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Zapotec(zä`pətĕk, sä`–), indigenous people of Mexico, primarily in S Oaxaca and on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Little is known of the origin of the Zapotec. Unlike most native peoples of Middle America, they had no traditions or legends of migration, but believed themselves to have been born directly from rocks, trees, and jaguars.
The early Zapotec were a sedentary, agricultural, city-dwelling people who worshiped a pantheon of gods headed by the rain god, Cosijo—represented by a fertility symbol combining the earth-jaguar and sky-serpent symbols common in Middle American cultures. A priestly hierarchy regulated religious rites, which sometimes included human sacrifice. The Zapotec worshiped their ancestors and, believing in a paradisaical underworld, stressed the cult of the dead. They had a great religious center at MitlaMitla
[Nahuatl,=abode of the dead], religious center of the Zapotec, near Oaxaca, SW Mexico. Probably built in the 13th cent., the buildings, unlike the pyramidal structures of most Middle American architecture, are low, horizontal masses enclosing the plazas.
..... Click the link for more information. and a magnificent city at Monte AlbánMonte Albán
, ancient city, c.7 mi (11.3 km) from Oaxaca, SW Mexico, capital of the Zapotec. Monte Albán was built on an artificially leveled, rocky promontory above the Valley of Oaxaca.
..... Click the link for more information. , where a highly developed civilization flourished possibly more than 2,000 years ago. In art, architecture, hieroglyphics, mathematics, and calendar the Zapotec seem to have had cultural affinities with the OlmecOlmec
, term denoting the culture of ancient Mexican natives inhabiting the tropical coastal plain of the contemporary states of Veracruz and Tabasco, between 1300 and 400 B.C.
..... Click the link for more information. , with the ancient MayaMaya
, indigenous people of S Mexico and Central America, occupying an area comprising the Yucatán peninsula and much of the present state of Chiapas in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, parts of El Salvador, and extreme western Honduras.
..... Click the link for more information. , and later with the ToltecToltec
, ancient civilization of Mexico. The name in Nahuatl means "master builders." The Toltec formed a warrior aristocracy that gained ascendancy in the Valley of Mexico c.A.D. 900 after the fall of Teotihuacán.
..... Click the link for more information. .
Coming from the north, the MixtecMixtec
, Native American people of Oaxaca, Puebla, and part of Guerrero, SW Mexico, one of the most important groups in Mexico. Although the Mixtec codices constitute the largest collection of pre-Columbian manuscripts in existence, their origin is obscure.
..... Click the link for more information. replaced the Zapotec at Monte Albán and then at Mitla; the Zapotec captured Tehuantepec from the Zoquean and Huavean of the Gulf of Tehuantepec. By the middle of the 15th cent. both Zapotec and Mixtec were struggling to keep the AztecAztec
, Indian people dominating central Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest. Their language belonged to the Nahuatlan subfamily of Uto-Aztecan languages. They arrived in the Valley of Mexico from the north toward the end of the 12th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. from gaining control of the trade routes to Chiapas and Guatemala. Under their greatest king, Cosijoeza, the Zapotec withstood a long siege on the rocky mountain of Giengola, overlooking Tehuantepec, and successfully maintained political autonomy by an alliance with the Aztec until the arrival of the Spanish. The Zapotec today are mainly of two groups, those of the southern valleys in the mountains of Oaxaca and those of the southern half of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec; together they number some 350,000. The social fabric of Zapotec life—customs, dress, songs, and literature—though predominantly Spanish, still retains strong elements of the Zapotec heritage, particularly in the present-day state of Juchitán.
See H. Augur, Zapotec (1954); M. Kearney, The Winds of Ixtepeji (1972); B. Chinas, The Isthmus Zapotecs (1973).
an Indian people of Mexico, living mainly in the state of Oaxaca and numbering approximately 300,000 (1970, estimate). The Zapotecan language is one of the Otomian-Mix-tecan-Zapotecan languages. Formally Catholics, the Zapotee have preserved many elements of their traditional beliefs.
An early class society existed among the Zapotee even prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. The Zapotee developed a distinctive and advanced culture, the oldest evidence of which dates to the tenth century B.C.; the culture flourished between the second and fifth centuries A.D. The Zapotee built pyramidal temples, palaces, facilities for ritual ball games, and astronomical “observatories.” They also constructed distinctive underground burial vaults with richly decorated facades. Reliefs of the eighth to fourth centuries B.C. depict grotesque “dancing” figures, with later reliefs representing figures of a deity, rulers, priests, and captives. Ingeniously shaped ceramic vessels depict splendidly clothed sitting figures with almost portrait-like faces in luxurious, intricate headdresses or helmets.
The chief occupations of the present-day Zapotec are farming and handicraft-making. Some Zapotec work as farmhands on plantations, and others lease small farms; among the handicrafts made are souvenirs for tourists. Some Zapotecs work as unskilled laborers in the USA.
REFERENCESNarody Ameriki, vol. 2. Moscow, 1959.
Caso, A. Las estelas zapotecas. Mexico City, 1928.