[tuh-ras-kuhn, -rahs-]
Tarascan, Native Americans of the state of Michoacán, Mexico. Their language has no known relation to other languages, and their history prior to the 16th cent. is poorly understood. The polity present at the time of the Spanish conquest (1521) had roughly the same territorial outline as the contemporary state of Michoacán, which it successfully defended against a protracted and bloody Aztec attack in the year 1479. Their capital, Tzintzuntzán [place of the hummingbirds], was located on the shore of Lake Pátzcuaro and had a population of 25,000 to 35,000. Peculiar to Tarascan culture were T-shaped pyramids, rising in terraces and faced with stone slabs without mortar. They were skilled weavers, and were famous for their feathered mosaics made from hummingbird plumage. Most of the over 100,000 contemporary Tarascans are impoverished residents of small rural communities who supplement agricultural production with craft specializations (e.g., weaving, embroidery, woodworking, and lacquerware) and seasonal migration to the United States.

See R. A. M. van Zantwijk, Servants of the Saints (1967); I. R. Dinerman, Migrants and Stay-at-Homes (1982); J. B. Warren, The Conquest of Michoacan (1985).

Tarascan is a word designating an indigenous ethnic group of Mexico and the language that they speak. The term is gradually becoming obsolete instead being replaced by the ethnic group's own name for themselves: P'urhépecha (or P'orhépecha) for both the people and the language. However the historical P'urhepecha built a state which is normally referred to as the Tarascan state because that is the way it appears in the early colonial sources.

The name "Tarascan" (and its Spanish-language equivalent, "tarasco") comes from the word "tarascue" in their own language, which means indistinctly "father-in-law" or "son-in-law". The Spanish took it as their name, for reasons that have been attributed to different, mostly legendary, stories. Curiously the Nahuatl name for the Tarascans was "Michhuàquê" ("those who have fish"), whence the name of the state of Michoacán.

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