- Stephanie Mendes
- BBC Travel
“This is the legacy of our people,” my uncle said as we looked at the pyramids. We weren’t in Egypt, we were in the city of Tjintzuntzan in the state of Michoacán in southwestern Mexico.
The pyramids -or yácatas- that rose before us were singularly round and made of volcanic stone; They are probably the most fragmented relics of the Puripechas, a pre-Hispanic tribal group that ruled here but most people have never heard of.
In fact, I had never heard of them until a few months ago when I found out AA direct derivativeA from them.
Born and raised in California, I grew up not knowing this part of my heritage because it disappeared from my family after my grandfather died in 1978. My grandmother had five children and no income, but after saving, she accompanied my father and his brothers to America in 1983.
Under assimilation pressure, my father became disconnected from our Purépecha culture, and recently, when I became curious about my identity, I began to question him about our past. So in 2021, at the age of 31, he brought me to Michoacán for the first time.
It was then that I met my uncle Israel, who revealed to me that not only were we Burebecha, but that my great-grandmother Juana was still alive and living in a small town called Uran.
When people think of Mexico before Hernán Cortés, they automatically think of the Aztecs. But what they didn’t know was that the Burepechas existed at the same time, and they were a powerful kingdom, and they were one of the only tribal groups in Mexico larger than the Aztecs. They failed to win.
In fact, people in Mexico know more about them, said Fernando Perez Montesinos, assistant professor of indigenous environmental history at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“This is a very common (way) to refer to the Purépechas and their history, but we know that the Purépechas were as powerful as the Aztecs,” he added, adding that the Aztecs tried to defeat the Purépechas on the battlefield. ., but they did not succeed.
“Take her to Batesquaro”
Standing tall and strong at forty meters tall, my Purapecha Periyamma is an old woman from the community and lives in a dilapidated building made of cement walls and humble staples.
He can speak one language Endangered. Of the estimated Mexican population of 128.9 million, only 175,000 speak Puripecha, and all of them live in the state of Michoacán.
Chatting in Juana’s kitchen, I took in everything I could: how she cooks without electricity or a stove; its rows of plates made of red terracotta clay; and the deep stone well in the center of the room, where he was preparing a large pot of nixtamol, corn kernels seasoned in a special way to make corn tortillas.
Excited by my newfound knowledge of my ancestry, I asked him where I could go to learn more about my Purépecha heritage. Stirring the food, he gave my uncle a look of authority as he said in Spanish, “Take her to Batzcuaro.”
A day later, we were with my uncle, aunts and cousins at the basin of Lake Patzcuaro, gazing in awe at these monuments our ancestors had built to honor deities like Kurigayuri, their sun god.
Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Purapechas dominated western Mexico with a population of over one million; Tzintzuntzan was its capital, where the irecha or ruler lived. The Aztecs, for their part, ruled central Mexico and the Burepecha Empire. prevented them to extend North and West.
According to Jahzeel Aguilera Lara, a geologist and researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, “The yácatas -‘hummingbirds’- of Tzintzuntzan are the best-preserved pyramidal structures in the region.
“In addition to learning about Purépecha public architecture, (visitors) come closer to the way the Purépecha understood the world and the importance they had to Lake Pátzcuaro.”
The Empire chose this area for a reason: the basin is home to a large lake with many habitable islands, abundant fish, and a lush landscape of pine-clad mountains. The area is so spectacular that the Purhebechas believe that the lake is a gateway to heaven.
“This is a very important part of the rise of the Puripecha in the pre-Hispanic state of our history,” said Sandra Gutierrez de Jesus, the indigenous Puripecha professor of Latin American and Chicano studies at California State University, Los Angeles.
“It was a scene of encounters and gastronomic, cultural and linguistic exchanges”.
But when the Spanish arrived at Lake Batescuaro between 1521 and 1522, they captured the ruler of Burepecha and forced him to abdicate the empire. However, as Pérez Montesinos explains, historians view this transition as more peaceful than the Aztec siege.
Purépecha people were granted more autonomy than their Aztec counterparts, and Purépecha elites continued to have influence and power over the region.
“Nothing can be done without the permission or authorization of the Purépecha elite,” Pérez Montesinos added:
“The traditional way of looking at things is that the Spanish came and did what they wanted, but what we know now is that the Spanish always had to do. Ask and negotiate Purépecha should be up there with the elite”.
He cites the Basilica of Our Health, built in 1540 in Batsquaro. “Conventional wisdom is that (Bishop) Vasco de Quiroca built that cathedral, but it was built by the hands of Purebecha,” Perez Montesinos said.
He explained that the Spanish did not have to use forced labor to build the cathedral because the Purépecha community agreed to cooperate and provide their manual labor.
“There is this dominant narrative that tries to minimize the achievements of the everyday Purépecha people, emphasizing that it was the Spanish monks who taught them to do these crafts, but faced with great challenges, the Purépecha incorporated new things into their lives. Original,” he said.
As we traveled across the state, I began to see a touch of burebecha in the architecture. Because Michoacán abounds in oak and pine, the Burebecha Empire specialized in wooden constructions; Its most notable buildings are traditional wooden houses The shed is calling.
After colonization, the Purépechas incorporated their crafts into the Spanish colonial infrastructure that remains throughout Michoacán today.
By maintaining so much autonomy, its three administrative centers of power—Tzintzuntzan, Pátzcuaro, and Ihuatzio—continued to be economic centers during the colonial period.
“I lived in Batzcuaro during my childhood and it is a very beautiful place to see the history of Burebecha, there is no other place like it,” my uncle told me.
As we arrived at the city’s Plaza Grande, every weekend in Pátzcuaro, the celebration of Purépecha culture was in full swing.
Some of the youth performed a traditional dance called Danza de los Vijitos. They were dressed in white, with colorful handmade serapes and straw hats covered in vibrant rainbow ribbons.
They walked around with canes and donned strange old human masks before breaking into a style of Mexican tap dance called zapetado.
This pre-Hispanic dance was originally performed by elders as part of a ritual pARa The Old GodsBut after the Purépecha settlement it was used to make fun of the Spanish, so the dancers dressed in comic masks when they faked their exaggerated old men.
Although the empire gained enormous power and left behind this incredible legacy, the Buraypecha Empire has largely fallen out of Mexican discourse, overshadowed by the Aztecs. “It has to do with the way Mexican nationalism emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries: everything is based on Mexico City, and the narrative of Mexican identity is often built around the heritage of the Aztecs,” Perez Montesinos said.
“Furthermore, as stories of battles, wars, and resistance against the Spanish abound, there is much more. An epic storyYou don’t have the same drama with purebechas”.
When I returned home from Michoane, I was a changed person with this new knowledge of my heritage, culture and traditions. I was so excited that six months later I returned to Mexico with my father and sat down with my great-grandmother to pick up where we left off.
“Can you teach me burebecha?” I asked. Juana pointed to my side and said, “She can teach you.” I turned around and realized he was pointing at my father.
“What? Can you speak Puripecha?” I asked in disbelief.
He smiled and said, “That was a long time ago, I knew before, not anymore.”
But Juana denied him: “You can teach him,” she said. “You never forget, this is our culture.”
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