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

The Mazatecos


Historical Background
There is scant information available regarding the origin and history of the Mazatecos. There are two versions with some degree of verisimilitude about their origin. According to one of them, based upon interpretation of the "Quauhtinchan Annals", Mazatecos descend from the Nonoalca-Chichimecas who migrated from Tula at the beginning of the twelfth century. On the upper part the current Mazateca territory they founded Teotitln, Eloxochitln, Mazatln, Chichotla, and probably Ixcatln in the lower region. It would seem that among Nonoalca-Chichimecas there were Mazateca speakers.

According to the other version documented through investigation, the region was inhabited by Mazatecos since the arrival of Nonoalca-Chichimecas from the Orient after a long journey in 890 AD. Its capital called Matza-Apatl, o Mazatln, stood on the shores of the Santo Domingo River, near the present Jalapa Diaz. According to the same version, during 280, Mazatecos lived peacefully and independently until the arrival of Nonoalca-Chichimecas on or about 1170, who subjugated them. On or about 1300, however, they rid themselves of Nonoalca-Chichimeca control, and formed two dominions. That of the lower or Oriental Area, and that of the Upper or Western Area.

That the Mazateco territory was invaded and subjugated by Mexicas can be proven historically. It happened during the Moctezuma Ilhuicamina reign from 1455 to 1456, who established military posts in Teotitln del Camino and Tuxtepec --upper and lower areas respectively-- to maintain it under control. The high tributes established by Mexicas, as well as the humiliations they were subjected to, cause Mazateco uprisings, though unsuccessful, since they joined forces with Spaniards who arrived in 1520 to fight their oppressors.

Location and Environment
Mazatecos currently reside in the septentrional region of Oaxaca State, and due to their migration for the previously stated reasons, in some Southern areas of Veracruz State. Their territory includes two environmentally and culturally well-defined regions. The Upper region in the Sierra Madre Oriental, with elevations between 3,937 to 8,202 feet above sea level. The Lower region, which extends from sea level to 3,937 feet, located in the area denominated "Papaloapan Basin".

The Upper region lacks any important rivers and has a mild climate with some extremely cold and foggy areas, and copious rain in the summer. It has pine, oak, madrone, peach, apple, and pear trees. The main crop is coffee in the lower region.

The Papaloapan and its three main tributaries-- Santo Domingo or Quiotepec, Tonto, and Usila -- irrigate the lower area. The flow of these rivers and torrential rains provoke frequent floods. The climate is generally warm, which permits cultivation of corn and beans in addition to sesame seed, tobacco, peanuts, carrots, and Mexican Tea "epazote". There are areas of tropical growth, though indiscriminate deforestation has decreased their numbers. These areas include fine timber such as cedar, primrose, and conacaste. Orange, lime, avocado, mango, and plum are among the fruit tree species.

Fauna is varied and includes deer, "mazates", wild cat, wild boar, armadillo, fox, and other lower mammals. Fowl species such as chachalaca (Ortalis vetula mocalli), goldfinch, calander, "zezontle", and diverse reptiles of various degrees of danger, such as rattle snake