Blog # 16A: Addenda & Corrigenda

Mike Lin, a blogger who makes his home on the Michoacán coast, read my posting about the few days I spent birding a couple of weeks ago in Maruata. In our exchange of emails he has been kind enough to both expend my knowledge of the Nahua coast and to correct some misapprehensions I had picked up about it. He is clearly much more deeply grounded in local lore and politics than the sites I had consulted and the people I talked with along the coast. It is astonishing (to me – probably not to anybody else) the number of things I got wrong in that post. Mike has given me permission to cite the heart of his comments.

It appears that the Nahua speakers on the north-central Michoacán coast are not remnants of a pre-Spanish Aztec (Mexica) colonizing effort, but rather “the surviving remnants of several extinct language groups, plus the Aztec and Purhépecha people enslaved by the Spanish, in their quest for gold, on the coast. Franciscans later forced the survivors of this genocide to speak Nahua.”

Also, the ejido areas are located north and south of the Nahuat region along the coast, and are mostly mestizo, not Indian. The three central stretches of Nahua lands are owned by the Ostula, Coire and Pomaro indigenous communities, but are handled much differently from the ejidos. As for the ejido lands, says Mike, they “are currently being chopped up and sold to developers. They will be utterly trashed in a few years. The indigenous communal land will never be sold to outside developers.” Some of the ejidos have tried to sell off parcels of Nahuat land, too, and in the ensuing struggles several people have been killed.

The ecotourism centers? Built by the Nahuat communities with low interest government loans.

Mike was not surprised that people had told me that the Maruata Nahuas were ‘descended from Aztec warriors who came from Guerrero 400+ years ago,’ and feels that there may be some shards of truth in the legend. But it is more complicated than that. He writes:

“Mexico in the 1500s was a whirlwind of people on the move- whole communities enslaved or running from slavery. The gold mines of Motines region were a genocidal death trap which consumed wave after wave of captured Indian slave trains. Most of the indigenous people who were living on the coast before the Spanish arrived saw their languages and culture nearly exterminated through slavery, disease, and overwork. The survivors of these original cultures were later absorbed by the large influx of immigrant slaves and the eventual homogenizing effects of Christianity forced on them by the Franciscans as well as the Nahuat language that all were required to speak.

The history of the coast before 1521 is pretty hazy. … The entire region was a place of anarchy, rebellion and genocide. Today’s indigenous community of Ostula was founded by rebel slaves who escaped from the gold mines and ran away up into the hills. Perhaps a similar story with Pomaro ( the people of Maruata are part of the community of Pomaro). Coire was founded by the survivors of a smallpox epidemic in Huahua during the mid 1800s. They were children, adopted by the Pomaro community who were given a portion of land.

… I think the Nahuat resist the idea that they were ever really slaves. Way cooler to be Aztec Warriors. I don't blame them for feeling that way.”


Mike has a really interesting website :

which I recommend if you are ever heading down to this part of the Pacific coast. I’m looking forward to meeting him ithe next time I venture downhill in that direction.

Mike also recommends John Gledhill’s site dealing with the coastal Nahuat people