Teotitlán del Valle

A Brief History

According to Francisco de Burgoa, a historian who lived in Oaxaca around 1600 to 1681, Teotitlán del Valle was the first city founded by the Zapotecs. Its original name was Xa guie which meant “at the foot of the rock,” a reference to the sacred peak that overlooks the village. The only remaining vestiges of the original city can be seen in and around the church at the town center.

Life Today

Teotitlán del Valle is a quiet village nestled in the gentle foothills that back up to the Sierra Juarez mountains on the north and ease down towards Oaxaca’s Valles Centrales on the south. At an elevation of 5480 feet, many hillside homes have views of the town center and valley beyond. As of the 2017 census, Teotitlán del Valle’s population was about 6500, of which 99% were Zapotec.

Most families in Teotitlán know the other families in their town. There is a kindergarten, one school for grades 1 through 6, one high school, and a small college. The offices of mayor and police chief are part of their local community government. To maintain the town, all residents participate in a system of mandatory civil service comprised of “Usos y Costumbres,” “Tequio” and “Cargos.” Usos y Costumbres requires at least one member of each family to contribute work service on a regular basis for a stint of 6 months to 3 years, depending on the job they have been assigned. Tequio is usually short term labor that deals with an immediate problem such as clearing brush off of the town’s property lines. Cargos are positions of town officials. All types of appointments are done at a compulsory public meeting where townspeople choose appropriate candidates for each type of job.

Crops are grown for local consumption. Local vendors sell meats, fruits & vegetables, and other items such as Oaxacan cheese and flowers. While many foods are always available, on certain days a special food or item is emphasized, such as a day for flowers or meat.

There are lovely customs in Teotitlán, such as the way neighbors greet each other on the street. Family members wish each other well in the mornings. Church bells ring different tones and rhythms to signifying things like time to quit work, or come to church. Families have celebrations for important occasions like weddings and other milestones, and often call on family and friends in a tradition of sharing chores and food for the event. The biggest civic festival is the Feast of the Precious Blood of Christ, in July. This is when the famous feather dance is performed commemorating the fall of the Aztecs at the hands of the Spanish.

The Church and the Ruins

As in most pre-Columbian cities, Teotitlán’s church was built on the ruins of the indigenous buildings that the Spanish destroyed to assert their power. The church is in the town center and much of daily life revolves around it. Nearby are the mercado, the police office, and the town museum, Balaa Xtee Guech Gulan. When the church was restored, many old Zapotec carvings were left exposed and can be seen all around the church and grounds. A small section of an original Zapotec building foundation can still be seen behind the church.

Family sorting fruits they received from the groom's family
Family sorting out fruits they received from the groom's family as part of the Contentamiento, which is part the rituals that take place before a wedding.
Tree of life candles on the alter
Tree of life candles on the alter, which were brought by the groom's family during a Contentamiento, part the rituals that take place before a wedding.
Welcoming our loved ones during a Day of the Dead celebration.
Welcoming our loved ones during a Day of the Dead celebration.
Feather dancers during a procession
Feather dancers during a procession
Carved stones from a Zapotec city
The carved stones that are embedded into the walls of the Catholic church were originally part of the Zapotec city that the Spanish destroyed.