Tepehuan of Durango - Orientation

Identification and Location. The Sierra Madre Occidental range cuts a north-south swath through northern Mexico, splitting the states of Chihuahua and Durango into eastern and western parts. In extreme southwestern Durango, several hundred kilometers south of the land of the Northern Tepehuan of Chihuahua and across this mountainous rupture live the Southern Tepehuan. The sublime variance of the peaks and canyons rent from the earth by two rivers, the Mezquital and the Huazamota, and their tributaries, renders the discordant beauty of some of the roughest and most wondrous land in Mexico. This terrain makes communication possible only by unmaintained dirt roads and trails. Like the Northern Tepehuan, members of the Southern group call themselves "Dami" ("We the People" or "those who live in this place"). The name "Tepehuan" comes from the Nahuatl word tepetl (hill). Ethnographic work in this remote area is sparse, and although they have probably lived here for about a thousand years, the Tepehuan are relatively unknown to outsiders.

There are seven comunidades in Southern Tepehuan territory. Santa María Ocotán, San Francisco Ocotán, Santiago Teneraca, and Santa María Magdalena de Taxicaringa are in the municipio of Mezquital, Durango. San Bernardino de Milpillas Chico and San Francisco de Lajas are in the municipio of Pueblo Nuevo, Durango. Farthest to the south, in the municipio of Huajicori, Nayarit, is the comunidad of San Andres de Milpillas Grande. Santa María Ocotán was established as an ejido. Each comunidad is a town that acts as the central political and religious center for several anexos (small settlements) and a multitude of rancherías.

Demography. A small proportion of the 1.3 million people living in the thinly populated state of Durango are Indians—about 24,000, of whom some 16,000 are Tepehuan. The other indigenous groups in the area are the Huichol and the Nahuatl-speaking Mexicanero Indians. A small number of Tepehuan live across the border in the states of Nayarit and Zacatecas. As in the case of the Tepehuan of Chihuahua, narrow-sighted suppositions of assimilation and acculturation often led early researchers to write them out of the ethnographic present and wrongly to assume that a viable Tepehuan culture no longer existed in Durango. The region is poorly served by federal and state agencies, and seasonal population movement in search of wage labor is a further impediment to accurate assessment.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language of the Southern Tepehuan is probably more closely related to the extinct Tepecano language that was spoken in the northern part of the state of Jalisco than to the three other languages (Northern Tepehuan, its dosest living relative; Pima; and Papago of Sonora and southern Arizona) that make up the Tepiman or Piman Branch of the Sonoran Division of the Uto-Aztecan Family. There are at least two mutually intelligible dialects. Southeastern Tepehuan, spoken chiefly in the municipio of El Mezquital, is the most studied and best understood by linguists. Another dialect is in the southwestern municipio of Pueblo Nuevo.

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