Huave

ETHNONYMS: Guabi, Huabi, Huavi, Huazontecos, Juave, Mareños, Wabi


The Huave are a peasant people who occupy five villages and dozens of hamlets on the Pacific coast of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico (approximately 16°30′ N, 95° W). The speakers of the Huave language numbered 11,955 in 1990. The language has five main dialects, each associated with one of the five villages. The language has been significantly altered by contact with Spanish.

There are three ecological zones within Huave territory: a thorn forest, which has animal life; a savanna used for pasture and farming; and a mangrove swamp, which supplies fish.

One significant feature of Huave history is their loss of large portions of their lands to Zapotec people, losses that were legalized following the Mexican Revolution. The Huave joined the Zapotec and Spanish trading system in the seventeenth century, about the same time that missionaries and the Catholic church became long-term presences of the Huave community. The Huave, although they retain many Indian cultural traits, are nevertheless socioeconomically very similar to other rural peasants.

In the forest, the Huave hunt for deer, rabbits, and iguanas. Except when it is converted to private farm lands, the savanna is used as a communal pasture, and the Huave graze their goats, sheep, horses, oxen, and donkeys there. Some forest land is also being converted into agricultural or horticultural land. The chief crop is maize; crops of secondary importance include beans, sweet potatoes and chilies. From the ocean, the Huave obtain a variety of species of fish for their own use, and sea perch, mullet, shrimp, and turtle eggs for sale. They fish by the use of dragnets pulled by canoes. People keep swine, chickens, and turkeys in their house yards; chicken eggs are sold. Fish and maize dishes are eaten daily, whereas meat and eggs are eaten only during festivals.

Each endogamous Huave village is made up of several barrios and outlying smaller hamlets. The escalafón is the basis for town political structure. Each male adult in the town holds the various unpaid political offices in the town administration in a serial fashion. Young people acquire political status by age and ascription, whereas older people acquire it by achievement.

The household usually has as its members a patrilocal extended family, and kinship terminology is bilateral. Fictive kinship is important primarily in the case of god-siblings, who often act as godparents to each other's children.

The Huave are, in large measure, part of the national cash economy. They purchase from merchants dugout canoes, metal tools (shovels and machetes), cotton thread for nets, and much of their maize.

Religious activity is often a household matter. Many observances are directed by the head of household at the house's own altar. There are also barrio chapels and visits to villages by missionaries and priests. Other practitioners of the supernatural are the curers and the witches, both of whom are hired for their respective services.

Bibliography

Diebold, Richard A., Jr. (1969). "The Huave." In Handbook of Middle American Indians, edited by Robert Wauchope. Vol. 7, Ethnology, Part One, edited by Evon Z. Vogt, 478488. Austin: University of Texas Press.


Signorini, Italo (1979). Los huaves de San Mateo del Mar, Oaxaca. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional Indigenista.

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