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The Otomi (/ˌtəˈm/; Spanish: Otomí [otoˈmi]) are an indigenous people of Mexico inhabiting the central Mexican Plateau (Altiplano) region.

Hñähñu, Hñähño, Ñuhu, Ñhato, Ñuhmu
Arrieros acazulco.JPG
Otomi dancers from San Jerónimo Acazulco, Mexico state performing the traditional danza de los arrieros
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Mexico: Hidalgo, EdoMex, Querétaro, Puebla, Veracruz, San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, Tlaxcala, Michoacán
Primary: Otomi; second: Spanish
Predominantly Roman Catholic and animism; minority: Protestantism and Judaism
Related ethnic groups
Mazahua, Pame, Chichimeca Jonaz, Matlatzinca
A Hñähñu (Mezquital Otomi) speaker


The two most populous groups are:

  • Highland (or Sierra) Otomí, living in the mountains of La Huasteca. They usually self-identify as Ñuhu or Ñuhmu, depending on the dialect they speak.
  • Mezquital Otomí, living in the Mezquital Valley in the eastern part of the state of Hidalgo, and in the state of Querétaro. They self-identify as Hñähñu ([ʰɲɑ̃ʰɲũ]).[1]
Otomi woman selling traditional Otomi embroidered cloths in Tequisquiapan

Smaller Otomi populations exist in the states of Puebla, Mexico, Tlaxcala, Michoacán and Guanajuato.[2] The Otomi language belonging to the Oto-Pamean branch of the Oto-Manguean language family is spoken in many different varieties, some of which are not mutually intelligible.

One of the early complex cultures of Mesoamerica, the Otomi were likely the original inhabitants of the central Mexican Altiplano before the arrival of Nahuatl speakers around c. 1000 CE, who replaced and marginalized them. However, the Otomi's nomadic lifestyle allowed them to easily adapt to different environments, avoid enemies and defend traditional lands and villages. In the early colonial New Spain period, Yųhmų Otomi of Tlaxcala helped the Spanish conquistadors as mercenaries and allies, allowing them to extend into territories such as Querétaro and Guanajuato, previously inhabited by semi-nomadic Chichimecs.

The Otomi traditionally worshipped the moon as their highest deity. Even in modern times, many Otomi populations practice shamanism and hold prehispanic beliefs such as Nagualism. Like most sedentary Mesoamerican peoples, Otomis traditionally subsisted on maize, beans and squash, but the maguey (century plant) was also an important cultigen used for production of alcohol (pulque) and fiber (henequen). Although the Otomi Indians rarely eat what Westerners would consider a balanced diet, they maintain reasonably good health by eating tortillas, drinking pulque, and eating most fruits available around them.[3] In 1943 to 1944, a report about a nutritional study about the Otomi villages located in the Mezquital Valley of Mexico, recorded that despite the arid climate and land unfit for agriculture without irrigation, the Otomi people chiefly depended on the production of maguey. Maguey (century plant) is used to produce weaving fibers and “pulque”, a fermented unfiltered juice that played an important part in the Otomi’s economy and nutrition. However, this practice has begun to decline due to its new large-scale production. The maguey plant was so heavily depended on that huts were constructed out of the plant's leaves. During this time, most of the region was vastly underdeveloped and most agriculture was low-yielding. Often densely settled areas would be confused as locations devoid of habitation, as dispersed dwellings are built low and concealed.[3]

The Otomi were blacksmiths and traded valuable metal items with other indigenous confederations, including the Aztec Triple Alliance. Their metal crafts included ornaments and weaponry, although metal weaponry was not as useful as obsidian weaponry (obsidian being sharper than a modern-day razor, abundant, and light in weight).


Some historians believe that the Otomi were the first inhabitants of the Valley of Mexico, nevertheless they were later expelled from the valley by the Tepanec in 1418.[4] The Otomi were one of various ethnic groups present within the city of Teotihuacán; one of the largest and most important cities of ancient Mexico. Around the year 1100 AD, Otomi-speaking peoples formed their capital city-state, Xaltocan. Xaltocan soon acquired power—enough power to demand tribute from nearby communities up until its subjugation. Thereafter, the Otomi kingdom was conquered during the 14th century by the Mexica and its alliances. The Otomi people then were subject to pay a tribute to the Triple-Alliance as their empire grew; subsequently, Otomi people resettled in lands to the east and south of their former territory. While some Otomi resettled elsewhere, other Otomi still resided near current-day Mexico City, but most settled in areas near the Mezquital Valley in Hidalgo, the highlands of Puebla, areas between Tetzcoco and Tulancingo, and as far as Colima and Jalisco.[5]

A sizable portion of the Otomi resided in the state of Tlaxcala. Although there are reports that Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés originally attacked and "annihilated the Otomis at Tecoac, who were destroyed completely",[6][7][8] they eventually joined forces with him when he fought the Aztec Triple-Alliance, eventually defeating it. This allowed the ixtenco Otomi or (Yųhmų) to once again expand. They founded the City of Querétaro and settled in many towns in the state now known as Guanajuato. The Hñähñu Otomi of Mezquital maintained a state of war upon the Spanish and their ixtenco otomi allies with records indicating that the hñähñu resisted assimilation and maintained nomadic raiding parties that attacked any Spanish settlement within hidalgo maintaining a state of war that lasted until the first silver mines were opened The ixtenco otomi allegiance with the Spanish led to many converting to Roman Catholicism, but they also held onto their ancient customs. While being colonized, the ixtenco Otomi language was dispersed to various other states such as Guanajuato, Querétaro, that included the states of Puebla, Veracruz, with Michoacán and Tlaxcala, where most remained farmers. In the Mezquital Valley a traditional homeland to the Otomi , the terrain was not well suited for farming as the land was dry so many Otomi people hired each other as laborers and relied heavily on the maguey-based drink, pulque. Originally, the Spanish banned the drink but soon attempted to manage a business through its production which led to the Otomi people solely using the drink for their own consumption. During Mexico’s War of Independence, the Otomi sided with the rebellion as they wanted their land back that was taken from them under the encomienda system.

Around 1940-50, government agencies had promised to assist the indigenous people by helping them gain access to better education and economic advancements but failed to do so. In turn, the people continued to farm and work as laborers within their minor subsistence economy within a larger capitalistic economy where the indigenous people was able to be exploited by those who are in control of the economy.[5] Since gaining independence, the Mexican government has adopted an adoring attitude towards the pre-Hispanic history and works of the Aztecs and Mayans; meanwhile, it has disregarded the living indigenous people, such as the Otomi who are depicted without the same prestige.[9] Until recently, the Otomi culture and people were not given much attention or focus until recent anthropologist began investigating their ancient way of life. As a result, the Mexican government has gone as far declaring themselves a pluricultural nation that serves to help many of its indigenous populations, like the Otomi. However, this has not been the case with scarce evidence proving that anything is done to truly help them.[5] Although many of the current descendants of the Otomi have begun to immigrate to other region, there is still a hint of their ancient culture present today. In certain parts of Mexico, such as Guanajuato and Hidalgo, prayer songs in Otomi are heard and elders share tales the youth who understand their native language. Despite this, very little attention has been placed on the Otomi culture, especially through education means where very little is discussed about any indigenous groups. Because of this, many Otomi descendants know very little about their own cultures history.[5]


The name Otomi is an exonym and comes from the Nahuatl otomitl, which is possibly derived from an older word totomitl "shooter of birds".[10] However, the Otomi refer to themselves as Hñähñú, Hñähño, Hñotho, Hñähü, Hñätho, Yųhų, Yųhmų, Ñųhų, Ñǫthǫ or Ñañhų, depending on which dialect of Otomi they speak.[10][11][cn 1] Most of the variant forms have two morphemes, meaning "speak" and "well" respectively.[12]

The word Otomi entered Spanish through Nahuatl and is used to describe the larger Otomi macroethnic group and the dialect continuum. From Spanish, the word Otomi has become entrenched in linguistic and anthropological literature. Among linguists, the suggestion has been made to change the academic designation from Otomi to Hñähñú, the endonym used by the Otomi of the Mezquital Valley, but no common endonym exists for all dialects of the language.[10][11][13]


An Otomi speaker, recorded in Peru
Otomi-speaking areas in Mexico

Otomi is in the Oto-Pamean languages family (which also includes Chichimeca Jonaz, Mazahua, Pame, Ocuilteco, and Matlatzinca). The family in turn belongs to the Oto-Manguean languages (with Amuzgoan, Chinantecan, Mixtecan, Otopamean, Popolocan, Tlapanecan, and Zapotec language families).

Main stage of the Otomi Ceremonial Center [es] (Otomi Cultural Center) in Temoaya, Mexico state

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ See Wright Carr (2005).
  2. ^ Lastra (2006)
  3. ^ a b Anderson, Richmond K.; Calvo, Jose; Serrano, Gloria; Payne, George C. (1946). "A Study of the Nutritional Status and Food Habits of Otomi Indians in the Mezquital Valley of Mexico". American Journal of Public Health and the Nation's Health. 36 (8): 883–903. doi:10.2105/ajph.36.8.883. PMC 1625980. PMID 18016399.
  4. ^ Zillges, Haleigh (2013). "The Genetic History Of The Otomi In The Central Mexican Valley". University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons: 7–8.
  5. ^ a b c d Fishman, Joshua A. (2001-01-01). Can Threatened Languages be Saved?: Reversing Language Shift, Revisited : a 21st Century Perspective. Multilingual Matters. ISBN 9781853594922.
  6. ^ Pritchard, Maria (2013). Genocide: A History from Carthage to Darfur. ISBN 9781909284272.
  7. ^ Singer, Gabrielle (30 November 2004). A Purple Bull. p. 68. ISBN 9780533148356.
  8. ^ Naimark, Norman M. (2017). Genocide: A World History. Oxford University Press. p. 42. ISBN 9780199765263.
  9. ^ Dow, James W. "The Sierra Ñähñu (Otomí)". Native Peoples of the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
  10. ^ a b c Lastra, Los Otomies, pp. 56–58.
  11. ^ a b Wright Carr, "Precisiones sobre el término 'otomí'".
  12. ^ Hekking & Bakker, "The Case of Otomí", p. 436.
  13. ^ Palancar, "Emergence of Active/Stative alignment in Otomi", p. 357.


  1. ^ See the individual articles for the terms in each dialect.

External linksEdit