept of family of the Nahuas goes far beyond the family nucleus and singleness and widowhood are not well seen.
Every chronicle or monograph of the indigenous peoples of Mexico grants the Mayans a special importance for the marvelous culture they created in Mesoamerica.
This civilization developed 4 millennia ago in Guatemala, in the current Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Chiapas and in the territories of Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.
They have a main language and a large number of variants, the most important being the Yucatec Maya or Peninsular Maya.
Their direct descendants group in Mexico a current population of 1.48 million indigenous people, who live in the states of the Yucatan peninsula.
The first Mayans arrived in Mexico from El Petén (Guatemala), settling in Bacalar (Quintana Roo). Some of the words that the Mayan gave to the Spanish are cacao, cenote, chamaco, cachito and patatús.
Among the names of indigenous peoples of the world, that of the Mayans is pronounced with admiration for their advanced culture in architecture, art, mathematics and astronomy.
The Maya were probably the first people of humanity to understand the notion of zero in mathematics.
Mayan traditions and customs
Its remarkable architecture and art was reflected in pyramids, temples, and stelae with explicit messages and allegories at sites such as Chichen Itzá, Palenque, Uxmal, Tulum, and Cobá.
The sophistication of its calendar and its precise astronomical records are amazing.
Among its traditions, the Mayan ball game and the worship of the cenotes as divine bodies of water stand out. They practiced human sacrifices because they believed that they pleased and fed the gods.
One of its main Mayan ceremonies is the Xukulen, dedicated to Ajaw, the creator god of the universe.
They form the third Mexican indigenous town in population with 778 thousand inhabitants concentrated in the state of Oaxaca, with also smaller communities in neighboring states.
The main Zapotec enclaves are found in the Valley of Oaxaca, the Zapotec Sierra and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
The name “Zapotec” comes from the Nahuatl word “tzapotēcatl”, which the Mexicas used to define them as the “inhabitants of the place of the sapote”.
The Zapotec language has many variants and belongs to the family of Otomanguean languages.
The most famous Zapotec is the “Meritorious of the Americas”, Benito Juárez.
The original Zapotecs practiced polytheism and the main members of their Olympus were Coquihani, god of the sun and sky, and Cocijo, god of rain. They also venerated an anonymous figure in the form of a jaguar-bat that is believed to be the deity of life and death, in the style of the bat god Camazotz in the Mayan religion.
The Zapotecs developed an epigraphic writing system around 400 BC, one primarily related to state power. The main Zapotec political center was Monte Albán.
Traditions and customs of the Zapotecs
The Zapotec culture gave the Day of the Dead its mystical connotation of the meeting of two worlds that Mexico currently has.
The Guelaguetza is its main celebration and one of the most colorful in Mexico in terms of dance and music.
The central festival of the Guelaguetza takes place on the Fortín hill, in the city of Oaxaca, with the participation of delegations from all regions of the state.
Another Zapotec tradition is the Night of Candles to worship the patron saints of cities, towns, and neighborhoods.
The Mixtecs represent the fourth Mexican native population with 727 thousand indigenous people. Its historical geographic space has been the Mixteca, an area in southern Mexico shared by the states of Puebla, Guerrero and Oaxaca.
It is one of the Mexican Amerindian towns with the oldest traces, so much so that they predate the beginning of the cultivation of corn.
The Spanish conquest of the Mixteca was relatively easy due to the collaboration provided by the rulers in exchange for preserving privileges.
This region enjoyed relative prosperity during the viceroyalty due to the high value of the grana cochineal used as a dye.
The westernization or Hispanicization of the Mixtecs, together with the atomization of their territory, led this people to retain a more communal than ethnic identity.
The so-called Mixtec languages are linguistic varieties of Otomanguean origin. The historical processes and the strong migratory tendency of the Mixtecs took their languages to almost all the Mexican states.
Three Mixtec languages associated with the geographic space of the Mixtec can be distinguished: Coastal Mixtec, Low Mixtec, and High Mixtec.
Traditions and customs of the Mixtecs
The main economic activity of the Mixtecs is agriculture, which they practice on small plots that are transferred from generation to generation.
The Mixtec spiritual tradition has an animistic component, positing that all people, animals, and inanimate things have a soul.
Their most important festivals are the patron saints in which they reaffirm their relationships with their families and members of their community.
The relative poverty of their lands induced an important migration to other Mexican regions and the United States.
5. Otomi people
There are 668,000 Otomis in Mexico, ranking fifth among the indigenous peoples with the largest population. They live in a fragmented territory in the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, Querétaro, Michoacán, Guanajuato and Tlaxcala.
It is estimated that 50% speak Otomí, although linguistic diversification makes communication between speakers from different states difficult.
They forged alliances with Hernán Cortés during the conquest, especially to get rid of the domination of other ethnic groups. They were evangelized by the Franciscans in colonial times.
They communicate with each other in Otomi, which along with Spanish is one of the 63 recognized indigenous languages in Mexico.
Actually, Otomi is a linguistic family whose number of variants changes according to the opinion of specialists. The common stem of all is Proto-Otomí, which is not a language with an original source, but rather a hypothetical language reconstructed using historical linguistic techniques.
Traditions and customs of the Otomi
The Otomi practice rites for the improvement of crops and celebrate the Day of the Dead, the celebrations of Señor Santiago and other dates of the Christian calendar.
Its choreographic tradition is headed by the dances of Acatlaxquis, Santiagos, Moros, Matachines and Negritos.
The Acatlaxquis dance is one of the most popular. It is executed by men who carry long reeds and reeds as flutes. Its main stage are the patron saint festivities of the towns.
Among the Otomi, it is up to the groom’s family to request and negotiate the hand of the bride before their family group.
The Totonac civilization arose in the current states of Veracruz and Puebla during the late classic period, approximately in the year 800 AD. Its imperial capital and main urban center was El Tajín, whose archaeological ruins declared a World Heritage Site contain pyramids, temples, buildings and courts for the ball game, which illustrate the splendor achieved by the Totonac culture.
Other important Totonac centers were Papantla and Cempoala. In these two cities and in El Tajín they left evidence of their monumental clay architecture, their varied ceramics and their stone sculptural art.
Currently, 412,000 indigenous people of Totonac origin live in Mexico, based in Veracruz and Puebla.
The main deity of the people was the sun, to whom they offered human sacrifices. They also worshiped the Goddess of Maize, whom they considered the wife of the sun and gave her animal sacrifices, believing that she detested human suffering.
Traditions and customs of the Totonacas
The Rite of the Voladores, one of the most famous in Mexico, was incorporated into the Totonac culture during the post-classical era and thanks to this people the ceremony survived in the Sierra Norte de Puebla.
The women’s traditional costume is the quechquémetl, a long, wide and embroidered dress.
Their typical houses have a single rectangular room with a palm or straw roof, in which the whole family lives.
7. Tzotzil people
The Tzotzil form an indigenous people of Chiapas of the Mayan family. They are distributed in some 17 municipalities of Chiapas, with San Cristóbal de las Casas being their main center of life and activity.
Its region of influence can be divided between the Highlands of Chiapas, with its mountainous topography and cold climate, and the lower zone, less rugged and with a tropical climate.
They call themselves the “bats iviniketik” or “true men” and are part of one of 10 Amerindian groups in Chiapas.
Currently, 407,000 Tzotziles live in Mexico, almost all of them in Chiapas, where they are the largest indigenous people.
Their language belongs to the Mayan speech family and descends from Proto-Chol. Most indigenous people have Spanish as a second language.
The Tzotzil language is taught in some primary and secondary schools in Chiapas.
Pope Francis authorized in 2013 the translation into Tzotzil of the prayers of the Catholic liturgy, including those used in masses, weddings, baptisms, confirmations, confessions, ordinations and extreme unctions.
Traditions and customs of the Tzotzil
The Tzotzil believe that each person has two souls, a personal one located in the heart and blood and another associated with an animal spirit (coyote, jaguar, ocelot and others). What happens to the animal impacts the individual.
The Tzotzil do not eat sheep, which they consider a sacred animal. The indigenous leaders are generally elders who must prove supernatural powers.
The traditional female dress is a huipil, an indigo dyed skirt, a cotton sash and a shawl. The men wear shorts, a shirt, a neckerchief, a wool poncho and a hat.
The Tzeltals are another of the indigenous peoples of Mexico of Mayan origin. They live in the mountainous region of Chiapas and amount to 385,000 individuals, who are distributed in communities where the political system of “uses and customs” governs, which seeks to respect their organization and traditions. Their language is related to Tzotzil and both are very similar.
Many elders speak only Tzeltal, although the majority of children express themselves in Spanish and in the native language.
The cosmology of the Tzeltal people is based on the communion of body, mind and spirit, which interact with the world, the community and the supernatural. Disease and ill health are attributed to mismatches between these components.
Healing focuses on restoring the balance between body, mind and spirit, hand in hand with shamans, who counteract imbalances and bad influences with rituals.
In their community organization they have mayors, mayordomos, lieutenants and rezadores, who are assigned functions and rituals.
Traditions and customs of the Tzeltals
The Tzeltals have rites, offerings and festivals, of which the most important are the patron saints.
Carnival also has a special symbolism in some communities like Tenejapa and Oxchuc.
The main figures of the festivities are the butlers and alfereces.
The typical costume of Tzeltal women is a huipil and a black blouse, while men do not usually wear traditional clothing.
Tzeltal handicrafts consist mainly of textile pieces woven and decorated with Mayan designs.
The history of the Mexican indigenous peoples indicates that the Mazahuas originated from the Nahua migrations towards the end of the Postclassic period and from the cultural and racial fusion of the Toltec-Chichimec communities.
The Mazahua people of Mexico are made up of some 327,000 indigenous people who live in the states of Mexico and Michoacán, where they are the most numerous Amerindians.
Its main historical settlement has been the Mexican municipality of San Felipe del Progreso.
Although the exact meaning of the term “mazahua” is not known, some specialists affirm that it comes from Nahuatl and that it means: “where there are deer”.
The Mazahua language belongs to the Otomanguean family and has 2 variants, the western or jnatjo and the eastern or jnatrjo.
There is also a Mazahua minority in Coahuila. In the city of Torreón lives a community of about 900 indigenous people made up of Mazahuas who emigrated north during the 20th century.
Mexico, Michoacán and Coahuila are the states that recognize this people as their own ethnic group.
Traditions and customs of the Mazahuas
The Mazahua people have preserved their cultural manifestations such as their worldview, ritual practices, language, oral tradition, dance, music, clothing, and handicrafts.
Traditionally, the native language has been the main means of communication, although fewer and fewer children speak it.
The rites and festivities have an organization in which the main figures are the prosecutors, butlers and butlers. They usually build houses and carry out major works in days called “faenas” in which the entire community participates.
The Mazatecs make up a Mexican ethnic group that lives in the north of Oaxaca and in the south of Puebla and Veracruz, made up of some 306,000 indigenous people.
They became known worldwide thanks to María Sabina (1894-1985), a Mazatec Indian who gained international celebrity for her open, ceremonial and healing use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Their traditional terroir has been the Sierra Mazateca, in Oaxaca, divided into Mazateca Alta and Mazateca Baja, the former cold and temperate and the latter warmer.
During the period 1953-1957, the construction of the Miguel Alemán dam drastically modified the habitat of the Mazatecs, causing the migration of several tens of thousands of indigenous people.
The Mazatec languages, although closely related, do not constitute a linguistic unit. The most widely spoken variant is the Mazatec of Huautla de Jiménez, a Magical Town in Oaxaca and the birthplace of María Sabina.
This town is one of the main Mexican destinations for psychedelic tourism, made up of travelers interested in discovering new hallucinogenic experiences.
Traditions and customs of the Mazatecs
The main cultural traits of the Mazatecs are their traditional medicine and their ceremonial practices linked to the consumption of psychoactive mushrooms.
Its most relevant economic activities are fishing and agriculture, especially sugar cane and coffee.
Their rites and celebrations are related to the Christian and agricultural calendars, in which planting and harvest dates and requests for rain stand out.
A therapeutic ritual is the consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms to enter a trance and thereby resolve personal and group conflicts.
The Huastecos descend from the Mayans and inhabit La Huasteca, a wide region that encompasses the north of Veracruz, the south of Tamaulipas and areas of San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo and, to a lesser extent, of Puebla, Guanajuato and Querétaro.
The Huasteca is usually identified with the state, speaking of Huasteca Veracruzana, Huasteca Potosina and so on.
Huastec or Tenex is a Mayan language and the only non-extinct language of the Huasteca branch, after the disappearance of the Chicomuselteco language in Chiapas was confirmed in the 1980s.
It is also the only Mayan language spoken outside the traditional historical space of the Mayans, formed by the Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador.
The vast territory of La Huasteca shows a great ecological variety with coasts, rivers, mountains and plains. However, the Huastecs have always preferred a warm climate as they usually live below 1000 meters above sea level. The basis of their economy and food is corn.
There are currently 227,000 indigenous Huastecs in Mexico.
Traditions and customs of the Huastecs
This town is known for the huapango or son huasteco, a musical genre among the most appreciated in Mexico. Includes singing and tapping.
Of the Huasteca choreographies, the dance of the disguised ones that is danced in the Candelaria festivities and the dance of the mecos, typical of the Carnival, stand out.
The typical costume of the Huastecas is a panuco over a plain blouse and a wide and long skirt, with a predominance of white in all the pieces, a characteristic feature in the clothing of the Gulf of Mexico region.
The Choles form an indigenous people of Mayan origin that lives in the Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco and Campeche and in Guatemala. They call “kaxlan” to the foreigner or foreigner, be he encomendero, landowner, rancher, evangelizer, rogue or member of the government, a word that means “does not belong to the community.”
Their worldview revolves around corn, a sacred food granted by the gods. They consider themselves “men created from corn”.
They speak the Chol language, a Mayan language with two dialects, Tila Chol and Tumbalá Chol, both associated with municipalities in Chiapas. It is a language very similar to Classic Maya.
Its numerical system is vigesimal as was usual in the Mesoamerican indigenous peoples, whose reference for numbering was the 20 fingers of the human body.
They live from livestock, pig farming and agriculture, growing corn, beans, sugar cane, coffee and sesame.
Its natural environment is full of mighty rivers that form beautiful waterfalls such as Agua Azul and Misol-Ha. There are 221 thousand choles in Mexico.
Traditions and customs of the Choles
The Chol attach great importance to marriage and usually marry between relatives, so they are a people with a high level of inbreeding.
The men are engaged in agricultural and livestock activities, while the women help by harvesting fruits, vegetables and herbs in small family gardens.
Its main festivities are related to the agricultural calendar in a mixture with Christian beliefs. Corn has a predominant position.
In the preparation of the land, the death of the maize god is celebrated, while the harvest is the resurrection of the food deity.
This Mexican Amerindian people is made up of 203,000 indigenous people who live on the Tarasca or Purépecha plateau, in the state of Michoacán. In Nahuatl they were known as michoacanos or michoacas and their habitat extended to Guanajuato and Guerrero.
Their current communities cover 22 Michoacán municipalities and migratory flows have created establishments in Guerrero, Guanajuato, Jalisco, the state of Mexico, Colima, Mexico City and even the United States.
They practiced a polytheistic religion during pre-Hispanic times in which a masculine creative principle, a feminine one and a messenger or “divine breath” coexisted, a trilogy associated with the father, the mother and the son.
The symbol of the masculine creative principle was the sun, the moon represented the feminine creative principle and Venus, the messenger.
Traditions and customs of the Purépechas
The Purépechas have a flag made up of 4 quadrants in purple, sky blue, yellow and green, with an obsidian figure in the center that represents the sun god.
Purple symbolizes the Ciénaga de Zacapu region, blue the lake region, yellow the Cañada region, and green the mountain forests.
One of its main festivities is the Night of the Dead, in which they celebrate the lives of their ancestors and remember the good times lived by their side.
One of its musical manifestations is the pirekua, a rafted song with a sentimental and nostalgic tone.
The Chinantecas or Chinantecos live in an area of Chiapas known as Chinantla, a socio-cultural and geographic region in the north of the state that encompasses 14 municipalities. Its population totals 201 thousand indigenous Mexicans.
The language is of Otomanguean origin and is made up of 14 variants, a number that is not precise since it depends on the linguistic criteria used.
The Chinantec language has a VOS structure (verb – object – subject) and the number of tones varies from one dialect to another.
The origin of the Chinantecas is unknown, it being believed that they migrated to their current location from the Tehuacán Valley.
80% of the population was exterminated by the diseases carried by the Spanish and the conquest forced the rest to migrate to the highlands. During the colony, the Chinantla region had some economic importance for cochineal and cotton.
Traditions and customs of the chinantecas
Stone soup or broth, an exotic Mexican preparation in which food is cooked by contact with incandescent stones, is of Chinantec origin.
According to the tradition of this indigenous people, the soup is prepared by men and only with stones chosen by the elders. It is made in jícaras and not in metal or ceramic pots.
Chinantec women wear colorful embroidered dresses with round and ornate necklines. The main festivities are the patron saint festivities, the Carnival and the New Year.
The mixes constitute another Mexican indigenous people settled in Oaxaca. There are about 169,000 indigenous people who live in the Sierra Mixe, the Oaxacan mountain range of the Sierra Madre del Sur.
They speak Mixe, a language belonging to the Mixe-Zoquean family. There are 5 variants or dialects associated with geography: High Mixe from the North, High Mixe from the South, Mixe from the Middle East, Mixe from the Midwest and Mixe Low. Some linguists add a further mixe spoken in communities in the municipality of Totontepec.
Most of the Mixe communities are of agrarian organization, operating independently of one another in communally owned territories.
In the municipality of San Juan Guichicovi, the lands are exceptionally ejidos and in the municipalities of San Juan Cotzocón and San Juan Mazatlán the 2 forms of tenure coexist (communal property and ejidos).
Traditions and customs of the mixes
The Mixes still use the house-to-house marketing system, selling or trading food products or clothing for other goods such as coffee, an exchange system that works in conjunction with the village markets.
Men carry the greatest burden in livestock management, hunting, fishing, and farming, with women helping with weeding, harvesting, and storage. They also take care of the upbringing of the children and the food.
The Mixes believe that the spirits of the dead continue to live in the same neighborhood and perform rites during funerals so that they do not harm the living.
With 141 thousand individuals, the Tlapanecos occupy the 16th place among the indigenous peoples of Mexico in population.
The term “tlapanec” is of Nahua origin and means “who has a dirty face”, a pejorative meaning that these indigenous people have tried to change to the word Me’phaa, which expresses “the one who is an inhabitant of Tlapa”. They live in the center-south of the state of Guerrero.
The Tlapanec language is of Otomanguean roots and was unclassified for a long time. It was later assimilated into the Subtiaba language, now extinct, and was later included in the Oto-Manguean family.
There are 8 idiomatic variants that are tonal, which means that the word changes its meaning according to the tone with which it is pronounced. The numbering is vigesimal.
The basis of their diet is corn, beans, squash, bananas and chili peppers, with jamaica water as the main drink. In the coffee zones, the infusion is a traditional drink.
Traditions and customs of the Tlapanecos
The clothing of the Tlapanecos is influenced by their Mixtec and Nahua neighbors. The typical female clothing is made up of a blue wool vest, a white blouse with colored threads on the neck and a colorful skirt.
The main crafts vary from community to community and include lambswool textiles, woven palm hats, and clay grills.
The Tarahumaras are a native Mexican ethnic group made up of 122,000 indigenous people who live in the Sierra Madre Occidental, in Chihuahua and parts of Sonora and Durango. They prefer to call themselves Rarámuris, which means “those with light feet”, a name that honors their indefatigable ability to run long distances.
Its high-altitude habitat in the Sierra Tarahumara encloses some of the most impressive abysses in Mexico, such as the Copper, Batopilas and Urique canyons. It is believed that they arrived through the Bering Strait and the oldest human presence in the mountains has been dated to 15,000 years ago.
Their language belongs to the Yuto-Nahua family with 5 dialects according to geographical location: central Tarahumara, lowland, northern, southeastern and southwestern. They live in log huts and caves and sleep on platforms or on animal hides lying on the ground.
Traditions and customs of the Tarahumara
Rarajipari is a game in which the Tarahumara kick and chase a wooden ball for distances that can exceed 60 km. The female equivalent of therarajipari is the rowena, in which women play with interlocking hoops.
The tutugúri is a rarámuri dance by way of thanksgiving, to ward off curses and avoid diseases and setbacks.
The ceremonial and social drink of the Tarahumara is tesguino, a kind of corn beer.
The Mexican Mayo town is in the Mayo Valley (Sonora) and the Fuerte Valley (Sinaloa), in a coastal area between the Mayo and Fuerte rivers.
The name “mayo” means “the people of the riverbank” and the population is 93 thousand indigenous.
As with other ethnic groups, the name that has been imposed for the town is not the one that the indigenous prefer to use. The Mayos call themselves “yoremes”, which means, “the people that respect tradition”.
Their language is Yorem Nokki, of Uto-Aztec origin, very similar to Yaqui, nationally recognized as an indigenous language.
Its main festivals are Lent and Holy Week, which they stage with all the incidents around the Passion of Christ.
The Yoreme people have a flag designed by a young indigenous man whose name is unknown, which consists of a black deer in a jumping position surrounded by stars on an orange background.
Traditions and customs of the Mayos
One of the Mayan myths relates that God created gold for the Yoris and work for the Yoremes.
The dances of the Mayo people represent the animals and their sacrifices to give life to man. They constitute allegories about the free human being in nature.
Its traditional medicine is based on the prescription of natural remedies by healers and the use of amulets, in a mixture of magic with Christian faith.
The Zoque people live in 3 zones of the state of Chiapas (Sierra, Central Depression and Vertiente del Golfo) and in parts of Oaxaca and Tabasco. Its population amounts to 87,000 indigenous people, who are believed to descend from Olmecs who emigrated to Chiapas and Oaxaca. The Spanish conquerors subdued them in their encomiendas and decimated them with their diseases.
The language of the Zoques belongs to the Mixe-Zoquean linguistic family. The vocabulary and intonation vary slightly according to the area and the community. Their livelihood is agriculture and raising pigs and poultry. The main crops are corn, beans, chili peppers, squash, cocoa, coffee, bananas, pepper, mamey and guava.
The Zoques associate the sun with Jesus Christ. They are very superstitious and when they fall to the ground they assume that it was because the “owner of the earth” wants to seize their soul.
The Christian notion of the devil is assimilated by the Zoques to various animals that embody the spirit of evil.
Traditions and customs of the Zoques
They have a varied and colorful range of crafts that includes pottery, basketry, marquetry, furniture and other wooden objects.
One of its most beautiful artistic expressions is the sardine fishing dance, originally from the town of Tapijulapa in Tabasco.
The iconic dish of the Zoques is putzatzé, a thick broth made from beef entrails, corn, and chilies, popular at the Rosario, Candelaria, and Santa Teresa festivities.
20. Chontal of Tabasco
They are a native Tabasco people made up of 80,000 indigenous people of Mayan origin, who live in the municipalities of Nacajuca, Centla, Jalpa de Méndez, Macuspana and Centro.
The Mexicas called all other peoples “chontal” (“foreigner”), which is why the name of the ethnic group comes from Nahuatl.
The Chontals of Tabasco call themselves “true men” (“yoko yinikob”) and “true women” (“yoko ixikob”). Their language (yokot’an) translates as “the true language”, one of the Mayan family belonging to the sub-family of Cholan languages, of which Chol and Chortí are also part.
The Chontals of Tabasco are firm believers in elves, whom they call “yumkap”, which means “owner of the land”, “devils” that especially captivate children who make them lose their way and lose their way.
Traditions and customs of the Chontals of Tabasco
With the Christian evangelization during the conquest and the colonial era, many American pre-Hispanic peoples merged their deities with the main figures of Christianity.
For the Chontal people, Ix Bolom is a pre-Hispanic goddess who lives in the center of the ocean, acting as the owner of spirits and animals. With religious syncretism, Ix Bolom was associated with the Virgin Mary.
The Chontals are very fond of pozol, an original and refreshing pre-Hispanic drink based on cocoa and corn.
The Chontal drum and hat are two of the most appreciated crafts of this Mexican indigenous people.
The 63,000 indigenous Mexican Popolucas live in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, between the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca. The term “popoluca” is confusing and even pejorative, since it was applied by the Aztecs in a similar way to the word “barbarian” in Europe in Greek and Roman times.
The Popolucas speak a Mixe-Zoquean language and, like the Mixes, they come from the Olmecs. Although they share the language, these indigenous people do not manifest a particular ethnic identity.
Two dialects are distinguished, the Popoluca of Texistepec, also called Zoque of Texistepec and the Popoluca of Sayula de Alemán and Oluta.
They obtain sustenance from domestic animals and agriculture, growing corn, squash, beans, tomato, pineapple, sweet potato, chayote, coffee and fruits.
Their religion is a mixture of ancient beliefs. They believe in harmful spirits that live in specific places and can cause death. Sorcerers and healers are part of everyday life.
Traditions and customs of the Popolucas
The woman gives birth squatting with the help of her husband and the midwife. They are harsh with misbehaving children, punishing them by making them breathe smoke from burning chili peppers.
Its main crafts are ceramics, palm weaving, cotton skirts, baskets and hanging cradles.
Women typically wear a plaid blouse with a round or square neckline and a wrap skirt. The men wear muslin pants and shirts. They wear huaraches or go barefoot.
Mexico’s more than 60,000 indigenous Chatinos live in southwestern Oaxaca, near the coast. They are very close to the Zapotecs in culture and language.
Chatino or Cha’cña is a Zapotec language of the Otomanguean family of which several dialects are distinguished, among them, Chatino from Zenzontepec, Chatino from Tataltepec and Chatino from the East.
The Chatino people are engaged in agriculture autonomously or as workers on coffee plantations and other items.
Most Chatino communities have public services, including bilingual educational institutes.
Its political organization is based on civil and religious positions. The highest authority is a council of elders and they believe in the Holy Father God, the Holy Mother Earth, the Holy Grandmother, the Holy Mother Moon and in the gods of the wind; also in the water, the rain, the fire and the mountain.
Traditions and customs of the chatinos
One of its most important celebrations is the Day of the Dead, when, according to its beliefs, the souls of the deceased return to life.
Candies, fruits, moles, tamales, candles, skulls and skeletons, are part of the varied range of things used in the festivity.
Multicolored embroidered blouses with crochet ornaments and long skirts predominate in women’s clothing. The men’s pieces are mainly white cotton.
Dance and music are important arts in the culture and are part of its ceremonies. Traditional musical instruments are flutes, drums and rattles.
The Amuzgos make up an ethnic group of 58,000 indigenous people who live in the mountainous area of Guerrero and Oaxaca.
“Amuzgo” means “place where there are sweets” and the language of the same name is of Otomanguean origin. A high percentage of indigenous people speak only the native language, the rest are bilingual.
They live from fishing, subsistence agriculture and the elaboration of handicrafts such as ceramics, weaving and embroidery. They are known for their intricate handcrafted designs depicting geometric figures and small animals.
They practice pre-Columbian rites related to sowing, the success of the harvest, and the protection of rivers, mountains, caves, and other natural formations.
The houses in the towns are usually rectangular with adobe walls, while in the villages they are circular with mud walls and palm roofs.
Kitchen utensils and work tools hang on the walls. The most rural communities lack electricity, potable water and drainage services.
Traditions and customs of the Amuzgos
The musical expressions vary from one enclave to another, highlighting the sonecillo de Tierra Caliente, the fandango and the syrup bread.
Among the dances, the tlacololeros, the old men, the tecuanes, the manueles and the twelve pairs of France stand out.
The women wear huipiles and percale skirts decorated with frieze strips in bright, contrasting colors, such as turquoise on yellow and pink or green on blue.
The social base of the Amuzgos is the family (nuclear and extended). It is common for the hand of the bride to be requested by a prestigious intermediary. The usual age of marriage is 17 and 15 years for males and females, respectively.
There are some 55,000 Tojolabal Indians in Mexico who live in Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border. Their main settlement is the city of Comitán de Domínguez, where they constitute the majority population.
Their language is Mayan and “tojolabal” means, “word that is heard without deception” or “straight speech”. Therefore, the Tojolabales call themselves “men of a straight word.” They have various speeches or ways of communicating including everyday speech, hissing, big speech, and sacred speech.
Its natural environment is the Lacandona Jungle, which has private farms in the fertile valleys, while most of the indigenous villages are located in mountainous and rocky areas with less agricultural productivity. The scarcity of arable land has fueled social conflict in the area.
Traditions and customs of the Tojolabales
One of its fundamental rites is that of personal balance, in which individuals perform a private ceremony with the help of a sorcerer to restore their inner harmony.
Both men and women wear brightly colored clothing, although women’s clothing is more colorful and more accessorized.
Western clothing such as button-down shirts are already common in clothing, although many Indians continue to reject footwear and prefer to work and go barefoot.
Religion and beliefs are important components of daily life for the Tojolabals. Sorcerers specialize in two fields: healing and witchcraft. The curanderos test the blood of the sick person to see if the ailment is a bodily disease or a punishment from God.
The Huicholes or Wixárikas are a native Mexican people that live in the Sierra Madre Occidental in the state of Nayarit and mountain areas of Jalisco, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Durango.
The name “Huichol” is the Hispanicization of a Nahuatl voice, while the term “wixárika” is from the native language meaning “the people”.
The language of the Huicholes, called “wixaritari”, belongs to the group of Uto-Aztecan languages and is related to the Nahua or Aztec group.
The traditional religiosity of the Huicholes includes the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus that grows in that part of the mountains.
Their religion is a mixture of animist and nativist beliefs, with strong pre-Columbian roots and relatively little influence from Catholicism.
They have 4 major deities: corn, deer, eagle and peyote, whom they consider descendants of the sun.
Its main religious center is Mount Quemado (San Luis Potosí) divided into two sides, one for men and one for women.
Traditions and customs of the Huicholes
Huichol art is one of the most famous in Mexico, especially for its beautiful yarn paintings. Huichol designs are world famous and have both cultural and religious meanings.
Huichol women wear a simple typical costume with a short poppy-colored blouse, petticoats (flowered mantle that covers the head) and beaded necklaces. The men wear trousers and a white blanket shirt with cotton embroidery, a cape and a palm hat with balls of yarn or beaded ornaments.
The Tepehuanes or Tepehuanos are one of the many indigenous peoples of Mexico that mix Christianity with native pre-Hispanic elements in their religion.
There are 2 large branches of this ethnic group of 38,000 indigenous people; the Tepehuanes from the north, who live in Chihuahua and those from the south, settled in Durango, Jalisco and Nayarit. Both groups speak a very similar language belonging to the Uto-Aztecan language family.
Those from the north follow Christian traditions more closely, while in all the communities the Catholic figures (God, Jesus, the Virgin and the saints) are mixed with other divine entities such as the spirit of the mountain, the god of the deer and the morning Star.
In both towns, the shaman performs the function of spiritual guide directing the sacred rites and religious festivals.
The diet of the Tepehuanes is based on hunting, fishing and agriculture. They hunt deer, armadillos and rabbits; they fish for catfish, river trout and shrimp; and harvest beans, corn, potatoes and tomatoes. From domestic animals they get milk, cheese and eggs.
Traditions and customs of the Tepehuanes
The northern Tepehuanes build their houses with the help of the entire community, receiving only food and drinks. The tesguinadas are common in these group works.
The southern Tepehuanes celebrate the tender corn festival at the beginning of October, a non-Christian ceremony to thank the success of the harvest.
They usually wear business clothes and the typical costume on special occasions. Traditional women’s clothing consists of a skirt, blouse and satin apron in very colorful pieces decorated with lace and ribbons. They also wear a black rebozo and wear huaraches.
The men wear shorts and a long-sleeved shirt made of blanket fabric, a scarf tied around their neck, a wide-brimmed palm hat, and huaraches.
The Triqui people live in northwestern Oaxaca, forming an atypical cultural enclave of 29,000 indigenous people in the middle of a vast Mixtec territory. Their language belongs to the Mixtec family, which in turn is part of the great Otomanguean linguistic family.
There are 4 known Triqui dialects spoken in the 4 main settlements (San Juan Copala, San Martín Itunyoso, San Andrés Chicahuaxtla and Santo Domingo del Estado).
They were evangelized by the Dominicans and are essentially Catholic, although they preserve non-Christian religious traditions such as the veneration of nature, the stars and astronomical phenomena.
They celebrate the patron Catholic saints that generally give names to the towns, as well as the Carnival when they exhibit their typical dances.
A pagan festival that is being rescued in Santo Domingo del Estado is that of the God Lightning, celebrated on April 25 in the Cueva del Rayo where they believe the deity lives.
Traditions and customs of the Triquis
One of the main symbols of the Triqui culture are the red huipiles woven with great skill by the indigenous women, an activity taught to girls from an early age. Other crafts are pottery, hats, petates and tenates.
The must-have piece of clothing for the Triqui woman is her red huipil made on a backstrap loom. Triqui music is performed with guitar and violin, although in San Juan Copala they incorporate a drum and a wind instrument similar to a pan flute.
The Coras are 25,000 Mexican indigenous people concentrated in the El Nayar municipality, east of Nayarit, although there are also communities in Jalisco. They call themselves “nayeeri”, a voice from which the name of the state comes. They speak the Nayeri language, related to Huichol and distantly to Nahuatl.
It is common for them to communicate with each other in their own language, although they also use a dialect made up of Nayeri, Modern Spanish and Old Spanish. Their religion mixes Christianity with pre-Hispanic beliefs. Tayau represents the sun, who at noon sits in a golden chair to smoke his pipe, whose smoke is the clouds.
They live from agriculture and raising animals. The most planted items are corn, beans, melon, squash, watermelon, peanuts, sugar cane, cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and Mexican turnip (jicama). They raise cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, mules, and poultry.
Traditions and customs of the Coras
They maintain a close relationship with nature and consider their territory, of nearly 120,000 hectares, to be sacred. Several of its festivals pursue that the gods, spirits, animals and plants, are reborn and renew the life cycle.
They produce some handicrafts such as backpacks made of wool, synthetic fibers and cotton, jute hats and leather huaraches with tire soles.
The dress is very simple. The women wear skirts and blouses, while the men wear blanket shorts, shirts, hats and huaraches.
29. Mam ethnic group
The Mames are an indigenous people of Mayan origin that lives in Chiapas and Guatemala. In Mexico, its population amounts to 24,000 indigenous people who, during pre-Hispanic times, formed a lordship of limits and unspecified organization, which had Zaculeu, in the western highlands of Guatemala, as its capital.
They put up great resistance to the Spanish conquerors, although they were finally besieged and subdued by Gonzalo de Alvarado. They speak the Mam language, of Mayan roots, the third most used among the languages of the Mayan family, since it is spoken by 500,000 indigenous Guatemalans.
Their religion includes Christian elements and ancient beliefs. They celebrate their Catholic saints and perform ceremonies such as the rain ceremony.
The main priestly figure is the chiman (grandfather) who acts as an intermediary between the secular population and the supernatural world. They are priests and diviners, but not witches.
Traditions and customs of the Mam
Most of the active population works in raising domestic animals and in agriculture, planting and harvesting corn, beans, chilacayote and potatoes.
Other important occupations are the marimba musicians who encourage the consumption of liquor in tobacconists, the muleteers (tooth extractors), the rezadores and the animal castrators.
The women wear a blouse called a costurina or a short-sleeved shirt. Elegant dresses are usually yellow with red stripes. The typical male costume is blanket shorts, shirt, sash and red scarf, palm hat and huaraches.
They are indigenous from Sonora who settled on the banks of the Yaqui River. Currently there are about 23,000 living in their traditional area and forming colonies in the cities of Sonora.
La Matanza, Sarmiento and El Coloso are settlements in the city of Hermosillo known as the “Yaqui neighborhoods”.
They speak the Yaqui language or Yoem Noki, from the Uto-Aztecan family, so similar to the Mayan language that they have 90% mutual intelligibility.
Its primary and secondary schools are bilingual (Yaqui/Spanish). They raise cattle, fish (especially in Puerto Lobos) and cultivate the land, mainly wheat, soybeans, alfalfa, safflower, vegetables and fodder.
They were evangelized by the Jesuits and are essentially Catholic, performing their rites in Latin. Its main religious festival is Lent in which they stage the Passion of Christ including interpreters who embody Christ, Pontius Pilate, the Pharisees and the Romans, a representation with music from flutes and drums.
Yaqui traditions and customs
The dances are part of the oldest traditions of the Yaqui people. In the pascola dance, three men dance bare-chested while dry caterpillar shells attached to their legs sound. The dance is accompanied with music from harp, violin and percussion instruments.
The deer dance is a representation of the animal’s hunt accompanied by harp and violin music. The pajkolas dance usually precedes the deer dance and its music is performed with a drum and a typical Yaqui flute.
indigenous peoples of mexico map
Characteristics of the indigenous peoples of Mexico
In Mexico there are 56 ethnic groups that group a population of approximately 15 million indigenous people.
Linguistic diversification is one of the most notable characteristics of Mexican Amerindians, distinguishing more than 100 languages, although this number varies with the classification criteria used.
An important part of this population are the Mayan indigenous peoples, heirs to one of the most fascinating Native American civilizations.
Mexican indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples definition: they are those that present an ethnic identity based on their origin, history, language, culture, institutions and traditions. They can be defined as indigenous peoples that come from the original societies of a country or territory.
Indigenous peoples of Mexico pdf: the following pdf document , the work of Federico Navarrete Linares, edited by the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, contains valuable information on the history and current situation of the Mexican indigenous peoples.
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