Natives, Middle American

Natives, Middle American or Mesoamerican,

aboriginal peoples living in the area between present-day United States and South America. Although most of Mexico is geographically considered part of North America and although there have been cultural contacts between Mexican groups and the Pueblo of the SW United States, the cultural development of most of Mexico belongs, in fact, to that of Middle America. In the southern portion of the valley of Mexico and in the jungle region of Yucatán, ancient Mexico reached its highest cultural achievements. The 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.
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 had links with the ChorotegaChorotega
, aboriginal people and language group of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Little is known of the Chorotega, primarily beause of the absence of extensive ruins.
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 of Nicaragua and Honduras, and these in turn had contacts with the ChibchaChibcha
, indigenous people of the eastern cordillera of the Andes of Colombia. Although trade with neighboring tribes was common, the Chibcha seem to have evolved their culture in comparative isolation.
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 of Colombia, thus establishing a Central American cultural chain between the civilizations of Mexico and those of the Andean region. Highly developed civilizations flourished in Mexico after the domestication of corn and the rise of agricultural communities; 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.
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, the Maya, and the cultures of the central plateau, Teotihuacán, 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.
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, 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.
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, ZapotecZapotec
, 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
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 and 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.
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, developed architecture, agriculture, the use of stone—and sometimes of metal—to a high, often remarkable, degree. The QuichéQuiché
, indigenous peoples of Mayan linguistic stock, in the western highlands of Guatemala; most important group of the ancient southern Maya. The largest of the contemporary native groups of Guatemala, numbering over a million, they live principally in the region
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 and the Cakchiquel flourished in Guatemala; besides these and the Chorotega, the southern tip of Central America did not produce as highly developed civilizations as the rest of Middle America. Today many of the Native Americans of Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras, such as the San Blas, the Mosquito (see Mosquito CoastMosquito Coast
or Mosquitia
, region, east coast of Nicaragua and Honduras. The name is derived from the Miskito, the indigenous inhabitants and remnants of the Chorotega, who were never conquered by the Spanish. Never exactly delimited, the region is a belt c.
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), and the Lenca of Honduras, bear the imprint of Carib ancestry or influence. The Mexican Native Americans after the Spanish conquest in the 16th cent. retained their ancestral mode of life in some regions, but they were mostly a subjugated group until the 20th cent. Native American artisans did make notable contributions to the early development of the arts, notably in painting and architecture, but the Native Americans were mostly used as laborers under the encomiendaencomienda
[Span. encomendar=to entrust], system of tributory labor established in Spanish America. Developed as a means of securing an adequate and cheap labor supply, the encomienda was first used over the conquered Moors of Spain.
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 and the repartimiento, and thousands eventually became the victims of peonagepeonage
, system of involuntary servitude based on the indebtedness of the laborer (the peon) to his creditor. It was prevalent in Spanish America, especially in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru.
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. It was not until after the revolution of 1910 and the indianismo movement of Emiliano ZapataZapata, Emiliano
, c.1879–1919, Mexican revolutionary, b. Morelos. Zapata was of almost pure native descent. A tenant farmer, he occupied a social position between the peon and the ranchero, but he was a born leader who felt keenly the injustices suffered by his people.
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 that efforts were made, notably by the Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas, with regard to the economic and social development of the Native American. Today the descendants of the above-mentioned Native American groups, as well as such peoples as the HuastecHuastec
, indigenous people of the Pánuco River basin, E Mexico. They speak a Mayan language but are isolated from the rest of the Mayan stock, from whom they may have been separated prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
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, the TarascanTarascan
, Native Americans of the state of Michoacán, Mexico. Their language has no known relation to other languages, and their history prior to the 16th cent. is poorly understood.
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, the YaquiYaqui
, people of Sonora, Mexico, settled principally along the Yaqui river. Their language is of Uto-Aztecan stock. They engage in weaving and agriculture; many work in the cotton regions of Sonora and S Arizona.
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, and the TarahumaraTarahumara
, indigenous people of N Mexico, mostly in Chihuahua state. About 60,000 strong, they live for the most part in the barren wilderness of the Sierra Madre Occidental, subsisting largely by hunting and practicing rudimentary agriculture.
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, constitute a powerful cultural and economic element of Mexican life.


See J. A. Graham, comp., Ancient Mesoamerica (1966); D. Z. Stone, Pre-Columbian Man Finds Central America (1972); M. P. Weaver, The Aztecs, Maya, and their Predecessors (1972).

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