Last updated
Ñuù savi
Oaxaca ocho venado.png
Mixtec king and warlord Eight Deer Jaguar Claw (right) Meeting with Four Jaguar, in a depiction from the pre-Columbian Codex Zouche-Nuttall.
Total population
Approximately 830,000 [1] [2]
Regions with significant populations
Mexico (Flag of Oaxaca.svg  Oaxaca,Flag of Puebla.svg  Puebla, Flag of Guerrero.svg  Guerrero, Flag of Chiapas.svg  Chiapas)
Mixtec, Spanish
Roman Catholicism with elements of traditional beliefs
Related ethnic groups
Zapotecs, Trique
Turquoise mosaic mask. Mixtec-Aztec, 1400-1521 AD British Museum Mixtec.jpg
Turquoise mosaic mask. Mixtec-Aztec, 1400–1521 AD

The Mixtecs ( /ˈmstɛks,ˈmʃtɛks/ ), [3] or Mixtecos, are indigenous Mesoamerican peoples of Mexico inhabiting the region known as La Mixteca of Oaxaca and Puebla as well as the state of Guerrero's Región Montañas, and Región Costa Chica, which covers parts of the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla.


The Mixtec region and the Mixtec peoples are traditionally divided into three groups, two based on their original economic caste and one based on the region they settled. High Mixtecs or mixteco alto were of the upper class and generally richer; the Low Mixtecs or "mixteco bajo" were generally poorer.[ citation needed ] In recent times, an economic reversal or equalizing has been seen. The third group is Coastal Mixtecs "mixteco de la costa" whose language is closely related to that of the Low Mixtecs; they currently inhabit the Pacific slope of Oaxaca and Guerrero. The Mixtec languages form a major branch of the Oto-Manguean language family.

In pre-Columbian times, a number of Mixtecan city states competed with each other and with the Zapotec kingdoms. The major Mixtec polity was Tututepec which rose to prominence in the 11th century under the leadership of Eight Deer Jaguar Claw, the only Mixtec king who ever united the Highland and Lowland polities into a single state. Like the rest of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, the Mixtec were conquered by the Spanish invaders and their indigenous allies in the 16th century. Pre-Columbian Mixtecs numbered around 1.5 million. [4] Today there are approximately 800,000 Mixtec people in Mexico, and there are also large populations in the United States.

Nomenclature and etymology

The term Mixtec (Mixteco in Spanish) comes from the Nahuatl word mixtecah[miʃˈtekaʔ], "cloud people". There are many names that the Mixtecs have for naming themselves: ñuù savi, nayívi savi, ñuù davi, nayivi davi.[ pronunciation? ] etc. All these denominations can be translated as 'the land of the rain'. [5] The historic homeland of Mixtec people is La Mixteca, called in Mixtec language Ñuu Savi,[ pronunciation? ]Ñuu Djau,[ pronunciation? ]Ñuu Davi,[ pronunciation? ] etc., depending on the local variant. They call their language sa'an davi,[ pronunciation? ]da'an davi[ pronunciation? ] or tu'un savi.[ pronunciation? ]


Plate 37 of the Codex Vindobonensis. The central scene supposedly depicts the origin of the Mixtecs as a people whose ancestors sprang from a tree. Codice Vindobonensis.jpg
Plate 37 of the Codex Vindobonensis. The central scene supposedly depicts the origin of the Mixtecs as a people whose ancestors sprang from a tree.

In pre-Columbian times, the Mixtec were one of the major civilizations of Mesoamerica. Important ancient centres of the Mixtec include the ancient capital of Tilantongo, as well as the sites of Achiutla, Cuilapan, Huajuapan, Mitla, Tlaxiaco, Tututepec, Juxtlahuaca, and Yucuñudahui. The Mixtec also made major constructions at the ancient city of Monte Albán (which had originated as a Zapotec city before the Mixtec gained control of it). The work of Mixtec artisans who produced work in stone, wood, and metal were well regarded throughout ancient Mesoamerica.

According to West, "the Mixtec of Oaxaca...were the foremost goldsmiths of Mesoamerica," which included the "lost-wax casting of gold and its alloys." [6]

At the height of the Aztec Empire, many Mixtecs paid tribute to the Aztecs, but not all Mixtec towns became vassals. They put up resistance to Spanish rule until they were subdued by the Spanish and their central Mexican allies led by Pedro de Alvarado.

Mixtecs have migrated to various parts of both Mexico and the United States. In recent years a large exodus of indigenous peoples from Oaxaca, such as the Zapotec and Triqui, has seen them emerge as one of the most numerous groups of Amerindians in the United States. As of 2011, an estimated 150,000 Mixteco people were living in California, and 25,000 to 30,000 in New York City. [7] Large Mixtec communities exist in the border cities of Tijuana, Baja California, San Diego, California and Tucson, Arizona. Mixtec communities are generally described as trans-national or trans-border because of their ability to maintain and reaffirm social ties between their native homelands and diasporic community. (See: Mixtec transnational migration.)

Mixtecs in the colonial era

Mixtec funerary mask; Grave No. 7, Monte Alban; Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca. 2013-13-27 Mascara funeraria mixteca Tumba No. 7 Monte Alban Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca anagoria.JPG
Mixtec funerary mask; Grave No. 7, Monte Alban; Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca.
The stucco reliefs in the Tomb 1 of Zaachila (The Valley, Oaxaca) reveal a remarkable influence from Mixtec art. It is likely that the tomb belongs to a person whose name is registered in the Nuttall Codex. Tomb 1 of Zaachila, Central Valleys of Oaxaca, Late Postclassic. Tumba 1 Zaachila.JPG
The stucco reliefs in the Tomb 1 of Zaachila (The Valley, Oaxaca) reveal a remarkable influence from Mixtec art. It is likely that the tomb belongs to a person whose name is registered in the Nuttall Codex. Tomb 1 of Zaachila, Central Valleys of Oaxaca, Late Postclassic.

There is considerable documentation in the Mixtec (Ñudzahui) native language for the colonial era, which has been studied as part of the New Philology. Mixtec documentation indicates parallels between many indigenous social and political structures with those in the Nahua areas, but published research on the Mixtecs does not primarily focus on economic matters. There is considerable Mixtec documentation for land issues, but sparse for market activity, perhaps because indigenous cabildos did not regulate commerce or mediate economic disputes except for land. [8] Long distance trade existed in the prehispanic era and continued in indigenous hands in the early colonial. In the second half of the colonial period, there were bilingual Mixtec merchants, dealing in both Spanish and indigenous goods, who operated regionally. However, in the Mixteca “by the eighteenth century, commerce was dominated by Spaniards in all but the most local venues of exchange, involving the sale of agricultural commodities and indigenous crafts or the resale of imported goods.”. [9]

Despite the development of a local exchange economy, a number of Spaniards with economic interests in Oaxaca, including “[s]ome of the Mixteca priests, merchants, and landowners maintained permanent residence in Puebla, and labor for the obrajes (textile workshops) of the city of Puebla in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was sometimes recruited from peasant villages in the Mixteca.” [10] There is evidence of community litigation against Mixtec caciques who leased land to Spaniards and the growth of individually contracted wage labor. Mixtec documentation from the late eighteenth century indicates that “most caciques were simply well-to-do investors in Spanish-style enterprises”; some married non-Indians; and in the late colonial era had little claim to hereditary authority. [11]


Codex Zouche-Nuttall Mixtec British Museum. Codex Zouche-Nuttall Mixtec British Museum 20050108.jpg
Codex Zouche-Nuttall Mixtec British Museum.
Map showing the historic Mixtec area. Pre-Classic archeological sites are marked with a triangle, Classic sites with a round dot and Post-classic sites with a square. Mixtecs.png
Map showing the historic Mixtec area. Pre-Classic archeological sites are marked with a triangle, Classic sites with a round dot and Post-classic sites with a square.

The Mixtec area, both historically and currently, corresponds roughly to the western half of the state of Oaxaca, with some Mixtec communities extending into the neighboring state of Puebla to the north-west and also the state of Guerrero. The Mixtec people and their homelands are often subdivided into three geographic areas: The Mixteca Alta or Highland Mixtec living in the mountains in, around, and to the west of the Valley of Oaxaca; the Mixteca Baja or Lowland Mixtec living to the north and west of these highlands, and the Mixteca de la Costa or Coastal Mixtec living in the southern plains and the coast of the Pacific Ocean. For most of Mixtec history the Mixteca Alta was the dominant political force, with the capitals of the Mixtec nation located in the central highlands. The valley of Oaxaca itself was often a disputed border region, sometimes dominated by the Mixtec and sometimes by their neighbors to the east, the Zapotec.

An ancient Coixtlahuaca Basin cave site known as the Colossal Natural Bridge is an important sacred place for the Mixtec.

Language, codices, and artwork

The preconquest Codex Bodley, page 21, names Lord Eight Grass as being the last king of Tiaxiaco. Codex Bodley, page 21.jpg
The preconquest Codex Bodley, page 21, names Lord Eight Grass as being the last king of Tiaxiaco.
Shield of Yanhuitlan in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico city Escudo De Yanhuitlan.jpg
Shield of Yanhuitlan in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico city

The Mixtecan languages (in their many variants) were estimated to be spoken by about 300,000 people at the end of the 20th century, although the majority of Mixtec speakers also had at least a working knowledge of the Spanish language. Some Mixtecan languages are called by names other than Mixtec, particularly Cuicatec (Cuicateco), and Triqui (or Trique).

The Mixtec are well known in the anthropological world for their Codices, or phonetic pictures in which they wrote their history and genealogies in deerskin in the "fold-book" form. The best known story of the Mixtec Codices is that of Lord Eight Deer, named after the day in which he was born, whose personal name is Jaguar Claw, and whose epic history is related in several codices, including the Codex Bodley and Codex Zouche-Nuttall. He successfully conquered and united most of the Mixteca region.

They were also known for their exceptional mastery of jewelry and mosaic, in which gold and turquoise figure prominently. Products by Mixtec goldsmiths formed an important part of the tribute the Mixtecs paid to the Aztecs during parts of their history. [12] [ unreliable source? ] Turquoise mosaic masks also played an important role in both political and religious functions. [13] These masks were used as gifts to form political alliances, in ceremonies during which the wearer of the mask impersonated a god, and were fixed to funerary bundles that were seen as oracles. [14]

Related Research Articles

Oaxaca State of Mexico

Oaxaca, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca, is one of the 32 states that compose the Federative Entities of Mexico. It is divided into 570 municipalities, of which 418 are governed by the system of usos y costumbres with recognized local forms of self-governance. Its capital city is Oaxaca de Juárez.

Mesoamerican languages

Mesoamerican languages are the languages indigenous to the Mesoamerican cultural area, which covers southern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize and parts of Honduras and El Salvador and Nicaragua. The area is characterized by extensive linguistic diversity containing several hundred different languages and seven major language families. Mesoamerica is also an area of high linguistic diffusion in that long-term interaction among speakers of different languages through several millennia has resulted in the convergence of certain linguistic traits across disparate language families. The Mesoamerican sprachbund is commonly referred to as the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area.

Oto-Manguean languages Language family of Mexico and, previously, Central America

The Oto-Manguean or Otomanguean languages are a large family comprising several subfamilies of indigenous languages of the Americas. All of the Oto-Manguean languages that are now spoken are indigenous to Mexico, but the Manguean branch of the family, which is now extinct, was spoken as far south as Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Oto-Manguean is widely viewed as a proven language family. However, this status has been recently challenged.

Eight Deer Jaguar Claw Mixtec conqueror

Eight Deer Jaguar Claw, or 8 Deer for brevity, was a powerful Mixtec ruler in 11th century Oaxaca referred to in the 15th century deerskin manuscript Codex Zouche-Nuttall, and other Mixtec manuscripts. His surname is alternatively translated Tiger-Claw and Ocelot-Claw. John Pohl has dated his life as having lasted from 1063 until his death by sacrifice in 1115. Consonant with standard Mesoamerican practice, the "Eight Deer" component of his name refers to his day of birth within the 260-day Mesoamerican cycle, which cycles through 13 numbers and 20 various signs.

Mixtec language

The Mixtec languages belong to the Mixtecan group of the Oto-Manguean language family. Mixtec is spoken in Mexico and is closely related to Trique and Cuicatec. The varieties of Mixtec are spoken by over half a million people. Identifying how many Mixtec languages there are in this complex dialect continuum poses challenges at the level of linguistic theory. Depending on the criteria for distinguishing dialects from languages, there may be as few as a dozen or as many as fifty-three Mixtec languages.

Mesoamerica, along with Mesopotamia and China, is one of three known places in the world where writing is thought to have developed independently. Mesoamerican scripts deciphered to date are a combination of logographic and syllabic systems. They are often called hieroglyphs due to the iconic shapes of many of the glyphs, a pattern superficially similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs. Fifteen distinct writing systems have been identified in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, many from a single inscription. The limits of archaeological dating methods make it difficult to establish which was the earliest and hence the forebear from which the others developed. The best documented and deciphered Mesoamerican writing system, and the most widely known, is the classic Maya script. An extensive Mesoamerican literature has been conserved, partly in indigenous scripts and partly in postconquest transcriptions in the Latin script.

Mixtec writing logographic writing system

Mixtec writing originated as a logographic writing system during the Post-Classic period in Mesoamerican history. Records of genealogy, historic events, and myths are found in the pre-Columbian Mixtec codices. The arrival of Europeans in 1520 AD caused changes in form, style, and the function of the Mixtec writings. Today these codices and other Mixtec writings are used as a source of ethnographic, linguistic, and historical information for scholars, and help to preserve the identity of the Mixtec people as migration and globalization introduce new cultural influences.

The Academy of the Mixtec Language was founded in 1997 by a group of indigenous activists from the Mixtec people, with the aim of creating mechanisms for the preservation and usage promotion of the Mixtecan languages, their indigenous languages.

La Mixteca is a cultural, economic and political region in Western Oaxaca and neighboring portions of Puebla, Guerrero in south-central Mexico, which refers to the home of the Mixtec people. In their languages, the region is called either Ñuu Djau, Ñuu Davi or Ñuu Savi. Two-thirds of all Mixtecs live in the region, and the entire national population of Mixtecs in Mexico was 500,000 in 1999.

Sierra Mixteca

The Sierra Mixteca is a mountainous region located between the states of Puebla and Oaxaca in south-central Mexico, in the region known as La Mixteca.

New Philology generally refers to a branch of Mexican ethnohistory and philology that uses colonial-era native language texts written by Indians to construct history from the indigenous point of view. The name New Philology was coined by James Lockhart to describe work that he and his doctoral students and scholarly collaborators in history, anthropology, and linguistics had pursued since the mid-1970s. Lockhart published a great many essays elaborating on the concept and content of the New Philology and Matthew Restall published a description of it in the Latin American Research Review. The techniques of the New Philology have also been applied in other disciplines such as European medieval studies.

Ronald Spores

Ronald M. Spores is an American academic anthropologist, archaeologist and ethnohistorian, whose research career has centered on the pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica. He is Professor Emeritus of anthropology at Vanderbilt University's College of Arts and Science, where he has been a faculty member for over four decades. Spores is most renowned for his scholarship conducted on the cultural history of the Oaxacan region in southwestern Mexico. In particular, he has made many contributions on the Mixtec culture, investigating its archaeological sites, ethnohistorical documents, political economies, and ethnohistory in both the pre-Columbian and Colonial eras. He was Co-Director of the Proyecto Arqueológico de la Ciudad Yucundaa Pueblo Viejo de Teposcolula, Oaxaca, sponsored by the Fundación Alfredo Harp Helu, the National Geographic Society, and INAH (2004–2010), and currently (2017) directs research on the sixteenth century Casa del Cacique de Yanhuitlan, Oaxaca, and related investigation of the surrounding Prehispanic-Colonial city and region. He is also Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, and at the University of Oregon and investigator on the Proyecto Geoparque de la Mixteca Alta, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México/UNESCO, centered at Yanhuitlan, Oaxaca (2016-2017). Recent research relates to the colonial Manila Galleon trade between the Philippines and Acapulco.

Yahui is a supernatural figure that takes on various mixtures of animal and human forms within the culture and belief systems of the Mixtec—indigenous Mixtecan-speaking people of La Mixteca in central-southeastern Mexico. It is an important and recurring motif in Mixtec iconography, thought and culture, especially during the pre-Columbian era. As a supernatural figure, the yahui appears in Postclassic Mixtec codices as an entity wearing a serpent or reptilian tail and headdress and the carapace of a turtle.

San Juan Achiutla Municipality and town in Oaxaca, Mexico

San Juan Achiutla is a town and municipality in Oaxaca in south-western Mexico. The municipality covers an area of 49.76 km2. It is located in a mountain range, between the hills Negro to the East, Yucuquise to the Northwest, Cuate to the North and Totolote to the South. It is crossed by the river Los Sabinos and has a dam called Cahuayande. Its weather is temperate. It is in the Mixteca Alta, one of the three parties that make up the Mixteca region and in the Mixteca Alta is part of what was Achiutla, the significant Prehispanic place.

Indigenous people of Oaxaca

The Indigenous people of Oaxaca are descendants of the inhabitants of what is now the state of Oaxaca, Mexico who were present before the Spanish invasion. Several cultures flourished in the ancient region of Oaxaca from as far back as 2000 BC, of whom the Zapotecs and Mixtecs were perhaps the most advanced, with complex social organization and sophisticated arts.

Demographics of Oaxaca

The state of Oaxaca, Mexico has a total population of about 3.5 million, with women outnumbering men by 150,000 and about 60% of the population under the age of 30. It is ranked tenth in population in the country. Fifty three percent of the population lives in rural areas. Most of the state’s population growth took place between 1980 and 1990. Life expectancy is 71.7 for men and 77.4 for women, just under the national average. Births far outpace deaths. In 2007, there were 122,579 birth and 19,439 deaths. Approximately 85% profess the Catholic faith.

Huamelulpan (archaeological site)

Huamelulpan is an archaeological site of the Mixtec culture, located in the town of San Martín Huamelulpan at an elevation of 2,218 metres (7,277 ft), about 96 kilometres (60 mi) north-west of the city of Oaxaca, the capital of Oaxaca state.

Classification of Mixtec languages

The internal classification of Mixtec is controversial. Many varieties are mutually unintelligible and by that criterion separate languages. In the 16th century, Spanish authorities recognized half a dozen lenguas comprising the Mixtec lengua. It is not clear to what extent these were distinct languages at the time. Regardless, the colonial disintegration of the Mixtec nation and resulting isolation of local communities led to the rapid diversification of local dialects into distinct languages. Below are some attempts at Mixtec classification by various scholars.

Indigenous Mexican Americans or Mexican American Indians are American citizens who are descended from the indigenous peoples of Mexico. Indigenous Mexican-Americans usually speak an Indigenous language as their first language and may not speak either Spanish or English. Indigenous Mexican-Americans may or may not identify as "Hispanic" or "Latino".

Regional communications in ancient Mesoamerica

Regional communications in ancient Mesoamerica are believed to have been extensive. There were various trade routes attested since prehistoric times. In this article, especially the routes starting in the Mexico Central Plateau, and going down to the Pacific coast will be considered. These contacts then went on as far as Central America.


  1. Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indios (CDI) (2000): Lenguas indígenas de México. Viewed 2006-11-30.
  2. Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior: Lazos. Síntesis informativa Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine , 2005-1-24. Viewed 2006-11-30
  3. "Mixtec" . Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  4. archaeology.about.com › ... › Archaeology 101 › Glossary › M Terms
  5. "About". San Diego State University. Retrieved 2019-05-17.
  6. West, Robert. Early Silver Mining in New Spain, 1531–1555 (1997). Bakewell, Peter (ed.). Mines of Silver and Gold in the Americas. Aldershot: Variorum, Ashgate Publishing Limited. p. 48.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. Claudia Torrens (2011-05-28). "Some NY immigrants cite lack of Spanish as barrier". UTSanDiego.com. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
  8. Kevin Terraciano, ‘’The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Ñudzahui History, Sixteen through Eighteenth Centuries’’. Stanford: Stanford University Press 2001, 248–49.
  9. Terraciano, ibid. p. 251
  10. William B. Taylor, “Town and Country in the Valley of Oaxaca”, ‘’The Provinces of Early Mexico’’, Ida Altman and James Lockhart, eds. Los Angeles, UCLA Latin American Center 1976, p. 74.
  11. Kevin Terraciano, "The Colonial Mixtec Community," Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 80, Feb. 2000 p. 39
  12. "Ancient Scripts: Mixtec". www.ancientscripts.com. Archived from the original on 2012-08-18. Retrieved 2006-04-06.
  13. McEwan, Colin; et al. (2006). Turquoise Mosaics from Mexico. Durham: Duke University Press.
  14. Headrick, Annabeth (1999). "The Street of the Dead ... It Really Was: Mortuary bundles at Teotihuacan". Ancient Mesoamerica. 10 (1): 69–85. doi:10.1017/S0956536199101044. JSTOR   26307065.

Further reading

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