Living with the remnants of the Aztec Empire
John P. Schmal
Location and Description
Published on LatinoLA: February 17, 2014
The Mexican state of Guerrero is located in the southern coastal region of the Mexican Republic. Guerrero covers an area of 63,597 square kilometers, occupying 3.2% of the national territory. The state is bordered to the north by the states of Michoac?ín, Mexico and Morelos; to the east, by Puebla and Oaxaca; and to the south, by the Pacific Ocean. Politically, Guerrero is divided into eighty-one municipios.
Dominated by the Sierra Madre Mountains of southern Mexico, Guerrero is extremely mountainous, except for a narrow coastal strip of flatlands. Environmentally, the state is divided into the following regions:
1. Tierra Caliente: The northwest interior, which borders Michoac?ín and Estado de Mexico
2. La Monta??a (The Mountain): the mountainous region in the northeast, bordering on Puebla and Oaxaca
3. Sierra del Norte: The far north adjacent to Morelos, Estado de Mexico and Puebla
4. Centro: The Central Valleys in the middle of the State
5. Costa Grande: The Coastal strip northwest of Acapulco
6. Costa Chica: The Coastal strip southeast of Acapulco
The capital of Guerrero is Chilpancingo de los Bravos. In 2010, Guerrero had a population of 3,388,768 inhabitants, representing 3.0 of the total population of the Republic of Mexico.
In pre-Hispanic times, Guerrero was inhabited by a large number of indigenous tribes. Archaeological sites in the state show a human presence since at least 2000 B.C. and ceramic pieces indicate that the inhabitants of the area had contact with both the Olmecs and Toltecs by the Eighth Century. By the 11th century, the Cuitlatecos began to dominate the Costa Grande region. By the 14th century, much of the coastal area and Tierra Caliente had come under the control of the Cuitlatecos, with their capital at Mezcaltepec. Other cultures that passed through the area included the Tolimecas, Chubias, Coixas and Pantecas.
Fifteenth Century Inhabitants
By the 15th century, the territory that now comprises the modern State of Guerrero was inhabited by several indigenous groups, none of whom had major cities or population centers. The most important groups were located in the following zones:
ÔÇó Tierra Caliente: Purh?®pecha, Cuitlatecos, Ocuiltecas and Matlatzincas
ÔÇó La Monta??a: Tlapanecos and Mixtecs
ÔÇó Central Valleys: the Coixcas and Tepoztecos
ÔÇó Sierra del Norte: Chontales, Mazatecos and Tlahuicas (a N?íhuatl language)
ÔÇó Costa Chica: Yopis, Mixtecos and Amuzgos
ÔÇó Costa Grande: Tolimecas, Chubias, Pantecas and Cuitlatecos
During the 15th century, both the rising Aztec and Purh?®pecha empires started to intrude upon the Cuitlateco domain, which eventually fell. The Purh?®pecha held some areas of the Costa Grande, while the Aztecs began moving into other areas of Guerrero, eventually subduing nearly all the peoples shown above.
The Aztec Empire of 1519
From the mid-Fifteenth Century to 1519, the Aztec Empire grew into the most powerful Mesoamerican kingdoms of all time. By 1519, the island city of Tenochtitl?ín (now Mexico City) had become a city of about 300,000 citizens. And the Aztec Empire itself ruled over about 80,000 square miles of territory extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, and southward to Oaxaca. This empire contained some 15 million people, living in thirty-eight provinces. In all, the Emperor received the tribute of 489 communities. The term, Aztec, is used to describe all the Nahua-speaking peoples in the Valley of Mexico, while the culture that dominated the Aztec Empire was the tribe known as Mexica.
Subjects of the Aztec Empire
By the early Sixteenth Century, numerous native states existed in Guerrero as provinces and tributaries of the powerful Aztec Empire. The authors Michael E. Smith and Frances F. Berdan, in "Aztec Imperial Strategies" (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1996) divided the Empire into 52 tributary and strategic provinces. The Aztec provinces that lay in the present-day state of Guerrero were:
ÔÇó Chiauhtlan: Located along the Morelos and Puebla borders in northeastern Guerrero, this province was dominated by N?íhuatl speakers.
ÔÇó Quiauhteopan: Located south of the Mezcala River in Guerrero and in State of Pueblo, this province had several languages spoken within it: N?íhuatl, Mixtec, Tlapanec and Matlame.
ÔÇó Tlacozauhtitlan: In this part of present-day Guerrero, Tlapanec, Matlame, Tuxteca and the Cohuixca variant of N?íhuatl were spoken.
ÔÇó Tepequacuilco: Located in north-central Guerrero, this province was divided between N?íhuatl-speakers (Cohuixca) in the east and Chontal speakers in the west.
ÔÇó Zompanco: Located in the mountainous area of east-central Guerrero, south of the R?¡o Mezcala, this area's dominant language was the Cohuixca version of N?íhuatl.
ÔÇó Tetellan: This province located along the R?¡o Balsas had inhabitants that spoke the Cuitlatec, Tepuzteco and Chontal languages and was on the border of Pur?®pecha territory.
ÔÇó Tlalpan: Located in the mountainous eastern part of Guerrero, this province primarily had Tlapanec language speakers.
ÔÇó Cihuatlan: This province located along the Costa Grande of Guerrero features "muchos lenguas," including Tepuzteco, Cuitlatec, Panteca and N?íhuatl.
ÔÇó Tecpantepec: This province ÔÇô stretched out along the Costa Grande on either side of the Cihuatlan province and extending inland ÔÇô featured the Cuitlatec language along the coast and Tepuzteco in the inland area.
ÔÇó Ayotlan: This province was located on the edge of Yope territory in what is now the Costa Chica of Guerrero and featured several languages: N?íhuatl, Tlapaneca, Yope, Zinteca and Quahuteca.
ÔÇó Ometepec: This province ÔÇô now located in southeastern Guerrero on the border with Oaxaca ÔÇô contained speakers of the N?íhuatl, Ayacstla, Amuzgo and Tlapanec languages.
For all its strength and breadth, the Aztec Empire failed to conquer several regions that became "independent enclaves" within their vast dominion. One of those enclaves was in Guerrero. Yopitzinco ÔÇô an isolated mountainous area along the Costa Chica of Guerrero, southeast of Acapulco ÔÇô was occupied by the "Yope" or "Tlapaneca," who had a reputation as fierce warriors. Yopitzinco actually comprised four Yopi states (Cacahuat?®pec, Pochotitlan, Xocotlan, and Xochit?®pec).
The Tlapaneca call themselves M?®phaa and are discussed in more detail below. The Pacific coastal regions to the north and south of Yopitzinco were conquered by the Aztec monarchs, Ahu?¡tzotl (reigned 1486-1502) and Moctezuma II (reigned 1502-1520), but the Yope territory remained free of Aztec rule.
Indigenous Groups at Contact
With the collapse of the massive Aztec Empire in August 1521, the Spaniards proceeded to assert their authority over the many peoples who had been subject to the Aztecs ÔÇô as well as the fiercely independent Yopes who had avoided Aztec domination for so long. The primary indigenous Guerrero groups living in the colonial period are discussed below:
The Amuzgos lived in the lower parts of the Sierra Madre del Sur in the present-day states of Oaxaca and southeastern Guerrero. The Amuzgo language belongs to the Otomanguean linguistic group and consists of two dialects, one in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca. The Amuzgo language is similar to the Mixtec and their territory overlaps that of the Mixtec region. Linguists have estimated that the Amuzgo language separated from the Mixtec language sometime between 2000 and 1000 B.C.
For a long time, the Amuzgos were an independent people, but around 1100 A.D., they came under the domination of the strong coastal Mixtec kingdom of Tututepec. For the next three hundred years, they paid tribute to the Mixtecs in the form of animal cotton, fabrics, skins, gold, maize and frijoles. In 1457, the Aztecs began their conquest of Amuzgo territory, replacing Mixtecs as the rulers of the region and then being replaced by the Spaniards in the 1520s.
The arrival of the Spaniards and the Afro-Mexicans gradually pushed the Amuzgos into the more inaccessible mountain regions and away from the coast. They were devastated by several epidemics during the Sixteenth Century and lost much of their land to intruders, although they pressured authorities for restitution, which was finally granted in the 1930s.
The Amuzgos still maintain much of their language and dress and are known for their textiles hand-woven on back strap looms with two-dimensional designs which can be complicated. Today, most of the Amuzgos live in or near four municipios: Xochistlahuaca, Tlacoachistlahuaca and Ometepec in Guerrero and San Pedro Amuzgos and Santa Mar?¡a Ipalapa in Oaxaca.
With the expansion of the Aztec Empire, several N?íhuatl languages were introduced into and gradually dominated several regions of Guerrero, including the Sierra del Norte, the Central Valleys, a sliver of Costa Grande and the Tierra Caliente. Today, the N?íhuatl enclaves that exist in some of the far-flung reaches of the former Aztec Empire represent the remnants of the early colonies established by the Mexica during their Fifteenth Century expansion in the southern Mexico (including Guerrero).
The primary N?íhuatl languages of Guerrero today include the Coatepec, Guerrero and Ometepec tongues. The Tlahuica tongue which was spoken in the Sierra del Norte is now primarily spoken in Morelos, which has always been its stronghold.
The Matlatzinca inhabited a considerable amount of territory in pre-Hispanic Estado de Mexico and Guerrero, as well as some smaller portions of present-day Michoac?ín. The name Matlatzinca ÔÇô a N?íhuatl term given by the Mexica to this group ÔÇô can be translated as "the gentlemen of the network" or "those that make networks." The Aztec Empire overcame the Matlatzinca in 1474 who remained under their rule till the arrival of the Spaniards in 1522. Today, the majority of Matlatzinca live in one community: San Francisco Oxtotilpan, located in the municipio of Temascaltepec, State of Mexico.
The Tlapaneca call themselves M?®phaa, which can be translated as "the one that is an inhabitant of Tlapa." "Tlapaneco" is an Aztec designation that came from the N?íhuatl word "tlauitl," meaning "red ocher" and has a pejorative connotation: "the one that is painted (of the face)," which to the ears of the M?®phaa means "to have a dirty face." Tlapa included an extensive territory located in the eastern portion of the present state of Guerrero that was contiguous with the Mixtec region of Oaxaca.
Tlapaneca ranges from the coastal region of Guerrero to the slopes of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range in the southern part of the state. The M?®phaa consist of two primary groups:
ÔÇó The M?®phaa of the north, seated in Tlapa
ÔÇó The Yopes of the south, centered in Yopitzinco
Tlapa was the more important ceremonial center of the region and was divided in four chieftainships: Bu?íth?í Way?¡?¡ (Huehuetepec), Ma??uwi?¡n (Malinaltepec), Miw?¡?¡n (Tlacoapa) and Xkuti?¡ (Tenamazapa). The imperial expansion of the Mexica and the Aztec Empire led to military incursions within the territory of the M?®phaa, and by 1486, Tlapa fell to the Mexica and became part of the Aztec Empire. The Yopes, however, remained independent.
The land of the Tlapaneco was subjugated by the Spanish conquistadors by 1523. However, between 1531 and 1535, the Yopes mounted three separate rebellions against the Spaniards. They continued to fight for their land well into the Mexican revolution of the Twentieth Century. During the Cardenas era, they had some limited success in their struggle for land.
By 1987, speakers of the Tlapanec language were estimated to number 75,000 individuals, many of whom were living in four municipios: Malinaltepec, Tlacoapa, Zapotitl?ín Tablas and Acatepec). However, a considerable number of Tlapanec speakers also lived in adjacent municipios.
The Chontals ÔÇô also called Tequistlatecan ÔÇô inhabited Oaxaca and a small amount of territory in the northern Sierras of Guerrero. They spoke two related but mutually unintelligible languages, Huamelultec (Lowland Oaxaca Chontal), and Highland Oaxaca Chontal. The name "Chontal" comes from the N?íhuatl, meaning "foreigner" or "foreign", and is also applied to an unrelated language from the State of Tabasco.
The Cuicatecos ("People of Song") inhabited a territory that now includes portions of present-day Guerrero, Oaxaca and Michoac?ín. They were neighbors of the Pur?®pecha who occupied a large part of Michoac?ín. It is believed that the Cuicatec speakers may have numbered about 60,000 people before the conquest. They were defeated around 1456 by the Aztecs and then subdued later by the Spanish conquistador, Martin Mezquita. They resisted conversion to Catholicism during the colonial period and fled into the mountains to avoid forced labor. Today, many of the Cuicatec people still live in the mountains. The Cuicatec language is an Oto-Manguean language which closely resembles the Mixtec language.
The Mazatecos occupied territory in the northern parts of the States of Oaxaca and Guerrero that also extended into the State of Veracruz. The Mazatecan languages are part of the Oto-Manguean language family and belong to the family's Eastern branch. In that branch, they belong to the Popolocan subgroup together with the Popoloca, Ixcatec and Chocho languages. There are four primary dialects of Mazateco speakers today:
ÔÇó Huautla-Mazatl?ín of Oaxaca (about 50,000 persons)
ÔÇó Ayautla-Soyaltepec of Oaxaca and Puebla (about 40,000 persons)
ÔÇó Jalapa of Oaxaca and Veracruz (about 15,000 persons)
ÔÇó Chiquihuitl?ín of Oaxaca (about 4,000 persons)
Dr. Ronald Spores, in "The Mixtecs in Ancient and Colonial Times," wrote that "when the Spaniards arrived in south-central Mexico in the early Sixteenth Century, they entered a region of northwestern Oaxaca known to its inhabitants as ?æu ?æudzahui and to the N?íhuatl-speaking Aztecs as Mixtlan, "Place of Clouds." Soon, the Spaniards would begin calling this region "La Mixteca."
Dr. Spore's description of the Mixteca states that "the Mixteca of western Oaxaca was an extensive and diversified region extending about 270 kilometers from southern Puebla to the Pacific Ocean and about 180 to 200 kilometers from eastern Guerrero to the western edge of the Valley of Oaxaca and the area known as La Ca??ada." In all, it is believed that the Mixtec Indians inhabited some 40,000 square kilometers ranging from Oaxaca through parts of Guerrero and Puebla.
The Mixtec enjoyed considerable influence and prestige in southern Mexico for several centuries, having eclipsed their neighbors the Zapotecs of Oaxaca. However, around 1458, the Mexicas began their conquest of Mixtec territory and eventually they became subjects of the powerful Aztec Empire.
The Mixtec ethnic group is very diverse, speaking approximately 57 different languages that have evolved over time. Even now, the Mixteca region is still divided into three primary areas:
ÔÇó The Mixteca Baja (?æui??e) in the north and northwest of present-day Oaxaca
ÔÇó The Mixteca Alta (?æu Dzahui ?æuhu) in the mountainous central area
ÔÇó The Mixteca de la Costa (?æundehui) in the southwest and south.
The Mixtecs and their cousins, the Zapotecs (discussed below), are discussed in greater detail in another article by this author at the following link:
The Zapotec Indians occupied large parts of central Oaxaca and some parts of Guerrero. They emerged as a dominant tribe more than 2,000 years ago during the Pre-Columbian period. The Monte Alb?ín complex associated with the Zapotec culture dates back several hundred years before the Christian era.
From about 500 B.C. until 800 A.D., the Zapotecs were a dominant group. However, by 800 A.D., Zapotec culture went into decline with the invasion of their neighbors, the Mixtecs. For the most part, the Zapotecs of Oaxaca were able to avoid complete surrender to the Aztecs. However, after a several short campaigns, the Spaniards defeated the Zapotecs between 1522 and 1527. Even today, the Zapotecs speak the fifth most common language group in Mexico. However, the Zapotec ethnic group is so diverse that there are actually 64 separate Zapotec languages that have evolved over the last few thousand years, each language diverging as the Zapotec communities became isolated from one another over time.
Pur?®pecha (also known as Tarascans)
The Pur?®pecha, in addition to living in the neighboring state of Michoac?ín inhabited some portions of the present day state of Guerrero, primarily in the north of the Costa Grande and Tierra Caliente. A detailed discussion of the Pur?®pecha and their history can be found at the following link:
Initial Spanish interest in the Guerrero area revolved around the search for gold. In 1521, Rodrigo de Casta??eda took possession of the mining area of Taxco, while Gonzalo de Sandoval took control of the Chontal area, the northern mountains, the Iguala Valley and Coixcatlalpan. In the spring of 1523, Sandoval conquered the coastal areas of present-day Guerrero and Colima and brought the Aztec tributary states under his control.
Further conquests were made by Juan Rodr?¡quez de Villafuerte and Simon de Cuenca in 1523 when they occupied Cihuatl?ín and most of the rest of the coastline. They destroyed the Indian settlement of Zacatula and founded Villa de Concepci??n on its site. Villa de Concepci??n ÔÇô the eighth Spanish municipio established in Mexico and the first on the Pacific Coast ÔÇô initially contained 122 Spaniards and two brigantines. The settlement included a shipyard which the Spaniards would use as a point of departure to explore the Pacific Coast and seek a route to the Philippines. However, the settlement was attacked and destroyed by natives later in the century. Today, Zacatula is known as La Uni??n.
For the most part, the Spanish takeover of the Costa Grande did not meet with serious resistance after the news about the fall of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) had arrived. This area produced cash crops such as cotton, cacao and coconuts. Under the Spaniards, these crops were produced on the large encomiendas and haciendas, which exploited the local indigenous population for labor.
The Founding of Taxco (1529)
The city of Taxco, now located in northern Guerrero ÔÇô 164 kilometers (111 miles) southwest of Mexico City and 50 miles south of Cuernavaca (in Morelos) -- was founded in 1529 by Hern?ín Cort?®s as one of the oldest colonial cities in Mexico. At the time of the Spanish contact, Taxco, was an area of barren hills and low mountains. Taxco is famous for its beautiful colonial architecture and narrow cobbled streets.
The seaport of Acapulco, located 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Mexico City, is one of Guerrero's most precious resources. Thanks to its beautiful beaches and luxurious resorts, Acapulco, with its year-around hot climate, is an important tourist center and the destination of many Americans. The area of Acapulco had a complex linguistic and political nature long before the arrival of the Spaniards. Several semi-independent states were associated in some way with the neighboring Cuitlatecan Kingdom of Mexcalt?®pec.
In the autumn of 1521, the expedition of Rodrigo Alvarez Chico discovered a large protected bay which he called Bah?¡a de Santa Luc?¡a. This natural port was later given the name Acapulco and was honored by the Spanish crown as the "City of the Kings."
Acapulco became the most important shipping port along Mexico's Pacific coastline. Expeditions sailed from Acapulco to Peru and the Far East in search of new conquests. The commercial route from Acapulco to Asia became a very profitable commercial endeavor for centuries to come.
Political Chronology (1821-1849)
When the Mexican Republic became independent in 1821, the present-day area of Guerrero belonged to the states of Michoac?ín, Mexico, Puebla, and Oaxaca. However, on October 27, 1849, the state was established and named for the revolutionary leader, Vicente Guerrero, with Chilpancingo de los Bravo as its capital.
Indigenous Guerrero in the Twentieth Century
The state of Guerrero has always had a significant population of indigenous people. In the 1895 census, some 92,444 persons were registered as speaking indigenous languages. This figure rose to 117,735 persons in 1900 and to 121,234 in 1910. However, the ravages of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) ÔÇô which took the lives of one in eight Mexicans ÔÇô caused a steep drop in the population of Guerrero. Thus, in the 1930 census, Guerrero's population of indigenous speakers five years of age or more had dropped to 79,585.
The 1921 Mexican Census
In the special 1921 Mexican census, we can get a 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 "ind?¡gena pura" (pure indigenous), "ind?¡gena mezclada con blanca" (indigenous mixed with white) and "blanca" (white).
Out of a total district population of 566,836 people, the three classifications of race were tallied in Guerrero as follows:
ÔÇó 248,526 individuals (or 43.8%) claimed to be of pure indigenous background.
ÔÇó 306,361 individuals (or 54.0%) classified themselves as being of mixed origin.
ÔÇó Only 11,706 individuals (or 2.1%) classified themselves as white.
In addition, 243 residents of Guerrero either ignored the question or gave another classification (such as "other" or "foreigner").
The 2000 Census
According to the 2000 census, the population of persons five years and more who spoke indigenous languages in Guerrero amounted to 367,110 individuals. These individuals spoke a wide range of languages, including:
ÔÇó N?íhuatl (136,681)
ÔÇó Mixteco (103,147)
ÔÇó Tlapaneco (90,443)
ÔÇó Amuzgo (34,601)
ÔÇó Zapoteco (660).
In the 2000 census, the state of Guerrero had nine municipios that had populations of at least 90% indigenous speakers. Metlat??noc ÔÇôwith 24,025 indigenous speakers ÔÇô had a 99.5% indigenous population, with the Mixtecos making up the majority of these people. Acatepec ÔÇô with an indigenous population of 98.9% ÔÇô was primarily dominated by the Tlapaneco, who represented 20,002 of the 20,027 indigenous speakers in the municipio.
The N?íhuatl Language
Today, the N?íhuatl language continues to be the most common indigenous language spoken in the Republic of Mexico. Speakers of this language are dispersed across large areas of Mexico. In the state of Guerrero, the N?íhuatl speakers represents around 40% of the indigenous population of the state and they are distributed through forty-five municipios in the mountainous interior of Guerrero. N?íhuatl was the primary language spoken in seventeen of Guerrero's municipios in 2000.
The Mixteco Languages
In 2000, the 103,147 Mixteco speakers in Guerrero represented 23.6% of the indigenous-speaking language. But they represented less than a quarter of Mexico's total Mixteco-speaking population of 444,498 in that census. Within Guerrero, the Mixtecos mainly occupy 262 communities and 10 colonies (colonias) in 16 municipios in La Monta??a and Costa Chica regions of the state.
Unlike the Mixteco and N?íhuatl languages, the languages of the Tlapanecos are primarily confined to the State of Guerrero. The 90,443 Tlapaneco speakers registered in Guerrero in 2000 represented 91% of all the Tlapanecos in the entire Republic. Within the state itself, the Tlapaneco ÔÇô or M?®phaa ÔÇô occupy about 536 communities located in 13 municipios.
The 2010 Census
In the 2010 Mexican census, Guerrero boasted the sixth largest population of indigenous speakers: 456,774 individuals in all. (Only Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz, Puebla and Yucat?ín had more indigenous speakers.)
By percentage, Guerrero ranked number five among the Mexican states with indigenous speakers representing 15.1% of the entire population. The N?íhuatl language continued to be the single largest language group, with 27.5% of the residents of Guerrero speaking that language.
Mexicans Considered Indigenous
The 2010 census also included a question that asked people if they considered themselves indigenous, whether or not an indigenous language was spoken. Within the State of Guerrero, 22.6% of the persons 3 years of age and older were considered indigenous, ranking the state as the eighth largest state with an indigenous population.
Most Spoken Languages
In the 2010 census, N?íhuatl remained the most widely spoken language in Mexico with 1,544,968 persons five years of age and older speaking that tongue. N?íhuatl speakers, in fact, represented 23.08% of the indigenous speakers 5 and older in the Mexican Republic.
The Mixtec language group was the third most common language group (476,472 persons ÔÇô or 7.12% of all indigenous speakers), and Zapotec was the fifth most common language spoken.
Even the Tlapaneco language ÔÇô spoken very little outside of Guerrero ÔÇô had 120,072 speakers, ranking it in 16th place among the Mexican languages (1.79% of the total indigenous speaking population of Mexico).
Copyright ?® 2014 by John P. Schmal. All Rights Reserved.
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John P. Schmal:
John P. Schmal is a market analyst, genealogist and researcher. He specializes in researching families from Jalisco, Aguascalientes and Zacatecas.