Dedicated to classics and hits.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


monte albam, oaxaca.

The Zapotecs
Princes, Priests & Peasants
by Joseph W. Whitecotton
p. 1977
University of Oklahoma Press
Civilization of the American Indian Series

     Crazy people like to make a big deal out of ancient pyramids, and about how,  you know, aliens came down from space to inspire them in different places around the world, but if you stop and think about it... a pyramid is a pretty useful way to get closer to the sky.  Furthermore, any group of people that moves beyond hunt and gather style live is going to be obsessed with the sky and rain... because they are practicing agriculture.  When you are farming you are reliant on sunlight and rain- that shit is important.   What better way to get closer to whatever God you've dreamt up then to make something to get you closer.

     The Zapotecs are a people of Southern Mexico.  Their civilization was centered around what is presently Oaxaca. Oaxaca is in a valley south of Mexico City.  It has two main branches, and between them is Monte Alban- Monte Alban is considered the culture center of your classic era Zapotec civilization.   Afterwards, the Zapotecs were invaded (or something) by the Mixtecs- a different culture that moved in as conquerers and ended up living side by side with the Zapotecs, often in different neighborhoods in the same village.  Both groups were subjugated by the Aztecs prior to Spanish arrival, but it was a paying tribute kind of domination.

  The Zapotecs remain in the state of Oaxaca, they also spread to the south into the Isthmus of Mexico and west to the coast.  Their cultural situation is complex- Zapotecs never considered themselves a nation, and their tradition of governance maintains identity to the individual community of which they are members- similar to the situation in Italy in the Renaissance.

  What is significant about the Zapotecs is that their language comes from a different linguistic family then that of the Aztecs.  The Aztecs speak a variety of Uto-Aztecan, while Zapotec is part of the Oto-Manguean family.  Zapotec and Mixtec are the most successful of the Oto Manguean languages, and linguists generally agree that some form of this language has been present in Mexico since 4000 B.C, giving the Oto Manguean's a prior claim to Mexico.

  If you look at a map, it seems likely that the Uto-Aztecan speaking peoples moved south, pushing the Oto Manguean peoples south in the process.  It's not like the Zapotecs were inferior- they may have introduced writing into Classic Era Mexico.  It's hard to know, since the Spanish did such a great job of eradicating and co-opting the pre-Contact Zapotec culture, but it's useful to know that pre-Contact Mexico was more then just the Aztecs.

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