The Nahuatl language of the municipalities of Zacatlán, Ahuacatlán and Tepetzintla is spoken in many of the communities of those municipalities, in the northern part of the state of Puebla, Mexico. Among those communities are San Miguel Tenango, Xonotla, Tenantitla, Zoquitla, Yehuala, Xochitlaxco, Ahuacatlán, Tepetzintla, Cuacuila, Ixquihuacan, Tetelancingo, Omitlán and Cuacuilco. This variant of Nahuatl is a neighbor to the variants spoken in the regions of Zacapoaxtla to the east and Huauchinango to the northwest. The speakers call their language mehcanohtlahtol.
According to INEGI statistics (2002), the three municipalities have a total population of about 93,000 inhabitants. The great majority of these live in the Zacatlán municipality, and are not Nahuatl speakers, but in the other two municipalities the majority are Nahuatl-speakers. There are an estimated 17,000 people in the three municipalities together who speak Nahuatl.
The history of the Nahuatl-speaking populations in this area is somewhat unclear. Both Torquemada and Alva Ixtlilxóchitl say that the Zacatlán and San Miguel Tenango area was governed by descendents of the legendary Chichimeca Xolotl, founder of Texcoco. In the twelfth century, Nahuatl-speaking Olmeca-Xicalancas from Tlaxcala and the Puebla valley arrived in the area, having in their turn been displaced from their homelands by Tolteca-Chichimecas and Teochichimecas following the fall of Tula. Besides these invasions, several other waves of Nahuatl-speaking Chichimecas arrived in the mountainous region in the northern part of what is now the state of Puebla. (García Martínez 1987, López Alcaide 1998.)
The communities of this area are notable for the ingenuity and creativity of the artisans who make the traditional clothing and other cultural artifacts. The traditional dress of the women, for example, is quite elaborate and difficult to make, but is quite beautiful and exhibits considerable creativity. It consists of a woolen skirt (cueyitl), the sash or belt (ilpicatl) that holds it up, the blouse (tlahmach camisahtli), the ribbon braided into the hair (tzonilpicatl), and, in some towns, a lace covering (quichquemitl) worn on top of the blouse. The particular designs of these garments and of other cultural craft items vary in ways that may indicate which community they come from.
The economies of these communities are based principally on agriculture and on migration to work in other places. The region is rich in production of fruit; the seasonal harvesting of apples, plums, pears, avocados, peaches, and nuts is an important activity. Women contribute to the family economy by making the traditional clothing, cradles (uahcal), pottery, items woven from palm fibers, and other things.