Chichimeca

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Not to be confused with Westo.
This article is about historical Mesoamerican peoples. For modern day Chichimeco people, see Chichimeca Jonaz.
Map of the location of prominent Chichimeca peoples around 1550.

Chichimeca was the name that the Nahua peoples of Mexico generically applied to many bands and tribes of nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples who inhabited northern modern-day Mexico and southwestern United States. Chichimeca carried the same sense as the Roman term "barbarian" to describe people living outside settled, agricultural areas. The name and its pejorative sense was adopted by the Spanish. For the Spanish, in the words of scholar Charlotte M. Gradie, "the Chichimecas were a wild, nomadic people who lived north of the Valley of Mexico. They had no fixed dwelling places, lived by hunting, wore no clothes and fiercely resisted foreign intrusion into their territory, which happened to contain silver mines the Spanish wished to exploit."[1]

In modern times only one ethnic group is customarily referred to as Chichimecs, namely the Chichimeca Jonaz of whom a few thousand live in the state of Guanajuato.

Overview and identity[edit]

The Chichimeca peoples were many groups of varying ethnicities and speaking distinct languages from different families. As the Spaniards worked towards consolidating the rule of New Spain over the indigenous peoples during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Chichimecan tribes resisted. A number of ethnic groups of the region allied against the Spanish. The first and most long-lasting of these conflicts (1550-1591) was the Chichimeca War.

Many of the peoples known broadly as Chichimeca are virtually unknown today; few descriptions recorded their names and they seem to have been absorbed into mestizo culture or into other indigenous ethnic groups. For example, virtually nothing is known about the peoples referred to as the Guachichil, Caxcan, Zacateco, Tecuexe, or Guamare. Others, such as the Opata or Eudeve, are well described in records but extinct as a people.[full citation needed]

Still other Chichimec peoples maintain separate identities into the present day, for example the Otomi, Chichimeca Jonaz, Cora, Huichol, Pame, Yaqui, Mayo, O'odham and the Tepehuan peoples.[full citation needed]

Word origin[edit]

The Nahuatl name Chīchīmēcah (plural, pronounced [tʃiːtʃiːˈmeːkaʔ]; singular Chīchīmēcatl) means "inhabitants of Chichiman"; the placename Chichiman means "Area of Milk". It is sometimes said to be related to chichi "dog", but the i's in chichi are short while those in Chīchīmēcah are long, a phonemic distinction in Nahuatl.[2]

The Nahua used the word "Chichimeca" originally to refer to their own ancient history as a nomadic hunter-gatherer people, in contrast to their later, more urban culture, which they identified as Toltecatl.[3] In modern Mexico, the word "Chichimeca" can have pejorative connotations, such as "primitive", "savage", "uneducated" and "native".[full citation needed]

Ethnohistorical descriptions[edit]

The first descriptions of "Chichimecs" are from the early conquest period. In 1526, Hernán Cortés writes in one of his letters of the northern Chichimec tribes, who were not as civilized as the Aztecs he had conquered. He commented that they might be enslaved and used to work in the mines.[full citation needed]

Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán tried to enslave such indigenous populations of northern Mexico. Their resistance became known as the Mixtón Rebellion where Chichimec tribes fought back against the Spanish forces.[full citation needed]

In the late sixteenth century, Gonzalo de las Casas wrote about the Chichimec. He had received an encomienda near Durango and fought in the wars against the Chichimec peoples: the Pame, the Guachichile, the Guamari and the Zacateco, who lived in the area which was called "La Gran Chichimeca." Las Casas' account was called Report of the Chichimeca and the justness of the war against them. He described the people, providing ethnographic information. He wrote that they only covered their genitalia with any clothing; painted their bodies; and ate only game, roots and berries. He mentions as further proof of their barbarity that Chichimec women, having given birth, continued traveling on the same day without stopping to recover.[4] While las Casas recognized that the Chichimecan tribes spoke different languages, he considered their culture as primarily uniform.[full citation needed]

In 1590, the Franciscan priest Alonso Ponce commented that the Chichimeca had no religion because they did not worship idols as did the other peoples – in his eyes this was an indication of their barbarous nature. Bernardino de Sahagún's Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España provides a fuller account: he describes some Chichimec people, such as the Otomi, as knowing agriculture, living in settled communities, and having a religion devoted to the worship of the Moon.[full citation needed]

The image of the Chichimecas as described by the early sources was typical of the era; the natives were "savages" - accomplished at war and hunting, but with no established society or morals, fighting even amongst themselves. This stereotype became even more prevalent during the course of the Chichimec wars; it was part of the justification for the war (the Chichimec area was not entirely under Spanish control until 1721).[full citation needed]

The first description of a modern objective ethnography of the peoples inhabiting La Gran Chichimeca was done by Norwegian naturalist and explorer Carl Sofus Lumholtz in 1890 when he traveled on muleback through northwestern Mexico, meeting the indigenous peoples on friendly terms. With his descriptions of the rich and different cultures of the various "uncivilized" tribes, the picture of the uniform Chichimec barbarians was changed – although in Mexican Spanish the word "Chichimeca" remains connected to an image of "savagery".[full citation needed]

The historian Paul Kirchhoff, in his work The Hunting-Gathering People of North Mexico, described the Chichimecas as sharing a hunter-gatherer culture, based on the gathering of mesquite, agave, and tunas (the fruit of the nopal), with others also using acorns, roots and seeds. In some areas, the Chichimeca cultivated maize and calabash. From the mesquite, the Chichamecs made white bread and wine. Many Chichimec tribes used the juice of the agave as a substitute for water when it was in short supply.[full citation needed]

The Chichimeca were involved in the Mixton Rebellion (1540–1541) and the Chichimeca War (1550–1590). After a series of negotiations with the Spaniards, most of the Chichimecas were encouraged to take part in peaceful agricultural pursuits. Within decades, they were assimilated into the Spanish and Indian mestizo culture.[5]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gradie, Charlotte M. "Discovering the Chichimecas" Academy of American Franciscan History, Vol 51, No. 1 (July 1994), p. 68
  2. ^ See Andrews 2003 (pp.496 and 507), Karttunen 1983 (p.48), and Lockhart 2001 (p.214)
  3. ^ This term caused confusion in later scholarship as it was understood to refer to a specific ethnic group.
  4. ^ As cited in Gradie (1994).
  5. ^ LatinoLA | Comunidad :: Indigenous Origins

References[edit]