Indigenous Nayarit: Resistance in the Sierra Madre

Named after a great Cora warrior that founded the Kingdom of X?cora in the high country of the Sierra Madre Mountains

By John P. Schmal
Published on LatinoLA: December 30, 2013

Indigenous Nayarit: Resistance in the Sierra Madre

The Sovereign State of Nayarit, located in northwestern Mexico, is surrounded by Jalisco on the south and east, Zacatecas and Durango on the northeast and Sinaloa on the northwest. On its west is the Pacific Ocean. With an area of 29,908 square kilometers, Nayarit takes up 1.4% of the national territory of Mexico. Nayarit is one of Mexico's smallest states; only Aguascalientes, Colima, Morelos, Tlaxcala and the Federal District are smaller.

The State of Nayarit was named after a great Cora warrior that founded the Kingdom of X?cora in the high country of the Sierra Madre Mountains. He was revered by his subjects and elevated to the status of a deity. In the 2010 census, Nayarit's twenty municipios were occupied by 1,084,979 inhabitants. The capital of Nayarit is Tepic.

Indigenous Groups at Contact:

Tepehuanes. The Tepehuan, according to Buelna (1891), received their name from the N?huatl term, "tepetl" (mountain) and "huan" (at the junction of)." The Tepehuan belong to the Pima Division of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic stock and are primarily located along the eastern slope of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Durango and southern Chihuahua. They also occupied some of the mountainous regions of northern Nayarit. The Tepehuanes Indians are usually associated with Durango and with their massive revolt from 1616 to 1619.

Totorame. The Totorame Indians, also known as the Memurte and Ponome, were farmers who grew corn, beans, squash, chili and cotton. They were also regarded as skilled artisans. The Totorame are closely related to the Cora Indians and occupied the powerful states of Azt?tlan, Cent?cpac, and Tzapotzingo in the northwestern and coastal regions of Nayarit. The Totorame also inhabited the coastal area of present-day Sinaloa as far north as Mazatl?n.

Naarinuquia. These were independent fishermen who occupied coastal regions of northwestern Nayarit and spoke a Tepehuan dialect, Naarinuquia.

Teco-Tecoxquin. This is a tribe belonging to the Aztecoidan branch of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic stock located inland in southern Nayarit and in two detached areas in western Michoac?n.

Huichol Indians. The Huichol Indians (also known as Wirraritari or Wirr?rika)
are believed to be closely related to the Guachichil Indians of Zacatecas and with them form a branch of the Aztecoidan (Nahuatlan) family and Uto-Aztecan stock. The Huichol were located in the mountains that ranged through western Zacatecas, northern Jalisco and southeastern Nayarit.

The Cora Indians. The Cora call themselves Nayarit or Nayariti, a tribe belonging to the Taracahitian division of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family. The Cora developed agricultural methods that included the building of terraces to control erosion. According to Salvador Guti?rrez Contreras, in "Los Coras y el Rey Nayarit," the Cora's success with agriculture caused some of them to move into surrounding areas that are now in the neighboring states of Colima and Sinaloa.

Linguistic studies by Grimes (1964) have indicated that there are significant linguistic similarities among the Pima, Tepehu?n, Tarahumara, Yaqui, Cora, Huichol and N?huatl speaking peoples living in the Nayarit Sierra Madre and the coastal regions of Sinaloa and Sonora. In fact, Grimes' studies noted that the similarities between the neighboring Huichol and Cora peoples were most pronounced, indicating that they are a linguistic subfamily sharing a common kin ancestry.

The Aztl?n Theory

Aztl?n (Azatl?n) is the legendary place from which the N?huatl peoples came from. In fact, the word "Azteca" is the N?huatl word for "people from Aztl?n." N?huatl legends relate that seven tribes lived in Chicomoztoc, or "the place of the seven caves." Each cave represented a different Nahua group: the Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Acolhua, Tlaxcalan, Tepaneca, Chalca, and Mexica. Because of a common linguistic origin, those groups also are called "Nahuatlaca" (Nahua people).

Sometime around 1168 A.D., the Aztecs left Aztl?n, eventually settling in a new place called Tenochtitl?n (now Mexico City). Scholars have speculated on the location of the legendary Aztl?n. In 1887, the Mexican anthropologist Alfredo Chavero claimed that Aztl?n was located on the Pacific coast in the state of Nayarit. In the early 1980s, Mexican President Jos? L??pez Portillo suggested that Mexcaltit?n, located in the municipio of Santiago Ixcuintla in west central coastal Nayarit, was the true location of Aztl?n. Many modern scholars have disputed these theories. Nevertheless, the state of Nayarit incorporated the symbol of Aztl?n in its coat of arms with the legend "Nayarit, cradle of Mexicans."

First Contact with the Spaniards (1524)

In 1524 Captain Francisco Cort?s de San Buenaventura, a nephew of the Conquistador Hern?n Cort?s, arrived at the site of present-day Tepic, Nayarit. He was confronted by at least two thousand Tactoani Indian warriors who turned out in force to give him a peaceful reception. He was presented with a gifts consisting of a cup of gold nuggets and with silver pieces by the Tactoani Indians.

The Expedition of Nu??o de Guzm?n

Feuding with Hernan Cortez, Nu??o de Guzm?n left Mexico City in December 1529 and embarked on a journey of destruction, marching through Michoac?n and Jalisco, and striking into what is now Nayarit after Easter 1530. During the next year, Guzm?n arrived in the area of Tepic. On July 25, 1532, Nu??o de Guzm?n established Santiago de Compostela, the first capital of the province of Nueva Galicia. [On May 10, 1560, the capital was moved to Guadalajara.]

Compostela was founded on the site of Tepic, an indigenous town which received its name from the N?huatl words, "tetl" (stone) and "pic" (hard). Later, Compostela was moved south, and Tepic returned to its original name and eventually became the capital of the modern state of Nayarit.

According to Guti?rrez Contreras, Nu??o de Guzm?n and his henchmen committed many atrocities against the indigenous peoples of this area. The atrocities included the burning at the stake of the Cora governor by Guzm?n's lieutenant, Gonzalo L??pez, and the murder of many Cora children. It is believed that these atrocities and others led to the Mixt??n Rebellion that started in December 1540. The rebellion engulfed many areas of Jalisco, southwestern Zacatecas and southern Nayarit and lasted until February 1542 with Spanish victory.

The Conquest of Nayarit (1592-1723)

The relentless march of Guzm?n caused many tribes to relocate, many of them joining and becoming assimilated into the Cora and Huichol peoples in the Sierra. The difficulty of the Sierra Madre terrain prevented the Spaniards from making any serious attempts at conquest of Nayarit until 1592, when Captain Miguel Caldera entered the Sierra and started communications with the Cora. But in the century to follow, the Spaniards were plagued with frequent rebellions in many northern locations of their colonial empire. From 1616 to 1618, the Coras joined the Tarahumaras and Tepehuanes in a rebellion against the Spaniards that included parts of Nayarit, Durango and Chihuahua.

The final decision to subdue the inhabitants of present-day Nayarit was made in 1719. By this time, drought, epidemics and famine had taken their toll on the Cora people. Baltasar de Zunigi, Marquis de Valero and the 36th Viceroy of Mexico, sent a large force to subdue the Coras and established the Presidio de San Francisco Javier de Valero in 1721.

In 1721, the Cora chief Tonati had led a delegation that met with Zunigi and the Spaniards and said that the Cora would accept the rule of the Spanish Crown if the Cora rights to their lands would be respected and their native government would be respected. However, soon after the delegation had returned to Nayarit, Spanish forces seized Mesa del Nayar in February 1722 and, by 1723, Zunigi's force had completed the conquest of the Coras, who were rounded up and confined within eleven Jesuit-controlled villages. The Sierra thus became fully incorporated into the Spanish colonial Empire.

The Huichol Retreat

In contrast to the Cora Indians, the Huichol were never congregated into nucleated mission settlements and thus, according to Franz (1996), were never converted from their "primitive pagan ways." In his 2001 thesis for the University of Florida, Brad Morris Biglow noted that, while the Cora Indians fought aggressively to resist acculturation, the Huichol response was primarily to "flee" to more remote locations in the Sierra Madre. According to Aguirre Beltran, the Huichol retreat into the Sierra created a "region of refuge" and enabled the Huichol to "resist the acculturative pressures around them."

Nayarit in the Nineteenth Century

The indigenous peoples of Nayarit played some role in the independence movement of the early Nineteenth Century. But the seizure of indigenous agricultural lands (primarily those occupied by the Tepecano, Huichol and Cora) by Spaniards and mestizos led to a rebellion against the Mexican Republic in 1857. The uprising, led by Manuel Lozada, initially met with success when government troops were defeated in Nayarit.

However, when the French invaded the Mexican Republic, Lozada allied himself with Maximilian's forces as they entered Mazatl?n (Sinaloa). But with the defeat of the French and the execution of Maximilian I of Mexico in 1867, Lozada's fortunes turned and he was killed by the enemy. However, some still consider Manuel Lozada the precursor of the agrarian reform movement in Mexico and credit him with the eventual creation of the state of Nayarit. There are monuments in his honor in the city of Tepic and the town of his birth, San Lu?s de Lozada.

The Road to Statehood

At the time of Mexican independence, Nayarit was part of Jalisco. In November 1824, the political constitution of the State of Jalisco was established, dividing the territory into eight districts. Nayarit was called the Seventh District of Jalisco. On August 7, 1867, after the defeat of the French invasion, President Benito Ju?rez separated Nayarit from Jalisco, declaring it to be the "Military District of Tepic," under the jurisdiction of the government.

On December 12, 1884, by order of Article 43 of the Federal Constitution, Nayarit was elevated to the status of a territory separate from Jalisco. This federal territory was divided into twenty municipios. In February 1917 the Territory of Nayarit was elevated to the status of a free and sovereign state under the provisions of the Constitution of 1917. The state was called Nayarit in honor of Nayar or Nayarit, the 16th century Cora governor who had defied the Spaniards.

The Nayarit Censuses (1895-1921)

The 1895 Mexican census found that only 3,033 persons in Nayarit spoke an indigenous language. This figure rose to 4,166 in the 1900 census and 12,798 in 1910. In the unusual 1921 Mexican census, residents of each state were asked to classify themselves in several categories, including "ind?gena pura" (pure indigenous), "ind?gena mezclada con blanca" (indigenous mixed with white) and "blanca" (white). Out of a total state population of 162,499, the residents of Nayarit were categorized as follows in the 1921 census:

29,773 persons (18.3%) claimed to be of pure indigenous background
107,312 persons (66.0%) classified themselves as being mixed
8,518 persons (5.2%) claimed to be white (blanca)

The remaining population identified as foreigners without racial distinction, chose to ignore the question, or said "other."

The 2000 Census

According to the 2000 census, the population of persons five years and more who spoke indigenous languages in Nayarit totaled 37,206 individuals. The most common indigenous languages in Nayarit were:

Huichol (16,932)
Cora (15,389)
N?huatl (1,422)
Tepehu?n (1,422)
Zapoteco (554)
Tlapaneco (235)
Pur?pecha (222)

Indigenous Municipios of Nayarit (2000)

Only four municipios of Nayarit contained significant populations of indigenous persons in the 2000 census:

Del Nayar 23,123 (86.8%)
La Yesca 4,424 (34.2%)
Huajicori 2,459 (23.9%)
Ru?z 2,892 (13.3%)

Del Nayar, located in northwestern Nayarit, about 16 miles (25 kilometers) northwest of Arteaga, is located in the traditional Cora Indian territory. In the 2000 census, 23,123 persons in the Del Nayar municipio were classified as "Ind?gena," representing 86.8% of the total municipio population of 26,649.

The Huichol in 2000

In the 2000 census, there were 30,686 persons five years of age or more who spoke the Huichol language in the Mexican Republic. They were primarily distributed across portions of four adjacent states:

Nayarit (16,932)
Jalisco (10,976)
Durango (1,435)
Zacatecas (330)

While a significant portion of the Huichol lived in the municipios of Bola??os and Mezquital in northwestern Jalisco, the largest portion inhabited central and northeastern Nayarit, primarily in the municipios of Tepic and La Yesca. The town of La Yesca is located in Nayarit, on the Jalisco border, 55 miles (89 kilometers) southeast of Tepic, in an isolated part of Sierra Madre Occidental.

The Mexicaneros in 2000

In 2000, only 1,422 residents of Nayarit spoke N?huatl. These N?huatl speakers are referred to as Mexicaneros and it is believed that their ancestors were brought to the area by the Spaniards during the Sixteenth Century. They live in an interethnic area that includes parts of the states of Durango, Nayarit, Jalisco and Zacatecas. In some areas, they live side-by-side with Huichol, Tepehuanes and Coras. The primary Mexicanero community in Nayarit is Santa Cruz.

The Tepehu?n in 2000

In 2000, 1,422 residents of Nayarit spoke the Tepehu?n language. One branch of the Tepehuanes lives in Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains of Chihuahua. A southern extension of the Tepehuanes live in adjacent parts of Durango and Nayarit. Their primary location is the northernmost Nayarit municipio of Huajicori.

1990 to 2010 Trends

Between the censuses of 1990 and 2010, there has been a decline in the Cora population of Nayarit from 47.3% (1990) to 41.4% (2000) and finally to 38.9% in the 2010 Census. On the other hand, the Huichol population has seen a corresponding increase from 36.0% (1990) to 47.7% (2010).

The 2010 Census

In 2010, Huichol was the 21st most commonly spoken language in Mexico with Huichol-speakers representing 0.67% of all indigenous speakers. Tepehuano was the 25th most commonly spoken language, followed by the Cora language (No. 26).

In 2010, 49,963 persons five years of age or more spoke indigenous languages in Nayarit. In terms of indigenous speakers, Nayarit ranked Number 11 among the Mexican states, with the Huichol the most commonly spoken language (47.7%), followed by the Cora language.

The 2010 census also included a question that asked people if they considered themselves indigenous, whether or not an indigenous language was spoken. Nayarit was ranked Number 17 among the Mexican states with 10.1% of its residents 3 years of age and older who were considered indigenous.

It is also worth noting that the Cora Indians have the fifth-highest rate of monolingualism in the Mexican Republic as of the 2010 census. In the latter census, 27.8% of Cora Indians were regarded as monolingual. The monolingual rate among the Huchol was 14% (the fifteenth highest rate).

The latest edition of ethnologue indicates that today the Cora language is most common in north-central Nayarit, while the Huichol language is most prevalent in northeast Nayarit and northwest Jalisco.

Copyright ? 2013 by John P. Schmal. All Rights Reserved.


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About John P. Schmal:
John Schmal is a researcher and genealogist. He gives presentations on "Finding Your Roots in Mexico" and "Indigenous Mexico."
Author's website

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