ETHNONYMS: Chochol, Chocholteca, Chochón, Chocho-Popolocan, Chochoteco, Chono, Chucho, Chuchón, Hochón, Ixcatec-Chocho
The 1,200 or so Chocho Indians live in the Mixteca Alta region of northern Oaxaca, Mexico. Their language and customs are closely related to the nearby Popoloca of southern Puebla. The two groups have often been confused and looked on as one ethnic entity; however, many anthropologists regard them as two distinct groups (Jäcklein 1974). The Chocho language belongs to the Oto-Manguean Stock and is called Popoloca by the Chocho people, further compounding the confusion. Both popoloca and chocho were derogatory terms applied to allegedly barbaric and uncivilized races, the former by the Aztec and the latter by the Spanish. Thus the words were originally used indiscriminately and have only recently come to be attached, albeit in a rather confused way, to distinct cultural groups.
The terrain inhabited by the Chocho is largely mountainous. Rainfall is rare, summertime temperatures are very high, and wintertime temperatures fall below freezing. There is little natural flora or fauna in the region. The people live in villages that are further divided into barrios named after saints or local geographic features. Some barrios have elected officials who assign people to work on projects benefiting the entire community and who act as truant officers for the schools. All barrios have a mayordomo who hosts a fiesta for the barrio's patron saint on the saint's day; in most cases, the mayordomo must bear the cost of the fiesta.
The staple of the Choco diet is maize, although they also eat beans, chiles, peaches, apples, tomatoes, quinces, oranges, lemons, plantains, and white zapote fruits. Meat, usually goat meat, is eaten on Sundays, although fiestas generally call for chicken or turkey dishes.
The traditional Chocho house has a wooden frame and walls of quiote (the stem of the maguey plant). It is eight to 10 meters in length and 3 to 4 meters wide. Roofs are made of palm or of maguey leaves. Many houses have no windows, and the only light source is the doorway. Seats, table, and altar are made of maguey logs. People sleep either on sleeping mats or on board or branch beds. Kitchens are often outside the house. There are also underground caves 2 meters in depth, where the people weave palm-leaf hats, the major source of income for the Chocho; weaving takes place underground so as to keep the palm leaves moist and supple.
Men wear trousers, a shirt, a palm hat, and sandals; women wear a cotton dress, a blouse, and an apron.
Men perform all agricultural work, whereas women perform domestic work and educate the children. Agriculture is primarily performed through the use of the plow, either Egyptian or moldboard, but in either case yields are poor. As a result, palm weaving is an important economic activity in most families. In addition to palm weavers, there are also wool weavers, carpenters, masons, butchers, hairdressers, shopkeepers, and curers.
The most important social relationships are among the patrilocal extended family and between godchildren and godfathers. Marriages are arranged; they take place when the prospective bride and groom are 18 to 20 years of age. The best man and best woman are the godparents of the couple. Newlyweds live with the groom's parents. Later, the couple build their own house, which they own themselves. Women bear children with the aid of a midwife.
Following death, the corpse is dressed in his or her best clothes, and a wake is held the first night. The next day, the handwritten obituary is distributed. Many mourners attend the wake on the second night, and there is a band; mourners consume coffee, mescal, and bread and smoke cigarettes. The corpse is buried in a box or sleeping mat, along with all clothes and personal possessions.
Acevedo, María Luisa, et al. (1993). "Chochos." In Etnografia y Educación en el Estado de Oaxaca, 41-48. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, Colección Científica, no. 268.
Hoppe, Walter A., and Roberto Weitlaner (1969). "The Chocho." In Handbook of Middle American Indians, edited by Robert Wauchope. Vol. 7, Ethnology, Part One, edited by Evon Z. Vogt, 506-515. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Jäcklein, Klaus (1974). Lin pueblo popoloca. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional Indigenista; Secretaría de Educación Pública.