6 junio, 2024

Huasteca culture: history, location, characteristics, economy

We explain what the Huasteca culture is, its origin, characteristics, traditions, ceremonial centers and more.

What is the Huastec culture?

The Huastec culture It is a culture that appeared in the Mexican region called Huasteca. This territory is divided between the current states of Veracruz, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosí, Puebla, Querétaro and Tamaulipas. The members of this culture spoke a language of Mayan origin, which has evolved to become the current Huastec.

The Huastecos call themselves teenek, a word that can be translated as «men from here.» Unlike other peoples, the Huastec culture survived the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and today there are still communities in the same region that their ancestors inhabited.

The first members of this culture arrived in the Huasteca around the year 1500 BC. C. There they built settlements and related to others who inhabited the area until they merged with them. Their culture began to show its most relevant features around 750 AD. c.

Among their customs and characteristics, the practice of skull deformation stood out. In addition, teeth were also mutilated and noses and ears were pierced. The Huastecas never formed a political unit, but were divided into several city-states without any kind of economic or political commitment between them.

Origin and history

The Huastecas are descendants of some Mayan groups from southern Mexico. The moment of greatest splendor of their culture came before the Aztecs established their empire in Mesoamerica.

first settlements

Archaeological findings show that the Huastec culture arrived in the Gulf of Mexico area between 1500 B.C. C. and 900 a. C. They were groups of Mayan origin from the south of the country.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, Huastec settlements had inhabitants from several different groups. Thus, in the south and southwest were the Huastecos themselves and the Tepehuas, Otomi and Totonacs. In the north and northwest, for their part, lived together Nahuas, Chichimecas, Pame and Guachichiles.

The name by which the region was known was Xiuhcoac, which means «turquoise snake.» All the towns that lived in it formed the Huasteca culture.

Aztec period

The Aztecs, led by Moctezuma, began a campaign to conquer the Huasteca region in 1454. The war continued until 1506, when King Ahuizotl was able to defeat the inhabitants of the area.

From that date, the Huasteca was dominated by the Mexicas. This provoked the cultural exchange between both towns. Customs, modes of expression and ideas were changing due to the mutual influence between both cultures.

colonial period

The conquest of Tenochtitlán by the Spanish in 1521 led to the end of Aztec rule. The Spanish sent expeditions to subdue the peoples of the Gulf Coast and begin the colonization of their territories.

This process was not easy for the conquerors, since the resistance against their troops was notable. Hernán Cortés himself had to command an army made up of indigenous allies to defeat them in October 1522.

From that moment, the Huasteca region was under the power of the Spanish Empire. Cortés ordered the construction of new settlements and distributed large tracts of land among his officers.

The Spanish colonists were not able to find the gold or silver they were looking for and began to enslave the natives as a method of increasing their wealth. Despite the fact that the Spanish Crown had prohibited the slave trade, it was very common for many to be sold and shipped to the Caribbean. The result was a great loss of population in the area.

This situation changed in 1527. The Crown intervened and expropriated the lands that Cortés had distributed. New Spanish settlers arrived in the area and the treatment of the natives improved remarkably.


The ancient Huastec culture spanned northern Veracruz, eastern Hidalgo, northeast Puebla, southeast San Luis Potosí, and a small territory in Tamaulipas. Along the coast, the Huasteco territory stretched from Tuxpan to Pánuco.

The territorial limits to the north were marked by the Guayalejo and Tamesí rivers and remains of settlements have been found near the current Ciudad Mante.

Teayo, in Veracruz, was the reference point of the southwestern border. For its part, in the lower area of ​​the sierra, Huastec archaeological remains have been found in an area that extends to Metlaltoyuca.

Characteristics of the Huastec culture

The term Huasteco comes from the Nahuatl word «cuextécatl», which can have two possible meanings: «small snail», if it comes from cuachalolotl, or «guaje», if it comes from «huaxitl».

The Spanish religious Fray Bernardino de Sahagún wrote that “The name of all these should be taken from the province called Cuextlan, where those that are populated are called “Cuextecas”, if there are many, and if one, “Cuextecatl”, and by another name. «Toveiome» when there are many, and when one «Toveio», whose name means «our neighbor».

Cranial deformation and lobar perforation

One of the most outstanding characteristics of the Huastec culture was the custom of deforming the skull, possibly for ritual reasons. In addition, the ears were also pierced to adorn them with bone and shell elements.


Although it is not confirmed one hundred percent, many experts affirm that the Huastecos used to go naked. The source of this information has been the writings found in archaeological excavations.

On the other hand, the current Huastecos usually wear blanket dresses.


The language most spoken by the Huastecos is the Teenek or Huastec language. In addition, the use of Nahuatl and Spanish is also very common. The first of these languages ​​is of Mayan root, although it is estimated that this branch began to differentiate thousands of years ago.

The Huastecos, in their language, call themselves teenek, which means «men from here.»


Currently, three indigenous languages ​​are still spoken in the Huasteca region: Nahuatl, in Veracruz and part of San Luis Potosí; the huasteco, in San Luis Potosí, in the north of Veracruz and in Tamaulipas; and Pame, a dialect used in the mountainous area that separates San Luis Potosí and Querétaro.


The Huastecs used sculpture as a means of expression. His works have unique characteristics that differentiated them from those produced in other cultures.

With the pieces they made, the Huastecos represented their worldview. Normally, they were representations of their gods or important characters within the city.

The material used to make the statues was sandstone. The result were human figures, normally expressionless and of indefinite sex. Sometimes they also represented animals.

For the most part, the figures are represented standing, with their gaze fixed in front. When it came to female representations, the arms are placed on the belly, while in the male ones one arm is seen on the ribs and the other extended.

Other characteristics of Huastec sculpture is the presence of complex body tattoos and conical or fan-shaped headdresses.


Archaeological studies carried out show that the first inhabitants of the area who dominated agriculture were the Otomi. These groups settled on the banks of the Pánuco River.

The Huastecs arrived in the region around 1500 BC. C. and stood out for their pottery production, especially for the clay containers they made.

Agriculture was their main economic activity, as it is today. In addition, they also own herds of cattle and build items with wood.


The Mexicas called the area where the Huastecas settled as Tonacatlapan, «land of food.» The cause was the great fertility of the land, which allowed the cultivation of a large number of plants.

Among the most frequent crops were corn, beans, squash, chili peppers, sweet potatoes or cassava. The Huastecas practiced seasonal agriculture, when the rains began. Before planting, they burned the farmland.


In addition to agriculture, the Huastecos also dedicated themselves to the collection of various vegetables. Among them, small chilies, wild fruits or arum.

Members of this culture did not just gather vegetables. Evidence has also been found that he collected shellfish and oysters. In addition, they were also looking for honey and salt.

On the other hand, the hunters of the settlements played an important role for food sustenance. Their captures, in addition, were also used to make aesthetic and ritual accessories.


Huastec ceramics during the postclassic period were enriched by the influence received from other cultures. The most notable were those from the Maya area and those from central Veracruz.

During the last of the periods into which Huastec ceramic production is divided, the products they made began to have commercial importance. Evidence has been found that this trade reached the Rio Grande, in the north, and Zempoala, in the south.

Likewise, the Huastecas sold part of their craft production in the weekly markets that were held throughout the region.

Traditions and customs

Contrary to what happened with other cultures, the Huastecos have managed to maintain part of their traditions and customs prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. This has allowed a lot of knowledge about what they were like.


The xantolo or festival of the dead, is one of the most important celebrations for the Huastec culture. On November 1, wakes are held with incense. They pray on altars where photos of the deceased are placed.

The next day, November 2, the relatives of the deceased decorate their graves with flowers.

The Huastecas believe that the deceased spend that entire month with their relatives. For this reason, on the last day of November, the altars are decorated with dried flowers and fruit to bid farewell to the deceased.


The huapango has origins that date back to colonial times. The Spaniards brought their music and dance with them which, when mixed with the indigenous ones, gave rise to a new style. Later, the African slaves also contributed their own compositions.

The influence of these three cultures led to the appearance of the musical genre known today as Son Huasteca.

healing rites

One of the customs that dates back to pre-Hispanic times are the healing rites. These are carried out by healers who, according to the beliefs of this culture, communicate with the baatsik, supernatural beings that can steal the soul of humans.

The healer has the mission of recovering the stolen soul and, thus, curing the person. These rites must be performed in the Teenek language, since…

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