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Mixtepec Mixtec is a variety of Mixtec spoken in the region known as the Lower Mixteca.
Most speakers call their language sa'an ntavi, which means “poor language”. Others prefer to call it sa'an savi, which means “rain language”.
According to the INEGI census of the year 2000 there are 9500 speakers of Mixtepec Mixtec living in the area of San Juan Mixtepec, district of Juxtlahuaca, state of Oaxaca. Another 3000 live in such places as Tlaxiaco, San Quintín Baja California, Santa María California, Oregon and other places in the US. The population in the language area is spread between the main town of San Juan Mixtepec, 6 large villages, 12 smaller villages and 53 settlements.
Mixtec society is primarily agricultural, and the people of Mixtepec live from their harvests. They mainly plant corn and beans, but also squash, coriander, onion, garlic, and other vegetables. Corn tortillas are the staple of their diet; they eat them with chile sauce, beans, eggs, coriander and other herbs and vegetables such as “pozole”, beef, chicken, “mole”, rice or “tamales”.
Traditional houses consist of one big room and a smaller construction that is used for cooking. Today the houses are built of cement blocks, but in the past they were made of wood or of adobe.
How Mixtepec got its name
According to the people of Mixtepec, there was a very tall evergreen cypress tree in their village, which was taller than any other tree. Its trunk was divided in two main branches. It was so tall that the clouds gathered around its crown. In Mixtec, the town is usually called Xnuviko, which means “clouds are lowering”. An eagle came to the crown of the cypress and built its nest there. Water sprang out from underneath the tree and formed a lake. A red-painted gourd bowl was floating in circles on this lake, and many children fell into the lake and drowned because they tried to grab the bowl. Finally the people decided to cut the tree down. As they began to cut they realized that they could not finish within one day because the tree was too thick, so they decided to continue the next day. But when they came back the next day they saw that the tree was whole again. So they decided to work day and night, and finally they managed to cut the giant evergreen down. One of the halves of its crown fell into a village called Tixitu, which means ‘long top’; the other half fell into a village called Yuku Xitu, which in Spanish is called “El Retoño” (‘The Shoot’). The eagle had to leave the tree. It flew away and perched on a nopal (prickly-pear cactus) at the place where Mexico City was founded. That is why some elders say that San Juan Mixtepec would have become the capital of the country. The eagle on a nopal became the symbol of Mexico; it appears on the Mexican flag.
—María M. Nieves, Gisela Beckmann