Tepehuanes: Location, Characteristics, Religion, Economy

The Tepehuanes are an indigenous people originally from northern Mexico. According to their location, today there are two different groups: those from the north, who live in the state of Chihuahua, and those from the south, who live in the states of Durango, Nayarit and Jalisco.

The Tepehuans of the north call themselves o’damis, which means “people” in their language, ”while those of the south call themselves o’dam (which could be translated as“ those who inhabit. ”According to historians, both groups previously formed a single community that inhabited a large extension of the state of Durango.

Tepehuanes family in 1893

The word tepehuane comes from Nahuatl and is composed of the particles tepetl (hill) and huan (which indicates possession). Their conjunction is translated as “people of the hills.” Some experts, however, translate that name as “conquerors or victor in battles.”

The diseases carried by the Spanish conquerors caused the Tepehuane population to decline from more than 100,000 members to less than 20,000. The division into two groups has led to some cultural, religious and customs differences between them. However, common traits that have survived over the centuries can also be found.

Article index

  • one

    Location

    • 1.1

      North Tepehuanes

    • 1.2

      South Tepehuanes

  • two

    Characteristics of the Tepehuanes

    • 2.1

      Social organization

    • 2.2

      Attachment to the earth

    • 23

      Tongue

    • 2.4

      living place

  • 3

    Religion

  • 4

    Economy

    • 4.1

      Crop shortages in the south

    • 4.2

      Crafts

  • 5

    Clothing

    • 5.1

      Men

    • 5.2

      Women

  • 6

    Food and gastronomy

    • 6.1

      Mitotes familiar among the o’dam

  • 7

    Customs and traditions

    • 7.1

      Tesgüinada in the north

    • 7.2

      Corn celebration

    • 7.3

      Music and dance

    • 7.4

      Passing away and the dead

  • 8

    References

Location

Distribution of ethnic groups in Chihuahua. Source: Diego Castro, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

When the Tepehuano nation was united it occupied a fairly large extension of the current Mexican state of Durango.

The causes of their separation are not known for sure. Some historians claim that it occurred in the 17th century, while others believe that it may have occurred before the Spanish conquerors arrived.

Today, this town is divided into two according to its geographical location. The first group, those from the north, live in the state of Chihuahua. The second, those from the south, occupy territories in Durango, Nayarit and Jalisco.

North Tepehuanes

North Tepehuanes. Source: gob.mx

The O’damis live north of the Sierra Madre Occidental, in scattered settlements among the ravines and peaks of the Sierra Tarahumara, in the south of the state of Chihuahua.

The vast majority of them are in the municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo. Its most important settlements are Llano Grande, El Venadito, Barbechitos and Baborigame.

South Tepehuanes

South Tepehuanes. Source: gob.mx

The southern Tepehuans live today in the southern area of ​​what was the former territory of this town, south of the state of Durango. In addition, they also occupy some areas of northern Jalisco and Nayarit.

This crescent-shaped region is known as the great nayar. The Tepehuanes are settled in areas that are high above sea level. These settlements do not usually exceed 1 000 inhabitants.

The vast majority of members of this town are divided into seven communities that administer their lands communally.

Characteristics of the Tepehuanes

The two groups into which the Tepehuans are divided today share common roots. However, over time differences have appeared between them that are manifested, among other aspects, in language, the way they dress and their social organization.

Social organization

The northern Tepehuans base their society on the traditional nuclear family. Adults and children take care of cultivating the land, while the mother is in charge of taking care of the young children, taking care of the family garden and cooking.

The southern group, for its part, places great importance on ancestors. Their society is organized through a system of authorities that mixes positions of colonial origin with other community and parental positions that come from the traditions of the people.

On the other hand, each vital stage of the southern Tepehuanes has its own characteristics and the passage from one of them to the next is marked by specific ceremonies.

Attachment to the earth

One of the common characteristics between both communities is their attachment to the land and its cultural traditions. Their refusal to abandon their beliefs and lands caused them to present great resistance to the Spanish. Armed rebellions began in the 16th century and lasted until the 17th century.

Tongue

The members of this people speak two different but closely related languages. In both cases, those languages ​​belong to the Yuto-Nahua family.

On the other hand, the language of the southern Tepehuanes has two variants: the eastern and the western.

living place

The construction of houses is one of the customs in which the differences between the north and the south are evident. The northern Tepehuans involve all members of their community to build their homes. Those from the south, on the other hand, do it individually.

On the other hand, among the southern Tepehuanes it is common to own more than one house. The main one rises in a ranchería close to the father’s family, while it is frequent that they build another house in the community to be able to attend parties or assemblies.

Religion

One of the common aspects in both communities is the mixture of Catholicism with native religious elements. However, the Tepehuanes of the north follow the Catholic sacraments more rigorously than those of the south.

The Catholic saints have mixed in both regions with the native pantheon and coexist with figures such as the God of the Deer, the spirits of the mountain or the Morning Star.

Both groups also maintain the importance of the figure of the shaman. These act as spiritual guides, direct the sacred ceremonies and exercise the rectory at festivals. In addition, they are also the healers of the community.

On the other hand, the tradition of the northern o’dami divided the universe into three regions: the sky or “world above,” the earth, and the “world below.” Human beings inhabit the second of these regions, heaven is the home of God and his wife (related at first with the Sun and the Moon and later identified with the Christian Christ and the Virgin Mary).

The southern o’dam, for their part, have integrated the characters of the Bible and the saints into their stories. Offerings that were previously intended for their gods are offered to them. Its most important cult revolves around the mitote or xibtal, a ritual in which people dance around the fire at night.

Economy

Agriculture in this town is hampered by the dispersion of arable land, possibly due to the custom of separating the houses belonging to each family. The most common products are beans, squash, potatoes and corn. It is common for families to have small gardens to obtain vegetables.

More productive is the livestock activity, in which all the community members participate. Preferably, the Tepehuanes raise cattle and goats, while sheep and pigs are presented on a smaller scale. The lack of good pastures forces their livestock to be extensive.

Another economic activity that was important for this town was logging, especially between the 50s and 90s of the 20th century. Today, however, this activity has been reduced.

Crop shortages in the south

Although the economic characteristics are similar among the southern Tepehuanes, their corn crops do not even cover their own consumption. The main cause of this low yield may be your need to cultivate on the slopes with the seeder stick. Families, faced with this shortage, are forced to buy products in the market.

Crafts

Crafts are another of the activities that this town tries to survive with. Its most popular items are combed wool backpacks and nets.

In addition to these two products, the Tepehuanes have also carved out a niche in the market for soybean shells, sugarcane, clay pipes and kitchen items such as clay dishes and comales.

Clothing

Nowadays, the men and women of this town usually dress in modern clothes. However, they still wear their traditional costumes in some celebrations and parties.

Men

Traditional male clothing is very simple. In general, it is an outfit very similar to that of the Mexican peasants.

The suit is made up of shorts and a long-sleeved shirt, both made with blanket fabric. The ends of the sleeves and shorts are adorned with stitching made with colored threads.

The clothing is completed with a shovel hat with a very wide brim, a handkerchief tied around the neck and sandals called huaraches.

Women

The traditional costume of women is characterized by its great color. The garments consist of a satin skirt, blouse and apron, all decorated with lace and colored ribbons. Finally, they usually wear a black lace shawl and the same type of sandals as men.

Food and gastronomy

Both the Tepehuanes of Chihuahua and Durango share their food base. Their diet is based on the products provided by hunting, fishing and agriculture.

Some of the traditional dishes of this town are tortillas, tomatillo stews and eggs. In addition, dishes with rabbit, armadillo or venison are also frequent, as well as trout, catfish and shrimp. Finally, the Tepehuanes take advantage of the meat from poultry farming and their livestock.

Similarly, there are some specialties typical of the cuisine of this town. Some examples are the bags of arbutus (butterfly worms) in broth and the larvae of roasted bees. Boiled poppies, palm flowers and mezcal flowers also have their place in some dishes.

Mitotes familiar among the o’dam

One of the festivities of the southern Tepehuanes has various foods as symbolic elements. Thus, in the family mitotes that are celebrated in the month of May, children who are around one year old receive three foods considered basic in their culture: venison, corn in the form of a tamale and salt.

Customs and traditions

As in other areas, the two groups of Tepehuanes have developed different customs and traditions over the years.

Each of the two communities have created their own cycle of festivals, many of them introduced after the conquest. To organize them, a butler is chosen a year in advance, whose duties include finding funds to pay for the decorations.

The Tepehuanes celebrate Christian religious festivals, although with certain elements that refer to their traditional heritage.

Tesgüinada in the north

One of the most important ritual celebrations among the o’damis is the tesgüinada. The name of this celebration comes from a drink made with fermented corn called tesgüino.

During the tesgüinada, community members take the opportunity to resolve disputes, decide governance issues, and do business. In addition, it is the best time for young people to get to know each other and it is common for several marriages to arise from these parties.

The tesgüinada also serves as a kind of maturity ritual for the youngest of the community. From their first invitation, they can already receive invitations to drink, as well as work or organize religious celebrations.

Corn celebration

Among the non-Christian festivals celebrated by the southern Tepehuans, the celebration of corn stands out, which takes place at the beginning of October.

Music and dance

Tepehuana dance in Chihuahua. Source: Luis Arquemond Sierra, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the dances that appeared after the Spanish conquest among the o’damis, such as La Pascola or el Matachín, are part, together with others of pre-Hispanic origin, such as the yúmari, of the religious celebrations of this town.

These dances symbolically represent the principles that order and disturb the universe. The o’damis use them to show dualities such as good and evil, indigenous and non-indigenous, or god and the devil.

On the other hand, in the mitotes celebrated by the southern Tepehuanes, music plays a fundamental role. In these festivals there is a very important position, sokbolh, which is always occupied by a musician.

In the celebration, this musician plays a musical instrument called gat and is accompanied by a plaintive song with hardly any intelligible words.

Passing away and the dead

Death has a very important meaning for this culture. When anyone dies, the family must follow a strict ritual to fire them.

The first step is to symbolically cut off the fingers of the deceased. Afterwards, a dark colored rope is placed around his neck.

The year after death, the deceased must “run the spirit” to stop disturbing the living. In this spirit run, the family gets together and offers the deceased a meal that includes their favorite foods. Afterwards, they say goodbye to him so that he can rest in peace.

References

  1.  National Institute of Indigenous Peoples. South Tepehuanes – O’dam de Durango. Obtained from gob.mx
  2. Original towns. Odami. North Tepehuanes. Obtained from pueblosoriginario.com
  3. Atlas of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. North Tepehuanos – Ethnography. Obtained from atlas.inpi.gob.mx
  4. Wikiwand. Tepehuán. Retrieved from wikiwand.com
  5. Wikipedia. Tepehuán language. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org
  6. Atlas of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. South Tepehuanos (Durango, Nayarit, Sinaloa and Zacatecas). Obtained from atlas.inpi.gob.mx

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button