Oaxaca's Tourist Guide
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Black&White photos courtesy of Vittorio D'Onofri

The Cuicatecos


Historical Background
Little is known about the Cuicateco people, due to the destruction of maps, codex and other written testimony by the Spanish about the Mixteca and Zapotec cultures, with which they intimately related. However, archaeological research conducted in the ruins of Concepcion Papalo, Tecomavaca and Quitepec, in the region they currently inhabit, have led specialists to believe that the group's ancestors were Toltecan immigrants who dispersed with the fall of Tula in 1064.

A few sources seem to indicate that the Cuicatecos had become a powerful nation, divided in several domains. It is estimated that the Cuicateco population reached 60,000 before the arrival of the Spanish. In spite of this, Almoloya invaded the Cuicatecos who lived in the fertile lowlands of the Cuicatlan River, which were very tempting to their neighbours. They managed to fight off the invaders with the help of the Mixteco domain of Yanhuitlan, which in turn, depended on Coixtlahuaca, whose king was Atonaltzin.

As a reward for the aid received, the Cuicatecos were forced to pay tribute to the Mixtecos, who founded the domain of Teutila, to which they were submitted, along with the Chinanteco and Mazateco nations. There is some speculation that Zapotecos also ruled part of the Cuicateco territory. When Aztecs invaded Coixtlahuaca in 1456, during the reign of Moctezuma I, Cuicatlecos formed an alliance with them, in order to free them from Mixteca oppression. The Mexicas named this region Cuicatlan which is Nahuatl for "Land of Charm", or Songbirds, as the residents make a practice of trapping wild birds.

Location and Environment
The Cuicateco territory is located in northwest Oaxaca, and covers most of the Cuicatlan district, and a small portion of Nochixtlan. It occupies an approximate area of 3,243 square miles. It borders with Teotitln del Camino and Tuxtepec to the north, with Nochixtlan and Etla to the south, Ixtlan and Tuxtepec to the east, and Teotitln del Camino and Coixtlahuaca to the west. It covers the municipalities of Concepcion Papalo, San Juan Tepeuxila, Santa Mara Tlalixtac, San Pedro Teutila, San Francisco Chapulapa, Santiago Huaclilla (Nochixtlan district), San Juan Bautista Cuicatlan and Santiago Nacaltepec.

This region has an extremely varied orography, since it is deeply penetrated by the eastern Sierra Madre in the Ixtlan district, forming the Papalo and Teutila Sierras. There are high mountains in these areas such as the Chev and the Prieto Volcano, which reach heights of 10,827 feet above sea level. In the lower zones are valleys, canyons, and cliffs, with an average altitude of 1,968 feet above sea level. Rivers and streams flow from these mountains, with its main river being the Quiotepec, also known as the Santo Domingo. Its tributaries are the Sando, Cacahuatlan, Chiquito, San Pedro, Cobos, Hormiga, Tomellin, Verde, Seco, and Usila.

Due to the zone's treacherous conditions, it presents three different types of climates. In the high mountain zone, in the Papalo and Teuitla Sierras, the weather is cold, dry, or humid. The Santo Domingo region, on the other hand, is warm, and the Cuicatlan and Quiotepec areas are hot and dry.

Vegetation is distinct, corresponding on the climate, going from forests of fine woods, such as: cedar, mahogany and "palo de rosa", coffee trees, palm trees and vanilla. Animal life is just as varied, with several species of birds and mammals, such as deer and wild boar. There is an abundance of reptiles, and in the rivers and ponds, there are fish such as trout, eels, and even shrimp.