Did you know that Oaxaca is the state in Mexico with the highest indigenous population? In fact, there are 16 officially recognized groups. However, the reality is there are so many subgroups, the “true” number is unknown, but their presence is undeniable. This grand diversity of cultures and people groups explains the more than 70 dialects/native languages spoken within Oaxaca!! Of these cultures/languages, the Zapoteca and Mixteca communities are considered to be the most sophisticated and prominent, their influence present everywhere. For that very reason, I want to share with you a glimpse into the heart of Oaxaca, a glimpse into the Zapotec empire.

Monte Albán

Imagine walking on a leveled mountain under the scorching sun, stone pyramids, terraces, and tombs towering all around you. This is the feeling of walking through the ruins of the Zapotec, Olmec, and Mixtec civilizations known as Monte Albán. 

 Monte Albán in all of its glory.
Monte Albán in all of its glory.

With help from their well-developed astronomy and excavation skills, the Zapotecs constructed the ceremonial site in 450 BC. While much smaller than other ancient cities, such as Teotihuacan or Tenochtitlan, Monte Albán once boasted 18,000 Zapotec residents! During its 1500 year inhabitance, the city accommodated temples, ball courts, temples, hieroglyphics, reliefs, and so much more than meets the eye. Being the center of religious controversy, newly-developed cultural traditions, and political movements, there was never a dull moment. 

A sneak peak (haha, get it?) at Monte Albán.
A sneak peak (haha, get it?) at Monte Albán.

Nowadays, Monte Albán is one of the greatest archaeological sites in all of Mexico, part of the World Heritage site that is Oaxaca. Today it is full of tourists. However, one can’t help but wonder, what this place was like filled with the artisans, warriors, priests, chiefs, and politicians that made Monte Albán come alive? 

Counting to Ten!

In an ever-globalizing world, more and more indigenous languages are erased and discredited for colonizer languages, such as English and Spanish. However, within the past few decades, there has been a revival to keep these languages alive. In fact, here in Oaxaca at the Universidad de Benito Juarez students can study the Zapotec language. My program coordinator here is one of these students. Thanks to her, I get to learn a few words here and there, what a privilege! Games, such as Las Tripas del Gato (your classic connect the pairs with lines game), help me learn words as easy as tobi, chupa, chonna!

Here is your Zapotec lesson for the day: 

1- tobi (toe-bee)

2- chupa (choo-pa)

3- chonna (cho-nah)

4- tapa (tah-pah)

5- gaayu’ (guy-yoo)

6- xhoopa’ (show-pah)

7- gadxe (gah-djay)

8- xhono (show-no)

9- ga’ (gah)

10-  chi’i (chee-ee)

This is just the tip of the Zapotec culture iceberg, but I can’t wait to learn and share more language lessons with you! Until then, adiós! 

Published by Sarah Pelyhes

Class of 2022 Global Studies and Spanish Double Major SIT Oaxaca, Mexico

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