The name tepehuanes, tepehuanos or tepehuán is of Nahuatl origin, derived from tépetl, cerro and huan, duenio, "owner of hills" or "inhabitants of the mountains". Another interpretation is that the term tepehuani means 'victorious or victorious in battle'.
The Tepehuanes are called O'dam "those who dwell". They are called Tepehuanes del Sur to distinguish them from the Northern Tepehuanes who live in the state of Chihuahua, who are much more similar to the Tarahumara community, to the point of confusing them for the handicrafts they make, such as backpacks.
One of the customs of the community is that when there is a birth, the father or a close relative must bury the placenta in a place outside the house to prevent the child from suffering from the "cold disease", because of which it could suffer from intense colds throughout its life. The place where the placenta is buried is where the "navel" is said to be. Thus, the child is attached to the place of its birth. A few days later, the newborn is baptised. The water on the forehead must have been taken from a fresh spring in the morning.
The O'dam live mainly in the southernmost part of the state of Durango, a region that forms a crescent reaching the states of Nayarit and Zacatecas. The main municipalities they inhabit are: San Bernardino Milpillas Chico and San Francisco de Lajas in Pueblo Nuevo, Durango, María Magdalena Taxicaringa, Santiago Teneraca, San Francisco Ocotán and Santa María Ocotán in Mezquital, Durango, San Andrés Milpillas Grande in Huajícori, Nayarit.
The dwellings are located up to 2,000 m above sea level in the mountains, which makes it difficult to access basic supplies: electricity, drinking water and sanitation. They are also very far from the areas where health centres are located.
The Southern Tepehuán language has two variants: O'dam, or Southeastern Tepehuán, and Audam, or Southwestern Tepehuán. The former is concentrated in the towns of the municipality of Mezquital, Durango, while the latter is found in the towns of Pueblo Nuevo, Durango, Huajicori and Nayarit.
Our collaborator, the Semilla Durango Foundation, houses children and helps their families financially to provide food or medical care to the various indigenous communities living in the vicinity of the state of Durango, located in northwestern Mexico. The Wixarika Huichol people and the Tepehuanes del Sur community are the main beneficiaries of the Foundation. Read more about our collaborator in our article here.
The most notable handicrafts that the Tepehuanes sell are: backpacks made of cheesecloth with very attractive decorations and patterns (loom or cross-stitch) and nets (ixtle or plastic cord). Other products in demand are soybean hats also decorated with threads, equipment and benches, reed pipes and raw clay pots, comales and plates without decoration. The techniques used to make the bags are: the harpoon, a backstrap loom, whose design is usually a set of parallel vertical lines of different colours on a white background; the baimkar, which has patterns woven on blankets or squares.
Although the influence of the Catholic religion has added a festive cycle with its saints, the religious sense of Tepehuán is dominated by its Mesoamerican past. This is the case of the traditional ritual called "mitote" or "xibtal", which consists of a dance that is performed around the fire at night, to the sound of a musical arch. They usually celebrate two periods each year: asking for rains in May and blessing the maize in October. If there is an exceptional situation in the community, other additional rites may be performed.
Death for the O'dam has an important meaning. They therefore carry out various activities to keep the dead happy and away from the living.
Traditional clothing varies according to the region where the community lives. In general, a very simple dress for men and a very colourful one for women. The typical costume is rarely seen among men, who wear it only for festivals and ceremonies. Men's clothing consists of a shirt and briefs respectively, called kutum and sawirax. The traditional hat is made of circular woven soybean and is known as bonam.
Women's dress consists of three main pieces: a skirt or ipur, a long-sleeved blouse and an apron hanging from the waist. Satin fabrics are very popular and are decorated with lace and colourful ribbons. The use of brightly coloured long socks is widespread, as is the use of plastic shoes. The outfit is enriched with long necklaces, combs and beaded earrings. Both men and women use backpacks to complete their outfit. For this reason they can easily be identified as Huicholes.
The Tepehuan house is mainly made of adobe, tin or cardboard roofs; with the particularity that the rooms are raised half a metre from the ground. Their edges are cleaned regularly to prevent the entry of scorpions and other animals.
The Tepehuanes religion includes in the same ritual cycle ceremonies of pre-Hispanic tradition called xiotalh (in O'dam) or mitotes (in Nahuatl and Spanish) and festivals of Catholic origin. Mitotes are performed in synchronisation with the calendar and seasonal changes for maize cultivation but also initiation processes, such as the passage from childhood to adulthood, the initiation of healers and mitote musicians.
The xiotalh are ceremonies that last five days. It is a night dance that is performed on the last day of the ceremony around a bonfire and a musician who, placed in the centre of the square, strikes the string of an arch on a tecomate that serves as a sounding board. People dance around the centre, turning counterclockwise, in same-sex pairs holding hands and following a step that imitates the jumps of a toad. In almost all communities, three xiotalh are celebrated each year. The celebration is also intended to bring good health and good fortune to agricultural activities in general. The first Xiotalh is celebrated in the first few days after the New Year; the second shortly before the rainy season (April-May or June) and the third in October, to give thanks for the fruits harvested.
Some of the festivals celebrated are the result of evangelisation during the colonial period. And as in most other indigenous Mexican communities, the celebration of festivals depends on the region in which they live, and the Tepehuane community is no exception. For example, In Santa Maria de Ocotán, Durango is celebrated: the Virgen de la Candelaria (2 February), San Antonio de Padua (13 June) and, since 2003, the feast of San Juan Diego (9 December).