From 20,000 to 5,500 B . C ., the area from the Valley of Tehuacán to the Valley of Oaxaca was occupied by hunter-gatherers, after which time reliance on agriculture increased gradually. The earliest remains of permanent villages in the Cuicatec region, near large alluvial fans in the Canada, date to the Middle Formative period (500 B . C .). Because the type of agriculture that is dependent on rainfall alone is scant in the Canada, permanent settlement is presumed to have been accompanied by the development of simple methods of irrigation.
The Canada has long been a corridor between the Valley of Oaxaca to the south and Tehuacán and the Basin of Mexico to the north. The Canada has been conquered from both directions, by invading Zapotec from the south in the Formative period and by the Aztec coming from the north in the late Postclassic period. Glyphic and archaeological evidence reveals subjugation of the Canada by Zapotec invaders from the Valley of Oaxaca from A . D . 1 to AD. 200. Early colonial accounts attest to recurrent antagonistic relations between Canada settlements and Zapotee, Mixtec, and southern Chinatec groups.
Conflicts with these groups were suppressed by the rise of the Aztec, to whom the Cuicatec paid tribute from as early as 1486. The Aztec did not directly occupy Cuicatec territories, but they exacted tribute indirectly, thus preserving the existing political structure. At the time of Spanish contact, the Cuicatec were organized into discrete political units, designated señoríos by the Spanish and numbering three to five thousand in population. These small, moderately stratified units, consisting of headtowns and subject settlements, were bounded geographically by noncultivable land.
The earliest records of the exaction of tribute by the Spanish date to 1530. Like the Aztec, the Spanish imposed a system of indirect rule, incorporating the existing elite into the Spanish bureaucracy. Missionization began in 1528, with the establishment of a Dominican convent in Teutila. A parish church was built in Concepción Pápalo in 1630. By the mid-seventeenth century, the power of the Cuicatec elite had been diminished by the installation of Spanish civil servants.