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Chichimec Nomads

Most of what modern historians know about the ancient Mesoamerican people called the Chichimeca came from the records of the Aztecs (Mixeca) who acknowledged them as their ancestors, as well as the accounts of the early Spanish settlers of northern Mexico, particularly those of Gonzalo de las Casas. The Chichimeca were also associated by the Aztec as the direct ancestors of the Toltec people whose empire they later adopted. The Chichimec Nomads are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during 1170 AD.

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The early Spanish accounts of the northwestern Mesoamerican people called Chichimeca were informative but also riddled with prejudice. The term “Chichimeca” itself was considered derogatory as it had various unpleasant meanings in the Nahuatl language, including “sons of dogs” and “rope suckers.” It was the Nahuatl equivalent of the term “barbarians” as many of them lived a nomadic lifestyle, engaged in hunting, and resisted the Spanish efforts to colonize them. The term, however, did not represent a single group of people, but different groups that lived north of the Valley of Mexico, including nomads, semi-nomads, and sedentary agriculturalists.

“Map of the location of prominent Chichimeca peoples around 1550.”

One of the earliest accounts of the Chichimeca people came from Gonzalo de las Casas wherein he noted that the Chichimeca, just like dogs, hunted so they could eat (hence, the “sons of dogs” term). According to Las Casas, they were proficient in using bows and arrows and were known as fierce warriors who frequently fought their own people, as well as the Spanish colonizers. He noted that there were four Chichimeca tribes (nations): the Zacatecos whose name means “grass” in Nahuatl, the Guachichiles who were known for their colorful and elaborate headdresses, the peaceful Pames tribe, and the fierce Guamari. Other tribes, such as the Otomis, Tepehuan, Caxcanes, and Tecuexes, were added to the list of Chichimeca people later on.

The Spanish conquistadores labeled the Chichimeca barbaric because, unlike their neighbors in central and southern Mexico, they did not seem to practice any religion. The Tepehuan, however, worshiped carved idols and practiced ritual cannibalism which they seemed to have adopted from the southern tribes. Later research also showed that northern Chichimec semi-nomads worshiped the sun and the moon. Unlike central and southern Mesoamerican peoples, they sacrificed deer instead of human hearts to their deities.

Picture By Grin20Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Gradie, Charlotte M. “Discovering the Chichimecas.” The Americas 51, no. 1 (1994): 67-88.
Russell, Philip L. The Essential History of Mexico: From Pre-Conquest to Present. Routledge, 2015.
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