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The Pipil are a contemporary Indian group living along the southern coast of western El Salvador. They are the descendants of the Aztec-related Pipil who migrated from central Mexico to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Presently, there are an estimated 2,000 Pipil Indians living in El Salvador, with the greatest concentrations in the cities of Cuisnahuat and Santo Domingo de Guzmán. Linguistically, Pipil is an Aztecoidan language of the UtoAztecan Family; this sets them apart from many neighboring Indian groups that speak Mayan languages.

History and Cultural Relations

During a series of migrations that started in the eighth century and ended in the fourteenth century, the Pipil established a strong presence in El Salvador and Honduras. In the eleventh century the Pipil swept into El Salvador, displaced the Poqomam Indians and established the capital of their kingdom, Cuzcatlán.

Originally, the Pipil successfully resisted attempts at conquest by the Spanish. The Pipil were able to defeat forces led by Pedro de Alvarado in the Battle of Acajutla in June of 1524; however, de Alvarado returned in 1525 and this time succeeded in defeating them.

The history of the Pipil in El Salvador is much different from the history of Indians living in the mountains of Guatemala. Whereas many Maya were able to live in relative isolation through much of the colonial period, the terrain of El Salvador offered little protection. As a result, the Pipil were assimilated into the colonial economy of El Salvador much more than the Maya.

Although the Salvadoran government was sympathetic to Indian affairs in many ways, the Pipil eventually lost their communal lands in 1881, when the government abolished titles on all communal lands. In the wake of this event, many private landholders swept in to usurp lands that had traditionally been worked by Pipil. In the century since land privatization, most Pipil have become landless peasants and wage laborers.


Armas Molinas, Miguel (1974). La cultura pipil de Centro América. San Salvador: Ministerio de Educación.

Campbell, Lyle (1985). The Pipil Language of El Salvador. Berlin: Mouton.

Castaneda Paganini, Ricardo (1959). La cultura toltecapipil de Guatemala. Guatemala City: Editorial del Ministerio de Educación Publica.

Chapin, Mac (1989). "The 500,000 Invisible Indians of El Salvador." Cultural Survival Quarterly 13(3): 11-16.

Fowler, William R., Jr. (1983). "La distribución prehistórica e histórica de los pipiles." Mesoamerica 4(6): 348-372.

Fowler, William R., Jr. (1985). "Ethnohistoric Sources on the Pipil-Nicarao of Central America: A Critical Analysis." Ethnohistory 32(1): 37-62.

Fowler, William R., Jr. (1989a). The Cultural Evolution of Ancient Nahua Civilizations: The Pipil-Nicarao of Central America. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Fowler, William R., Jr. (1989b). "Pipil of Pacific Guatemala and El Salvador." In New Frontiers in the Archaeology of the Pacific Coast of Southern Mesoamerica, edited by Frederick Bove and Lynette Heller. Anthropological Research Papers, no. 39. Tempe: Arizona State University.