The Mixtecs (since -5000), who call themselves the Ñudzahui, are the fourth largest Indian (Native American) ethnic group in Mexico, the largest after the Aztecs, Maya and Zapotecs. Like them, they were part of the Mesoamerican civilization founded by the Olmecs.
By -5000 they were living in Mixteca, their present homeland in southern Mexico. The heart of it is made up of dozens of valleys high in the mountains of western Oaxaca state. Each valley is almost a world unto itself.
By -1500 they had become settled farmers.
By +650 the Mixtecs had irrigation, towns, nobles, craftsmen and peasants. They were ruled by the Zapotecs to the east.
By the 900s the Zapotec empire had fallen. That led to the War That Came From Heaven (963-969) and, in time, the rise of 8-Deer Jaguar Claw (1063-1115), who brought all of Mixteca under his rule.
- Size: maybe 1.5 million people.
- Location: Mixteca.
- Language: Mixtec languages, written in pictographs.
- Religion: priests talked to the gods and the dead. The highest priest was the Sun made flesh. Everything, living or dead, had a spirit. Sweat lodges. War was a human sacrifice to the earth, sun and rain.
- Dress: heavily class-coded. Nobles dressed in cotton, peasants in ixtle (maguey fibre).
- Food: maize, beans, squash. Tamales. Turkey with spicy chocolate sauce. Rabbit. They grew avocados, tomatoes, chili peppers, etc.
- Drugs: tobacco, ololiuqui (from Turbina corymbosa, which produces LSA, a weak cousin of LSD).
- Family: patriarchal: the father is the main breadwinner and decision maker.
- Land: communal.
- Technology: writing, calendar, farming, irrigation, terraced fields, use of copper, gold, silver, turquoise, jade. By the 1400s, they made some of the best pots, books and jewellery of Mesoamerica. No beasts of burden and therefore no wheels! Spears, atlatls (spear throwers), shields and axes used in warfare.
In the 1400s the Aztecs took over, but did not force their culture on them. In the 1500s the Spanish took over. They used massacres to cow them, but did not wipe them out to take their land (the Anglo American practice). The Spanish burned all but eight of their books, among them:
- Codex Colombino-Becker
- Codex Bodley
- Codex Selden I
- Codex Vindobensis
- Codex Nuttall-Zouche (pictured below)
In the 1800s the land was becoming worn out. Many left Mixteca seeking work, in Mexico City (late 1800s), north-west Mexico (early 1900s) and the US (late 1900s). Most are farm workers.
They face racism from Mexicans because they are Indian and from Anglo Americans because they are Mexican!
In 2016 (latest figures):
- Size: 1 million
- Location: Mexico and US, especially Mixteca (67%) and California (13%).
- Language: Mixtec languages (50%), written in Latin letters; Spanish, English.
- Religion: Catholicism, laid on top of older beliefs and practices.
- Dress: mainly Western.
- Food: both Mixtec and “mestizo”. Also beer, soft drinks, junk food – and grasshoppers!
- Drugs: some grow marijuana and opium poppies.
- Family: less patriarchal since many men are away for months or years at a time working.
- Land: Mexican government land titles, which the Mixtec interpret as communal farming rights.
- Technology: trucks, television, wheelbarrow, donkey.
– Abagond, 2016.
Sources: especially Mixtec.org; “The Legend of Lord Eight Deer” (2002) by John M.D. Pohl; and “The Song of Oaxaca” in National Geographic (November 1994).
- Welcome to Hispanic Heritage Month 2106
- The term Hispanic
- The term Indian
- Mexican Americans
- Filipino Americans
- The Spanish
- Anglo Americans