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

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



The two most populous groups are:

  • the Highland (or Sierra) Otomí, living in the mountains of La Huasteca
    • Sierra Otomí usually self-identify as Ñuhu or Ñuhmu, depending on the dialect they speak
  • the Mezquital Otomí, living in the Mezquital Valley in the eastern part of the state of Hidalgo, and in the state of Querétaro.
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, but gradually they were replaced and marginalized by Nahua peoples. In the early colonial New Spain period, Otomi speakers helped the Spanish conquistadors as mercenaries and allies, which allowed them to extend into territories that had previously been inhabited by semi-nomadic Chichimecs, for example Querétaro and Guanajuato.

The Otomi traditionally worshipped the moon as their highest deity, and even into modern times many Otomi populations practice shamanism and hold prehispanic beliefs such as Nagualism. Otomies traditionally subsisted on maize, beans and squash as most Mesoamerican sedentary peoples, but the maguey (century plant) was also an important cultigen used for production of alcohol (pulque) and fiber (henequen). The Otomi were blacksmiths and would trade valuable metal items with other indigenous confederations, including the Aztec Triple Alliance. Some of their metal crafts included ornaments and weoponary; although metal weaponry was not as useful as obsidian weaponry, obsidian is sharper than a modern-day razor, abundant, and light in weight.


The name Otomi is an exonym and comes from the Nahuatl otomitl, which is possibly derived from an older word totomitl "shooter of birds".[3] 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.[3][4][cn 1] Most of the variant forms have two morphemes, meaning "speak" and "well" respectively.[5]

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.[3][4][6]


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 c Lastra, Los Otomies, pp. 56–58.
  4. ^ a b Wright Carr, "Precisiones sobre el término 'otomí'".
  5. ^ Hekking & Bakker, "The Case of Otomí", p. 436.
  6. ^ Palancar, "Emergence of Active/Stative alignment in Otomi", p. 357.


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

External linksEdit