Glossary and Pronunciation


khc in cat (with a puff of breath)
php in push (with a puff of breath)
tht in tip (with a puff of breath)
xsh in short
'first h in uh-oh (glottal stop)
aa in aye
ee in hey
ii in marine
oo in grow
uu in tune
åau in taught
εe in bet
ïu in church (but with rounded lips)
øeu in French eux

Otomí vowels marked with a tilde are nasalized. Accent marks indicate high tone.
Nahuatl words stress the penultimate syllable.


adobada Spicy sauce blended from stewed tomato, chili, onion, and other seasonings
brujo 'Witch,' but generally used for any private ritual specialist such as curandero or shaman
Casa de Dios 'House of God,' the Pentecostal house of worship in Tenamitl
chichikilli Square tamale stuffed with meat and folded within a pahpaatla leaf
Chikomexochitl 'Seven Flower,' an Aztec god of maize and fertility; although the deity has male and female aspects in modern worship, she is described through the account as basically female
comal Flat, circular grill, usually made from baked clay
compadrazgo Fictive 'co-parent' kinship formed through ritual sponsorship between unrelated adults; a male relative is a compadre, and a female relative is a comadre
copal Incense made in the Huasteca from a blend of resinous, aromatic barks
costumbre 'Custom,' general term for traditional indigenous religion
costumbrista One who attends or performs costumbre rites
curandero 'Curer,' a folk healer who uses medicinal plants and ritual practices; the practice is curanderismo
cutting Small paper doll used to represent a god or spirit, to receive ritual offerings; in Nahuatl the plural is tlatekme (singular tlatektli), and in Otomí it is hεkí
hermano 'Brother,' a general term for evangelical converts
huapango Musical style performed with guitar, violin, and/or jarana (small guitar) and often highlighted with vocal upswings; distinct to the Huasteca region
Huasteca Lowland crescent abutting the west Gulf Coast; renowned especially for its livestock herding, subtropical climate, fertile terrains, and indigenous cultures; named after the local Huaxtec civilization
indio 'Indian,' usually a pejorative racial term in Latin America for indigenes
maxochitl 'Hand flower,' a marigold or olohuite blossom folded within the base of a palm leaf strip and fastened with a portion of the leaf; used as ritual decoration
Mesoamerica The indigenous culture area between Central Mexico and northern Central America, defined by massive cities and complex civilizations such as the Maya and Aztec
Mestizo Mexican person of mixed European and indigenous ancestry; also, the mainstream society that espouses this mixed cultural heritage
milpa Garden plot used principally for maize but also diverse secondary crops; many rural indigenous families own these through government-apportioned ejidos
morral Square bag woven from sisal and slung around the shoulder
Moyankwilia 'Self-renew,' Nahua New Years' ceremony timed to the first sowing around the middle of January
nagual The animal guise of one's tonalli spirit; also, a human or other being that can transform into animals
Nahuatl A Uto-Aztecan language spoken across various dialects in Mexico and most famously by the Aztecs; modern indigenous speakers are Nahua
n'yogí Otomí term for the indigenous nature gods, consciously recognized as "ancient," predating Spanish Christianity
Otomí An Oto-Manguean language spoken across various dialects in Central Mexico; noteworthy for its tonal and nasal vowels and its complex pronoun systems
pahpaatla Stalk plant (Heliconia sp.) whose leaves are often used to wrap corn dough during cooking
pantsi 'Small bread,' a sweet bun
PEMEX 'Mexican Petroleum,' the national fossil fuel company
peso Basic unit of Mexican currency; during the field season it valued between 11 and 12 to the U.S. dollar
shaman Part-time ritual specialist who communicates and engages directly with supernatural beings under a trance or other altered state of consciousness
tianguis Weekly outdoor market
tlachpoastli Abbreviation of tepetlachpoastli, 'mountain broom,' a bush with small, waxy leaves; its leafy branches are used to sprinkle water or sweep altars during rituals
Tlahzolteotl 'Trash Spirit,' Aztec goddess of lust, fertility, and growth; commonly identified with a conical headdress, cotton ornaments, and tarred lips; a cultural borrowing from the Huaxtec mother goddess
Tlaloc 'Covered in Earth,' the Aztec rain god; commonly identified with ringed goggles, upper fangs, and a curled mustache
Tlamanas Contraction of elotlamanalistli, 'distribution of maize ears,' thanksgiving ceremony dedicated to the first harvest; traditionally held toward the middle of May and again around the beginning of October
tlatekme See "cutting"
tonalli Type of soul attributed to individual personality, consciousness, and perception; accounts widely say that it can exist in an animal or other material form separate from the owner's body
xochikalli 'Flower house,' community chapel dedicated to costumbre religion
xochitlalketl 'Flower setter,' Nahua ritual practitioner who specializes in rites dedicated to agricultural gods