The Chichimeca: Inhabitants of the Deserts, Caves, Forests, and Plains

Recently, I’ve noticed many people learning about and taking great pride in their Chichimeca heritage. Chichimeca is a great identity that people can use to reclaim their Indigenous heritage because it is a term that covers a wide variety of people. Many people assume Chichimeca is a negative term akin to “dog people” or “barbarians” however chapter 29 of the Florentine Codex book 10 (The People) tells a very different story. In this book which is written from the Mexica perspective, the Chichimeca are classified into three groups: Tamime, Teochichimeca, and Cacachichimeca. Although the etymology of the actual word chichimeca is unclear, the word was used to describe people who lived in other lands outside of the Valley of Mexico and spoke languages other than Nahuatl. The Tamime for example were differentiated from the other Chichimeca in part by their ability to understand and speak some Nahuatl. The text reveals that the Mexica viewed the Chichimeca as skillful hunters, loyal spouses, healthy, strong, and keepers of medicine. Here is the complete text:

183, 184 The Teochichimeca 185 The death of the Aged

This paragraph telleth of the different kinds of
Chichimeca who dwelt here in this land.

Injn parrapho: mjtoa, in quezquj damantin chichimeca, in onenque in njean tlalli ipan.

Those called Chichimeca are d three kinds: the
first are the Otomi; the second, those named Tami>
me; the third, those called Teochichimeca and Cacachichimeca.
The nature, the manner of life, of the Otomi will
be told further on.
This name Tamin means “shooter of arrows.” And
these Tamime were only an ofishoot, a branch, of the
Teochichimeca, although they were somewhat settled. They made their homes in caves, in gorges; in some places they established small grass huts and small corn fields. And they went mingling with the Mexica, or the Nahua, or the Otomi. There they heard the Nahuatl language, they spoke a little Nahuad or Otomi, and in a measure they there learned a civilized way of life from them. Also they put on a few rags — tattered capes. Also in places they laid out small maize plots; they sowed them, they harvested them. They were called Tamime, that is to say, “shooters of arrows,” for they went bearing their bows; everywhere they went out hunting, shooting arrows. These were the vassals of some ruler, some nobleman, to whom belonged the land, the city, where they dwelt. Their tribute payments became that which they caught: rabbits, deer, serpents. And these understood very well the power, the essence, of the herbs, of the roots; the healing herbs, the deadly ones, those which dried one up [and] after much time killed one. And also they knew of the so-called macacoatl They went about carrying their little reed baskets; they went among the houses selling medicinal herbs. These®[were] without their hair cut. The men
wore the hair covering them, parted in the middle,
hanging long; likewise the women.
The Teochichimeca, that is to say, the real Chichimeca, or extreme Chichimeca, and also those named
Cacachichimeca, that is to say, those who lived on the
grassy plains, in the forests — these were the ones
who lived far away; they lived in the forests, the
grassy plains, the deserts, among the crags. These
had their homes nowhere. They only went about
traveling, wandering; they went about crossing the

In mjtoa chichimeca, etlamantin: injc centlamantin, iehoantin in otomj, injc vntlamantin, iehoantin
in jntocatamjme: injc etlamantin, iehoantin in mjtoa
teuchichimeca: ioan mjtoa (acachichimeca.
In otomj inieliz in jnnemjliz njpa mjtoz.
Injn tocaitl tamjn: qujtoznequj tlamjnquj: auh
injque in tamjme, (an in cotoncaoa, in vilteccaioan,
in teuchichimeca: iece iene achi tlaca(iuhque, oztoc
inchanchioa, tcxcalco, cana achiton qujtlalia inxacalton, ioan achiton inmil: auh qujnoalnclotinemj in
mcxica tlaca, mano(o naoatlaca, in ano(o otomj. vncan qujoalcaquj in naoatlatolli, achi naoatlatoa, ano(o
otontlatoa: ioan vnean tetech qujoalitta, in tlacanemjliziotl. No achitzitzin, tzotzomatzintli, tatapatzintli intech qujdalia: no achi cana qujtlalia mjltontli,
qujtoca, qujpixca.
Injc mjtoa tamjme, in qujtoznequj tlamjnque, (an
indavitol iednemj: noviian qujzdncmj, antinemj, tlamjndnemj. Injque in ca temacooalhoan, ca aca tlatoanj, aca pilli itech povi, in jdalpan, in jaltepepan
onoque: iehoad indacalaqujl mochioa, in ca(i tochin,
ma(ad, coad. Auh injque in, in vel mjec in qujximad,
xivitl, danelhoatl in jchicaoaliz in jhiio, in path, in
mjcoanj, in quaoaconj, in vccauhdca temjed: no ioan
qujximad, in mjtoa: ma(acoatl, intatanatoton iednemj, in calla oalquj(a, in oalpapanamaca:
in jquac in, atle innexin, in oqujehtin motzonquenda,moquaxelolda motzonviaquilia; no iuhque in cioa.
In teuchichimeca, in qujtoznequj, vel nelli chichimcca, ano(o molhuj chichimeca, in joan intoca (acachichimeca,in qujtoznequj,(acatla,quauhda in nemj:
ca iehoantin in vccancmj, in quauhda, in (acatla, in
jxdaoacan in tcxcalla nemj: injque in, acan vel inchan, (an qujzdnemj, (an odatocadnemj, (an panodnemj, (a(a ie vi in ic vi, in canjn inpan iooaduh:
vnean qujtemoa in oztotl, in texcalli, vnean cochi.

streams; they only went here and there. Where night
came upon them, there they sought a cave, a craggy
place; there they slept.
These had their leaders, their rulers. That which
they caught — were it a wild beast, or bobcat; perchance somewhere they shot an ocelot, a wolf, a
mountain lion — they gave its hide and its flesh [to
the leader]; and a little additional meat, either rabbit
meat or venison. In this way they furnished provisions for the house of the ruler. They presented all
to him. Or their tribute became a bow, a long, slender dart—that is to say, an arrow.
The ruler of these had his house, a palace, perhaps
a grass house, or only a straw hut or a cave in the
cliffs. This ruler had a consort, a wife— only one; he
had only one. These Chichimeca had spouses; each
one had only one wife. They knew not polygyny.
And thus they lived; each couple lived alone, not two
couples together. Thus did they seek their sustenance.
So, it was said, there were no adulterers, because
they went guarding their women with care. And an
adulterer appeared very seldom, almost never. When
[one was] discovered, then as many as the ruler governed were summoned, called by a crier. They took
the adulterer and the woman before the ruler; he
sentenced them. All his vassals assembled together
by them somewhere on the desert. Each one shot
them with four arrows as long as they still lived.
And the array, the clothing, of the ruler [consisted
of] his cape, perhaps of lynx skins, or wild animal
skins, or ocelot skins, or wolf, or puma skins, and
what was called his squirrel skin head piece, and
his circular fan device of yellow parrot feathers.
And his wife also had her skin skirt, her skin shift —
likewise all the women. [The men] always carried

Injque y, vnea inteiacancauh, vnea intlatocauh, in
tlein caci, in a?o tequanj, a^o ocotochtli, a$o cana qujpantilia ocelutl, cujtlachtli, mjztli: conmaca in jeoaio,
ioan in jnacaio, ioan oc cequj itla nacatl, a?o tochnacatl, 390 ma^anacatl: iuhqujn ic conjtacatia, in jehan
in tlatoanj, mochi conjxpantilia: in ano^o intlacalaqujl mochioa, in tlavitolli, in tlacochtli in pitzaoac,
in qujtoznequj mjtl.
Injque y, in jntlatocauh: ca vnea ical, in tecpancalli,
390 9acacalli, ano9o 9an xacalli, ano90 texcalh oztotl:
injn tlatoanj vnea inamjc, vnea i9ioauh 9a ce 9an qujxcavia. Injque yn chichimeca: in namjqueque, 9an no
cecenme in jncioaoa, amo qujximad in tlaomepializtli: auh inic nemj, 9an in ceceltin in nemj: amo
ovmentin momana, inic qujtemoa in incochca, inneuhea:
iuh mjtoa, amo motlaximanj: ipampa ca 9an vel
qujnpixtinemj, in jncioaoa: auh cenca 9an quenman,
cenca 9an jea, in neci tetlaxinquj. In onez: njman
monotza, motzatziha, in jxquichtin, in quexqujchtin
ce tlatoanj qujnpachoa, iixpan qujvica in tetlaxinquj
in tlatoanj: ioan in cioatl qujntlatzontequjlia, in ixqujehtin imaceoalhoan, cana ixtlaoacan inca mocentlalia: mochi tlacatl nananavi ic qujnmjna in mjd,
9an ioioltimani.
Auh in jnechichioal tlatoanj, in jtlaquen, iehoatl in
jtilma, 390 ocutocheoatl, 390 tequanehoatl, 390 oceloeoatl, cujtlacheoatl, ano9o mjzeoatl: ioan mjtoa itechaloxuchiuh, ico9oiaoalol: auh in j9ioauh, no iieoacue, iieoavipil: no iuhque in ie mochintin 9ioa, mochipa itlavitol ietinemj, acan qujcaoa in nenemj qujtqujtivi, in tlaqua itlan jeae, in cochi itzontlan onoc:

their bows. They left them nowhere; when they
wandered they went carrying them. When they ate,
[their bows] stood nearby; when they slept, they
rested at their heads. It is said they called them their
guardians; they considered them [such]. And their
sandals were of yucca or palm [leaves]. And the bed
of the ruler — this was of wild animal skins. And his
seat and his resting place, the so-called seats with back
rests, were all of wild animal skins, most wonderful.
Many Chichimeca guarded this ruler.
Also likewise were arrayed all the [Teo] chichimeca, only they took not the wild animal skins, the wild
animal seats — they did not belong to them: only
small deer skins, small coyote skins, small grey fox
skins, grey fox skins, squirrel skins, etc.
Behold, the following were the abilities of these
Chichimeca: they were stone cutters: very well did
they work the flint, the obsidian. They set it, they
placed it as the tip on the reed, which is called the
arrow. And also they understood very well about
mirrors, for all used mirrors. They always bore them
on the small of their backs. And when they went
somewhere, as they made their way, following a single leader, in order, in line, there they went looking
into the mirror which [the one ahead] went bearing
in the middle of his back. And they worked, they
abraded the turquoise, the fine turquoise, [for] their
necklaces, their ear rings, their pendants.
And they knew the qualities, the essence, of herbs,
of roots. The so-called peyote was their discovery.
These, when they ate peyote, esteemed it above wine
or mushrooms. They assembled together somewhere
on the desert; they came together; there they danced,
they sang all night, all day. And on the morrow, once
more they assembled together. They wept; they wept
exceedingly. They said [thus] eyes were washed;
thus they cleansed their eyes.
And they were feather gluers, feather workers; for
they made, they glued the fan-shaped device of yellow parrot feathers. And they cured skins; they were
tanners; for all the clothing of the Chichimeca was
of skins, and the skirts of their women were of skins.
They tanned the skins; they cut them into thongs.
And when, perhaps, [there was] a little food, they
roasted it, broiled it, boiled it. The men did not do
the work; only the women, because [the men] protected their eyes exceedingly; they could not endure

qujl itepixcauh in qujtoa, in momati: auh in jcac iehoatl in icfotl, ano^o fotoli: auh in jpepech in tlatoanj, iehoatl in tequaneoatl, ioan in icpal, ioan in jnetlaxonjuh, in mjtoa: teputzicpalli, mochi iehoatl in
tequaneoatl, vel mavizio: injn tlatoanj mjequjntin in
qujpia chichimeca.
No ivi in mochichioa in ie mochintin chichimeca:
{an amo qujcuj, amo intech povi in tequaneoatl, in
tequanjcpalli: {an ma{aieoatzintli, coioieoatzintli, oztoieoatzintli, oztoieoatl, techaloieoatl. Etc.
Izcatquj, in jiolizmatiliz injquc y, chichimeca, ca
tlatecque, ca cenca vel qujximati in tecpatl, in jtztli,
in jiacac qujquetza, qujtlalia in acatl, in mjtoa mjtl:
auh ioan cenca vel qujximati in tezcatl, ca mochintin
qujtitlanj in tezcatl: mochipa intzintempan qujmana:
auh in jquac canapa vi, in vtlatoca, {a ce in teiacana,
{an motecpana, {a cenpanti, vmpa vnmotztivi in tezcac in intzintempan mamanduh: ioan qujxima, qujchiquj in xivitl in teuxitl in jncozquj, in jncuecueioch
in jnpipilol:
ioan qujximati in xiujtl, in tlanelhoatl in quenamj,
in quen ihiio, iehoantin intlaiximach in mjtoa peiotl:
injque, y, in qujqua in peiotl, vctli ipan in qujpoa, in
ano{o nanacad, mocentlalia cana ixtlaoacan, monechicoa: vnean mjtotia, cujca ceioal, cemjihujtl: auh in
jmuztlaioc, oc ceppa mocentlalia choca, cenca choca,
qujl mjxpaca, ic qujchipaoa in jmjxtelolo:
ioan hivi{aloque, amanteca, ca qujchioa, ca quj{aloa in co{oiaoalolli: ioan cuetlaxoaoanque, tlaiamanjlique: ipampa in jxqujch imeoaquen chichimeca,
ioan jmeoacue in incioaoa, ca iehoantin qujiamania,
auh in a{0 itla tlaqualli qujxca, qujtlcoatza, ano{o
qujpaoaci: amo iehoan qujtequjpanoa in oqujehtin,
can iehoan in cioa: ipampa cenca qujmalhuja in jmjxtelolo, amo qujtitlanj in poctli, qujl qujmjxtlacoa, ca

the smoke. They said that it harmed their eyes, for
these Chichimeca saw very far, and they took very
careful aim. That at which they loosed an arrow, not
twice, not thrice did they shoot it; [but] only once.
Even if [the target were] very small, they did not
miss it; even if it also were far away, they could hit it
with an arrow. They did not miss it, nor did they
shoot at it many times.
The following is the food of the Chichimeca: nopal, tuna, roots of the cimatl herb, tziuactli cactus,
honey, maguey, yucca flowers, yucca sap, maguey sap,
bee honey, wild bees, wild honey; and the roots of
which they had knowledge, which were in the
ground; and all the meats — rabbit, snake, deer, wild
animals; and all [things] which flew.
Such was the food of these Chichimeca, that they
never sickened much. They became very old; they
died only at an advanced age; they went on to be
white-haired, white-headed. And if sickness settled
upon someone, when after two days — three days —
four days — he recovered not, then the Chichimeca
assembled together; they slew him. They inserted a
bird arrow into his throat, whereof he died. And
they likewise slew those who became very old men
[or] very old women. As for their killing the sick,
the aged, it was said that thus they showed him
mercy; it is said [that it was] in order that he would
not suffer on earth, and so they would not feel sorry
for him. And when they buried him, they paid him
great honor; two days, three days, they mourned;
there was dancing, there was singing.
Such was their food and so limited their clothing,
that they were strong, lean, hard, and very wiry, sinewy, powerful, and they ran much. As they went, as
they climbed mountains, it was as if they were carried by the wind, for they were lean — they had no
folds of fat—so that nothing impeded them.
These always went taking their women with
them, [as] hath been said. And when the woman
was already pregnant, her helpmate many times applied heat to her back; he went pouring water on her

cenca veca tlachia injque, y, chichimeca: ioan cenca
tlatlamelauhcaittanj, ca in tlein qujmjna, amo oppa,
expa, qujtlaxilia ?an cen: in manel cenca tepiton, amo
qujneoa, in manel no^o veca ca, vel qujmjna, amo
qujneoa, amo no quezqujpa in qujntlaxilia.
Izcatquj in jntlaqual chichimeca: nupalli, nochtli,
cimatl, tlanelhoatl, tzioactli, nequametl, icgoxuchitl,
icgonenecutli, menecutli, xiconecutli, pipioh, quauhnecutli: ioan in tlein qujximati tlanelhoatl, in tlallan
onoc, ioan in ie ixqujch nacatl, tochin, coatl, ma^atl,
tequanj: ioan ixqujch in patlantinemj.
Injque in chichimeca: injc iuhquj intlaqual, y, aic
cenca mococoa, cenca vecaoa, gan veve mjquj, tzonjztazrivi, quaiztaztivi: auh intla aca cocoliztli itech
motlalia, in ie omjlhujtl, ie eilhujtl, in ie navilhujtl,
amopati: njmanmocentlaliainchichimeca,qujmjctia,
totomjtl iquechtlan conaqujlia, ic onmjquj: ioan in
aqujn ovelveuetic, in ovelilamatic, fan no qujmjctia:
injc qujmjctia cocoxquj, manofo veve, qujl ic qujtlaoculia, qujl ipampa in amo motolinjz tlalticpac: ioan
injc amo qujntlaocultiz: auh injc qujtoca, cenca qujmaviztilia, omjlhujtl, eilhujtl in mjccaoati, mjtotia,
injc iuhquj intlaqual y, in joan amo cenca quexqujch intlaque, vel chicaoaque, vel pipinque, vellalichtique, ioan cenca ichtique, tlaloatique, ioan tlamolhoatique, ioan cenca paina injc vi, injc tepetleco, vel
iuhqujn ecatoco: ipampa moceceioque, amo tzotzoltique, injc atle qujmelleltia
injque y, in jnfioaoa omjto: fan mochipa qujnvicatinemj, auh in jquac ie vtztli in fioatl, mjecpa qujcujtlapantotonja in jnamjc, concujtlapanatequjtiuh,
qujlmach ic qujtema in qujtoa: auh in otlacachiuh.

back. It was said that he told her that thereby he
bathed her. And when she had been delivered, when
the child was born, then the Chichimeca [man]
kicked this newly delivered woman twice, thrice, in
the back. It was said that this stopped the blood.
Then they placed their child in a small carrying
frame; the woman loaded it on her back. Where
night came upon them, there they slept. On the morrow, likewise; [the next day, likewise].
And if their child which was born were a girl,
when she became four years old — five years old —
then also they gave her to a Chichimeca boy. Then
he took her; he always went carrying her.
And if [it were] a boy, when he became one year
old, then they gave him a bow; then he went about
practising the shooting of arrows. The Chichimeca
taught him no play, only the shooting of arrows.
These Chichimeca knew, practised, administered
the evil eye, the doing of ill, the blowing of evil.
These Chichimeca dispensed with their hair-cut; the
hair was merely worn long, parted in the middle; as
the men [were], just so [were] the women.
There were also the Nahuachichimeca, those who
understood, who also therefore spoke, the Nahuatl
language and a barbarous tongue. Also there were
the so-called Otonchichimeca. These were called
Otonchichimeca because they spoke a barbarous
tongue and Otomi. Also there were the Cuextecachichimeca, who were called Cuextecachichimeca because they spoke a barbarous tongue and Cuexteca.
These three were peaceful; the way of life which corresponded to them, civilized. They had rulers, they
had noblemen; and they were city dwellers, they
were clothed, they were clever. There was [food] to
eat; they were house dwellers. But also their preoccupations were the arrow [and] the bow.

in ooallacat piltontli, quen oppa, expa concujtlatelicja
injn mjxiuhquj in chichimecatl, qujl ic oallamj in
eztli: njman oacaltonco conaquja in jnconeton, conmama in ^ioatl in canjn impan iooatiuh vnean cochi,
auh intla cioatl tlacati in inconeto, in ie nauhxiuhtia, in ie macujlxiuhtia: njman noce qujmaca chichimeca telpopil njman cana, mochipa qujvicatinemj:
auh intla oqujchtli, in ie cexiuhtia, njman qujmaca
in tlavitolli: njman moieiecotinemj, in tlamjnaliztli:
amo tie avilh qujmati in chichimeca, jan ie iehoatl in
Injque in chichimeca qujmati, qujehioanj, qujmotcqujtia, in texoxaliztli, in tetlachiviliztli, in teipitzaliztli. Inique in chichimeca: atle innexin ?an motzonviaqujlia, moquaxeloltia, iuhque in oquichtli, iuhque
in fioa.
No vneate in naoachichimeca: iehoandn in qujeaquj in no ic tlatoa naoatlatolli, ioan popoloca: no vneate in mjtoa, otonchichimeca, injque y ipampa mjtoa,
Otonchichimeca ca popoloca, ioan otontlatoa: no vneate cuextecachichimeca, injc mjtoa cuextecachichimeca ca popoloca ioan cuexteca tlatoa: injn ietlamanjxtin y, tlacafiuhque intech ca in tlacanemjliztli, tlStocaoaque, pilloque, auh altepeonoque, motlaquentia,
mjmati, vnea qujquani, chanonoque, iece no intequiuh in mjtl in tlavitolli
Nican mjtoa, moteneoa in aqujque mjtoa naoa.

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