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Pipiles, a Central American people who speak an Uto-Aztecan language. The Pipiles began a series of migrations from Central Mexico to Central America as early as 400 ce, although greater movement occurred between 900 and 1300. Small numbers arrived around 500, during Teotihuacán expansion. Pipiles of Toltec origin established themselves by 801 along the Pacific coast of Central America. The Toltec-influenced Nonoalca group arrived in El Salvador at about 1250–1300.

At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the Pipiles lived along the Pacific coast and slope of Guatemala and El Salvador and in central, northeast, and western Honduras. (William R. Fowler estimates a population of 450,000 Pipiles in Guatemala and El Salvador at this time.) Preconquest Pipil warfare with K'iche' and Kakchikel Mayas in the Late Postclassic Period resulted in a loss of territory on the Pacific coast. However, Pipil migration and warfare extended Nahua culture into Central America, forcibly bringing Mexican religion and science. Pipiles developed states using the capulli system, based on descent, to justify power and control resources and a social hierarchy of nobles, commoners, and slaves. Tribute was paid by commoners to nobles, and later by the Pipiles themselves to the Spanish.

Fertile volcanic soils and the use of terracing and irrigation assured abundant agricultural production. Local and long-distance trade of salt, cacao, and cotton were crucial to the Pipil economy to procure obsidian and sacred articles. The Pipil language, in the Uto-Aztecan family, is spoken by Pipiles in El Salvador but is no longer spoken in Guatemala.

See alsoIndigenous Peoples; Nahuas.


Miguel Armas Molina, La cultura Pipil de Centro América (1974).

William R. Fowler, The Cultural Evolution of the Ancient Nahua Civilizations of Central America: The Precolumbian Pipil-Nicarao (1989).

                                 Laura L. Woodward