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This area of the world has been home to large populations of indigenous people for thousands of years. They varied between tribes that would be found in the most remote parts of tropical rainforests to ancient kingdoms that were as developed as any other region in the world. One of the most well-known empires was the Aztec Empire which ruled the Valley of Mexico from 1427 until being conquered by the Spanish in 1521. The empire consisted of three cities, Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan that controlled most of Mexico. The area consisted of Nahua people who spoke Nahuati.

Aztec Empire

The people themselves had descended from the chichimeca who were nomadic people living in the region surviving from hunting. They spoke a variety of languages and were united into speaking Nahuati once the Aztec Empire was founded. Once the empire was defeated by the Spanish the region was developed into Mexico City. The people then started to speak Spanish and after the 1821 Mexican independence was won after victory at the Mexican War of Independence.

The country has also been home to other earlier civilizations. Teotihuacan was an ancient city located just 25 miles from Mexico City. It was created in 100BC and by 100AD it had a population of around 125,000 which made it the 6th largest city in the world. It was occupied by Nahua, Otomi and Totonac ethnic groups and today the ruins are maintained by the government. A major feature of the area are the pyramids where the history of the city has and the activities of its people have been recorded in the remains that have been found.

The colorful traditional dress of the Nahua in Mexico

Another country in Central America that has had a rich history with its indigenous people is Costa Rica. When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1502 there were already 20,000 indigenous people living in the country. The Spanish found the people difficult to deal with as they lived in small clusters around the country as opposed to them being grouped together in large numbers, as they experienced in Mexico.

In fact although it was claimed as a Spanish territory, its remote location meant that it was the poorest of the colonies and didn’t really interest the Spanish, and this resulted in the native people being left alone to exist as they had previously done. Today a number of groups still exist with them being very regional in terms of where they exist. The Boruca people live in the southern areas of the country. The Bibri are coastal people who live along the coastline, and the Guaymi exist along the Panama border in the south of the country.

The largest indigenous group are the Cabecar Indians. They are the most isolated living in the Chirripo Mountains. Their remoteness has resulted in them being very traditional and they have managed to preserve their own culture. Currently there are 17,000 in the country today and speak their own language. The biggest worry for the government is there are no schools in these remote areas so the great majority of the group have never been exposed to education. This is a major predicament for the country as they want to encourage the traditional populations to maintain their cultural identity yet they do want the modern day society to influence their youngsters growing up.

The Cabecar Indians in a remote part of Costa Rica

Panama is another country in Central America that has a large number of indigenous people in their population. Currently there are over 418, 000 people who hail from the country’s indigenous groups which is over 12% of the population. Half of these numbers belong to the Ngobe Bugle and the Guaymi. The majority of the indigenous people live on Comarca Indigenas which are administrative regions with substantial Indian populations that have similar powers to the provinces.

Through these administrative regions the government has a greater influence to decide what services the indigenous populations require. This has resulted in less people being cut off in remote areas, not having access to basic health and educational care. Central America’s topography and vegetation ecosystems, have created remote environments for the indigenous people to survive in. Virtually cut off from the rest of the world these groups have been able to maintain their cultures and customs that their previous family members had been practicing for years.