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Mixtecos: Culture, Language, Food & Art

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we'll learn about the Mixtec people, an indigenous group living in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Find out about their customs, religion, and interesting food.

The Mixtec People

How much do you know about the native peoples of Mexico? Just like the United States has a number of indigenous peoples with their own languages and cultures, Mexico has a great many as well. To become more familiar with them, let's start with the Mixtecos!

Map of Mixteca with several archaeological Mixtec sites noted.
Mixteca

The Mixtec, who call themselves the Nuu Savi, is one of the larger groups of native Mexicans with an estimate of 500,000 people. Their home, known as the Mixteca, covers 40,000 square kilometers and covers the western half of the Mexican state of Oaxaca as well as extending slightly into the states of Guerrero and Pueblo.

Dinner Time!

The Mixtecos are primarily farmers, growing their dietary staples of corn and beans, as well as wheat, garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Where the poor soil allows, they may also grow a wide variety of fruit, including apples, pears, peaches, and avocados. While some raise sheep and goats, the effect of the livestock on the already weak soil prevents much large-scale herding.

Market in Oaxaca where Mixtecos sell produce and other goods.
Market

They also live off the land, gathering wild greens and mushrooms while hunting and fishing for crustaceans, frogs, fish, rabbits, and deer. One of the more infamous parts of their diet, insects, are considered a delicacy, and primarily involves grasshoppers gathered in the early mornings of October, November, and December, when the insects gather in large piles.

How to Cook Grasshoppers

  • Gather grasshoppers and allow them to sit for 24 hours in order to digest and empty their stomachs.
  • Next, rinse and drain the grasshoppers.
  • When dry, cover them in fresh-squeezed lemon juice and sprinkle with salt, allowing them to marinate in the mixture.
  • In a non-stick pan, fry the grasshoppers in either oil or lard over a low heat until golden-brown.
  • Serve with freshly made tortillas and salsa.

Family Life

Mixtec families are generally patriarchal and work is divided by gender roles. Men farm the family plot and often take wage labor jobs outside the village to supplement the family's needs. Women primarily work within the home, but more recently have begun working the farm, while their husbands are away for work.

Their homes are rectangular buildings with small rooms and small windows. Rather than facing the street, the only door faces the yard. As family members age, they often move in with a son's family. This son may also house siblings and orphaned children of siblings, necessitating a larger home to serve as a family compound in such cases.

Customs

Manners and a sense of duty to the community are very important in Mixtec society. Failure to politely greet someone in passing or catch up with a friend during a chance meeting is considered more than rude; it is considered beastly. The Mixtecos also adhere to a tradition of serving the community called Tequio. Paying this debt of service is so important that family members living abroad will still return home to serve.

Religion

Another reason to return home to the village is religious festivals. The Mixtecos practice a combination of their ancestral religion that believes all things in nature possess a spirit, a practice called animism, and Catholicism. In individual family life, large parties surround marriages, baptisms, and first communion services for children. For the villages, the biggest festival involves a multi-day celebration for the village's patron saint. These celebrations include fireworks, religious masses, feasting, and games. They also celebrate the Dia de Los Muertes, also known as the Day of the Dead, where families honor the deceased with home altars, feasts of the deceased's favorite foods, and decorating graves with candles and flowers.

Artwork

The majority of Mixtec artwork today involves textile production, including weaving cloth from wool and cotton, as well as weaving palm fronds into baskets and hats. Famous throughout the world, however, is the Mixtec huipil, a heavily embroidered blouse worn by Mixtec women. Less common today is the production of Mixtec pottery. Their pre-Columbian ancestors, however, created ornate vessels of clay for ritual use to their gods.

Huipil
Huipil

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