ETHNONYMS: Coras-nayaritas, Nayares, Nayaritas
Identification. The Cora are an ethnic group who live almost exclusively in the state of Nayarit, Mexico. The terms "Nayares," "Nayaritas," and "Coras-nayaritas" are derived from the name of an ancient political-religious leader. In 1722, when the Cora were conquered by the Spaniards, the mummy of the Great Nayar was discovered on the Mesa del Nayar. He was at one time the principal Cora oracle, through which the Sun responded to Cora queries. The mummy was taken to Mexico City to be judged by the Holy Inquisition. In 1723 the Inquisition condemned it to the flames "por ser falsos y prohibidos los cultos y sacrificios con que le solemnizaban . . . los nayaritas ... " ("because the rites and sacrifices which they, the Nayaritas, believe in are false"). It is interesting to note that the state was named "Nayarit," after this legendary personage, despite the inquisitorial condemnation.
Location. The present territory of the Cora is bounded on the north by the state of Durango; on the east by the mestizo communities of San Juan Peyotán, Santa Rosa, Ejido de Higuera Gorda, and Huaynamota, and the Huichol community of San Andrés Cohamiata; on the south by the right bank of the river formed by the rivers Jesús María and Chapalanga as they join before they discharging into the Río Santiago; and on the west by the coastal plain of Nayarit. The region that the Cora occupy has an area of 4,912 square kilometers. The majority of their territory is within the Sierra of Nayarit, a place that is mountainous and without level ground except for the Valley of Huajimic and regions around Camotlán and Santa Teresa. The Sierra of Nayarit is a mountain complex that runs from 21°30′ to 23°00′ N. The Cora inhabit lands with elevations ranging from 460 to 2,500 meters above sea level. Their territory is made hospitable in the south by the waters of the Río Santiago, in the east by those of the Río Jesús María, and in the north by those of the Río San Pedro.
The Cora live primarily in ten communities located in three municipios: El Nayar, Rosa Morada, and Acaponeta, all in the state of Nayarit. Four of these communities—Jesús María, Mesa del Nayar, Santa Teresa, and San Francisco—are the most important. The other six—San Lucas, Saycota, San Blasito, Rosarito, San Juan Corapan, and San Pedro Ixcatán—are of lesser importance and surround the primary communities.
Demography. When the Spanish arrived, small groups of Cora were scattered throughout the mountains. How many Cora there were at that time is unknown. At the end of the fourteenth century, there were between 2,500 and 3,000. The population rose to 6,242 in 1960 and to 7,043 in 1970. The 1990 census registered 11,434 Cora living in Nayarit and 489 living in other states.
Linguistic Affiliation. Cora is a member of the Uto-Aztecan Language Family. When the Spanish arrived in Nayarit, the following languages were being spoken: Zayahueco, Totorame, Tecual, Tecualme, Tecoxquin (also spelled Tecosquin), Coano, Cora, Huichol, and Tepehuán. Most of these languages have since disappeared; only the Cora, Huichol, and Tepehua, mountain people who entrenched themselves in the highlands, have retained their indigenous languages.
History and Cultural Relations
Along the coastal plain of Nayarit in the sixteenth century, the Spanish conquerors encountered a series of petty domains of greater or lesser influence, among which Aztátlan, Centícpac, and Tzapotzingo were the most prominent. The ruling town of these domains was on the coast and was in the hands the Totorame. Nevertheless, the domain of Aztátlan had incorporated some of the villages belonging to the Cora and the Zayahueco. The domain of Centícpac had also succeeded in dominating several Cora and Zayahueco villages and turning them into tributaries.
The people of the mountains, who needed to obtain salt from the coast, came down from time to time to trade for salt, fish, and meat. They brought with them maize, beans, sotol wine, honey, wax, deer and wild-pig skins, precious feathers, and caged birds.
Because of the need for salt, the Cora fell under the power of the Spanish, who set up garrisons at the points where the salt routes descended from the mountains. Among the salt fields were those of Olita (near the present town of Acaponeta), where the Cora provisioned themselves with this valued commodity. Under the pressure of Spanish control of the trade routes, the Cora decided in 1721 to appeal to the viceroy of New Spain, Baltasar de Zúñiga, Marquis of Valero. Led by Chief Tonati of the Mesa del Nayar, a delegation proposed to the viceroy that the Indians would accept the rule of the Spanish Crown if the following conditions were met: Cora rights to their lands and their native government would be respected from then on; the Spanish would also respect equivalent rights among the other natives of the Sierra; the Cora would not have to pay any more tribute; they would have free access to the towns of Acaponeta and Mexcaltítan to obtain salt, free of taxes; and all disputes and problems would be resolved by the viceroy alone.
After the return of the delegation, the Spanish seized Mesa del Nayar on 17 February 1722, and a new series of events unfolded. The Spanish established missions and forts at Santa Teresa in Cuaimaruzi and Santísima Trinidad on the Mesa. They also founded a string of villages along what was then called the "Frontier of San Luis Colotlan," within what is now the state of Jalisco. These villages were designed to support mining centers, such as Los Bolaños, from the attacks by the Coras-nayaritas, who still continued to oppose the Conquest. Included in this frontier were San Sebastián, San Andrés Cohamiata, and Santa Catarina, whose economic base was the salt trade. The Sierra was then fully incorporated into the colonial empire and became part of the Nuevo Reino de Toledo.
From the beginning, Jesuits spread Christianity among the Cora. The Jesuits were banished from New Spain by Charles III in 1767. After they left, the Franciscans were put in charge of evangelizing the Cora. The Franciscans retired from the region a hundred years later to escape the fighting set off by the War of Independence.
The mining centers of Bolaños and Zacatecas declined during the mid-nineteenth century. Mestizos from these regions moved into the Sierra to seize agricultural lands occupied by the Tepecano, Huichol, and Cora. In 1857 these seizures provoked an armed reaction by the Indians. Under the command of Manuel Lozada, Indians fought for their independence during the governments of Benito Juárez and Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada. Lozada was eventually defeated, and the Cora, Huichol, and Tepehuan returned to living in their closed Indian worlds.
In 1895 the ethnologist Carl Lumholtz surveyed the Sierra Madre Occidental and noted the land conflicts set off by the mestizo land grabbing.
On 25 August 1939 the municipio of El Nayar, containing a large majority of Cora, was created, with its capital at Jesús María. In 1962 the Franciscans returned to continue the work of evangelization. Led by a missionary bishop over the Cora, Huichol, and Tepehuan area, they worked at rebuilding the eighteenth-century churches. The Instituto Nacional Indigenista entered the region in 1967. They set up the first medical service among the Cora, organized bilingual assistant extension workers, and implemented national action programs to aid the Indians.
Current relations between the Cora and their Huichol and Tepehuan neighbors are cordial up to a point, generally the point at which land claims are disputed. On the other hand, land claims are a constant problem between Cora and mestizos.
The Cora settlement pattern is generally dispersed. Only in the principal towns of San Francisco, Jesús María, Mesa del Nayar, Santa Rosa, Santa Teresa, Presidio de los Reyes, San Juan Corapan, El Rosarito, Dolores, San Blasito, and Santa Cruz can one find a concentration of houses. These towns are actual civil-ceremonial centers, whose inhabitants also have residences in the countryside. The most important buildings in these centers are a court house (juzgado ), a casa real (an administrative building), schools, a church, and a ramada (a covered area where religious dances and ceremonies are held).
The most permanent town is Jesús María, the capital of the municipio of El Nayar. It hosts municipio and native governments, and a number of mestizo families live there. Jesús María is divided into four barrios, in which membership is inherited patrilinealy. The inhabitants of each barrio have a collective name.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The bases of the Cora economy are agriculture and cattle raising. In the lower lands, maize is the main crop. In much smaller proportions, black beans, squashes, watermelons, cucumbers, melons, sugarcane, sweet potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, and chili peppers are also grown. The higher elevations support only maize and small quantities of black beans and squashes. Among the fruit crops are pears, apples, and figs.
Some plants—such as nopal (an edible cactus), mesquite, huamúchil (Pithecollobium dulce, a tree with edible seeds), tuna (the fruit of the nopal), gourds, and wild plums—are gathered wild. Cora also use wood from the forests.
The abundant pastures in the mountains have permitted the development of livestock raising. Historical accounts of the Cora since the eighteenth century allude to mules, horses, cows, donkeys, sheep, and goats. There has been an increase in animal husbandry since 1975 because of the availability of credit to farmers. Mestizo buyers from the surrounding areas have encouraged the Cora to turn to livestock raising.
Fishing is a secondary economic activity and source of food. Fish are trapped in rivers and gullies. Among the species caught are robalo, bagre, trout, mojarra, enterrador, pescado cuchara, and "burrito," as well as shrimp and turtles.
Today hunting is solely a ritual activity. Deer, wild pigs, and iguanas are hunted with bows and arrows.
Cora also leave their homes temporarily for farms on the coast, the highlands of Nayarit, Jalisco, or Zacatecas in order to work as day laborers in planting and harvesting various crops.
Industrial Arts. Today handicrafts provide a sizable income. Objects that once had a purely ritual or household use are being made for sale. Cora artisans produce woolen blankets and woolen or cotton bags embroidered with geometrical animal, plant, flower, or ritual designs. They also make items from woven maguey fiber, fashion pottery, and make fine products from deer and wild-pig pelts.
The Cora prefer to sell their handicrafts outside the Sierra in order to take advantage of better prices. For this reason, they journey to Tepic, the capital of the state of Nayarit; in many cases, however, the cost of the travel uses up the increased revenue gained from the better prices.
Trade. Commercial transactions are carried out with cash, on account, or in anticipation of future deliveries. Mestizos like to bring mules to the Cora, who value them highly, and trade them for cattle. The trade is usually two cows for one mule; a single large cow, however, may be traded for a mule. Cattle are also traded for bolts of muslin, metates (grinding stones), saddles, plastic ware, and other manufactured items. Simply put, most of the trading is to the advantage of the outsider.
Agricultural production is primarily for home consumption; part of the harvest is sold, not only when there is a surplus, but also in times of scarcity, if the family needs money for medicines or clothes.
Division of Labor. The labor of an entire family is needed for agriculture and cattle raising. At 7 or 8 years of age, boys begin to work at planting and harvesting. Girls help their mothers with household tasks. Some Cora families are polygynous. In these cases, one wife takes care of the household while the other works with the husband in the fields.
Land Tenure. Land is held communally. It cannot be bought or sold. A family has rights over the land that it works. Land can be rented to outsiders, but this is viewed with suspicion. Orchards can be inherited. The house and its furnishings are private property belonging to adults.
Kinship, Marriage, and Family
Kinship Terminology. The Cora have a Hawaiian type of kinship nomenclature.
Marriage. Marriage is forbidden with lineal kin, with persons who have the same last name, with godparents, and with the family of godparents. Marriage between first cousins is rare and looked down upon. The predominant form of marriage is monogamy, although sororal polygyny does occur from time to time.
Domestic Unit. The basis of the household is the nuclear family. It is extended by including the wives of recently married sons and grandchildren, with or without their parents.
Socialization. Informal education begins at an early age. Girls learn domestic duties from their mother or grandmother. From the age of 7 or 8, boys learn adult skills by helping their fathers in the fields. Boys who are 5 years old are initiated during the Holy Week celebrations.
Social Organization. High status is accorded shamans, elders, and officials. During most of the year, the small settlements (rancherías ), formed of extended-family households, operate independently. At special ritual times, they meet in the municipio capital, which functions as a governmental and ceremonial center. These gatherings take place at New Year, the time of the Changing of the Staffs (symbols of authority); during Carnival; during Holy Week; and for the mitotes (see "Ceremonies").
Political Organization. The four largest communities are governed by their own native authorities—generally called principales —who are elected locally by the community. For example, in Jesús María the principales are the gobernador, the teniente, the alcalde, centuriones, the tenanche mayor, the primer mayordomo, the mayordomo grande, two judges, fiscales, alguaciles, justicias or ministros, and topiles. The Cora gobernador has both civil and religious duties. In performing the latter, he is advised by the básta'a (Cora: "old man") and the tenanche mayor, who also directs the mayordomos. For each saint, there are two mayordomos. Each mayordomo is assisted by a tenanche. The pasoniles coordinate the work of the tenanches. The offices in this traditional civil-religious hierarchy are unpaid. Jesús María, being the capital of the municipio of El Nayar, also has a municipio president.
Social Control. The Cora have a system of common law. When the infraction is not serious, it is judged by the traditional Indian authorities; when it is serious, it is judged in the municipio capital or in Tepic, the capital of Nayarit.
Conflict. The greatest conflict is with the mestizos in the surrounding areas. Rich mestizo ranchers displace and exploit Indians. They invade Indian pastures and fields by taking advantage of poorly defined deeds. Mestizos pasture their animals on Indian communal land and go as far as planting crops on them without paying rent to the Indians. The Cora forests are also cut by "rapamontes " ("forest rapists"), without compensation to the legitimate Cora owners.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. All Cora life revolves around religion. Humans must cooperate with the gods in order to maintain the order of the cosmos. One seeks the gifts of nature from the water, the wind, the sun, the moon, and the fire, in order to survive, as the Cora have always done, by eating the sacred plant, maize.
There are many places of worship, primarily caves, mountains, promontories, glades, lakes, springs, and rivers. One could describe Cora religion as a pre-Hispanic cult with an overlay of eighteenth-century Catholicism, including baptism, the worship of saints, and a ritual calendar.
The Indians feel that the gods are directly related to them. Cora gods are typically equated with Catholic sacred figures. For example Taya'u, "Father," is at the same time God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Burial, the Sun, and Fire. The great celebration of this god is Easter.
Tatí, "Mother" is the earth goddess of fertility. She lives in the Pacific Ocean, to the west, from where she sends the rains. She is equated with the Virgin of the Rosary and the Virgin of Candelmas. Tahás Suravéh, "Big Brother," is the morning star and is equated with Saint Michael. Other gods are Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Fire.
The major shine of the Cora, Thoakamota, is located on the Mesa del Nayar. For centuries the rituals of the Sun have been held there. The first fruits of harvest are also offered there.
Religious Practitioners. Shamans are religious specialists and religious leaders. They communicate with the gods through songs.
Ceremonies. Except for curing, Cora religious rituals involve the whole community and are led by special authorities. There are both Catholic and indigenous rituals. The latter, called mitotes, have a pre-Hispanic origin and are carefully separated from the Catholic rituals. Indigenous rituals are performed to ask for the fertility of the fields. On other occasions, the Cora give thanks for the gifts received. The mitotes are closely tied to the cycle of maize cultivation. Although the most important mitotes are held in the communities, they may also be held in rancherías.
The most important Catholic ceremonies are New Year, Carnival, Easter, and Christmas. During New Year, the Cora hold the ritual of Changing the Staffs, which was introduced by the Spanish as a means of rotating the individuals in authority each year.
Easter is a very important festival. The Christian concept of Easter, introduced by Spanish missionaries during the eighteenth century, was reinterpreted by the Cora and put into a format that was purely indigenous. In order to teach the Passion of Christ to the Cora, the missionaries made use of dances and music that were originally part of puberty initiation and fertility ceremonies associated with spring. In the two centuries that have passed since then, Christian and indigenous concepts have been blended to form the modern Easter ritual. In other cases, indigenous ideas were hidden by expressing them with Christian symbols.
Medicine. Curers treat those suffering from illness, whether the cause is natural or supernatural. Supernatural illnesses are sent by the gods when they feel neglected or when a ritual has not been performed properly for them. Illness may also be sent by dead kin lonely for the company of their living relatives. Sorcery can also produce supernatural illness. The curer diagnoses the cause of a supernatural illness through dreams or songs. The treatments consist of cleansing the sufferer with sacred feathers, sucking small objects from the affected areas, massages, or blowing tobacco smoke on the patient from a clay-and-cane pipe. Natural illnesses are cured with herbs and occasionally in combination with the aforementioned methods.
Death and Afterlife. After death, the body is laid on a blanket or sleeping mat facing the door of the house. Four candles are lit and placed at the four corners of the body. The feet face the door to indicate that the deceased will be leaving permanently. A shaman is sought to pray to the dead person and seek his or her well-being in the other life. A vigil is kept for five days, during which prayers are said. The body is buried with various personal possessions: clothes, hat, sandals, poncho, and drinking gourd.
On the fifth day, a ceremony literally called Chasing the Dead is held. The aim of this ritual is to get rid of the dead soul. An altar is erected, on which foods such as tortillas, tamales, cheese, and fruits are placed. A change of clothing and a poncho are placed at the side of this altar. The shaman prays for several hours, calling to the spirit of the dead person. The spirit is slow to arrive. Finally, in the middle of the night, it arrives in the form of a flying insect. It enters the house, lights on the shaman's sacred feathers, and then flies toward the altar with the food and clothing. The gathered friends and family rise and accompany the soul as it leaves the house. They say good-bye to it outside the house and express the idea that it will never return.
It is believed that the soul ordinarily goes to a round mountain covered with caves, to the northwest of the Cora territory. On the other hand, the souls of mestizos and badly behaved Cora go directly to a hell below the earth or sea.
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Anguiano, Marina (1992). Nayarit: Costa y altiplanicie en el momento del contacto. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas.
González Ramos, Gildardo (1972). Los coras. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional Indigenista.
Grimes, Joseph E., and Thomas B. Hinton (1969). "The Huichol and Cora." In Handbook of Middle American Indians, edited by Robert Wauchope. Vol. 8, Ethnology, Part Two, edited by Evon Z. Vogt, 792-813. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Hinton, Thomas B. (1964). "The Cora Village: A Civil-Religious Hierarchy in Northern Mexico." In Culture Change and Stability: Essays in Memory of Olive Ruth Barker and George C. Barker, Jr., edited by Ralph C. Beals, 44-62. Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Anthropology.
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MARINA ANGUIANO AND ENRIQUETA M. OLGUIN
(Translated by James W. Dow)