Otomí culture: characteristics, traditions and location

Otomí culture: characteristics, traditions and location

The Otomí culture is an ethno-linguistic group from central Mexico, whose antiquity is generally recognized as one of the greatest. They mainly live in the central plateau region of Mexico. The Otomi peoples speak at least four closely related languages.

A fairly large number of modern Otomi no longer speak the Otomi language. However, despite this, they continue to consider themselves Otomí, since they all share the Otomí culture that is common to them.

Characteristics and traditions of the Otomí people

Despite the geographical distances, the gaps in the territorial and linguistic space, a different natural environment and the influence of other Spanish peoples and settlers, there is still a lot in common among the Otomi, which allows them to identify themselves when they meet.

Their history was incredibly fluid and complex, proof of their adaptability, and it is surprising that they were not absorbed by the Olmecs, Toltecs, Chichimecs, Aztecs, or Spanish. It is difficult enough to trace the evolution of the Otomi, which explains the fact that many historians do not pay attention to them in their numerous texts.

Traditional occupation

Traditionally, the Otomí people are dedicated to slash-and-burn agriculture (corn, beans, squash, chili, tobacco, agave), in the river valleys in the state of Hidalgo, also irrigated arable agriculture (corn, wheat , cotton, alfalfa, coffee, banana).

Otomí culture: characteristics, traditions and location

Their activities also include hunting, fishing (with nets, traps, poisons, traps), gathering (wild agave, nopal, corn, worms, mushrooms, snails, ants, lizards, etc.), in some places beekeeping. They raise goats, sheep, cows, pigs, donkeys, and poultry. Employment in plantations and industry is widespread.

As for traditional crafts, these are made up of pottery (including large painted vessels), hand-woven with drawings, wood carving, leather dressing, production of stone pitchers for grinding corn, etc.

living place

A rectangular house made of planks, adobes, stones predominates, with a gabled roof made of agave leaves or bunches of grass, forming a gallery canopy on pillars in front of the façade.

In the north, houses with rounded corners are widespread, with a low roof, sometimes to the ground, sloping, reed walls in the warm lowlands. Dome-shaped steam baths and oven for tortillas and bread are widely used in the same way.


The men wear wide white pants, wide red belts, a short white T-shirt with embroidery on the neck, sandals, serape with geometric motifs and fringes on the edge, handbags with woven prints on the chest and leather on the waist.

Women’s clothing consists of woolen skirts made of panels up to 5 m long or sewn in a fold and with a printed belt, white printed huipil, serape shawl with an ankle length black and white stripe, silver earrings, beads, in braids and colored woolen threads; sometimes the upper body remains bare.


The traditional family is large and extended. Marriage is patrilocal, today it is increasingly neo-local. The kinship order is patrilineal. The practice of temporary matrilocality of marriage is preserved and the arrest of the bride.

The localized patrilineages are maintained, the division of the villages into two halves (mate), each of which is divided into two sections; the sections combine the traditional civil and religious hierarchy of community officials.


Pre-Hispanic beliefs and cults (caves, mountains, rain gods, crosses), nagualism, shamanism, pre-Hispanic lunar calendar, mythology and rich folklore are preserved. An extremely important role in rituals is played by figurines of ancient deities carved from sacred ficus paper.

Of the Christian saints, besides the Virgin Mary, Saint Onuphrius, the patron saint of deer, is especially venerated. There is the custom of periodic destruction and construction of chapels, in which the worship of the ancient gods goes.

Kinship institutions, based on a godfather relationship between the adults of one family and the child of another, is a central and essentially universal custom. There are close ties between the parents and godparents of a child and a series of ritual obligations are obtained between them.

Geographical location of the Otomi

The Otomi are an indigenous people of Mexico from the Central Plateau region. The geographical location of this culture has changed over time, so the conditions and place of its appearance are still not entirely clear.

The Valle del Mezquital in the state of Hidalgo is considered the largest concentration of OtomiHowever, it has relatively large ethnic groups in other places, such as the state of Guanajuato and Michoacán. Given the poverty of the community, it is common for many of its members to temporarily migrate to other territories such as Puebla, Mexico City and the United States to work as employees, extending the presence of the Otomi in these territories.

Location in pre-colonial times

Historically, the Otomí people have traveled frequently and have settled in different places during certain periods of time. Before the arrival of the Spanish, they occupied a large part of what is now known as Querétaro, with some settlements reaching San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, Mexico, Puebla and Tlaxcala, among others.

For the Otomi before the colony, their most important center was Xilotepec in Hidalgo, but their social structure consisted mainly of dispersed settlements where people lived in extended families.

Location during and after colonial times

During the colonial period, the Otomí population decreased and was more distributed throughout the current states of Hidalgo, Querétaro and Guanajuato. During the same period, the Otomi people entered the community by force, changing their habits and settlements.

In this period, many Otomí emigrated to larger organized states by recruiting workers and warriors. In the 18th century, migration for labor reasons and violent conflicts occurred in various regions of Guanajuato and Querétaro and towards some of the mining settlements of Zimapán and Verdugo.

In addition to violent conflicts and job seekers, the Christian influence on the Otomi during colonialism also helped the Otomi community to expand to various points in central Mexico until it reached its current distribution.

Other aspects of the Otomi and their location

Some historians claim that the Otomi were the first settlers of the Mexican highlands, however there are other experts who refute this claim. Many studies assume that the Otomi came from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and identified them with the Olmec tribe.

Others identify them as coming from the western parts of the Gulf of California. Due to their cultural characteristics unrelated to the coastal origin, the hypothesis of the western origin of the Otomi is more accepted. The areas inhabited by the Otomi are considered unfavorable ecological zones for them, with a low fertile soil and unsuitable for the development of good livestock.

Some authors attribute to this fact the conditions of generalized poverty in this community. Due to their presence in Mexican territory and the preservation of their own language, there is often a conflict between the Otomí and Spanish languages.

Read on about the political organization of the Olmecs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *