The Rain Place

FIGURE 3. The three regions of the Rain Place.

FIGURE 3. The three regions of the Rain Place.

FIGURE 4. Maize field in San Juan Mixtepec, the Mixteca Baja. June 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.

FIGURE 4. Maize field in San Juan Mixtepec, the Mixteca Baja. June 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.

The landscape of the Rain Place is divided into three regions, referred as the Mixteca Alta (Spanish for “High Mixteca”), the Mixteca Baja (Spanish for “Low Mixteca”), and the Mixteca de la Costa (Spanish for “Coastal Mixteca”)(Figure 3). The Alta (or, as the sixteenth century Ñudzavui called it , the dzini ñudzavui or “high Rain Place”) is cool and mountainous, with elevations ranging from 1600 to 2500 meters. The Costa or ñundevui, “land of the sky,” is hot and tropical, gradually sloping from the foothills of the Alta down to the coast of the Pacific Ocean (600 to 0 meters). Finally, to the north and west of the Alta is the Mixteca Baja, the ñuiñe or “lowlands.” Hot and dry, the Mixteca Baja’s rugged terrain is covered by scrub forests. Its elevation ranges from 750 to 1650 meters.3

These three regions encompass a number of ecological zones, each with a different combination of natural resources. Typically, different ecological zones correspond to different elevations; an obvious extreme would be to contrast the plants and animals living on the top of a mountain with those dwelling on a valley floor. The varied distribution of natural resources within these different elevational zones is referred to as “verticality.” Because the vertical topography of the Mixteca changes so rapidly, it is possible to travel through several ecological zones in a single day. Having access to the different resources of these varied ecological zones was and continues to be important for Ñudzavui communities, for it assures, among other things, a constant supply of food. During the Postclassic period, Ñudzavui communities gained access to the resources of different vertical zones through inter-regional marital alliances and trade. People from the highlands (the Alta and Baja) traded pulque (an alcoholic beverage produced from the fermentation of the juice of the maguey cactus) and cochineal (an insect used to produce a brilliant red dye) with their coastal neighbors in exchange for salt, cotton, tropical feathers, and cacao, as well as maize and other subsistence products grown in frost-free lowland fields (Figure 4).4 Verticality is still an important feature of life in the Mixteca today, influencing settlement patterns and motivating trade between different communities and regions.

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3 Smith 1973, 97.

4 Spores 1967, 6; Monaghan 1994.