Mazatec - Settlements

The Mazatec population is distributed over twenty-three municipios. Small towns and hamlets of less than 500 inhabitants that are dispersed within the territory are subordinate to the capitals of the municipios. The houses in the towns are built from a variety of materials, depending on the area and the natural resources at hand. In the tropical climate of the lowlands, cane and wood are used for the walls, and roofs are constructed of palm and banana leaves. In the highlands, the most frequently used materials are adobe, plaited cane and mud, and wood; roofs are of hay and batten. As roads increasingly penetrate the area, however, other types of construction material have become available: roofs made of asphalt-impregnated cardboard sheets and, in some cases, houses made of brick and mortar.

The houses are usually quadrangular, built on a floor of packed-down earth; they have a single large room, with a wood-burning hearth for cooking. This multifunctional room serves as a kitchen, a place to eat, a setting where family members get together, and, at night, as a family room in which hammocks are hung or cots are set up.

Houses are surrounded by a patio or plot of land on which some domestic animals (e.g., chickens, pigs) are generally kept for household consumption. Frequently, there is a steam bath of pre-Hispanic origin, called a temascal, with walls made of mud and a straw roof. In many communities houses are still built collectively through tequio, a type of exchange of work and mutual help in which an individual who wants to build a house gathers the necessary materials and invites his friends and relatives to help him, offering them abundant food and drink. Whoever receives such help is socially obliged to repay in like manner all those who participated in the construction of the house.

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