Who lived in Mazatlan before the arrival of the Spanish

By Alfonso Grave Tirado

Archaeological studies reveal that the first coastal groups in this area were not the Aztecs, although many people still believe this.

As we already pointed out in a previous collaboration ( Chronology of southern Sinaloa in pre-Hispanic times ), in the search to get to know the societies of Sinaloa’s pre-Hispanic past and in general the past through their material remains, archeology starts from three questions basics: when ?, who? how? Here we will try to answer the second question.

Throughout my tours of almost every corner of the coast and coastal plain of southern Sinaloa, the question that almost always follows that of how old are those monkeys? Is, what is the culture? Or, more colloquially, what were the Indians who lived here before? And the answer is: we don’t know. What we do know is that it was not the Aztecs.

Mazatlan
Map with the distribution of ethnic groups in the 16th century (according to S. Ortega, Brief history of Sinaloa).

This could be strange, since, in all textbooks, many popular and not a few academics, it is assumed that Sinaloa was an important part of the Mexica pilgrimage and that the coastal plain from the Piaxtla river to the Santiago River, in Nayarit, was Totorame territory, while the Xiximes lived in the mountains; However, we cannot know this through archaeological data, but it is also not clear from reading colonial historical documents, an important source for clarifying this question.

In the stories and letters of the soldiers who were part of the army that conquered the Pacific Northwest coast in 1531, although they refer that it was “up to the populated sea” and they record the name of several of the most important towns such as Chametla, Quezala, Colipa and Los Frijoles, nowhere is there any mention of the name they gave themselves or the language they spoke.

Mazatlan
Map with the political-territorial units of southern Sinaloa upon the arrival of the Spanish.

In search of the coastal gentilicio

For his part, Baltasar de Obregón, who accompanied Francisco de Ibarra in the campaign to conquer northern New Spain and wrote his impressions in his “History of the Ancient and Modern Discoveries of New Spain, written by the conqueror in the year of 1584 ”, does not refer to names or languages ​​either.

When he recounts the reconquest of southern Sinaloa in 1566, already baptized as the province of Chametla, Baltasar de Obregón refers to the inhabitants of the coastal plain only with the nickname of “natural” and those of the Cacalotán mountain range blurt out the of “caribes”, that is, cannibals.

In 1588, 22 years later, the Franciscan father Alonso Ponce visited the neighboring region of northern Nayarit, at the time General Commissar of the Order of Francisco in New Spain, which was recorded by his secretary Antonio de Ciudad Real in his “Treaty curious and learned of the greatness of New Spain ”; where, in addition to highlighting how well it was received by Christian Indians, time is given to make a series of observations about their way of life, not only about their economy, but also about their clothing, crafts, and even the language, or rather the languages ​​they spoke. That is to say, 57 years passed from the first Spanish foray into these lands for someone to mention it.

Antonio de Ciudad Real points out that only in the Acaponeta guardian, who actually also took charge of the religious education of the Indians of southern Sinaloa, “seven languages ​​or seven differences of languages ​​were spoken, and they are as follows: pinutl o pinome , cuachicanuquia , guacnuquia , cuarinuquia , iruzanuquia , naarinuquia and neuxinuquia” However, the first was the most widespread and was also spoken in other coastal towns such as Omitlán and Sentispac, and even points out: “this month they say it is that of the Coras and Coanos and Hauynamotecos”; that is, the groups in the mountains. However, nowhere does he indicate which was the name of the coastal groups.

So who lived in Mazatlán?

Between 1604 and 1608 the Bishop of Guadalajara, Alonso de la Mota, and Escobar, visited all the regions of his vast jurisdiction: Nueva Galicia, Nueva Vizcaya, and Nuevo León. Towards 1605 he was on what is now the southern coast of Sinaloa and left us information on the main economic activities, highlighting the practice of fishing, salt extraction, and mining, and although he points out the names of various populations of Indians like Mataren [Palmillas], Ahuchen [¿La Campana?] Ichcuinapa, Chiametla, and Mazatlán, nowhere does it refer to the language or the name of its inhabitants, which is to be noticed, since the mountain groups do refer by their name, like the coras above Sentíspac or when they visit the town of Quihuiquintla [Quiviquinta], above Huajicori, points out that they are “de nascion Jepehuana [tepehuana].

Mazatlan
Map where the Tepehuanes are emphasized.

Of particular interest, however, is his reference to the lower part of the sierra in southern Sinaloa. There, he says: “A nation of barbarian Indios who were call Tepustla who are ranched in the mountainous areas that are left behind in the regions of the mines of Maloya, Copala and Pánuco run commonly depopulated, hunting and fishing .” Currently, the population of Tepuxta is located on the east bank of the Presidio river, opposite El Recodo, where the mountainous area has just begun.

Just a few years later, in 1621, he visited the Lázaro de Arregui region, and in his Description of the New Galicia, he does not notice the Tepustlas , much less does he mention the name of the coastal Indians of southern Sinaloa or north of Nayarit. , which is, to say the least, curious, since for the neighboring areas it is very eloquent in this sense.

Like La Mota and Escobar, he talks about the Coras and Tepehuanos in the Sierra de Nayarit; although for the mountains of southern Sinaloa the only name it gives is that of xiximes. In the central highlands, it points to the acaxees and for the central coast of Sinaloa, it recognizes three nations: the pacaxes or capaxes between the Piaxtla river and the area between the San Lorenzo and Culiacán rivers; the tahues at the confluence of the three rivers and the tebaca in the humaya river.

Thus, it would seem that the ancient inhabitants of the southern coast of Sinaloa and northern Nayarit did not have a name that distinguished them from other “nations”. Even on the maps of the 16th and 17th centuries themselves; While the territories of Tepehuanos and Coras are indicated with some clarity, for the coastal plain and the marshes only the names of the rivers and some towns are marked.

Mazatlan
Map of New Spain and New Galicia.

The Totorame Nation

However, the Franciscan friar Antonio Arias y Saavedra, who was in the Acaponeta convent between 1657 and 1673, in his report “… about the state of the Sierra del Nayar and about idolatrous worship, government and primitive customs of the Coras”, It is he who points out in greater detail to those who inhabited the southern region of Sinaloa and northern Nayarit.

It tells us that there were at least six nations, what we would now call ethnic groups. These were: Choras , Tzanames , Xamucas or Huitzoles , Tepeguanes , Caponetas called Vigitecos and Totorames. The first three lived in the high parts of the mountains; while Tepehuanes and Vigitecos inhabited the middle and lower parts. Of the totorame, it is worth inserting a long quote. Says Arias and Saavedra:

“The Totorame nation lives on the seashore and some on islets, whom they call Themuretes, which means ‘Zapos’, these are fishermen and salineros. After the Chora nation, this is the largest that begins from the province of Chametla and up to the province of Maloya, Kingdom of Vizcaya, and reaches a town of the doctrine of Xalisco called Autlán, which will be from one part to another sixty leagues before more what less ”.

A league of surface in the 17th century Novohispano was equivalent to 4.19 kilometers, so the Totorame territory would extend for more than 250 kilometers. The town of Autlán is located on the banks of the Santiago River. Between the Santiago River and the Quelite River the approximate distance is 250 kilometers or sixty leagues. This would be, then, the Totorame territory. Was it necessary to have lived among them to recognize the name they gave themselves?

Thus, more than 140 years after the conquest of the region was completed, the first mention of the name by which the inhabitants of the coast were known is given. By convention, they are currently recognized by that name – although it could also have been called pinomes or pinutes, according to the language they spoke, according to Antonio de Ciudad Real.

The borders of the Totorame territory have extended to the Piaxtla River, but in reality, this was the limit between the New Spanish provinces of Chametla and Culiacán; but this will be addressed in a future collaboration

Source: sonplayas.com

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