Totonac - Orientation

Identification. The word "Totonaco" is recognized as the name of this Amerindian ethnic group by its own members. According to oral tradition, "Totonaco" is derived from two words in their language: tutu (three) and naku (heart). The interpretation most frequently given, which is also noted by Kelly and Palerm (1952), is that the name refers to the three historical centers of the Totonac population. The exact locations of these three centers vary according to historical references and regional traditions. The area inhabited by the Totonac has been known as the Totonacapan since at least the sixteenth century.

Location. The Totonacapan includes portions of the Mexican states of Puebla and Veracruz. In the former, the Totonac lived in the mountainous region known as the northern Sierra de Puebla. In Veracruz, the Totonac were found from the mountain highlands to the coastal plains, between the Río Cazones and the Rio Tecolutla. Currently, this area continues to have the highest concentration of the Totonac population; however, a growing number have migrated to cities in search of higher wages. There are Totonac living in urban areas such as Mexico City, Poza Rica, Jalapa, Cholula, and Puebla de Zaragoza.

Demography. According to the 1990 census, there were 207,876 speakers of the Totonac language who were 5 years of age or older. The state of Puebla had 86,788 speakers of Totonac, and the state of Veracruz had 111,305; 3,056 Totonac speakers resided in Mexico City. There are also Totonac migrants in the states of Tlaxcala and Mexico.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Mesoamerican language closest to that of the Totonac is Tepehua, the language of their nearby neighbors. Together they form a linguistic group known as Totonacan, which is related to the Huastec and Mayan linguistic groups, although the nature of this relationship is under discussion. Totonac has some dialectal variations, but these can be understood without difficulty by native speakers.

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