views updated


Otomí, a broad designation referring to various distinct indigenous groups and languages that have existed from pre-Hispanic times through the present, principally in the areas west and north of the Valley of Mexico. It is a designation that includes the more sedentary peoples whom the Nahuas called the Otomí, Mazahua, Matlatzinca, and Ocuilteca, particularly numerous in the Valley of Toluca, plus other sedentary and less sedentary groups in what are now the states of México, Hidalgo, Querétaro, and San Luis Potosí, including the southern Chichimec zone. There are also pockets known to exist in Puebla, Tlaxcala, Michoacán, Jalisco, and elsewhere. Macro-Otomanguean languages include Mixtec and Zapotec of Oaxaca.

Many Otomí groups resembled Nahuas except in language, since they lived in close proximity and all claimed descent from the Toltecs. But the proud Nahuas refused to recognize any similarities, taking every opportunity, as in the Florentine Codex, to deprecate their rivals. The Otomí had strong ties to the Tepanecas, imperial rulers based in the city of Azcapotzalco, who were defeated by the Mexica and Acolhuas in 1430. The Nahuas also disdained what they saw as a barbarian strain in the Otomí, who had experienced a late Chichimeca penetration. Still, they respected the Chichimec and Otomí prowess in war, creating high military titles bearing the names of those cultures.

Given the Nahua rivalry, it is not surprising that the Otomí aided the Spanish in the conquest of Mexico, but they also served on the Chichimec frontier as a buffer, settling model communities and taking the brunt of the fighting there.

See alsoAztecs; Chichimecs; Indigenous Peoples.


Pedro Carrasco Pizana, Los Otomíes: Cultura e historia prehispánicas de los pueblos mesoamericanos de habla otomiana (1950).

H. R. Harvey, "The Relaciones Geográficas, 1579–1586: Native Languages," in The Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 12, pt. 1, edited by Howard F. Cline (1972), pp. 301-302.

James Lockhart and Stuart B. Schwartz, Early Latin America: A History of Colonial Spanish America and Brazil (1983), p. 292.

                                    Stephanie Wood

More From encyclopedia.com