The Mazatecos: location, clothing, language and gastronomy

The Mazatecos: location, clothing, language and gastronomy

In an area of ​​complex access near the mountainous areas in the extreme north of Oaxaca resides one of the 60 ethnic groups of Mexico, the Mazatecos. They took their name from their ancient capital called Maza-apatl or Mazatlán, founded around AD 890.. To learn a little more about this culture, through this publication we will detail part of its history, origin of its dialect, its gastronomy, we will specify what its clothing is like, its economy and much more.

Origin and History

The origins and history of the Mazatecs are little known, possibly they are descendants of the Nonoalca-Chichimeca who emigrated from Tula at the beginning of the 12th century, settling in the highlands in the towns of Teotitlán, Eloxochitlán, Mazatlán and Chinchotla.

According to other scholars, the Mazatecs already inhabited the area before the appearance of the Nonoalca-Chichimeca, who subdued them around the year 1170. And it was not until 1300 that the Mazatecs obtained their freedom, a reason that allows them to found two kingdoms: one in the highlands or east and the other in the lowlands or in the west.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, these kingdoms were invaded and subordinated by the Mexica (Aztec) Empire between 1455 and 1456, during the rule of Montezuma. After that, military posts were established in Teotitlán and Tuxtepec, in order to collect tribute to this society.

But by the year 1520, the first Spanish conquerors appear in Mazatec territory and it is from that meeting that evangelization by the Franciscans begins, who founded the first church in 1542 in Teotitlán. Subsequently, active Mazatecs were participants in two great social movements in Mexico during the last two centuries, the War of Independence and the Revolution of 1910.

Some time later, in 1954, a gigantic development project was started by the Papaloapan Commission (dependent on the federal government). This caused momentous changes for the Mazatecs, since many spaces where their residences and community were located were demolished to build hydroelectric dams.

The Mazatecos: location, clothing, language and gastronomy

These constructions helped to control the great cyclical floods of the Papaloapan River, thus providing the basic infrastructure for the economic development of the area. This scheme focused on the lowlands and favored the development of cattle ranching and commercial agriculture for export.

In this area of ​​land, large areas of forest were cut down, the monoculture of sugar cane was promoted, and private banks supported the development of pastures for livestock. In the process, the territorial and cultural unity of the Mazatecs was broken: approximately 22,000 inhabitants who resided in the Miguel Alemán dam basin were transferred and resettled in five areas of the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz, some 250 kilometers from their traditional habitat. .


Until around the 1950s, the Mazatecs were concentrated in the northern part of the state of Oaxaca. The work of a system of dams on the effluents of the Papaloapan River produced the transfer of some Mazatecs to places in Oaxaca and the southern part of the state of Veracruz. The Mazatec territory consists of two areas that have different environments and cultures:

  • In the highlands or sierra the elevations vary from 1,800 to 3,200 meters and the climate changes from temperate to cold, making it humid. There is cloudiness almost all year round and there tends to be a lot of rainfall during the summer, its natural vegetation is made up of pine, oak and strawberry tree forests.
  • The lowlands are found in both tropical and temperate zones, at elevations from sea level to 1,800 meters, which is irrigated by the four effluents of the Papaloapan River, Santo Domingo, Río Tonto, Qiuotepec and Usila

This lowland area has a great variety of ecosystems within humid mountain-tropical forests from 400 to 1700 meters above sea level, which contain woods such as balsam (Myroxylon), spring (Tabebuia) and guanacaste (Enterolobium).


The dialect practiced by the Mazatecs It is closely related to the Olmec-Ottomanguean linguistic branch of Chocho, Ixcatec and Popoloca, which currently has a little more than 10 languages.


The fertile territories where this culture was established allowed it to obtain important benefits through the development of agriculture, and the construction of the dams produced great relevance to the fishing sector. These two became his main economic activities.

Its main products include: coffee, sugar cane, corn, beans, carrots, sesame seeds, sesame, peanuts, avocado, lime, plum and much more. Additionally, this community became involved in raising cattle, sheep and pigs.


The Mazatecs share their ancestral beliefs with the Catholicism, despite the fact that they do not have a cleric in the areas close to their residence. However, they seek to attend the temple of God in exclusive events such as weddings, baptisms and holidays related to religion.

On the other hand, they keep among their beliefs that they must respect natural spaces due to the mystical beings who own the mountains, rivers and caves. In addition to this, among his community there is a healer, who is requested to seek the cure of some inexplicable diseases such as the evil eye, the serene, the loss of the soul and more.


Like all cultures, their clothing seeks a way to express the sense of belonging between each of the regions. In the case of the Mazatecs, native women usually wear a garment called Huipil which is a long and loose cotton tunic up to the ankles that is accompanied by a petticoat (a bottom skirt), a sash at the waist and a rebozo (a scarf).

The huipil consists of three blankets, which are sewn by cross stitch or embroidered in blue and pink colors, to which colorful life-size birds and flowers are usually designed. The neckline is decorated with a wide tulle neckline and alternating blue and pink ribbons, with matching lace forming on the sleeves. To accompany this clothing, Mazatec women usually braid their hair.

Now, in the case of men, their clothing is much simpler, since they wear white cotton pants and shirt, a red scarf and a palm hat. On some occasions, the man may choose a shirt of different colors.


The gastronomy of the Mazatecos is represented through an innumerable variety of spicy dishes, which usually have corn as the main ingredient. All their recipes are typically ancestral and among the most popular dishes we can find:

  • The roasted bone mole
  • Tortillas with Yuca
  • Chayote with egg
  • Beans with cassava
  • Acuyo cake
  • Pork in bean and chive tamales
  • Tortillas
  • Corn tamales
  • Chile atole
  • Granillo atole
  • Tesmole
  • Goat broth
  • Nanacates

As a traditional drink is the Atole acid, which is prepared by fermenting the corn for about two or three days, to later grind it. Place it in a saucepan with hot water and by the time the dough is fermented it is strained, it is cooked again, stirring it until it boils to finally accompany it with black beans, pumpkin or a type of sauce made with sesame seeds.

Keep reading about the Huasteca Culture.

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