Oaxaca's Tourist Guide
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(Click to enlarge)
Black&White photos courtesy of Vittorio D'Onofri

On the Guelaguetza
Folk dance
Sierra road


Historical Background
It is still not known who the first inhabitants of the Mixteca region were. They are believed to have come from the Teotitln del Camino region and that they were originally from Teotihuacan (the current site of Mexico City), settling in Apoala, and later in Tilantongo, part of the Upper Mixteca.

The first historical facts, written in the codex, refer to the founders of the Tilantongo dynasty. Based on these codex, the history of this place was established starting in 692 AD.

Speculation leads us to believe that there were four major domains: Coixtlahuaca, Tlaxiaco and Tilantongo, located in the Upper Mixteca, alternating preponderance, and Tututepec, in the Coastal Mixteca region. These domains had other lesser domains under their rule.

In the year 692 AD, under the rule of Nueve Viento (Nine Wind), Tilantongo managed to expand its rule over a good part of the Upper Mixteca region. This was consolidated and expanded through military triumphs and previously arranged marriages, until reaching its peak during the regime (1011-1063) of Ocho Venado (Eight Deer), the most outstanding of the Tilantongo dynasty rulers. His domains went as far as the Oaxaca Valley, Mitla and Tehauntepec, by submitting the Zapotecs to the east, and to Zaachila, in the south.

Upon the death of Ocho Venado, Tilantongo began to crumble, its territory falling apart. The domain of Coixtlahuaca flourished towards the middle of the fifteenth century, under the rule of Atonaltzin. His rule was relatively short however, since the Aztecs were able to defeat and submit the Mixtecs, after a series of long and grueling battles. The Mixtecs surrendered to Moctezuma Ilhuicamina in 1458.

However, the Mixtecs, more interested in collecting tributes than in the domination of territory, allowed, as a more effective means of control, the Upper Mixteca bloodlines and centres of power to be conserved and continue exercising their regional authority.

Location and Environment
La Mixteca, a settlement of the group by the same name, constitutes a geographical region of more than 40,000 square kilometres in northwestern Oaxaca, and smaller portions of the States of Puebla and Guerrero. Three sub-regions are considered in the Mixteca: the Upper Mixteca, Lower Mixteca and the Coast.

The Upper Mixteca is known as Muhu Sabi by its residents (Land of Rain or Country in the Clouds), and is the largest and most populated region as well. It covers 38 municipalities. It is to the southern and eastern Mixteca region. Due to geographical and historical reasons, some people divide the Upper Mixteca into northern and southern regions. In the first, are the municipalities of Achiutla, Yucunama, Teposcolul and Tilantongo, with Tamazula, Teozacoalco and Tlaxiaco municipalities comprising the latter.

The Upper Mixteca is extremely treacherous, formed by the conjunction of the Sierra Madre del Sur and Sierra Oriental or Sierra de Oaxaca, usually called Nudo Mixteco (Mixteco Cluster). There are valleys and cliffs in these enormous mountains, with narrow valleys and deep canyons, the most important among the former are Nochixtlan, Coixtlahuaca, Teposcolula, Juxtlahuaca and Tlaxiaco. Rio Verde (Green River), Mixteco River, and other smaller currents cross this zone. Among the most important smaller rivers are: Nochixtlan, Yanhuitlan, Sinaxtla, Etlatongo and Yocodono.

The climate is variable and contrasting. In some places, temperatures vary from below zero, during winter, to 37 C. during summer. Rainfall also varies from one area to another. Theoretically, the rainy season is from April to October, but may start or finish earlier or later in the year. Rain can also be too scarce or abundant, making for agriculture a very risky activity.

Soil found in the Upper Mixteca is, for the best part, in an advanced state of erosion, one of the most dramatic in the country, comparable only to some parts of the State of Tlaxcala. According to researchers, this zone could become a desert, in the next few decades.

There are small pine forests in the highest areas, not fit for exploitation, but they do provide construction material and firewood required for the preparation of food. Fauna is scarce and consists of, above all, in small mammals, birds and reptiles.

Lower Mixtecos
Historical Background
Despite the fact that the Mixteca nation forms part of so-called "advanced Mesoamerican cultures", available historical sources are scarce and few studies have been made in regard to it.

According to some authors, the regions first settlers, were known asProtomixtecos, an agricultural and collecting community. They settled on the banks of the Mixteco River, north-west of what is now known as the State of Oaxaca, and the area known as Atoyac-Necaxpa, south-west of Puebla and Mexico City, between the years 2000 and 1500 B.C. Though not much information is available in regard to their origin, they are thought to have arrived from Teotihuacan.

Perhaps the majority of the Protomixtecos were displaced as the result of the difficult environment, going toward the Upper Mixteca, where they flourished. Evidence of this is seen in their ceremonial ceramics, silver and gold jewellery, and artistic codex. Their architecture however, did not possess the majesty of that of the neighbouring Zapotecs. On the other hand, there were not many large human settlements in the Lower Mixteca, nor domains having the importance of Tilantongo and Coixtlahuaca, of the Upper Mixteca, who defeated the Zapotecs.

Both the Upper and Lower Mixteca were invaded and conquered by Mexicas around 1458 by forces of Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, who was more interested in receiving tributes than territorial domination. He allowed the different Mixteco communities to maintain their own religious political structure.

One of the domains that presented the most resistance to invasion was Yanhuitlan, the most powerful in the Lower Mixteca, whose chieftain, Ozumatli, a great warrior, could not be defeated. Moctezuma ordered him to be assassinated.

Location and Environment
The region known as Mixteca is usually divided in three sub-regions: Upper Mixteca, Lower Mixteca, and Coastal Mixteca. All three are well differentiated in their culture and ecology.

Lower Mixteca is, according to popular belief, comprised of the former districts of Huajuapan de Leon, Juxtlahuaca, Teposcolula and Silacayoapan, situated in north-western Oaxaca, including 31 municipalities covering 5,359 square miles. The Acatlan, Chiautla, Tehuacan and Tepeji de Rodriguez districts in the southern part of Puebla, cover 4,984 square miles.

The terrain in Mixteca Baja is mountainous. It owes its name to the fact that its altitude varies between 4,827 feet and 5,577 feet above sea level, in comparison to the Upper Mixteca, which is over 5,577 feet above sea level. In the zone located in the State of Puebla, the soil is desert-like as is the vegetation, which is comprised of cacti and thorny bushes. In the Matamoros, Chiautla and Acatlan valleys, are prairies and herbal vegetation. The soil found in Oaxaca is similar.

The most common climate is warm and humid with some rain during the summer. In certain areas, the climate is warm with warmer temperatures during the summer. Cacti, succulents, and palm trees form the scant vegetation. There are trees that yield "cuachalcuate", "pochote", "jabin" and "cazahuate", located west of Acatlan Sierra. Animal life is also scant, and includes coyotes, cougars, wild boar, and rabbit and hare in the lower regions.

The Oaxaca region is irrigated by the Mixteco River and its tributaries, the Juxtlahuaca, Huajapan and Silacayoapan. The Puebla region receives water from the Mixteco and Atoyac Rivers and its tributaries.