Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Tepehua agriculture uses a slash-and-burn method. Fields (milpas) are abandoned and allowed to accumulate natural cover; this monte is later cut and burned to reopen the field. Each farmer cultivates his own land, but neighbors also provide mutual aid. Two crops of corn are sown, one in December and the other in June. Beans, squash, and some chili peppers are planted in the milpas. Tomates and an edible leafy plant called misis grow wild in the fields without requiring cultivation. The following fruits are grown in small quantities: pagua, mangoes, avocados, melons, papayas, and bananas. In the twentieth century, new vegetable crops such as lentils, onions, garlic, peas, and sesame have been introduced.
Many farmers cultivate sugarcane as a cash crop. The cane is pressed in local wooden presses ( trapiches ) powered by oxen. It is boiled and made into raw sugar cakes ( piloncillos in Spanish, za'as in Tepehua) for sale. Another important cash crop is coffee.
Industrial Arts. Women weave sashes and quexquémetl (an ancient style of small poncho) from cotton and wool, on belt looms. They also sew and embroider blouses. As with the various other ethnic groups, the traditional female garb ( liado ) immediately identifies the ethnicity of the wearer. The Tepehua liado consists of a barrel skirt gathered by a sash, a blouse, and a quexquémetl. It is gradually being replaced by cotton dresses. Weaving and sewing by the women provide clothing for the family and products that can later be exchanged or sold. The Tepehua also manufacture pottery griddles, harvesting baskets ( chiquihuites ), fishing nets, and candles.
Weekly open-air markets are held throughout the region. The traditional market centers are in the capitals of the municipios, but other market centers appear wherever there is a need and some motivation to open one. At the markets, the various ethnic groups from this region—Tepehua, Totonac, Nahua, Otomí, and mestizo—interact. Merchants who travel from market to market are often accomplished linguists. Some Tepehua have established stores in the larger villages. These stores stock the basic necessities between markets. Often the store owners become mule drivers, traveling afar to bring new items to their establishments. As a consequence of dealing with mestizos, they tend to replace elements of their Indian culture by more commercially acceptable mestizo ones. In the smaller rancherías, small stores offer only a meager selection of soap, rum, cigarettes, and soft drinks.
Land Tenure. Land is held as private property or as an ejido. Whether or not a community has an ejido depends on the outcome of various agrarian struggles with the land grabbers of pre- and post-revolutionary Mexico. The Huasteca—because of its valuable potential for cattle raising—has been a zone of agrarian conflict throughout the twentieth century.