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The Purépecha or Tarascans (endonym P'urhépecha [pʰuˈɽepet͡ʃa]) are a group of indigenous people centered in the northwestern region of Michoacán, Mexico, mainly in the area of the cities of Cherán and Pátzcuaro.

MuestraIndumentaria 2015 53.JPG
Purépecha children at the 2015 Muestra de Indumentaria Tradicional de Ceremonias y Danzas de Michoacán
Total population
141,177[1] (2015 census)
Regions with significant populations
Purépecha, Mexican Spanish
Roman Catholicism Purépecha religion

They are also known by the pejorative exonym Tarascan.

The Purépecha occupied most of Michoacán but also some of the lower valleys of both Guanajuato and Jalisco. Celaya, Acámbaro, and Yurirapúndaro. Now, the Purépecha live mostly in the highlands of central Michoacán, around Lakes Pátzcuaro and Cuitzeo.



It was one of the major empires of the Pre-Columbian era. The capital city was Tzintzuntzan. Purépecha architecture is noted for step pyramids in the shape of the letter "T". Pre-Columbian Purépecha artisans made feather mosaics that extensively used hummingbird feathers, which were highly regarded as luxury goods throughout the region.

The Purépecha were never conquered by the Aztec Empire, in fact there is no record of the Aztecs ever defeating them in battle. This was most likely due to the presence of metal ores within their empire, and their knowledge of metallurgy,which was far superior to that of the Aztecs[1]; such skills have persisted in their descendants and are still widely regarded today, particularly their coppersmithing. Even though they were enemies with the Aztecs, the Aztecs still traded with them, mainly for metal tools and weapons.

Fishermen in Lake Pátzcuaro

After hearing of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire and having the native population much diminished by an epidemic of smallpox, the cazonci Tangaxuan II pledged his allegiance as a vassal of the King of Spain without a fight in 1525. It is believed that the Spanish conquistador Cristóbal de Olid, upon arriving in the Tarascan State, now in present-day Michoacán, explored some parts of Guanajuato in the early 1520s. A legend relates of a 16- or 17-year-old Purépecha, Princess Erendira, who led her people into a fierce war against the Spanish. Using stolen Spanish horses, her people learned to ride into battle. In 1529 to 1530, the Spanish forces entered Michoacán and some parts of Guanajuato with an army of 500 Spanish soldiers and more than 10,000 Indian warriors.

Then, in 1530, the president of the Real Audiencia, Nuño de Guzmán, a conquistador notorious for his ruthlessness and brutality towards the natives, plundered the region and executed Tangaxuan II, destroying the Purépecha State and provoking a chaotic situation and widespread violence. In 1533, the Crown sent an experienced nhmobuio ioOidor (Judge of the Audiencia) and later bishop, Don Vasco de Quiroga, who managed to establish a lasting colonial rule. The lands of the Purépecha was subjected to serious deforestation during the Spanish Colonial period. [2]


Many traditions live on, including the Jimbani Uexurhina (New Year), which is celebrated on February 2. It has both traditional indigenous and Catholic elements. The community lights a fire, called the chijpiri jimbani or "new fire," as part of a ceremony that honors the four elements. Mass is also celebrated in the Purhépecha language.


A bilingual Purepécha/Spanish school in the Purépecha community of Janitzio, Michoacán

The Purépecha language is spoken by nearly 200,000 people in Michoacán. Since Mexico's 2000 indigenous language law, indigenous languages like Purépecha were granted official status equal with Spanish in the areas in which they are spoken. Recently, educational instruction in Purépecha has been introduced in the local school systems. Additionally, many Purépecha communities offer classes and lessons in the language.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Purépecha". 26 December 2016.
  2. ^ "Research paper" (PDF).

External linksEdit