The name tepehuanes, tepehuanos or tepehuán is of Nahuatl origin, derived from tepetl, cerro and huan, duenio, “owner of hills” or “inhabitants of the mountains”. Another interpretation indicates that the term tepehuani means “winner or victor in battle”.
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 resemble the Tarahumara community much more, 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 “cold sickness,” which could cause the child to suffer from intense colds throughout his or her life. The place where the placenta is buried is the place where it is said that “one has the navel”. Thus, the child is attached to its place of birth. A few days later, the newborn is baptized. The water on the forehead must have been extracted from a fresh spring in the morning.
The o’dam people live mainly in the extreme south 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 houses are located up to 2,000 meters above sea level in the mountains, which makes it difficult to access the areas with basic supplies: electricity, drinking water and sanitation. They are also far away from the areas where health centers are located.
The language of the Southern Tepehuans has two variants: O’dam, or Tepehuán of the southeast, and audam, or Tepehuán of the southwest. The first is concentrated in the towns of the municipality of Mezquital, Durango, while the second 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 different indigenous communities that live in the outskirts 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.
As for the most remarkable handicrafts that the Tepehuanes sell, they are: cheesecloth backpacks with very attractive decorations and patterns (loom or cross stitch) and nets (ixtle or plastic cord). Other requested products 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 backpack loom, whose design is usually a set of parallel vertical lines of different colors 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, Tepehuán’s religious sense 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 rain in May and blessing the corn 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. Therefore, they perform various activities to keep the dead happy and away from the living.
Traditional clothing varies depending on the area where the community lives. Usually a very simple dress for the men and very colorful for the women. The typical costume is rarely seen among men who only wear it during feasts 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, it is known as bonam.
Women’s clothing consists of three main pieces: a skirt or ipur, a long-sleeved blouse and an apron hung at the waist. Satin fabrics are very popular and are decorated with lace and colorful ribbons. The use of brightly colored long socks is very common, as well as plastic shoes. The outfit is enriched with long necklaces, combs and pearl earrings. Men and women use backpacks to complete their outfit. For this reason they can easily be identified as Huicholes.
The house of Tepehuan is mainly made of adobe, sheet metal or cardboard roofs, with the peculiarity that the rooms are raised half a meter from the ground. Their contours are regularly cleaned to prevent the entry of scorpions and other animals.
The religion of the Tepehuanes includes in the same ritual cycle ceremonies of pre-Hispanic tradition called xiotalh (in O’dam language) or mitotes (in Nahuatl and Spanish) and festivals of Catholic origin. The mitotes are performed in synchronization with the calendar and the changes of the seasons for the cultivation of corn but also the 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 center of the square, strikes the string of an arch on a tecomate that serves as a sounding board. People dance around the center, turning counter-clockwise, in pairs of the same sex 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 aimed at achieving good health and good fortune in agricultural activities in general. The first Xiotalh is celebrated on the first days after the New Year; the second shortly before the rainy season (April-May or June) and the third in October, to thank the fruits of the harvest.
Some of the feasts celebrated are the result of evangelization carried out during the colonial period. And as in most other Mexican indigenous communities, the celebration of the 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 (February 2), San Antonio de Padua (June 13) and, since 2003, the feast of San Juan Diego (December 9).