Otomi people

Otomi people
Hñähñu, Hñähño, Ñuhu, Ñhato, Ñuhmu
Arrieros acazulco.JPG
Otomi dancers from San Jeronimo Acazulco in Mexico state performing the traditional Danza de los Arrieros
Total population
Mexico:approx >300,000
Regions with significant populations
Mexico: Hidalgo, EdoMex, Querétaro, Puebla, Veracruz, Guanajuato, Tlaxcala, Michoacán

Otomi, Spanish


predominantly Roman Catholic

Related ethnic groups

Mazahua, Pame, Chichimeca Jonaz, Matlatzinca

The Otomi people (English pronunciation: /ˌoʊtəˈmiː/[1] is an indigenous ethnic group inhabiting the central altiplano of Mexico. The two most populous groups are the Highland or Sierra Otomí living in the mountains of La Huasteca and the Mezquital Otomí, living in the Mezquital valley in the eastern part of the state of Hidalgo, and in the state of Querétaro. Sierra Otomí usually self identify as Ñuhu or Ñuhmu depending on the dialect they speak, whereas Mezquital Otomi selfidentify as Hñähñu (pronounced [ʰɲɑ̃ʰɲũ]).[2] Smaller Otomi populations exist in the states of Puebla, Mexico, Tlaxcala, Michoacán and Guanajuato.[3] The Otomi language belonging to the Oto-Pamean branch of the Oto-Manguean language family is spoken in many different varieties some of which are not mutually intelligible.

One of the early complex cultures of Mesoamerica, the Otomi were likely the original inhabitants of the central Mexican altiplano before the arrival of Nahuatl speakers around ca. 1000 AD, but graduately they were replaced and marginalized by Nahua peoples. In the colonial period Otomi speakers helped the Spanish conquistadors as mercenaries and allies, which allowed them to extend into territories that had previously been inhabited by semi-nomadic Chichimecs, for example Querétaro and Guanajuato.

The Otomi traditionally worshipped the moon as their highest deity, and even into modern times many Otomi populations practice Shamanism and hold prehispanic beliefs such as Nagualism. Otomies traditionally subsisted on maize, beans and squash as most Mesoamerican sedentary peoples, but the Maguey (Century Plant) was also an important cultigen used for production of alcohol (pulque) and fiber (henequen).



The name Otomi comes from the Nahuatl otomitl, which is possibly derived from an older word totomitl "shooter of birds".[4] It is not an Otomi endonym; the Otomi refer to themselves as Hñähñú, Hñähño, Hñotho, Hñähü, Hñätho, Yųhų, Yųhmų, Ñųhų, Ñǫthǫ or Ñañhų depending on which dialect of Otomi they speak.[4][5][cn 1] Most of the variant forms are composed of two morphemes meaning "speak" and "well" respectively.[6]

The word Otomi entered the Spanish language through Nahuatl and is used to describe the larger Otomi macroethnic group and the dialect continuum. From Spanish the word Otomi has become entrenched in the linguistic and anthropological literature. Among linguists, the suggestion has been made to change the academic designation from Otomi to Hñähñú, the endonym used by the Otomi of the Mezquital valley; however, no common endonym exists for all dialects of the language.[4][5][7]

Otomi woman at a market in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo


The Otomi language is part of the Otopamean language family, which also includes Chichimeca Jonaz, Mazahua, Pame, Ocuilteco, and Matlatzinca, which belong to the Otomangean language group (consisting of the Amuzgoan, Chinantecan, Mixtecan, Otopamean, Popolocan, Tlapanecan, and Zapotecan language families). The Otomi of the Valle de Mezquital speak nHa:nHu while the Otomi south of Querétaro speak nHa:nHo, together amounting to 300,000 people (some 5 to 6 percent is monolingual), most of whom live in the states of Hidalgo (Valle de Mezquital), México, Puebla, Querétaro, Tlaxcala, Michoacán and Veracruz.

Otomi-speaking areas in Mexico


  1. ^ in Spanish spelling Otomí Spanish: [otoˈmi])
  2. ^ See Wright Carr (2005).
  3. ^ Lastra (2006)
  4. ^ a b c Lastra, Los Otomies, pp. 56–58.
  5. ^ a b Wright Carr, "Precisiones sobre el término 'otomí'".
  6. ^ Hekking & Bakker, "The Case of Otomí", p. 436.
  7. ^ Palancar, "Emergence of Active/Stative alignment in Otomi", p. 357.


  1. ^ See List of Otomi languages for information about which dialect areas use which terms.

External links

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