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The Guaycura (Waicura, Waikuri, Guaycuri) were a native people of Baja California Sur, Mexico, occupying an area extending south from near Loreto to Todos Santos They contested the area around La Paz with the Pericú. The Guaycura were nomadic hunter-gatherers. They are distinguished by a language unrelated to any other Native American language, indicating in the opinion of some linguists that their ancestry in Baja California dates back thousands of years.

Baja California Sur State of Mexico

Baja California Sur, officially the Estado Libre y Soberano de Baja California Sur, is the second-smallest Mexican state by population and the 31st admitted state of the 31 states which, with Mexico City, make up the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico.

Mexico country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the eleventh most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.

Loreto, Baja California Sur Town in Baja California Sur, Mexico

Loreto is a resort town and municipal seat of Loreto Municipality, located on the Gulf of California in eastern Baja California Sur state, Mexico. The city of 18,535 inhabitants is located about 350 km (220 mi) north of La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur state.


The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) of the Catholic Church established Christian missions in their territory in the 18th century. The Guaycura may have numbered 5,000 at the time of Spanish contact, but their numbers quickly declined, mostly due to European diseases. [1] They became extinct as a culture by about 1800, the survivors being absorbed into the mestizo society of Mexico.

Society of Jesus male religious congregation of the Catholic Church

The Society of Jesus is a scholarly religious congregation of the Catholic Church for men which originated in sixteenth-century Spain. The members are called Jesuits. The society is engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry in 112 nations. Jesuits work in education, intellectual research, and cultural pursuits. Jesuits also give retreats, minister in hospitals and parishes, sponsor direct social ministries, and promote ecumenical dialogue.

Catholic Church Christian church led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's "oldest continuously functioning international institution", it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

Mestizo race

Mestizo is a term traditionally used in Spain, Latin America and the Philippines that originally referred to a person of combined European and Indigenous American descent, regardless of where the person was born. The term was used as an ethnic/racial category in the casta system that was in use during the Spanish Empire's control of its American and Asian colonies. Nowadays though, particularly in Spanish America, mestizo has become more of a cultural term, with culturally mainstream Latin Americans regarded or termed as mestizos regardless of their actual ancestry and with the term Indian being reserved exclusively for people who have maintained a separate indigenous ethnic identity, language, tribal affiliation, etc. Consequently, today, the vast majority of Spanish-speaking Latin Americans are regarded as mestizos.


Linguists and archaeologists speculate that the Guaycura and the Pericú occupying the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula may have been the descendants of very early Native American migrants to the Americas. Their languages apparently were not related to each other or any other languages and their physical type was uncommon among Native Americans. They were small-bodied and long-headed (dolichocephalic). Their geographical location was a cul-de-sac in which they may have been isolated from extensive interaction with other peoples. Thus, their unique languages and physical characteristics may have survived for thousands of years. The lack of relationships between Guaycura and other languages indicates that Guaycura may have developed in isolation over a period of at least 5,000 years. [2] At one time the Guaycura and Pericú may have occupied much greater territories but they were pushed southward and isolated by the expansion of the Cochimí people who spoke a language in the Yuman-Cochimí language family. [3]

Indigenous peoples of the Americas Pre-Columbian inhabitants of North, Central, and South America and their descendants

The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the Pre-Columbian peoples of North, Central and South America and their descendants.

To our knowledge the Guaycura were never united politically, but rather consisted of a large number of independent bands, each with their own territory and sometimes hostile to each other. Known band names of probable Guaycura speakers living near the Bay of La Paz are Cubí (or Cora), Huchiti (or Uchiti), Aripe, Callejúe, and Cantile. [4] Most bands probably consisted of about 500 persons. The Monqui also possibly spoke a Guaycura language or dialect. The Guaycura occupied a territory of about 25,000 square kilometres (9,700 sq mi) of austere deserts and mountains with few sources of fresh water. [5]

La Paz, Baja California Sur City in Baja California Sur, Mexico

La Paz is the capital city of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur and an important regional commercial center. The city had a 2015 census population of 244,219 inhabitants, making it the most populous city in the state. Its metropolitan population is somewhat larger because of the surrounding towns, such as El Centenario, Chametla and San Pedro. It is in La Paz Municipality, which is the fourth-largest municipality in Mexico in geographical size and reported a population of 290,286 inhabitants on a land area of 20,275 km2 (7,828 sq mi).


The Monqui were indigenous peoples of Mexico, who lived in the vicinity of Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico, at the time of Spanish contact. Monqui territory included about 65 kilometres (40 mi) of coast along the Gulf of California and extended a few kilometers inland to where the Cochimi people lived.

Culture and livelihood

The Native Americans or Indians of the 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) long peninsula of Baja California were similar in that all were hunter-gatherers with a limited and portable toolkit for survival. The Guaycura had no tribal government, but were divided into bands, each with its own territory. Bands united infrequently and most of the year the Guaycura foraged in family groups or lived in temporary settlements, called rancherias by the Spanish, of 50 to 200 people. Bands competed for territory and sometimes warred with each other. The Guaycura hunted mule deer, bighorn sheep and smaller game, harvested shellfish and turtles on the shorelines, and gathered a variety of plant foods. They had no pottery or agriculture and no domestic animals. Their shelters were made of brush; the men usually went naked, women wore a short skirt made of reeds or animal skins. Their religion was shamanic. [6]

Mule deer species of deer

The mule deer is a deer indigenous to western North America; it is named for its ears, which are large like those of the mule. The several subspecies include the black-tailed deer.

Bighorn sheep species of sheep native to North America

The bighorn sheep is a species of sheep native to North America named for its large horns. A pair of horns might weigh up to 14 kg (30 lb); the sheep weigh up to 140 kg (300 lb). Recent genetic testing indicates three distinct subspecies of Ovis canadensis, one of which is endangered: O. c. sierrae. Sheep originally crossed to North America over the Bering land bridge from Siberia; the population in North America peaked in the millions, and the bighorn sheep entered into the mythology of Native Americans. By 1900, the population had crashed to several thousand, due to diseases introduced through European livestock and overhunting.

Year-round the most important food for the Guaycura was probably the basal rosettes of several species of agave which they roasted in a pit with heated rocks. The fruit of the organ pipe cactus or pitahaya (Stenocereus thurberi) was the staple food tor two or three months in late summer and fall. Its abundance and ease of harvest enabled the Guaycura to congregate in larger numbers than usual for social and religious activities. [7]

<i>Agave</i> A genus of flowering plants closely related to Yucca (e.g. Joshua tree). Both Agave and Yucca belong to the subfamily Agavoideae.

Agave is a genus of monocots native to the hot and arid regions of Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Some Agave species are also native to tropical areas of South America. The genus Agave is primarily known for its succulent and xerophytic species that typically form large rosettes of strong, fleshy leaves. Plants in this genus may be considered perennial, because they require several to many years to mature and flower. However, most Agave species are more accurately described as monocarpic rosettes or multiannuals, since each individual rosette flowers only once and then dies ; a small number of Agave species are polycarpic.

<i>Stenocereus thurberi</i> species of plant

Stenocereus thurberi, the organ pipe cactus or pitahaya, is a species of cactus native to Mexico and the United States. The species is found in rocky desert. Two subspecies are recognized based on their distribution and height. The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is named for the species.

A fair number of explorers and missionaries left brief ethnographic notes concerning the Guaycura. The most detained accounts were written by the Alsatian Jesuit Johann Jakob Baegert, stationed at San Luis Gonzaga mission between 1751 and 1768 (Baegert 1772, 1952, 1982). Baegert took a decidedly sour view of his charges, at one point characterizing them as "stupid, awkward, rude, unclean, insolent, ungrateful, mendacious, thievish, abominably lazy, great talkers to their end, and naïve and childish" [8] His views as to the extreme simplicity of Guaycura social organization and belief systems have often been accepted as factual, but they may owe something to the missionary's own acerbic personality. He was scarcely kinder to European critics of the Jesuits. [9] As one scholar said, "Products of their own self-righteousness and conceit, the Jesuits learned little...about the Indians." [10]

The Jesuits

The Guaycura may have come into contact with the Spanish near the present-day city of La Paz as early as the 1530s. Over the following century and a half, they had sporadic encounters with maritime expeditions and failed attempts by the Spanish to establish a colony and a Christian mission in Baja California. Pearl fishermen also likely visited the shores where they lived. [11] In 1697, the Jesuits established the Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó mission near present day Loreto, Baja California Sur among the Monqui people who possibly spoke a Guaycura language. The first mission the Jesuits established among the Guaycura was the Misión de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de La Paz Airapí at present day La Paz in 1720. Missions subsequently established among the Guaycura were Dolores (1721), Todos Santos (1733), and San Luis Gonzaga (1737).

The Guaycura were initially resistant to the missionary endeavors of the Jesuits. In 1716, the first attempt, led by Jesuit Juan María de Salvatierra, to establish a mission and a Spanish settlement among the Guaycura at La Paz resulted in the death of several Guaycura women at the hands of Indian followers of the Jesuits. The first Jesuit mission among the Guaycura was at La Paz and it was intended to serve not only as a missionary center, but as a rest and resupply stop for the Manila galleons returning from the Philippines. However, La Paz was a fractious area, contested by several Guaycura bands and the Pericú of southernmost Baja California. The mission, during its 30 years of existence "would serve more as a base for the unintentional destruction of the region's peoples than as a center for their evangelization." [12]

The long-running opposition to the Jesuit missions and presence would terminate in the Pericúe revolt of 1734 in which several Jesuits and their followers and Spanish sailors were killed by the Pericú and Guaycura, especially the Uchití band. Meanwhile the Guaycura were being devastated by introduced European diseases such as measles and smallpox. In 1748, after many years of frustration, the Jesuits decided to concentrate the southern bands of the Guaycura into a single settlement at Misión Todos Santos. There, the Jesuits forcibly detained the Guaycura children at the mission and their parents and relatives "for love of the children remained pacified." [13]

In 1768, the Spanish government expelled the Jesuits from Baja California. The new Spanish administration and newly arrived Franciscan missionaries forced the 746 survivors of the northern bands of the Guaycura to move south to Todos Santos. A year later more than 300 had died in a measles epidemic. [14] Many of the Guaycura were still semi-nomadic and the efforts of the Franciscans to make of them toilers of the soil on mission lands was a failure as many ran away. By 1808 only 82 Guaycura were still resident at Todos Santos. Baja California by this time was being settled by Spanish and mestizo immigrants and the remaining Guaycura were being absorbed into the general population and had lost the remnants of their culture. [15]

Language and Legacy

The Guaycura language is attested by a few texts, but the evidence is not enough to classify it. It is not closely related to other known languages. Several businesses in Baja California Sur preserve the name of the Guaycura

A few people self-identified as Guaycura were still alive in the late 19th century. In 1883, Dutch anthropologist Herman ten Kate met two full-blooded Guaycura in Todos Santos. Both had the dolichocephalic skulls associated with the Guayacura and Pericú. In 1892, French photographer Leon Diguet photographed Maria Ignacia Melina in Loreto, Baja California Sur. She claimed to be 85 years old and three-fourth Guaycura. [16]

Related Research Articles


The Pericú were the aboriginal inhabitants of the Cape Region, the southernmost portion of Baja California Sur, Mexico. They have been linguistically and culturally extinct since the late 18th century.

Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó

Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó was a Spanish mission on the Baja California peninsula in colonial Mexico, the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The site is in present-day Loreto Municipality of Baja California Sur state. The mission was located at 25°51′38″N111°32′37″W. San Francisco Javier mission was founded by Jesuits of the Roman Catholic church in 1699 and closed in 1817. The missionary's objective was to convert the local Cochimí Native Americans (Indians) to Christianity. A mission church survives and is in use.

Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó

Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó, or Mission Loreto, was founded on October 25, 1697 at the Monqui Native American (Indian) settlement of Conchó in the present city of Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Established by the Catholic Church's Jesuit missionary Juan María de Salvatierra, Loreto was the first successful mission and Spanish town in Baja California. The mission is located at 26°00′37″N111°20′36″W.

Sigismundo Taraval (1700–1763) was a pioneering Jesuit missionary in Baja California who wrote important historical accounts of the peninsula.

The Spanish admiral Isidro de Atondo y Antillón is best known for his role in unsuccessful attempts to establish colonies on the Baja California peninsula in 1683–1685.

Spanish missions in Baja California

The Spanish missions in Baja California were a large number of religious outposts established by Catholic religious orders, the Jesuits, the Franciscans and the Dominicans, between 1683 and 1834 to spread the Christian doctrine among the Native Americans or Indians living on the Baja California peninsula. The missions gave Spain a valuable toehold in the frontier land, and introduced European livestock, fruits, vegetables, and industry into the region. The Indians were severely impacted by the introduction of European diseases such as smallpox and measles and by 1800 their numbers were a fraction of what they had been before the arrival of the Spanish.

Cochimí aboriginal inhabitants of the central part of the Baja California peninsula, from El Rosario in the north to San Javier in the south

The Cochimí were the aboriginal inhabitants of the central part of the Baja California peninsula, from El Rosario in the north to San Javier in the south.

Misión San Bruno

The short-lived Jesuit mission of San Bruno was established in 1684 on the Baja California Peninsula near the Gulf of California, in colonial Mexico of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The Mission was located at 26°13′57″N111°23′53″W. The location of this mission should not be confused with the location of the present day town of San Bruno which is located about 110 kilometres (68 mi) to the north.

Johann Jakob Baegert Mexican Jesuit

Johann Jakob Baegert was a Jesuit missionary at San Luis Gonzaga in Baja California Sur, Mexico. He is noted for his detailed and acerbic account of the peninsula, the culture of its native inhabitants, and the history of its Spanish exploration and missionization.

Misión San Juan Bautista Malibat

Misión San Juan Bautista Malibat also known as the Misión San Juan Bautista de Ligüí was founded by the Jesuit missionary Pedro de Ugarte in November 1705, about 30 kilometres (19 mi) south of Loreto near the Gulf of California coast of what is today the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. The mission is located at 25°44′22″N111°15′51″W.

Misión de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de La Paz Airapí

Mission La Paz was established by the Jesuit missionaries Juan de Ugarte and Jaime Bravo in 1720 and financed by the Marqués de Villapuente de la Peña, at the location of the modern city of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Misión Nuestra Señora de los Dolores del Sur Chillá

The Jesuit missionary Clemente Guillén founded Mission Dolores in 1721 and sponsored by the Marqués de Villapuente de la Peña, on the Gulf coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico, about midway between Loreto and La Paz in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Misión Santiago de Los Coras

Mission Santiago was founded by the Italian Jesuit Ignacio María Nápoli in 1724 and financed by the Marqués de Villapuente de la Peña and his wife the Marquesa de las Torres de Rada, at the native settlement of Aiñiní, about 40 kilometers north of San José del Cabo in the Cape Region of Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Misión Santa Rosa de las Palmas

Misión Santa Rosa de las Palmas, also known as Todos Santos Mission, was founded by the Roman Catholic Jesuits in 1733. After 1748, the mission was known as Nuestra Señora del Pilar de la Paz. The mission was the first European settlement at the site of what is now the city of Todos Santos, Baja California Sur. The Santa Rosa Mission was located in one of the few areas of Baja California suitable for agriculture. The residents of the Mission were primarily Guaycura Native Americans whom the Jesuits and their successors, the Franciscans and Dominicans, attempted to convert to Christianity and to make into sedentary farm workers. Recurrent epidemics of introduced European diseases reduced the Indian population to only a handful by the 19th century and in 1825 the mission was closed.

Misión San Luis Gonzaga Chiriyaqui

Mission San Luis Gonzaga was a Jesuit mission established among the Guaycura on the Magdalena Plains of central Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Waikuri language language

Waikuri is an extinct language of southern Baja California spoken by the Waikuri or Guaycura people. The Jesuit priest Baegert documented words, sentences and texts in the language between 1751 and 1768.

Pericú language

Pericú is the extinct and essentially unattested language of the Pericú people who lived at the southern tip of Baja California. Jesuit missionaries recognized it as distinct from Waikuri (Guaycura) immediately to the north. It was spoken in the mountainous area around the mission of San José del Cabo, on the southeastern coast from Santiago to La Paz, and on the islands off the east coast as far north as Isla San José.

Lorenzo Carranco Spanish missionary

Lorenzo José Carranco was a Jesuit missionary.


  1. Crosby, Harry W. (1994), Antigua California: Mission and Colony on the Peninsular Frontier, 1697-1768, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, pp. 101, 316
  2. "Don Laylander on the ancient languages of the Guaycura Nation",, accessed 10 Mar 2016
  3. Golla, Victory (2011), California Indian Languages, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 125-126, 239-240, 248.
  4. Crosby, p. 203
  5. Laylander,Don,, accessed 10 Mar 2016; Laylander, Don. 1997. "The Linguistic prehistory of Baja California". In Contributions to the Linguistic Prehistory of Central and Baja California, edited by Gary S. Breschini and Trudy Haversat, pp. 1-94. Coyote Press, Salinas, California.
  6. Burckhalter, David, Sedgwick, Mina, and Fontana, Bernard L. (2013), Baja California Missions, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, pp 7-9; Aschmann, Homer (1959), The Central Desert of Baja California: Deomography and Ecology, Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 122. Downloaded from Project Muse.
  7. Aschmann, pp. 79-81
  8. Baegert, Johann Jakob (1952), Observations in Lower California. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 80
  9. Peterson, Richard H. (Spring 1980) "Book Review: Observations in Lower California", San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 2,, accessed 26 Mar 2016
  10. Burckhalter et al, p. 9
  11. Crosby, pp. 4-5
  12. Crosby, p. 87-88, 101-104
  13. Crosby, p. 316
  14. Arraj, James (2002), An Expedition to the Guaycura Nation in the Californias,, pp 3-4
  15. Jackson, Robert H. (1986), "Patterns of Demographic Change in the Missions of Southern Baja California", Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 276-277. Downloaded from JSTOR; Crosby, 106, 114-117, 232, 316, 388
  16. Arraj, p. 6