[wuh-hah-kuh; Sp. wah-hah-kah]
Oaxaca, state (1990 pop. 3,019,560), 36,375 sq mi (94,211 sq km), S Mexico, on the Pacific Ocean and its arm, the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Oaxaca is the capital. The northern part of the state is dominated by the Sierra de Oaxaca; there are deep tortuous valleys in the south and broad, open semiarid valleys and plateaus in the north. Except on the west and the north, the periphery of the state is tropical, the interior generally temperate.

Fertile valleys make agriculture the principal economic activity. Sugarcane, coffee (of which Oaxaca is a leading national producer), tobacco, cereals, and tropical and semitropical fruits are grown; livestock is raised. Oaxaca's mineral deposits remain largely unexploited. The state's limited industrial activity centers around oil refining, beverage and paper manufacturing, and sugar and flour milling. Oaxaca is also known for its handicrafts, especially handwoven textiles, pottery, and leather goods. Despite the existence of several highways, inadequate communications remain the chief barrier to the state's industrialization.

There are famous archaeological sites at Mitla and Monte Albán. Indigenous peoples predominate here, as in few other states, with Mixtecs dominating in the highlands and Zapotecs elsewhere. Beach resorts are under development at Huatulco Bays and other locales along the southern coast, which should increase the already important contribution of tourism to the state's economy. Porfirio Díaz and Benito Juárez were born here.

Oaxaca, city (1990 pop. 212,818), capital of Oaxaca state, S Mexico. The city is officially called Oaxaca de Juárez. Situated in a valley encircled by low mountains, Oaxaca is a commercial and tourist center with gardens and many examples of colonial church architecture. The church and monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzmán is a national monument. Oaxaca is noted for hand-wrought gold and silver filigree, pottery, and sarapes that rank among the finest in Mexico. The city has two museums that feature pre-Hispanic art and a contemporary art museum, and the ancient Zapotec capital of Monte Albán is nearby. There is an annual festival that celebrates indigenous culture. The chief city of S Mexico, Oaxaca is linked with the federal capital by rail and the Inter-American Highway. The city is subject to severe earthquakes.

According to Aztec tradition, Oaxaca was founded as Huasyacac in 1486, during the brief ascendancy of the Aztecs over the Mixtecs and Zapotecs; the present city was laid out by Spanish conquerors in 1529. Prominent in the Mexican revolution against Spain, the city also joined in the War of the Reform and in resistance to the French intervention. Both Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz were born in Oaxaca in the 1800s. During May-Nov., 2006, the city was torn by a bitter protest against Oaxaca state's governor by teachers, leftists, and others and a heavy-handed state response; in October, federal police intervened with force to restore order to the central city.

The Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca (Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca) , in Spanish phonemically /oa'xaka/, named for its largest city, is one of the 31 states of Mexico, located in the southern part of the country, west of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Oaxaca borders the states of Guerrero to the west, Puebla to the northwest, Veracruz to the north, Chiapas to the east, and the Pacific Ocean in the south.

Oaxaca, the historic home of the Zapotec and Mixtec peoples, contains more speakers of indigenous languages than any other Mexican state.

With an area of 36,820.2 km² (95,364 mi.²), Oaxaca is the fifth largest state in the Republic. According to the 2005 census it had a population of 3,506,821 people.

Notable Oaxacans include President Benito Juárez, born in the Oaxacan village of San Pablo Guelatao, as well as Rufino Tamayo, Porfirio Diaz, José Vasconcelos, Francisco Toledo, María Sabina, J. Alberto Canseco Díaz, Major League Baseball player Vinicio Castilla, chemical engineer Marco Rito-Palomares and many other writers, artists and politicians.



Oaxaca's rugged terrain, which caused various groups to develop in relative isolation from one another, is responsible for the cultural and linguistic diversity of the region. The central Valley of Oaxaca was one of the most fertile areas of the Americas and allowed powerful and influential groups to emerge. The valley was first occupied by the Zapotec people, who were conquered by the Mixtecs in the thirteenth century. Society was mainly organized in villages by extended family groups with communal authority, although the civilizations of the Mixtecs and Zapotecs did have kings and religious orders.

Among these civilizations' accomplishments were the domestication of many plants and animals including corn, beans, chocolate, tomatoes, chiles, squash, pumpkin, and turkeys. Also available in the fertile region of Oaxaca were pineapples, avocados, zapotes, and maguey. In the south, the Pacific Ocean was an important food source. The civilizations built by these groups are reflected in important archaeological sites including Monte Albán, Mitla, Guiengola and Huijatzoo. Monte Albán was a great ceremonial center built on a flattened mountain top by the Zapotec people which reached its zenith between 600 and 900 AD The ancient Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle near the city of Oaxaca is one of the oldest human settlements in Mexico.

Throughout the Zapoteca era, local and regional trade flourished, and most important economic activities were agriculture, hunting, fishing and mining; silver and gold having been fashioned by artisans for hundreds of years. Commercial routes passed through Oaxaca to the Mayan lands of the north and south to Central and South America. Major ports were located in present-day Salina Cruz, Astata, Huatulco, Puerto Ángel and Pinotepa Nacional.

In the mid-fifteenth century, the central valley was conquered by the Aztecs, who forced the surrounding Mixtec and Zapotec kingdoms to pay tribute to the emperor in the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. The Aztec presence had the effect of increasing social and economic ties between Oaxaca and the Aztec heartland. Shortly after 1496, the Aztecs established a garrison in the center of the valley, around the Cerro del Fortín and down to the present Church of Carmen Alto where their temple was located. The Aztecs called their garrison Huāxyacac, meaning "place of guaje trees" in the Nahuatl language, named for the great number of the species (Leucaena esculenta) in the area. Under Spanish rule, Huāxyacac would become Oaxaca, and the pronunciation of the x would transition from "sh" [ʃ] to the modern Spanish "j" [h].

Colonial period

Tenochtitlan fell to the Spanish in August of 1521 and with it all of the Aztec empire. On November 25, 1521, Francisco de Orozco arrived in the central valley to claim it in the name of the conquistador Hernan Cortes, who had been granted Oaxaca as his prize for the conquering of New Spain by the Spanish crown. Cortes was thereby named Marques del Valle de Oaxaca. The settlement founded by the Spanish in 1521 as Segura de la Frontera, later known as Nueva Antequera, was officially raised to the category of a royal city in 1532 by decree of Emperor Charles V (Carlos I) with the name of Antequera de Guaxaca.

Transformation was swift in the central valley with the Spanish introducing new food and methods of cultivation. Cortes himself ordered the cultivation of wheat in the Valley of Etla and the construction of mills. The Spanish cultivated sugar cane and imported silkworms. Disease introduced by the arriving Spanish greatly diminished the native population of Oaxaca, as did the insatiable appetite for gold, which led more and more Oaxacans into the dangerous mines.

Over the 300 years of colonialism many aspects of life became Europeanized. Important government positions were filled with the Spanish and their descendants, and later by elite mestizos, persons of mixed European and indigenous ancestry.


Mexico's independence from Spain was won in 1821. Throughout the 1800s and into the early 1900s, Oaxaca remained largely an agriculture-based economy with little new industry. The automobile created a divide between the traditional villages and the new urban world of mobility and fast communication. A railroad was built connecting Oaxaca to Mexico city. Centuries of deforestation resulted in rampant erosion forcing migration to the cities and the U.S.


In May 2006 a teachers strike, calling for higher wages, led to the occupation of many buildings and streets in Oaxaca's capital city. On June 14, 2006, the Oaxaca Teachers Union was evicted. By October 2006, supporters of the strike, led by the Asemblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO), had grown to tens of thousands, calling for Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz to resign. Demonstrators launched a widespread campaign of civil disobedience and took over the state-run television station. On October 27, 2006, paramilitary forces fired on a crowd of protesters, killing three: Esteban Zurrita and Emilio Alonso Fabian, two locals involved in the demonstrations, and Brad Will, a U.S. independent journalist and activist who had been videotaping the protest. On October 28, 2006, Mexican President Vicente Fox ordered riot police to regain control of the city. On October 29, police and military forces used bulldozers, water cannons and tear gas to push Oaxaca's citizens back. Government forces seized Oaxaca's town hall by mid-afternoon. At least one more person was killed in the most recent violence, raising the total of persons killed to "more than a dozen. Early in the morning on November 2, Mexico's Day of the Dead holiday, the PFP attempted to clear barricades surrounding the Autonomous University of Oaxaca Benito Juarez, which houses the radio station Radio Universidad, one of the last radio or television outlets still under the control of the APPO. A pitched battle ensued, during which police fired tear gas onto University grounds and dropped gas canisters from low-flying helicopters. The protesters hurled rocks and fireworks at police and set buses and vehicles on fire as impromptu barricades. After several hours, the police withdrew, having failed at least temporarily to gain control of the area surrounding the University or to take the radio station off the air. Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN has also called for the resignation of Governor Ruíz.

APPO's occupation of Oaxaca ended on the night of November 25, 2006, when the Federal Preventative Police, or PFP, again went on the offensive, this time making many arrests and clearing away APPO's last encampment, or planton, in front of Santo Domingo church. More than twenty buildings suffered fire damage, although it remains unclear who set the fires. Within a few days, activists handed the radio station of Oaxaca's Autonomous University back to the University, relinquishing what had become APPO's most effective rallying center. Many of those arrested by the PFP were sent to distant prisons. Many of those have subsequently alleged that they were tortured while in custody. Governor Ruiz remains in office.

During the subsequent months, civic leaders, Oaxaca's business community, and especially Oaxaca's tourism sector,have tried to bring Oaxaca back to its previous level of economic functioning. Starting in January, 2007, APPO has staged a series of marches. To date (the end of April, 2007), these have been peaceful.

On July 16, 2007, a large group of APPO supporters claimed they were peacefully marching to the Guelaguetza Stadium when the group was stopped by a larger contingent of local, state, federal and army forces, all in riot gear. Unrest between the colliding groups resulted in tear gas being visible from over a mile away and burning city buses in the eastern road leading to the Stadium.

Law and government

Due to its large size, rough terrain and the tendency of the indigenous communities to identify strongly with their village as opposed to their region, Oaxaca is divided in 571 municipios, the most of any one state, accounting for almost 1/4 of all the municipios in the country. Within municipalities are many towns and villages that are self ruled with a system called Usos y Costumbres, a system that advocates for retention of culture and practical ways of conducting daily business. However, since this leads to plurality for individual villages or towns, it tends to depart the ideologies of these villages from each other encouraging regional and tribal rivalries. Usos y Costumbres also contends that it protects the land of indigenous people because it encourages self autonomy. A critic of this is that regions compete for autonomy and differences in ideology (primarily within culture) and always end up forming another municipality. In addition since Usos y Costumbres advocates autonomy it fails to identify with its municipality (the village's head of government) and there is no direct communication between the State and villages. A failure of Usos y Costumbres to adapt quickly for political change leaves the villages and towns vulnerable to exploitation from interest groups and big government who don't see an incentive in aligning their goals and policies with the views of such towns.


Oaxaca is located at the convergence of the Sierra Madre Oriental and the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain ranges, resulting in a rugged and mountainous terrain with a large temperate central valley. The average altitude is 1,500 meters (5,085 feet) above sea level. The area is a distinct physiographic section of the larger Sierra Madre del Sur province, which in turn is part of the larger Sierra Madre System physiographic division.


On February 12, 2008, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake was recorded in Oaxaca.

Municipalities and regions

The state of Oaxaca is divided into municipalities (municipios), 570 in all—more than any other state. Each municipality is headed by a municipal president (mayor).

The municipalities are grouped into the following 8 regions:

  • Cañada
  • Costa
  • Istmo
  • Juchitan
  • Papaloapan
  • Sierra Norte
  • Sierra Sur
  • Valles Centrales


Oaxaca has a high concentration of indigenous people. There are sixteen formally registered indigenous communities, some of which are culturally diverse themselves.

The sixteen groups and the number of speakers of their language according to the 2005 census are:

Of these, 477,788 are non-Spanish monolingual.

Tourism and regional festivals

Oaxaca's principal industry is tourism, with over of beaches, colonial architecture, archaeological treasures, crafts and folkart. The prominent colonial destination is the city of Oaxaca which contains the Santo Domingo Temple, the Government Palace, the Macedonio Alcala Theater, the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Prehispanic Art, and the House of Cortés.

Monte Alban is the dominant archaeological destination, having been the capital of the ancient Mixtec-Zapotec empire. Mitla, originally meaning "place of the dead" in Zapotec, is known for its unique ancient tile work.

Major festivals include the día de los muertos (day of the dead) and noche de los rabanos (night of the radishes). In Zapotec villages, families traditionally finance the large communally organized dances and feasts on patron saints' days through a system of making small loans over many years and then calling them in on an occasion when the family has volunteered to be the festival sponsor or mayordomo; this economic system is known in Zapotec as guelaguetza. This practice has given its name to the largest festival of dance and music in the state, the Guelaguetza, a major attraction for regional, national, and international tourists that is put on annually at a stadium built for the purpose overlooking the city of Oaxaca.

Transportation is provided by a many secondary roads and highways, and a toll-road that leads to Mexico City through Puebla and another that will lead from Oaxaca City to Huatulco. Major airports are found in Oaxaca City, Huatulco and Puerto Escondido and are served by the airlines Aeroméxico, Aerocaribe, Aerotucan, Aviacsa, and Mexicana.



Oaxaca has a number of native crafts, including the production of alebrijes, weaving and black clay objects. Alebrijes are popular wooden figurines of mythical beings, animals, and fantastic combinations of both, usually painted with very vibrant colors.

Zapotec weaving traditions were studied at length by Edwin Scheier and Mary Goldsmith in the 1960s.


For the same reasons its people are so diverse, Oaxaca boasts a tremendous diversity of regional cuisine, nicknamed "Land of the Seven Moles." An abundance of fruits and vegetables are grown in the central valley, tropical fruits are found in the north and fish and shellfish dominate the cuisine of the south. Oaxaca is also known for Oaxaca cheese (quesillo) which is now exported around the world and even made in many locations in the United States. There is also a breakfast specialty, generally only available in Oaxaca - huevos oaxaqueños - eggs poached in a chili-tomato soup. Another specialty is chapulines, or roasted grasshoppers, a popular dish in the state's central valleys region. Chapulines are eaten after the rains begin and through early autumn. Oaxaca is also known for producing mezcal, a spirit with similarities to tequila. Tequila and mezcal are alike in that they both derive from fermented agave, but differ in taste and mezcal's tradition of family artisan production.

Corn is the staple food but the preparation of corn dough varies wildly, from entomadas and empanadas to tamales and tortillas. Black beans are also a common ingredient, as is the pasilla oaxaquena chile which gives many dishes their distinct hot, smoky taste and red color.

Oaxaca is also well-known for its chocolate, which is made from ground cacao beans, and frequently includes almonds, cinnamon and many other ingredients.

Plants and shamanism

Oaxaca is known for at least two plants which are native to this particular area of the world, both used in Shamanism: Psilocybe mushrooms and Salvia divinorum.

Other entheogens in the region include:

And several 5-MeO-DMT/Dimethyltryptamine containing plants, often used in Ayahuasca brews. They celabrate day of the dead.

See also

Major communities



External links

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