Oaxaca's Tourist Guide
Oaxaca's Tourist Guide


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(Click to enlarge)
Black&White photos courtesy of Vittorio D'Onofri

Women of the Flor de Pia dance
Flor de Pia dance


Historical Background
The Chinantla region, in north-west Oaxaca, has been populated, approximately, since the Upper Pre-classic period. The origin of its settlers is unknown; archaeological remains indicate the presence of some groups who lived in caves, where stone slabs have been discovered, as well as doors and doorposts of small flagstone, stucco, and mud dwellings near rivers.

The presence of temples, used as ceremonial centres, and where prisoners were supposedly sacrificed during the most important celebrations of the year, allows us assume that some political-religious-military organisation was struggling to maintain their control over the region and withstand the sudden attacks of Zapotecos, Mixtecos, Mixes and Mexicanos. The latter, led by Hueitlatoani Moctezuma I, conquered the Chinantla region during the fifteenth century, forcing its inhabitants to
pay tribute in kind and participate in religious practices in honour of Aztec deities.

After the Spanish conquest, division of the group was seen, when they were submitted to a commandership system (entire towns were awarded to Spanish colonists by royal decree) and even slavery. Chinantecos were traded for horses and forced to participate in gold mining.

Location and Environment
Chinantla (Chinamitl in Nahuatl dialect, "closed or fenced place") is the place of residence of this group in the former districts of Tuxtepec, Ixtlan, Cuicatlan, Choapan, and on a small portion of Etla, all in the State of Oaxaca.

This region, as its name indicates, is really a fortress surrounded by mountains and rivers that made access difficult for a long time. This is probably what caused the four existing divisions:
1. Central Chinantla covers the municipalities of Chiltepec, Jacaltepec, Ayozintepec and Valle Nacional. Its linguistic definition is Hu-Me.
2. The Wah-Mi region, in the former district of Choapan, includes the municipalities of Petlapa, Lalana and Jocotepec.
3. The northern and western zones include Ojitlan, Usila, Sochiapan and Tlacoalzintepec.
4. The Chinanteca Sierra, in the Ixtlan district, is considered unique because of its characteristics. The municipalities of Yolox, Comaltepec, and Quictepec are here.

This territory presents an enormous variability. It is bathed by two important rivers: the Tesochoacan, which receives water from the Cajonos, Chiquito, and Manso, and Papaloapan Rivers, with their tributaries, the Santo Domingo, Valle Nacional, and Santa Rosa or Usila. There is high precipitation in the central and southern regions, reaching 196 inches per year, with 118 inches falling in the east, and less in the mountainous area. Altitudes vary from 656 feet to 8,715 feet above sea level, and some regions to the east descend to sea level. In the central area, the climate is sub-tropical with some monsoon rains in summer, and the east is temperate, favouring the growth of jungle vegetation in the region known as Chinantla Central. On the contrary, precipitation and vegetation in the mountainous areas of Chinantla are appropriate to a desert.

The soil, not visually fertile, produces an annual harvest in some regions, but is not adequate for intense cultivation, given its shallowness, and the lack of valleys where the fertile layer is better.