LA HUASTECA is a geographical and cultural region located in Mexico
along the Gulf of
Mexico which includes parts of the states of
Puebla , Hidalgo ,
San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí ,
Querétaro , and
Guanajuato . It is roughly defined as the area in
Huastec people had influence when their civilization was at
its height in the
Mesoamerican period. Today, the Huastecs occupy only
a fraction of this region with the
Nahua people now the most numerous
indigenous group. However, those who live in the region share a number
of cultural traits such as a style of music and dance, along with
religious festivals such as Xantolo.
* 1 Geography and environment
* 2 History
* 3 Indigenous peoples
* 4 Climate
* 5 Culture
* 6 Economy
* 7 References
* 8 Bibliography
GEOGRAPHY AND ENVIRONMENT
Tamasopo waterfall in
San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí . Landscape near
Jalpan de Serra in
Historically and ethnically, the
La Huasteca region is defined by the
area dominated by the Huastecs at their height. The actual extension
of the region is somewhat disputed as well as how it should be
sub-divided. Geographically it has been defined as from the Sierra
Madre Oriental to the Gulf of
Mexico with the Sierra de
the north border and the
Cazones River as the south. It extends over
the south of Tamaulipas, the southeast of San Luis Potosí, the
Querétaro and Hidalgo and the extreme north of Veracruz
Puebla and a very small portion of
Guanajuato over an area of
To the north and east there are relative flatlands. To the south
there are hills of calcified sand.
Basalt from old lava flows
penetrate the primarily sedimentary rock from the west and appear with
wind and water erosion. The higher mountain areas to the west often
have tall peaks in capricious forms with steep slopes and eight fast
running rivers. Highways in the region tend to be small and winding,
especially in the higher elevations in
San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo.
Most of these river eventually empty into either the Pánuco or the
Cazones River with the zone belonging to the Pánuco, Tuxpan and
Cazones River basins, all of which empty into the Gulf of Mexico. As
much of the rock is easily eroded, the mountain areas are filled with
caves and other underground openings. The best known of this is the
Sótano de las Golandrinas (Cave of Swallows) just north of
It is famous for the large number of birds (swifts and green parrots,
not swallows) that emerge from the opening in the morning. It is also
a site for base-jumping down the sink’s 372-meter depth. The birds
return en masse again at nightfall. Many of the rivers run clear or
turquoise blue in deep ravines or canyons and form waterfalls. The
tallest of these is the Tamil, which is 300 meters wide and 105 meters
tall. It joins the waters of the Gallinas River with those of the
Santa Maria to form the Tampaon River. Another important waterfall is
the Tamasopo and at the Nacimiento del Río Huichihuayán (Source of
the Huichihuayán River) near the village of the same name, the water
comes out of the mountains, forming pools large enough for swimming.
It is one of the most bio-diverse regions in Mexico, with over 2,000
species of plants. This diversity also extends into agricultural
crops with local corn varieties resistant to drought. This area is
mostly dominated by tropical rainforest , some of which is still
semi-virgin with a hot humid climate with some areas of pine-holm oak
forest in the highest elevations and arid bush and grassland in a few
isolated areas. Tropical forests have species such as kapok , cedar,
ebony and more with palms more common on the coastline. Tall growth
perennial rainforest dominates in the states of Hidalgo and Veracruz
with medium grown semi deciduous rainforest in San Luis Potosí. It
also has a large number of species of algae, more diverse and of
different types than those found in other parts of Mexico. It is also
rich in wildlife such as parrots, macaws , spider monkeys , owls,
eagles, toucans , deer, jaguar , wild boar and raccoons with various
species of reptiles and insects.
The main city in the SLP section is
Ciudad Valles , founded by Nuño
Beltran de Guzmán in 1533. The most important city in the Hidalgo
portion is Huejutla . Other important population centers include
Tamazunchale and Chicontepec.
One section of the
La Huasteca is called the
Sierra Gorda , which is
centered on northern Querétaro, but extends into Hidalgo and
Huastec is derived from the Spanish Huasteca which is derived from
Nahuatl word for the ethnicity Kuextlan. The Huastecs were the
Mesoamerican group on the Gulf coast, and their contact
Chichimeca led to Aridoamerican influences in their culture.
The pre-Hispanic sculpture of the region is distinct, with well-known
pieces such as the "Adolescente de Tamuín" and the goddess of life
Tlazolteotl . Traditionally crops here have been corn,
beans, squash, various chili peppers and tubers such as yucca ,
camotes and jicamas . However, gathering of wild foods played a more
important role here in the
Mesoamerican period, especially roots,
small chili peppers and a fruit (
Brosimum alicastrum ) as well as fish
from lakes, rivers and ocean. The production of salt was important at
The Huastecs are probably what remain of Mayan expansion northward up
Veracruz coast but were "left behind" after other Mayan groups
retreated south and east. The Huastecs began to be culturally
dominant in their region between 750 and 800 CE after
El Tajín waned.
From then to the 15th century, they expanded their territory and
influence from the Tuxpan River to the Pánuco with most settlements
along the banks of the Huayalejo-Tamesí River, along the northern
Veracruz and southern
Tamaulipas coast and west into the Sierra Madre
Oriental . The culture was influential even farther west into northern
Querétaro, and there may have been Huastec settlements into what is
now northern Puebla. Notable settlements include El Tamuín in San
Luis Potosí, Yahualica and Huejutla in Hidalgo, Tzicóaxc on the
Puebla border as well as Tuxpan, Temapache, Pánuco, and
Tanhuijo in Veracruz.
Although the Huastecs built small cities and ceremonial centers, they
never reached the size and complexity of others in Mesoamerica. The
northern areas were constantly threatened by the Chichimeca, which may
be the origin for the traditional “Comanche” dance found in the
region. In the Post classic, Huastec territory began to shrink. In
the west and south of their territory, there were enclaves of Nahuas,
Tepehuas, Totonacs and Otomis . The Totonacs and Tepehuas in the
region probably arrived around the same time as the Huastecs. The
Otomis and Nahuas arrived later but the time line for these migrations
is disputed. One Nahua incursion occurs in 800 CE related to Tula and
the other due to the expansion of the
Aztec Empire . The Aztecs
conquered from the south and west to an area they called Chicoaque or
Tzicoac in 1458, which was probably the area which is now Mesa de
Cacahuatengo in the municipality of
Ixhuatlán de Madero .
The first Spanish contact with the Huasteca region was in 1518, when
ships explored the Pánuco River area. After the Conquest , Gonzalo
de Sandoval burned alive about 460 nobles and chiefs in the region and
captured about 20,000 natives to sell as slaves in the
Antilles . The
first evangelists in the area were the Franciscans around 1530, with
the Augustinians arriving in 1533, with the first large efforts in
Puebla and Chicontepec. The area initially was under the
Bishopric of Tlaxcala. But evangelization was slow, with period
documents indicating that most pagan beliefs had not been extinguished
well into the colonial period. One hundred and thirty encomiendas were
created in the region which lasted most of the 16th century and in
some cases into the 17th. Spanish dominance in the coastal areas
depopulated it of most indigenous people, with the Huastecs retreating
Tamaulipas to Panúco and
Tamaulipas and with many dying in
the war and from disease. The introduction of cattle into the flat
areas prompted the Spanish to force the relocation of many indigenous
groups in the area, sometimes with violence. Not all attempts to
relocate indigenous groups were successful. There were notable
failures in Hidalgo. However, its overall success managed to divide
the region into new political units. Spanish policies and economic
conditions forced many of the natives here to crowd together in
certain areas, with Huastecs and Nahuas together in Ozuluama,
Tantoyuca, Tamiahua and Tuxpan, and Nahuas and Otomis in Chicontepec
and Huejutla. The new political units brought in other indigenous
groups not normally part of the Huasteco, such as the Pames in the
Sierra Gorda of Querétaro.
The Spanish then introduced African slaves into the area. While the
indigenous populations made something of a comeback in Hidalgo and San
Luis Potosí, this did not happen in Veracruz. In the later colonial
period, most Huastec communities were populated by mestizos ,
especially along the
Tamaulipas coast. Today, the
Huastec ethnicity is found only along a narrow strip extending from
Querétaro to far north of
Veracruz near Tamiahua.
During the colonial period, the region was divided into five
provinces called “alcaldías mayores”:
Huayacocotla-Chichontepec, Pánuco-Tampico, Huejutla and Yahualica.
In the 19th century, most of the local leaders were chosen by charisma
and political skill, rather than by lineage, although elder councils
were still important in most indigenous communities. By the beginning
of the 19th century, the use of elections to choose leaders began to
be used, but with candidates chosen by the elite. The first municipal
elections in the region were held in Chicontepec and Ixhuatlan in
From the first taking of land for cattle in the colonial period to
the present, land struggles have been an important part of the
region’s history. In the 18th century, there were various uprisings
in the region such as in Ilamatlán in 1750 and Huayacocotla in 1784
in response to higher taxes and takings of land. In the mid 17th
century, a system of serfdom by debt began that would reach its height
in the 19th, involving indigenous, mestizo and negro peoples. During
the 17th century however, some peoples were able to take possession of
land under a communal scheme, declaring it the property of the Virgin
Mary or of a saint to keep landholders and political chiefs from
taking it. From the second half of the 17th century to the first half
of the 18th, there was a consolidation of haciendas with between 21
and 25 by 1790, about eighty cattle ranches and twenty three
indigenous communities. At the end of the 18th century, records
indicate that ninety percent of the population was Spanish, mestizo or
mixed African descent, mostly in Chicontepec, Huayacocotla, Ixhuatlan
and Xochioloco. Coffee was introduced to the mountain areas in the
19th century. Land and other agrarian conflicts have continued to the
present day with local elections based on land use issues.(focus) The
discovery of oil in northern
Veracruz has led to an area called the
Faja de Oro (Gold belt) extending from Chicontepec to the Gulf coast.
It has also caused environmental damage and made subsistence farming
difficult to impossible in many areas. Conflicts have even led to the
formation of armed groups such as the Ejercito Popular Revolucionario
in the latter 20th century. Despite brokered talks and disarming, the
region is conflictive, especially along the Hidalgo/
The major development of the 20th century in the
La Huasteca was the
development of roadways and other infrastructure to connect it with
the rest of the country. Until the latter 20th century, many of the
municipalities of the region did not have paved roads, with a few
still in this situation to this day. The highways and other roads in
this area have allowed for seasonal and permanent emigration out of
the area by younger generations looking for work. In the 20th
century, preschool and primary school were widely introduced into the
area. They have included various models of instruction including
bilingual and bicultural education. At higher levels, it has included
distance education for middle and high school. More recently, there
has been a push for especially technical education such as the
Tecnológico de Huejutla and the Universidad Comunitaria de la
Huasteca Norte. This has raised literacy rates as well as the ability
to speak Spanish among the indigenous. It has also caused cultural
changes as younger generations have access to information about the
The dream of creating the State Huasteco has been regarded as a
utopia for the governors of three states adjacent in century XX, who
are the main opponents to the project of creation of the federal
entity number 33 of the United Mexican States. For the next autumn,
the civilians seeking the means to integrate as a new entity,
indigenous communities, farmers and citizens directly and indirectly
apriban building project.
The main arguments are, the abandonment of the region by their state
governments, cultural and racial integration which was divided by the
region in the colonial and republican period. The reintegration of the
Huasteca is considered a historic debt that it has with the indigenous
peoples of the region.
Huastec language spoken today.
La Huasteca is home to six indigenous ethnic groups with over 250,000
speakers of various indigenous languages. About 70% speak
20% speak Huastec ; six percent speak Otomi and about three percent
speak Pame , Tepehua, and Totonac . The
Nahuatl speakers of La
Huasteca comprise over 27% of all
Nahuatl speakers in Mexico.
Indigenous communities continue to be mostly agricultural with the
growing of corn being most important. Other important aspects include
cattle, the processing of sugar cane and the growing of citrus as a
cash crop although most of this is under the control of mestizos.
While subject to municipal authorities, usually mestizo dominated,
they have their own internal political and economic systems as well.
The indigenous of the area face discrimination from the dominant
mestizos, who call themselves “gente de razón” (people of reason)
and the indigenous “compadritos” or “cuitoles” which is
similar to calling them children. Catholic influence in the region
has been limited since the colonial period, mostly restricted to major
towns and flat areas and less in the more rugged terrain. This has
allowed the indigenous of
La Huasteca to maintain more of their
traditions than those in other regions of Mexico.
Despite the fact that the large region is named after them, the
Huastec people today only occupy a fraction of it in a strip from
Querétaro east towards the north of Veracruz. The largest
Huastec communities are found in the mountain areas of Otontepec and
Tantoyuca in Veracruz, Tancanhuitz, Tanlajas and Aquismón in San Luis
Potosí. Huastecs are a Mayan people, whose language probably
separated about 3,000 years ago. Their presence is here is most likely
due to Mayan expansion north along the
Veracruz coast until sometime
between 1000 and 1500 CE, when they were forced back south, leaving
the Huastec group in the far north isolated.
The name Huastec comes from Nahuatl; the Huastec call themselves
Teenek. While the Huastec were the most northern Mesoamerican
culture, their culture is distinct from those in the Mexican Plateau,
which whom they had contact and from other Mayan groups. One reason
for this was their contact with the Chichimecas to the north, and
their isolation from other Mayan cultures. While the Huastecs managed
to spread their influence over a large territory, they never built
cities and ceremonial centers as large as in other parts of
Mesoamerica. One reason for this was that the
Chichimeca were a
constant threat. In the Post Classic period, Huastec territory shrank
due to incursions by Nahuas and Otomi in the south and west,
Aztec conquest of much of the territory by the early
16th century. This loss of land would continue into the Spanish
colonial period with mestizos coming to dominate the region,
especially in the
Tamaulipas coast areas.
Nahua communities and the
Nahuatl language are now the most dominant
indigenous influence in La Huasteca, especially in the south and west
of the region. The Nahuas dominate the southern part of
La Huasteca in
over fifty municipalities in San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo and Veracruz,
Calnali in Hidalgo,
Ixhuatlán de Madero and
Benito Juárez in Veracruz. It is likely that many of the Nahuas in
the south of La Huastecs are ethnic Huastecs whose language changed as
the area was dominated by the Nahuas. There are two main dialects of
Nahuatl spoken in the region. The Nahuas in the north of the region
share a number of cultural traits with the Huastec and those in the
south share traits with the Otomis and Tepehuas but all are considered
to be part of the same Nahua subgroup. The Huasteca Nahuas in Hidalgo
San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí have put effort into developing a shared identity
in the face of land and political struggles.
The Otomis were the first to conquer the southern part of La
Huastecas as they fled Nahua domination in their original home of the
Toluca Valley .
It is thought that the Totonacs and Tepehuas in the region date back
as far as the Huastecs. These people are found in the very far south
of the region and both were conquered by the incoming Otomi as well as
the Nahuas in the
The region is relative lowlands with a hot climate at the extreme
north of the Mexico’s tropical Gulf coast. Most of the region is
hot and humid with annual temperatures generally varying between 22
and 26C. The three most common Koppen classifications that appear here
are Am(f), Am and Am(w). Rainfall is generally abundant due to
moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. Rainfall amounts vary between 800
and 1600mm per year, depending on altitude and location from the
coast. However, the area is subject to drought three out of every ten
years, causing problems for local agriculture. Localized hail and
hurricanes are an annual occurrence.
Scene from the Concurso de Danza
Pinal de Amoles ,
Huapango trio from
Veracruz at the Alfredo Guati
Rojo National Watercolor Museum .
Despite the lack of ethnic Huastecs, the region still maintains a
cultural identity, which is celebrated at various festivals such as
the Encuentro de las Huastecas (Huastec Encounter) in Amatlán in
November, and the Festival de la Huasteca in Ahuacatlán de
Guadalupe, Purísimas de Arista and Agua Zarca in Querétaro. Much of
the region’s culture has remained distinct because of the lack of
communication with the outside world. This region has not been
extensively studied by academics.
The most traditional dance and music of the region is called the
Huapango or Son Huasteco. It is played by a trio of musicians: one
playing a small, five-string rhythm guitar called a jarana huasteca,
one on an eight-string bass guitar called a quinta huapanguera and
another playing a violin. The two guitarists sing coplas, or short
poetry stanzas, alternating verses between them. Son huasteco has two
unique trademarks: improvised violin ornamentations based on a melody,
and the use of a high falsetto voice. The style has spread beyond
San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí to other states including Hidalgo, which
is now another center for the music. Unlike other folk music in
Mexico, it is not in danger of disappearing and remains in high demand
for major celebrations in La Huasteca. The music has been researched
and cataloged for over forty years which has resulted in a two CD
compilation called El Gusto. It was also the focus of a documentary
called “A Mexican Sound” by Roy Germano.
The dance is performed on an elevated platform called a zapatea. The
music and dance in its several varieties is shared by all the
ethnicities of the region. It is most often performed in rural social
events called “fandangos.” . It is also performed at the various
Huastec cultural events such as the Festival de la Huasteca in
Traditional dishes include mixotes , enchiladas , barbacoa and
especially a corn pudding called zacahuil.
The end of wet season farming ends with Xantolo. It is similar to Day
of the Dead and celebrated at the same time, but it has important
differences. Xantolo brings people to cemeteries as well but it is to
celebrate the living and the dead, as it marks the harvest of this
growing season. Preparations for Xantolo last a week with altars
remaining through November. Gifts of food are prepared to exchange
with god parents, friends, family and neighbors. Altars consist of
arches over a rectangular table. Each corner of the table has a pole
to represent the four stages of human life (childhood, adolescence,
adult and old age). The poles are bent towards the center above the
table to form arches, and covered with branches of local flora. It
shares certain elements with
Day of the Dead such as cempasúchil
flowers, papel picado and the creation of altars to the dead adorned
with local fruit, candles and copal incense. It lasts from 29 October
with the slaughter of pigs and turkeys. October 30 and 31 are for the
remembrance of children and adults respectively and November 1 is not
only for saints but also to honor godparents. A traditional dance for
the event has groups of dancers who ridicule the powerful of the local
society then are chained by a devil. These dancers perform with cloth
masks, with the aim that Death does not recognize them and take them
The Volador rite is performed by the Huastecs in the east of San Luis
Potosí although they wear normal clothes adorned with feathers. The
exception is the captain who wears a red or blue tunic.
Carnival is important in the
Veracruz part of the Huasteca, but each
as a very local and religious character. For the Nahuas,
considered to be a “ritual of inversion” where social norms are
relaxed. This is done to “placate the Devil” and keep him happy as
well. Activities include men dressing as women and local authorities
are made powerless temporarily. Offerings are also made by burial,
perhaps an offering to the underworld. In many communities, many birds
are slaughtered and alcohol is drunk in abundance.
Carnival marks the
end of dry season farming before rains begin in earnest in April.
Ceremonies to ask for abundant rain begin after the end of
It is one of the poorest regions of the country, with the federal
government categorizing it as a “critical region” in terms of
combating poverty. The most pressing economic and political problems
are in the
Veracruz section with high socioeconomic marginalization
due to isolation, disputes over land and political repression. Since
the mid 20th century, there has been seasonal and permanent migration
out of the area and into other areas of
Mexico and to the United
States to work. In Mexico, most go to
Monterrey to work as household help but they also go to work in mines
Pachuca and farms in San Luis Potosí, coffee plantations in
Huauchinango and the United States.
Like most rural indigenous, the economy is based on agriculture,
especially the growing of corn. Other important aspects include
cattle, the processing of sugar cane, coffee and the growing of citrus
as a cash crop although most of this is under the control of mestizos.
Piloncillo from sugar cane is an important processed product, most of
which is shipped to Jalisco for the tequila industry.
Handcrafts of the area include ceramics in Huejutla, ixtle items,
quezqumitels, cross stitch decorated garments in the region on the
Veracruz border, musical instruments and furniture, especially
chairs made of cedar and other tropical hardwoods. In the area
around Tantoyuca, Veracruz, handcrafts from a fiber called zapupe and
palm is used to make hats, carrying bags and other objects.
Main regional markets include Tantoyuca, Huejutla,
Most of the region is not visited by foreign tourists as the
preference is for the beaches. Ecotourism attractions include
rappelling alongside waterfalls, rafting on rivers such as the Santa
Maria, most of which are located in the state of San Luis Potosí.
Edward James built Las Pozas (The Wells) in an area of
coffee and banana plantations near Xilitla. The poet lived here from
1949 until his death in 1984. The gardens contains giant sculptures,
pagodas, and staircases to nowhere over a property of 32 hectares. The
poet’s former home is a mansion of turrets and Gothic windows in the
middle of the jungle. Today it is a hotel with the name of La Posada
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* ^ A B C D E F G Georgina Luna Parra. "La Huasteca, donde se canta
el huapango (Hidalgo)" (in Spanish).
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* ^ A B Omar Garcia (June 2, 2004). "Meten a la Huasteca dentro de
un museo" . Reforma (in Spanish).
Mexico City. p. 3.
* ^ A B C D E F Guy Stresser-Péan. "La Huasteca: historia y
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* ^ A B C D E F Jim Budd. "Viajando Ligero / Aventura en la
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* ^ A B C Alfredo Martinez (March 11, 2001). "Secretos de la
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* ^ A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U Julieta Valle
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Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígena. ISBN
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* ^ A B C D Jaime Bali. "
La Huasteca potosina, todo un universo
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* ^ A B C Ochoa, L. p. 42
* ^ Ochoa, L. p. 29-30
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* ^ A B Ochoa, L. p. 33
* ^ Ochoa, L. p. 31-32
* ^ A B Ochoa, L. p. 32
* ^ A B Ochoa, L. p. 190
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* ^ A B Ochoa, L. p. 188
* ^ A B Claudia Ramos (August 11, 1996). "Cien anos de soledad en
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* ^ A B C Arturo Cano (August 25, 1996). "Enfoque/ La Huasteca:
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* ^ Ochoa, L. p. 195
* ^ Creación del Estado Huasteco (Spanish).
* ^ Proyect Huastec State.
* ^ Ochoa, L. p. 29-32
* ^ Rafael Robledo (November 19, 2011). "Preparan encuentro para
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Universal. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
* ^ "Querétaro, sede del XVI Festival de la Huasteca" (in
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* ^ "Arqueóloga francesa presenta investigación sobre la
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* ^ "La huasteca, identidad cultural en movimiento" (in Spanish).
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* ^ ""Xantolo", "Sancta Sanctorum" o "Día de Muertos" en la
Huasteca Potosina, una tradición bien arraigada" (in Spanish).
Azteca 21 Noticias. October 11, 2010. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
* ^ "La Tradición en La Huasteca" (in Spanish). Universidad
Veracruzana. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
* ^ Ochoa, L. p. 84
* ^ Ochoa, L. p. 100-101
* ^ Miguel Dominguez; Ruth Berrones (July 2, 2003). "Ven focos
rojos en la huasteca" . Mural (in Spanish). Guadalajara, Mexico. p. 8
* Lorenzo Ochoa (1990). Huaxtecos y totonacos (in Spanish). Mexico
City: CONACULTA. ISBN 968 29 2466 9 .
21°58′25″N 99°4′9″W / 21.97361°N 99.06917°W /
21.97361; -99.06917 Coordinates : 21°58′25″N 99°4′9″W /
21.97361°N 99.06917°W / 21