The Totonac is an ethnic group located in originally located in central Mexico but has its most recent links to coastal lowlands and further into the mountainous highlands. The origins of the Totonoco are uncertain. The creation myth Totonacs are centered around sustaining the crop common to all of central Mexico, namely corn or maize. After the great flood that destroyed the earth, the people who remained wandered the earth aimlessly. They lived by eating small animals and hunting the occasional deer. They ate roots, grass, and insects. They lived under the sky and were subject to the cruel punishments of the god of thunder and storms. One of these unfortunates was a musician who was forbidden to play his flute for fear of its magical powers. He was condemned to death when he continued to play but created a child before his death with a beautiful maiden. The son they made was the future God of Maize who died shortly after being born. His mother buried him, and a maize plant sprouted and grew from the grave. It yielded many ears and kernels that were planted again and again. The wanderers remained near the grave of the maize God and built him a fine tomb. They then built houses for themselves and became settled, devoted to the god of Maize.

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  The Totonac’s government was structured with a leader who was supported by a council or group of elders. There were three casts within the Totonac’s, nobles and religious leaders, commoners, and servants. Their society was heavily involved in agriculture with simple forms or irrigation and grew multiple crops of maize in a year, as well as beans and cotton. The crops were stored in silo-like structures.


The religious practices of the Totonacs included human sacrifice and cannibalism. The origins of these practices can be traced back to their worship of Gods such as Mictlantecuhtli, Quetzalcoatl, and Cinleotl. Most of the cosmology behind these idols involves the creation story with multiple rounds of creation and destruction, many of them involving lesser Gods creating the world and irritating greater Gods who then destroy the lesser gods. These introduce the idea of duality that is reflected in the idea of human sacrifice used to appease the Gods in exchange for not destroying the earth. The practice of human sacrifice was also used to avoid bad harvests and bring favorable weather.  The spiritual practices include the use of “Santa Rosa” or marijuana. The Totonac’s have a strong belief in supernatural forces, such as witches(evil) and healers(good).

The Spaniards

            With the landing of the first Conquistadors, Spanish began suppression the indigenous peoples of the area. One of the first interactions Conquistadors had with the indigenous population was with the Totonac. Cortez and his company of Conquistadors, numbering about 500 men and 11 ships arrived on the small island of San Juan de Ulua a mile off the mainland coast of Mexico. The Spaniards brought guns, artillery, and horses. On Good Friday, 1519 they landed near the Totonac town of Chalchicueyecan close to what is now Veracruz. They were first met by canoes carrying the Mexica (Aztec) Governor. The Aztecs, probably aware of the goal of the expedition, reaching their capital of Tenochtitlan, were welcomed coolly, but respectfully. At landfall Cortez, himself was first to be received by the Indian inhabitants. A later written account of the meeting describes the Spaniards as being welcomed “with signs of love.” It is likely they were also aware of the purpose of 500 heavily armed men on their shores and saw the Conquistadors as potential allies in removing the Mexica yoke. They “gave Cortez food; maize cakes, beans, meat fish and turkeys. The Totonacs laughed and were pleased. Cortez gave them presents for their chief; two shirts, two doublets (velvet and satin) gold belts, two red berets and some breeches.” The red berets impressed the Indians, who believed that the God Quetzalcoatl painted himself red. After the initial meeting, the native Totonacs brought the Spaniards gold objects and feathers, for which they greedily traded glass beads and needles. After several days emissaries arrived from the Aztec king Montezuma. Their primary mission was to appease the strangers, while also needing to know whether these were men or new unknown Gods. The Totonacs readily accepted the Spaniards as foreign Gods sent to aid them in freeing themselves from Mexica oppression.


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Navarro, Carlos Garma. “Totonac.” Encyclopedia of World Cultures, vol. 8: Middle America and the Caribbean, Macmillan Reference USA, 1996, pp. 263-266. Gale Ebooks, Accessed 16 Sept.           

Ochoa, Lorenzo. “Totonac and Tepehua.” The oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures: The Civilizations of Mexico and Central America, Edited by David Carrasco, 249-50. New York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 2001.

Stresser-Péan, Guy. The Sun God and the Savior the Christianization of the Nahua and Totonac of the Sierra Norte De Puebla, Mexico. Boulder, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 2009.