"the old lands of the Chichimeca where the priests had passed and soldiers passed and the missions fallen into mud"
Carlos Rios - Tohono O'odham chief (c. 1907)
Public DomainCarlos Rios - Tohono O'odham chief (c. 1907) - Credit: Edward S. Curtis

Chichimeca was the name the Aztecs gave to a wide range of semi-nomadic peoples who inhabited the north of modern-day Mexico and the southwestern U.S. The term was later adopted by the Spanish and came to carry the same sense as barbarian.

Many of the peoples called Chichimeca are virtually unknown today, having been absorbed into the general population. Almost nothing is known about the peoples referred to as Guachichiles, Caxcanes, Zacatecos, Tecuexes, or Guamares. Others like the Opata are well described but largely extinct as a people. Other ‘Chichimeca’ peoples maintain a separate identity into the present day, such as the Otomies, Chichimeca Jonaz, Coras, Huicholes, Pames, Yaqui, Mayos, O'odham and the Tepehuánes.

In Mexican Spanish, the word ‘Chichimeca’ remains connected to an image of ‘savagery’, inherited from the original Spanish settlers who presumably found it morally less problematic to enslave and exploit a people they considered little more than primitive savages. This negative portrayal intensified after the Chichimeca attempted to reclaim their independence during the Mixtón Rebellion and the Chichimeca War in the 16th century . The Jesuit missionaries experienced some success in converting some of the tribes to Christianity, and eventually many Chichimecas were encouraged to adopt a more sedentary, agriculture-based lifestyle. Within decades, most had been assimilated into the Spanish and Indian mestizo culture.


Cora men and women
Public DomainCora men and women - Credit: Carl S. Lumholtz
Tepehuáne family
Public DomainTepehuáne family - Credit: Carl S. Lumholtz