The Tlapanec live southeast of Chilpancingo, in the Mexican state of Guerrero. The 1990 census listed 68,483 speakers of the Tlapanec language. They form about 21 percent of the Indian population of Guerrero, living primarily in the municipios of Atlixtac, Malinaltepec, Tlacoapa, and Zapotitlán Tablas. Their language belongs to the Hokaltecan Stock and is most closely related to the language once spoken by the Subtiaba of Nicaragua.
The Tlapanec people subsist primarily upon maize, beans, and chili peppers, crops they grow themselves. The poorer people of this society cannot afford to eat beans as frequently as do others of the region. Meat is usually eaten only during fiestas. They also grow bananas, sugarcane, and coffee for cash.
The Tlapanec men do most of the agricultural, construction, and carpentry work. They are well known for the high quality of their carpentry, despite their rudimentary tools, which include only machetes, wedges, and chisels. Women produce most of the cotton and wool cloth. Tlapanec people also produce for sale hats, fans, saddles, and petates (straw mats). Many also work in the fields of their mestizo neighbors, where they enjoy a reputation as good day laborers.
Little is known about Tlapanec social and political organization. Families are patriarchal. Political and religious leaders work together in governing. The highest level of government is a council of chiefs. This council, however, is able to do little that is not permitted them by the Mexican government and Catholic church authorities of the region.
The Tlapanec pantheon of gods is dominated by a male god and a female god; in addition, there are so called "impersonal" gods. These gods have lost much of their former importance owing to the introduction of Catholicism. Also of reduced influence are beliefs in witchcraft and traditional sacred places. Fiestas are now held on Catholic holy days and assume the pattern of those held by mestizos. During the fiestas, people drink the alcoholic beverages pulque and aguardiente.
No knowledge survives concerning traditional indigenous music, musical instruments, or dances.
Dehouve, Daniele (1990). Quand les banquiers étaient des saints: 450 ans de l'histoire économique et sociale d'une province indienne du Mexique. Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
Oettinger, Marion (1980). Una comunidad tlapaneca: Sus linderos sociales y territoriales. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional Indigenista.
Olmsted, D. L. (1969). "The Tequistlatec and Tlapanec." In Handbook of Middle American Indians. Vol. 8, Ethnology, Part Two, edited by Evon Z. Vogt, 553-564. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Suárez, Jorge A. (1988). Tlapaneco de Malinaltepec. Mexico City: El Colegio de Mexico.