Identification. The Mixe are one of the major Middle American Indian groups in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. They were usually referred to as "Mije" in the early literature, but the standardized spelling is currently "Mixe." This name was probably given to them by Indian auxiliaries arriving with the Spaniards; it is derived either from the Nahuatl term for "death" or the term for "datura." The Mixe use the word "Ayuuk," meaning "language" or "word" to designate themselves. This word is etymologically closely related to their term for "people of the mountains."
Location. The Mixe occupy an area of 5,829 square kilometers in the Sierra Madre of northeastern Oaxaca. Elevations range from 400 meters to more than 3,300 meters. Their habitat is characterized by pine-oak and tropical mountain forests, and open grasslands. Much of the area is under cultivation and in various states of reforestation by secondary vegetation. There are several lowland, riverine communities, situated in a wet, tropical-forest zone in the northeastern portion of the Mixe region. The average annual rainfall is from 150 to 250 centimeters, with the greatest portion occurring from June to October. The climate is a moderately warm, pluvial one with cold winters and hot summers.
Demography. In 1872 the Mixe population was 31,736. By 1950 it had increased to 52,754, and in 1991 it was estimated to be about 76,000, distributed among fifty villages and numerous small hamlets. Some reside in Isthmus of Tehuantepec towns and Mexico City, but the vast majority of the population have remained in the Mixe region.
Linguistic Affiliation. Comprising three major dialects, the Mixe language is a subgroup of the Mixe-Zoque Language Phylum, which includes Zoque, Sierra Popoluca, and Tapachultec; the latter is now extinct.