What Was The Social Organization Of The Mixtecos Like?

The social organization of the Mixtecos was through a system of hierarchies. These were constituted in the form of castes that, eventually, came into conflict. The Mixtec people are one of the most important in Mesoamerica; its cultural depth and its persistence in history make it different.

The Mixtecs are the source of many of the most important pre-Hispanic codices that are known in the indigenous history of America, before colonization. They are the largest people after the Nahuas, the Mayas and the Zapotecs. In their language they were called Ñuu Savi, which in Spanish means “People of the rain”.

The Mixtec civilization inhabited the territories of Mesoamerica for a period of more than 2,000 years, between 1,500 BC and the beginning of the 16th century, when the Spanish conquest brought a violent end to the continuity of these cultures.

Despite the fact that they were an advanced civilization in terms of knowledge and the extraordinary quality of their art, the Mixtecs were not an organized people with respect to the establishment of social classes and their political-territorial organization.

The Mixtecos were ceasing to be a nomadic people and began to settle in the territories that today are known as La Mixteca (Ñuu Dzahui, in old Mixtec), a mountainous region that includes the Mexican states of Puebla, Oaxaca and Guerrero.

Internal organization

The Mixtecos, even before being colonized, had a social organization exactly the same as the European one; that is to say, they had established a feudal system and lived under a monarchical regime. They had kings, nobility, lordships, free men and servants.

Although the Spanish chronicles report on numerous social strata in the Mixtec organization, basically the social order of the Mixtecos was divided, hierarchically, as follows:

In the first place there was a governor, king or “lord” of each chiefdom, who was called “yya”, for each Mixtec kingdom or town.

On the other hand was the nobility, who were in charge of fulfilling the king’s requests and were called “dzayya yya.” They were in the same category with the king.

The next position in the pyramid corresponded to free people, also called artisans and merchants, known as “tay wildebeest”, who had their own businesses.

The kings were the highest leaders and exercised their power by cities: in each city, depending on the Mixtec people, there was a dictator who exercised his power with subject manors who were in charge of annoying processes, such as paying taxes and offering, selling and exchange soldiers when there was war.

Each Mixtec town had a chiefdom that varied according to the territory. Each cacique was surrounded by a group of nobles, who were in charge of fulfilling the minor functions of the government.

Then there were the landless Indians, peasants, farmers, assistants or “terrazgueros” of the artisans, who were known as “tay situndayu”.

There were also Mixtec servants, who were called “tay sinoquachi” and, finally, there were Mixtec slaves, a group called “dahasaha”.

Despite the fact that, during the pre-Hispanic period, the Mixtecs were characterized by having a strict hierarchy, the differences became visible during the development of society.

This derived from the sedentarization and the birth of the political, historical, economic and cultural processes that occurred since the 16th century.

Characteristics of the social organization of the Mixtecs

There was no possibility of social advancement

The possibility of ascent of social category did not exist. Marriages between the “dzayya and ya” implied that their group would be preserved as long as they reproduced.

At one point they practiced inbreeding to make that happen, which generated a much stronger kingdom and alliances, which increased social inequality.

Free people lived in the cities

Free people were often city dwellers. They recruited workers from the land and allowed them, according to their work, to improve their quality of life.

This was not so for the servants and slaves, who were condemned for being from another kingdom, since they came, almost always, from captures in fights against other peoples.

The tay wildebeest, as free people, were masters of their will, their property, and what they produced on their property.

Another group, called the terrazgueros, were people who had lost power over the product of their effort, because they had to pay tribute to the nobles because of the war.

The «wildebeest» as a dominant group

At first, the “yucuñudahui” replaced the “yucuita” as the dominant group. However, later the figure of the «ñuu» was established, which today is known as the majority of the Mixtec peoples.

The «wildebeest» focused on the structure of marriage, to establish stronger unions between them and to be able to develop a power that would allow them to fight other neighboring peoples, even though they were Mixtec.

Political and economic aspects of social organization

Regarding their political organization, as mentioned above, the Mixtecos were not very organized.

They did not have an “umbrella” government to centralize their mandate and unify the kingdoms of the Mixtec themselves. On the contrary, the Mixtec people were divided into many tribes that, on several occasions, maintained internal conflicts.

One of the main factors of its pre-Hispanic political system has to do with the fragmentation of many states in small territories and that, many times, they were in conflicts among themselves.

Regarding its community infrastructure, it is structured (especially in Oaxaca) by groups called «tequios».

They are also divided hierarchically, like the social organization mentioned above: first the rulers, then the nobility and finally the farmers and slaves.

The Mixtec has a geography that is not very suitable for agriculture. The ancestors settled in an enormous territory that included the northwest of Oaxaca, the extreme south of the state of Puebla and a piece in the east of the state of Guerrero.

For this reason, the Mixtecs developed irrigation systems and terraces for the optimal preservation of their crops.


  1. Alfonso, C. (1996). Kings and Kingdoms of the Mixteca. México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
  2. Austin, AL, & Luján, LL (1999). Myth and reality of Zuyuá. Mexico, DF: FCE.
  3. Jáuregui, J., & Esponda, VM (1982). Chronological and onomastic bibliography. New Anthropology , 251-300.
  4. Ravicz, R. (1980). Social organization of the Mixtecos. Social Anthropology .
  5. Terraciano, K. (2001). The Mixtecs of colonial Oaxaca: Nudzahui history, sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

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