Nahuat of the Sierra de Puebla - Settlements



The policy of congregación, by which the colonial government relocated indigenous families in planned settlements of perpendicular and parallel streets that were organized around a central plaza, affected the settlement pattern of some areas more than that of others. Municipios in the vicinity of Teziutlán are more congregated than those in the vicinity of Cuetzalán. The Sierra Nahuat live in the rural areas, and the Spanish-speaking Mexicans occupy the centers of most major towns and villages. Railroads, automobiles, trucks, and buses provide transportation among the communities in the northern Sierra de Puebla. Highway construction was uneven, however, until an ambitious interserrana project, initiated during the regime of Luís Echeverría (1970-1976), created roads passable by car, truck, and bus; roads reached the municipios between Cuetzalán and Tetela de Ocampo for the first time. Interserrana highways facilitated the transportation of people and goods from the northern Sierra de Puebla to the main market centers on the central Mexican highlands.

Sierra Nahuat dwellings vary in their construction materials but conform to a similar plan. Most are set off from roads and footpaths by a well-marked or well-understood space, which a visitor should not enter without announcing his or her presence. The dwelling itself usually consists of a single room, at one end of which stands a family altar decorated with flowers and candles and displaying images of saints. Family members sleep on mats ( petatmeh ) laid down at night on the earthen floor or on boards raised above the ground. A number of houses, particularly in the area around Teziutlán, have beds with box springs and mattresses. The kitchen occupies a corner of the main room or is a separate room. The traditional Sierra Nahuat kitchen is a hearth (a ceramic pot buried in the ground) for a wood fire surrounded by three stones supporting a flat ceramic or metal griddle (comāl), around which are placed a variety of ceramic cooking pots. Near the hearth are a grinding-stone base and stone pin ( metat and metlapīl ) for grinding dried maize boiled in lime water ( nixtamal ), a large ceramic vessel for storing water, and small containers for spices, coffee, and sugar. Harvested maize may be stacked in neat rows inside the dwelling, and dried maize, beans, processed sugarcane, and chilies are placed in the attic above the hearth. The attic is demarcated by reeds placed sufficiently apart to permit smoke from the hearth to rise into the food-storage area and drive away pests. A number of Sierra Nahuat families have kerosene or propane-gas stoves, and many now have electric lights.


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