By John P. Schmal
The landlocked State of Guanajuato — located in the center of the
Mexican Republic — shares borders with San Luis Potosí and
Zacatecas on the north, with Querétaro on the east, the state of México
on the southeast, Jalisco on the west, and Michoacán on the south.
Guanajuato is a relatively small state ‒ twenty-second in terms of size among the Republic's thirty-one
states ‒ with a surface area of 30,768 square kilometers of territory,
giving it 1.6% of the national territory. Politically, the state is
divided into 46 municipios.
Guanajuato’s 2010 population was 5,853,677, representing 4.9% of
Mexico’s total population and ranking sixth among the 31 states and
the Distrito Federal (DF). The capital of Guanajuato is the City of
Guanajuato, which was founded in the 1550s after Spanish entrepreneurs
found rich veins of silver in the mountains surrounding the city. The
indigenous tribes in the region noticed the numerous frogs in the area
and referred to the area as “Quanax-juato,” combining the Tarascan
“quanas” (frogs) and “huato” (mountainous), which essentially
means a high place with many frogs. The Spaniards would later
translate Quanax-juato into
Guanajuato is recognized as part of El Bajío (The Lowlands) which includes parts of the states of
Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Querétaro. According to
Wikipedia, the Bajío has received recognition as the region with the
best quality of life in Mexico. The region is a strong business and
economic center and considered one of the safest areas of the country.
The Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) of Guanajuato was about 765 trillion pesos in 2015 and
contributed 4.5% of Mexico’s national GDP. In 2015, the five primary
contributors to Guanajuato’s GDP were: manufacturing (33.2%);
wholesale and retail trade (16.0%); real estate and rental and leasing
(10.0%); construction (8.1%); and information (6.3%). Guanajuato’s
2.5 million workers in 2016 were employed in a wide range of
industries, including manufacturing (22.7%) and commerce (20.6%). The
mining, electricity and water industry ‒
once an important element of Guanajuato’s
economy ‒ now employs only 0.7% of the work force.
It is believed that the Spanish explorer Cristóbal de Olid
explored some parts of Guanajuato in the early 1520s, after advancing
northward from Michoacán and the Kingdom of the Purépecha. The
Spaniards sent more explorers into the area in the following decades.
In the 1540s, Franciscan missionaries first visited the area around
the present-day City of Guanajuato and by 1546, a cattle estancia had
been established in the area. Then, in 1552, Captain Juan de Jaso
discovered the silver veins in the area, leading to the establishment
of mines in 1557. (The rich Zacatecas silver mines —148 miles (238
km) to the northwest —had been discovered a decade earlier in 1546).
By 1570, it was reported that 600 Spanish miners lived in the camps
around the Guanajuato mining area. Four years later, Guanajuato was
elevated to the status of a city. However, Guanajuato’s silver
production fell significantly during the Seventeenth Century, but
experienced a revival in the Eighteenth Century after the discovery of
the rich Valenciana
Valenciana Mine Complex
The massive silver vein of
the Valenciana Mine Complex, seven kilometers north of
Guanajuato, was discovered in 1750 with the mining operations starting
in 1774. The silver reserves of Guanajuato were huge and produced 20%
of the era’s total silver while the Valenciana Mine dug out 30% of
the world’s yearly total of silver.
When the Spaniards started exploring Guanajuato in the 1530s and
1540s, they encountered several nomadic tribes occupying the area
which they referred to as La Gran Chichimeca, which included large parts of Guanajuato,
Jalisco, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Aguascalientes and Durango.
Although the Aztecs had collectively referred to these Indians with
the umbrella term, Chichimecas,
they were actually composed of several distinct cultural and
linguistic groups inhabiting a large swath of territory.
All of the Chichimeca Indians shared a primitive hunting-collecting
culture, based on the gathering of mesquite and tunas (the fruit of
the nopal). However, many
of them also lived off of acorns, roots and seeds and hunted small
animals, including frogs, lizards, snakes and worms. Over time, the
Chichimeca label became synonymous with the word “barbarian” among
the Spaniards and Mexica.
The historian Philip Wayne Powell has written several books that
dealt with the Chichimeca Indians and the Spanish encounter with these
Indians. In his publication Soldiers Indians and Silver: North America's First Frontier War,
Mr. Powell noted that “Hernán Cortés, the Conqueror, defeated the
Aztecs in a two-year campaign” but that his “stunning success created an illusion of European superiority over the Indian as a
warrior.” Continuing with this line of thought, Mr. Powell observed
that “this lightning-quick subjugation of such massive and complex
peoples as the Tlaxcalan, Aztec, and Tarascan, proved to be but
prelude to a far longer military struggle against the peculiar and
terrifying prowess of Indian America's more primitive warriors.”
The Chichimeca War (1550-1590)
Mr. Powell writes that rush to establish new settlements and pave
new roads through Zacatecas and Guanajuato, “left in its wake a
long stretch of unsettled and unexplored territory...” As these
settlements and the mineral output of the mines grew in numbers,
“the needs to transport to and from it became a vital concern of
miners, merchants, and government.” To function properly, the silver
mines “required well-defined and easily traveled routes.” These
routes brought in badly-needed supplies and equipment from distant
towns and also delivered the silver to smelters and royal counting
houses in the south.
Mr. Powell wrote that these highways “became the tangible, most
frequently visible evidence of the white man's permanent intrusion”
into their land. As the natives learned about the usefulness of the
goods being transported (silver, food, and clothing), “they quickly
appreciated the vulnerability of this highway movement to any attack
they might launch.” In time, the Zacatecos, Guachichiles and
Guamares, in whose territory most of the silver mines could be found,
started to resist the intrusion by assaulting the travelers and
merchants using the roads. And thus began La
Guerra de los Chichimecas
(The War of the Chichimecas), which eventually became the longest
and most expensive conflict between Spaniards and the indigenous
peoples of New Spain in the history of the colony.
In hand-to-hand combat, the Chichimeca warriors gained a reputation
for courage and ferocity. Even when the Chichimeca warrior was
attacked in his hideout or stronghold, Mr. Powell writes, “He
usually put up vigorous resistance, especially if unable to escape the
onslaught. In such cases, he fought - with arrows, clubs, or even
rocks! Even the women might take up the fight, using the weapons of
fallen braves. The warriors did not readily surrender and were known
to fight on with great strength even after receiving mortal wounds.”
The following paragraphs discuss the indigenous tribes that lived
in the region of present-day Guanajuato, all of which took part — in
one way or another — in the Chichimeca War.
Otomíes as Spanish Allies
The Otomíes were a Chichimeca tribe that occupied parts of Querétero,
Guanajuato, the State of México and northwestern Hidalgo. The Otomíes
belong to the extensive Oto-Manguean linguistic family. (The Mixtecs
and Zapotecs of Oaxaca also belong to this language family).
Soon after the European contact, the Otomíes allied themselves
with the Spaniards and Mexica Indians. As a result, writes Mr. Powell,
settlers were “issued a grant of privileges” and were “supplied
with tools for breaking land.”
For their allegiance, they were exempted from tribute and given
a certain amount of autonomy in their towns. Beginning in the 1550s,
Luis de Velasco (the second Viceroy of Nueva España) used Otomí
militia against the Chichimecas in the Chichimeca War.
Unlike most of the other Chichimeca tribes, the Otomíes have
survived to the present day and their language is the seventh most
commonly spoken indigenous language in Mexico today.
Of all the Chichimec tribes, the Guachichile Indians occupied the
largest territory, — an estimated 100,000 square kilometers — from
Saltillo, Coahuila in the north to Lake Chapala in eastern Jalisco on
the southern end. Their territory extended through parts of eastern
Zacatecas, western San Luis Potosí, parts of eastern Jalisco,
Aguascalientes and western Guanajuato. According to John R. Swanton,
the author of The Indian Tribes of North America
(Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 145-1953) classified the
Guachichile tribes as part of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family. This
would make them linguistic cousins to the Aztecs.
The name Guachichil
given to them by the Aztecs ‒ meant “head colored red.” They had been
given this label, writes Mr. Dunne, because “they were distinguished
by red feather headdresses, by painting themselves red (especially the
hair), or by wearing head coverings (bonetillas) made of hides and
painted red.” The archaeologist Dr. Paul Kirchhoff wrote that the
following traits characterized the Guachichile Indians: “painting of
the body; coloration of the hair; head gear; matrilocal residence;
freedom of the married woman…”
In the development of tribal alliances, the Guachichiles were
considered the most advanced of the Chichimec tribes. They were a
major catalyst in provoking the other tribes to resist the Spanish
settlement and exploitation of Indian lands. “Their strategic
position in relation to Spanish mines and highways,” wrote Mr.
Powell, “made them especially effective in raiding and in escape
from Spanish reprisal.” The Spanish frontiersmen and contemporary
writers referred to the Guachichiles “as being the most ferocious,
the most valiant, and the most elusive” of all their indigenous
The nation of the Guamares took up portions of western and central
Guanajuato, northeastern Jalisco and eastern Aguascalientes. The 17th
Century author Gonzalo de las Casas called the Guamares “the bravest, most
warlike, treacherous, and destructive of all the Chichimecas.”
the Spanish contact, the Guamares had established a confederation of
tribes in what is now Guanajuato, Aguascalientes and northeastern
Jalisco in response to the threat of conquest from the Aztec Empire to
the southeast and the Purépecha Kingdom to the southwest. Their
tribal alliances stretched eastward into the present state of Querétaro
and westward towards Lagos de Moreno in Jalisco and included both the
Zacatecos and Guachichiles (other Chichimec tribes). The following
link provides information about the Guamar Confederation, as well as a
time of the Spanish arrival in the region, the Guamares inhabited many
parts of present-day Guanajuato, including Ciudad de Guanajuato, Pénjamo,
León, San Felipe and San Miguel el Grande. The Guamares took an
active part in the Chichimeca War during the 1560s, after which they
fell into decline, while the Guachichiles and Zacatecos continued to
fight on until the 1590s. According to the anthropologist David Frye,
the last reference to the Guamares dates from around 1572, after which
they apparently assimilated alongside the “civilized” Indians that
moved into their region.
One of the few scholars to study the lifestyle of both the
Guachichiles and Guamares was the archaeologist Paul Kirchhoff. His
Hunting-Gathering People of North Mexico," is one of the
few reference works available that describes the social and political
organization of both the Guamares and Guachichile.
The semi nomadic Pames
constitute a very divergent branch of the extensive Oto-Manguean
linguistic family. They were located mainly in northcentral and
eastern Guanajuato, southeastern San Luis Potosí, and also in
adjacent areas of Tamaulipas and Querétaro. To this day, the Pames
refer to themselves as "Xi'úi," which means indigenous.
This term is used to refer to any person not of mestizo descent. They
use the word "Pame" to refer to themselves only when they
are speaking Spanish.
The Pames lived south and east of the Guachichiles, with some
living as far south as Acámbaro, Orirapúndaro and Ucareo. Their
territory overlapped with the Otomíes of Jilotepec, the Purépecha of
Michoacán, and the Guamares in the west. In 1531, an Otomi force
under Don Fernando de Tapia, formerly known as Conín, conquered and
dispersed the southern Pame and founded in the town of Querétaro. As
the 1530s and 1540s progressed, Spanish cattle ranchers and Otomíes
had begun taking over the Pame lands in eastern Guanajuato and western
Initially, the Pames were minor players in the Chichimeca War.
According to Professor Frye, they took part in small raids on cattle
ranches in the Bajío. However, in the 1570s, they became more
involved in the hostilities, but settled down peacefully when the war
ended. Today the Pames continue to exist as a cultural group with a
In pre-Hispanic times, the Purépecha — also referred to as the
Tarascan Indians — occupied and reigned over most of the state of
Michoacán, but they also occupied some of the lower valleys of both
Guanajuato and Jalisco. Celaya, Acámbaro, and Yurirapúndaro were all
in Purépecha territory.
According to Professor Frye, the Spanish advances of the 1520s had
pushed both the Purépechas and the Otomíes to advance into new
regions in Guanajuato. As allies of the Spaniards, these two groups
took advantage of the military protection offered by the conquerors
and thus been able to survive as cultural entities to the present day.
through Luxury Items
Unable to defeat the Chichimecas militarily in many parts of the
war zone, the Spaniards offered goods and opportunities as an
incentive for the Guachichiles and Guamares to make peace. Many of the
Chichimecas had been nomadic (or semi-nomadic) and had not possessed
most of the luxury items that the Spaniards had (i.e., warm clothes,
agricultural tools and supplies, horses, and beef). Those who made
peace were given agricultural implements and permitted to settle down
to a peaceful agricultural existence. In many cases, Mexica, Tarascans
and Otomíes were settled among them to help them adapt to their new
In the area of the Ciudad de Guanajuato mines, Tarascans, Otomíes
and Mexica had steadily replaced the original Chichimeca inhabitants,
while Tarascans and Otomíes also replaced the Chichimecas living in
the Celaya and San Miguel el Grande districts. In Pénjamo (in the
western region), a settlement of Tarascans, Otomíes and Christianized
Guamares became a defensive settlement against Chichimeca attacks.
After the Chichimeca Indians were persuaded to settle down in the
late Sixteenth Century, Guanajuato experienced a high degree of
mestizaje. This would be due in great part to the huge influx of a
very diverse group of people from many parts of the Spanish colony of
Mexico. The influx of more established and refined Indian cultural
groups combined with the establishment of the Spanish language and
Christian religion as the dominant cultural practice. And a result
there was a high degree of assimilation, in which most traces of the
old cultures were lost.
With the end of the Chichimeca War, Guanajuato became a magnet for
more Spaniards and indigenous peoples from the south. As the
Seventeenth Century progressed, several new villas were established
across the region: Salamanca (1603), Valle de Santiago (1606),
Salvatierra (1643) and San Pedro Piedra Gorda (1680 —now Manuel
Late in the colonial period, the 1790 census of Nueva España (México)
revealed that the Intendencia of Guanajuato had a population of
430,022, of which 186,312 were indios (43.3%) and 115,927 (27.0%) were
Españoles. Another 127,783 (29.7%) belonged to “otras castas,”
such as mestizos, mulatos and castizos.
Although the Indians made up only 21.5% of the population of the
large district of Guanajuato City, they represented half or more of
many other locations within the intendencia, including Salamanca
(49.0%), Celaya (50.9%), Silao (50.8%) and Piedra Gorda (59.7%).
However, as indicated in later censuses starting in 1895, it is
believed that the “indio” classification did not include the
speaking of indigenous languages, which had almost ceased in this part
Although many of the Guanajuatenses are believed to be descended
from the indigenous inhabitants of their state, the cultures and
languages of their ancestors - for the most part - have not been
handed down to the descendants. In the 1895 census, only 9,607 persons
aged five or more spoke indigenous languages. This figure rose to
14,586 in 1910, but dropped to only 305 in the 1930 census, in large
part because of the ravages of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920),
which took the life of one in eight Mexican citizens.
As a matter of fact, Guanajuato's total population fell from an
all-time high in the 1910 census (1,081,651 persons) to a Twentieth
Century low of 860,364 in the 1921 census. But the 1921 Mexican census
gives us a very interesting view of the widespread mestizaje of
Guanajuato's modern population. In this census, residents of each
state were asked to classify themselves in several categories,
including "indígena pura" (pure indigenous), "indígena
mezclada con blanca" (indigenous mixed with white), and "blanca"
Out of a total population of 860,364 people, only 25,458
inhabitants of Guanajuato (or 2.96%) claimed to be of pure indigenous
background. A much larger number - 828,724, or 96.33% - classified
themselves as being mixed, while a mere 4,687 individuals (0.5%)
classified themselves as white. The following table illustrates the
1921 data for the State of Guanajuato:
Century Indigenous Guanajuato
From the latter half of the Twentieth Century into the present
century, the population of indigenous speakers has remained fairly
small. When the 1970 census was tallied, Guanajuato boasted a mere
2,272 indigenous speakers five years of age and over. The Otomí
speakers made up the most significant number (866), followed by the
Purépecha (181) and Náhuatl (151). The Chichimeca-Jonaz
language, a rare language spoken in only in Guanajuato and San Luis
Potosí, was not tallied individually in the 1970 census, but
was probably among the 790 persons listed under “otras lenguas Indígenas.”
According to the 2000 Mexican Census, the population of persons
five years and more who spoke indigenous languages in Guanajuato
amounted to only 10,689 individuals, or 0.26% of the total state
population. These individuals spoke a wide range of languages, many of
which are transplants from other parts of the Mexican Republic. The
largest indigenous groups represented in the state were:
The Chichimeca-Jonaz language is classified as a member of the
Oto-Manguean language family and is divided into two major dialects: the
Pame dialect, which is used in San Luis Potosí, and the
Jonaz dialect used in Guanajuato. With a total of 1,433
Chichimeca-Jonaz speakers living in the state of Guanajuato in 2000,
it is interesting to note that the great majority - 1,405 persons five
years of age or more - actually lived in the municipio of San Luis de
la Paz in the northcentral part of the state (adjacent to San Luis
In the 2010 census, Guanajuato ranked 30th among the
Mexican states and the Distrito Federal in its percentage of
indigenous speakers. In fact, only 0.3% of Guanajuato’s residents
actually spoke an indigenous language. Within the Mexican Republic,
only Aguascalientes and Coahuila had smaller percentages.
one-third of the 15,204 indigenous speakers 3 years and older in
Guanajuato in the 2010 census did not specify which language they
spoke, as noted in the following table:
Although several native languages were spoken in Guanajuato, most
of them were transplants from other Mexican states. Otomí was the
most commonly-spoken language (21.6%), followed by the
with Indigenous Speaking Populations
In 2010, the
Municipio of León had 3,270 indigenous speakers, with 21.5% of all
Indigenous language speakers in Guanajuato. The majority of the
languages spoken there were Náhuatl (the language of the Aztecs still
spoken by one-quarter of Mexico’s indigenous languages speakers) and
San Luis de
la Paz was the municipio with the second largest number of indigenous
speakers in the State (2,273 speakers or 15.0% of the state total),
but nearly all of them spoke the Chichimeco-Jonaz language.
Municipio of Tierra Blanca had the third largest population of
indigenous speakers: 2,090 persons, or 13.7% of the state population.
Tierra Blanca is the stronghold of the Otomí in Guanajuato, with
2,037 Otomí speakers in 2010.
2016, the Mexican government agency, Instituto
Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (INEGI),
published the 2015 Intercensal
Survey. One of the survey questions asked, “De
acuerdo, con su cultura, se
considera indígena?” Essentially, Mexican residents were being
asked if they considered themselves indigenous through their culture.
Based on the responses to this question, across all states, the survey
reported that 21.5% of all
Mexicans considered themselves to be of indigenous descent, which
means that more than one-fifth of the entire population of the nation
recognized its indigenous origins.
only 0.2% of the people in Guanajuato speak indigenous languages
today, nearly one-tenth of the population (9.1%) considered themselves
to be indigenous in this survey. Today, many citizens
of Guanajuato — although they are far removed from the cultures and
languages of their ancestors —remain as the living representation of
their indigenous ancestors.
At the following link, researchers will find links to each of
Guanajuato’s municipios. Through this resource, interested readers
can learn more about the indigenous people and history of each of
their ancestral municipios:
Copyright © 2017 by John P. Schmal. All Rights Reserved. Read more
articles by John Schmal.
De las Casas, Gonzalo. "Noticias
de los Chichimecas y Justicia de la Guerra Que Se les ha Hecho por los
Españoles." (Stuttgart, 1936).
Departamento de la Estadística Nacional. "Annuario de 1930."
Tacuba, D.F., Mexico, 1932.
Frye, David. “The Native peoples of Northeastern Mexico,” in
Richard E. W. Adams and Murdo J. MacLeod, The
Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Volume II:
Mesoamerica, Part 1. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University
Press, 2000, pp. 89-135
Gerhard, Peter. “A
Guide to the Historical Geography of New Spain.” Norman,
Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972.
Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (INEGI).
"Estadísticas Históricas de Mexico, Tomo I."
Aguascalientes, INEGI, 1994.
Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (INEGI).
“Tabulados Básicos. Estados Unidos Mexicanos. XII Censo General de
Población y Vivienda, 2000 y 2010.”
Kirchhoff, Paul. "The Hunter-Gathering People of North
Mexico," in "The North Mexican Frontier: Readings in Archaeology, Ethnohistory,
and Ethnography." Carbondale: Southern Illinois
University Press, 1971 (pp. 200-209).
Powell, Philip Wayne. "Soldiers,
Indians and Silver: North America's First Frontier War."
Tempe, Arizona: Center for Latin American Studies, Arizona State
Prado, Juan Jose. "Guanajuato's
Legends and Traditions." Guanajuato, Guanajuato: Prado
Robles Uribe, Josefina. Historia
Regional de Guanajuato: Perfil Socioeconómico.” Mexico, D.F.:
Editorial Limusa, S.A. de C.V. Grupo Noriega Editores, 2000.
Secretaríat de Economía, ProMéxico Trade and Investment:
Secretaría de Programacíon y Presupuesto. 1er Censo de Población de la
Nueva España. 1790: Censo de Revillagiedo. Mexico, D.F.:
Dirección General de Estadística, 1977.
Thomas, Cyrus. "Indian
Languages of Mexico and Central America." Washington,
D.C.: Bureau of Smithsonian Institution, 1911, Bureau of American
Ethnology, Bulletin 44.
Valenciana Mina. “Guanajuato
Mine Guide.” Online:
Guamare.” Online: http://www.wikiwand.com/es/Confederaci%C3%B3n_guamare
State of Michoacán de Ocampo, located in the west central part of the
Mexican Republic, occupies 59,864 square kilometers (23,113 square
miles) and is the sixteenth largest state in Mexico, taking up 3% of
the national territory. With a population that was tallied at
3,985,667 in the 2000 census, Michoacán is divided into 113
municipios and has a common border with Jalisco and Guanajuato (to the
north), Querétaro (on the northeast), the state of Mexico (on the
east), Guerrero (to the southeast), and Colima (to the west). In
addition, Michoacán's southeast border includes a 213-kilometer
(132-mile) shoreline along the Pacific Ocean.
more than a thousand years, Michoacán has been the home of the Purhépecha
Indians (more popularly known as the Tarascans). The modern state of
Michoacán preserves, to some extent, the territorial integrity of the
pre-Columbian Kingdom of the Purhépecha. This kingdom was one of the
most prosperous and extensive empires in the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican
world. The name Michoacán derives from the Náhuatl terms, michin (fish) and hua
(those who have) and can
(place) which roughly translates into "place of the
ancient Tarascan inhabitants were farmers and fishermen who
established themselves in present-day Michoacán by the Eleventh
Century A.D. But, in the late Twelfth Century, Chichimec tribes from
the north crossed the Lerma River into Michoacán and settled in the
fertile valley near the present-day town of Zacapu. "The entry of
these nomadic hunters, writes Professor Verástique, "was
facilitated by the fall of the Toltec garrisons at Tula and the
political vacuum created in the region by the city's fall." Once
in Michoacán, the nomadic Chichimecs began to intermingle with the
Purhépecha, to create what Verástique calls "the Purhépecha-Chichimec
the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, the Purhépechas grew
militarily strong and economically prosperous. An early Tarascan king
named Tariácuri initiated numerous wars of expansion. In addition to
occupying and establishing garrisons in the western frontier (now
Jalisco), he cut a wedge through the Sierra Madre into the tierra
caliente (hot country) of the present-day state of Guerrero. With this
acquisition, he incorporated Náhuatl people into his empire. However,
the region was also a primary source of certain precious objects that
were used in the religious cults of the time: copper, gold, silver,
cotton, copal incense, cacao, beeswax, and vegetable fats.
the Purépecha Kingdom would control an area of at least 45,000 square
miles (72,500 square kilometers), including parts of the present-day
states of Guanajuato, Guerrero, Querétaro, Colima, and Jalisco.
However, 240 miles to east, the Aztec Empire, centered in Tenochtitlán,
had begun its ascendancy in the Valley of Mexico. As the Aztecs
expanded their empire beyond the Valley, they came into conflict with
the Tarascans. More than once, the Aztecs tried to conquer the
Tarascan lands. But, in all of their major confrontations, the
Tarascans were always victorious over the Aztecs. The Aztecs called
the Tarascans Cuaochpanme, which means "the ones with a narrow
strip on the head" (the shaven heads), and also Michhuaque,
meaning "the lords of the fishes".
April 1519, a Spanish army, under the command of Hernán Cortés,
arrived on the east coast of Mexico near the present-day site of
Veracruz. As his small force made its way westward from the Gulf
coast, Cortés started meeting with the leaders of the various Indian
tribes they found along the way. Soon he would begin to understand the
complex relationship between the Aztec masters and their subject
tribes. Human sacrifice played an integral role in the culture of the
Aztecs. However, the Aztecs rarely sacrificed their own. In their
search for sacrificial victims to pacify their gods, the Aztecs
extracted men and women from their subject tribes as tribute. Cortés,
understanding the fear and hatred that many of the Indian tribes held
for their Aztec rulers, started to build alliances with some of the
tribes. Eventually, he would align himself with the Totonacs, the
Tlaxcalans, the Otomí, and Cholulans. Finally, on November 8, 1519,
when Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlán (the Aztec capital), he was
accompanied by an army of at least 6,000.
August 13, 1521, after a bloody 75-day siege, Tenochtitlán finally
fell to a force of 900 Spaniards and a hundred thousand Indian
warriors. Almost immediately, Hernán Cortés started to take an
interest in the surrounding Indian nations. Once in control of
Tenochtitlán, Cortés sent messengers off to Tzintzuntzan. These
messengers returned with Tangoxoán's emissaries, who were greeted by
Cortés and taken on a canoe tour of the battle-torn city. The famous
conquistador made a point of demonstrating his cavalry in action. In
concluding his guided tour, Cortés assured Tangoxoán's
representatives that, if they subjected themselves to the King of
Spain, they would be well treated. They soon returned to Tzintzuntzan
to report to their king.
for the impending devastation of the indigenous people of Mexico soon
reached the Spanish government. The Crown decided to set up the First
Audiencia (Governing Committee) in Mexico in order to replace Cortés'
rule in Mexico City and reestablish their own authority. On November
13, 1528, the Spanish lawyer, Nuño Guzmán de Beltran, was named by
the Spanish King Carlos V to head this new government and end the
anarchy that was growing in Nueva España.
immediately, the Bishop-elect of Mexico City, the Franciscan Juan de
Zumárraga came into conflict with Guzmán. Appointed as the
"Protector of the Indians" and inquisitor of Nueva España,
Zumárraga initiated court proceedings to hear Amerindian complaints
about Spanish injustice and atrocities. By 1529, Guzmán was
excommunicated from the church for his defiance of the church and his
abuse of the Indian population. Anticipating loss of his position as
well, Guzmán set off for Michoacán at the end of 1529.
cruelty had destroyed the relationship between the Spanish and the
Tarascans. In a short time, the grand and powerful Purhépecha nation
had been completely devastated. Had it not been for the effort of one
man whose ideals, good judgment and ability to put into practice the
morals that he preached, it is possible that the Purhépechas would
not have survived this catastrophe. This man was Don Vasco de Quiroga,
who at the age of 60, arrived in Mexico in January 1531, with a
mandate to repair both the moral and material damage that had been
inflicted upon Michoacán by Guzmán. A Spanish aristocrat born in
Galicia, Don Vasco de Quiróga was trained in the law but would play
an important role in the evangelization of the Purhépecha people.
Vasco ensured that the old boundaries of the Purhépecha Kingdom would
be maintained. He began construction of the Cathedral of Santa Ana in
1540. He also established the Colegio de San Nicolas Obispo. As a
Judge (oidor) and Bishop, Quiroga was driven by a profound respect for
Spanish jurisprudence and his desire to convert the Purhépecha to a
purified form of Christianity free of the corruption of European
Catholicism. He strove to establish "New World Edens" in
Michoacán by congregating the Purhépecha into repúblicas de indios,
or congregaciones (congregations) modeled after Thomas More's Utopia.
Guided spiritually by the friars, the natives of these communities
became self-governing. Under this system, Augustinian and Franciscan
friars could more easily instruct the natives in the fundamental
beliefs of Christianity as well as the values of Spanish culture.
the colonial years, thanks to Quiroga's efforts, Michoacán flourished
and came to occupy an important position in regard to its artistic,
economic and social development. The prosperity that flourished in
Michoacán has been explored in a number of specialized works.
Professor Verástique has suggested that "Vasco de Quiroga's
ideals of humanitarianism and Christian charity had a critical
influence on the conversion process."
- known as the Intendancy of Valladolid during the Spanish period -
saw a significant increase in its population from the 1790 census
(322,951) to the 1895 census (896,495). The 1900 census tallied
935,808 individuals, of whom only 17,381 admitted to speaking
indigenous languages. It is likely, however, that during the long
reign of Porfirio Díaz, many indigenous-speaking individuals were
afraid to admit their Indian identity to census-takers.
1921 census was unique among Mexican tallies because it asked people
questions about their racial identity. Out of a total population of
939,849 people in Michoacán, 196,726 persons claimed to be of "indígena
pura" (pure indigenous) descent, representing 20.9% of the total
population. The vast majority of Michoacán residents - 663,391 in all
- identified themselves as "indígena mezclada con blanca"
(indigenous mixed with white, or mestizo), representing 70.6% of the
total state population. Only 64,886 individuals referred to themselves
as "blanca" (white).
to the 2000 census, the population of persons five years and more who
spoke indigenous languages in the state of Michoacán totaled 121,849
individuals. The most common indigenous languages in Michoacán are:
Purépecha (109,361), Náhuatl (4,706), Mazahua (4,338), Otomí (732),
Mixteco (720), and Zapoteco (365).
2010 Mexican Census
the 2010 census, Michoacán was ranked 13th among the
Mexican states with 3.5% of its population speaking indigenous
languages (136,608 individuals in all). The single largest group among
the indigenous speakers were the Purhépecha who represented 83.1% of
total indigenous-speaking language. Náhuatl was the second most
common language spoken in the state.
2010 census also included a question that asked people if they
considered themselves indigenous, whether or not an indigenous
language was spoken. The results of this question indicated that 15.7
million Mexicans 3 years of age and older identified themselves as
“indigenous:” 14.9% of the total Mexican population. This time
Michoacán ranked 14th, with 14.6% of its population 3
years of age and older being considered indigenous.
2010, a total of 124,494 Mexicans identified themselves as speakers of
the Purépecha language. Purépecha was the 15th most
commonly spoken language in Mexico, and more than 94% of those persons
lived within the borders of Michoacán. However, the rate of
monolingualism in the Purépecha speakers declined from 12.9% in 2000
to 7.8% in 2010.
future of Mexico’s indigenous languages is not certain, but there
does appear to be some effort to carry on some of the nation’s
ancient languages. The
movement of indigenous peoples from their places of origin to other
parts of Mexico will play some role in the continued decline of some
languages. On the other
hand, the sense of pride and cultural identity among some indigenous
groups will ensure the survival of many of the languages well into the
© 2016, by John P. Schmal.
All Rights Reserved.
Jennie Purnell, “Popular Movements and State Formation in
Revolutionary Mexico: The Agraristas and Cristeros of Michoacán.”
Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.
Jennie Purnell, “Popular Movements and State Formation in
Revolutionary Mexico: The Agraristas and Cristeros of Michoacán.”
Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.
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