Huasteca, The

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Huasteca, The

The Huasteca, a huge and historically important region of northeastern Mexico once inhabited by the Huastec Indians. Today this topographically and climatically diverse area is divided among the states of Veracruz, San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Querétaro, and Tamaulipas. Beginning in the arid eastern reaches of the elevated central plateau and stretching through the abrupt Sierra Madre Oriental, the Huasteca expands in the humid, tropical lowlands of the Gulf of Mexico. Soils, rainfall, and vegetation vary widely in this broad expanse and have fostered many forms of adaptation by both the ancient Huastec inhabitants and the largely mestizo population that has extensively replaced them since Spanish contact.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the Huasteca had fluctuating borders that once extended far southward down the Gulf coastal plain in the direction of the Maya Indians, who are linguistically and culturally related to the Huastecs. The conflictive migrations of other pre-Hispanic groups, as well as Aztec conquests, produced enclaves at some points and a strong regional tradition of warfare.

Spanish seaborne expeditions to the Huasteca began from Cuba in 1518 and Jamaica in 1519 and were followed by a difficult overland conquest by Hernán Cortés in 1522. Between 1526 and 1533 Nuño de Guzmán brutally crushed numerous revolts when the province, then called Pánuco, was governed separately from New Spain. In modern times much of the once forested coastal zone has become man-made savannah for cattle ranching. The discovery of major oil deposits at the turn of the century has brought roads and industrial concentration at the port of Tampico.

See alsoCortés, Hernán; Guzmán, Nuño Beltrán de.


Long-term ethnographic studies have been undertaken by Guy Stresser-Pean, "Les indiens Huastèques" in Huastecos, Totonacos y sus vecinos (1953). Recent archaeological and historical interpretations are in S. Jeffrey K. Wilkerson, Ethnogenesis of the Huastecs and Totonacs (1973); and "Presencia huasteca y cronología cultural en el norte de Veracruz Central," in Huaxtecos y Totonacos, edited by Lorenzo Ochoa (1989), pp. 257-279. Two major studies of early colonial history are Manuel Toussaint, La conquista de Pánuco (1948); and Donald E. Chipman, Nuño de Guzmán and the Province of Pánuco in New Spain, 1518–1533 (1967). The principal study of regional flora is Henri Puig, Végétation de la Huasteca, Méxique (1976).

Additional Bibliography

Ducey, Michael. A Nation of Villages: Riot and Rebellion in the Mexican Huasteca. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004.

Montoya Briones, José de Jesús. Etnografía de la domination en México. México: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1996.

Robles Gil, Patricio. The Great Tamaulipan Natural Province. Ciudad Victoria: Tamaulipas Sate Government, 2004.

                           S. Jeffrey K. Wilkerson