The approximately 26,000 speakers of Popolocan live in twenty towns and hamlets in southern Puebla, Mexico, between 18° 00′ and 19° 00′ N and 97° 00′ and 98° 30′ W, where they are almost completely surrounded by Mixtec and Nahua Indians. They are linguistically and culturally related to the Chocho of Oaxaca. There are five Popoloca languages. Many Popoloca also speak Spanish, and a number speak Nahuatl for economic purposes. Some people have moved from the area to work in factories. The 1990 census regarded Chocho and Popoloca as the same language and listed 9,658 speakers of this language in the state of Puebla. These are undoubtedly the native Popoloca whom Hoppe, Medina, and Weitlaner (1969) and Jäcklein (1970) regard as a separate cultural group. A branch of the Popoluca of southern Veracruz are also called Popoloca and should not be confused with the Popoloca of Puebla.
The region is arid: only about 65 centimeters of precipitation fall annually; hence, despite the rich soil, farming is a risky pursuit. The Popoloca subsist on maize and black beans, as well as other grains, citrus fruits, avocados, and papayas. They consume several kinds of alcoholic beverages, including pulque, mescal, and aguardiente (a white rum distilled from fermented raw sugar). Crops are cultivated through the use of the Mediterranean and moldboard plows, shovels, and iron hoes. Men perform all of the field chores.
There is some local manufacturing as well. People make pottery and items of woven cloth and woven palm. The palm weavers' products include sleeping mats, several types of baskets, and hanging cribs. In general, men procure the raw materials and sell the final product, whereas women do the actual manufacturing.
The Popoloca live either in traditional wooden houses with thatched roofs or in more Mexican-style houses made of hardpan ( tepetate ) blocks with tile roofs. Towns are constructed around a square, which has public buildings and is the site of markets and fiestas. Furniture is sparse. People sleep on mats or bamboo beds, sit on pole benches, eat at wooden tables, and hang their clothes from ropes. There is also usually an altar in each home. The kitchen is located within the house.
The basis of social organization is the residential group of the monogamous patrilineal family. Town organization is based on barrios. The people elect seven regidores to govern them, as well as seven alternate regidores, one of whom is chosen as president. The regidores select several other people to fill a number of municipal and religious offices.
Women deliver their babies in a crouching position with the aid of both husband and midwife. The parents seek a wealthy godfather for their child; it is he who bears the expense of the baptism, which takes place within six days after birth. Mothers educate their young children. When children reach the age of 6 or 7, they receive training in adult tasks. The Popoloca harshly punish children who behave poorly; they may force children to breathe the smoke of burning chili peppers or hang them by their thumbs. Adolescents marry between their fourteenth and sixteenth years. The groom's parents pay a bride-price of cash or animals. The couple live with the groom's parents until they have their first child, and subsequently build their own house. Wakes are held for the deceased, and prayers are said as the body is taken by the church to the cemetery.
The world of the supernatural is a syncretic mix of mostly traditional and some Christian beliefs. Witchcraft is pervasive, and most curing is done by traditional curers who use herbs; bad air, soul loss, and fright are the most common complaints. The folklore bespeaks a non-Christian worldview. Fowl are sacrificed to improve crop yields, although much more emphasis was placed on sacrifice in earlier times. The Popoloca believe that humans are composed of three parts: upon death, the body perishes; the heart goes to the places that the soul goes, according to Catholic belief (heaven, hell, or purgatory); and feeling goes into the air.
Hoppe, Walter A., Andrés Medina, and Roberto Weitlaner (1969). "The Popoloca." In Handbook of Middle American Indians, edited by Robert Wauchope. Vol. 7, Ethnology, Part One, edited by Robert Wauchope and Evon Z. Vogt, 489498. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Jäcklein, Klaus (1970). San Felipe Otlaltepec: Beiträge Ethnoanalyse der Popoloca de Puebla, Mexico. Göppingen: Verlag Alfred Kümmerle.