Pipil: Wikis


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The Pipil are an indigenous people who live in western El Salvador. Their language is a dialect of Nahuatl called Nahuat or Pipil. Pipil oral tradition holds that they migrated out of central Mexico. However, in general, their mythology is more closely related to the mythology of the Maya peoples who are their near neighbors [1]


Synonymy and language

The name Pipil is the most commonly encountered term in the anthropological and linguistic literature. This exonym is from the closely related Nahuatl word -pil "son, boy" (Nahuatl is a dialect complex that includes languages and dialects of these such as Classical Nahuatl, Milpa Alta Nahuatl, Tetelcingo Nahuatl, Matlapa, Isthmus-Mecayapan Nahuat, among others).

The Pipil speak the endangered Uto-Aztecan language Nawat, also known as Pipil in English, and as náhuat in Spanish (the older form nahuate is no longer current).

Nahuatl -pil is cognate with Nawat pi:pil "boy". The autonym in the Nawat language is simply Nawat which is related to the Classical Nahuatl word nauatl.

For most authors the term Pipil (Nawat) is used to refer to the language in only Central America (i.e. excluding Mexico). However, the term (along with the synonymous Eastern Nahuatl) has also been used to refer to Nahuatl language varieties in the southern Veracruz, Tabasco, and Chiapas that like Pipil have reduced the earlier /tl/ sound to a /t/. The varieties in these three areas do share greater similarities with Nawat than the other Nahuatl varieties do (suggesting a closer connection); however, Campbell (1985) considers Nawat distinct enough to be considered a language separate from the Nahuatl complex, thus rejecting an Eastern Nahuatl subgrouping that includes Nawat.

Finally, for other authors the term Aztec is used to refer to all closely languages in this region as a single language, not distinguishing Nawat from Nahuatl (and sometimes not even separating out Pochutec). The classification of Nahuan that Campbell argues for (1985, 1997) has been susperceded by newer and more detailed classifications. And currently the widely accepted classifications by Lastra de Suarez (1986) and Canger (1988), see Pipil as a Nahuan dialect of the eastern periphery.

  • Uto-Aztecan 5000 BP*
    • Shoshonean (Northern Uto-Aztecan)
    • Sonoran**
    • Aztecan 2000 BP (a.k.a. Nahuan)
      • Pochutec — Coast of Oaxaca
      • General Aztec (Nahuatl)
        • Western periphery
        • Eastern Periphery
          • Pipil
          • Sierra de Puebla
          • Isthmus-Mecayapan
        • Huasteca
        • Central dialects

Dialects of Pipil include the following[citation needed]:

  • Ataco
  • Tacuba
  • Santa Catarina Mazaguat
  • Santo Domigo de Guzmán
  • Nahuizalco
  • Izalco
  • Teotepeque
  • Jicalapa
  • Comazagua
  • Chiltiupan
  • Cuisnahuat

Today Nawat is seldom used and only by a few elderly speakers in Sonsonate and Ahuachapán departments. Cuisnahuat and Santo Domingo de Guzmán have the highest concentration of speakers. Campbell's 1985 estimate (fieldwork 1970-1976) was 200 remaining speakers although as many as 2000 speakers have been recorded in official Mexican reports. Gordon (2005) reports only 20 speakers (from 1987). The exact number of speakers is difficult to determine because native speakers do not wish to be identified due to historic government repression of aboriginal Salvadoreños, such as La Matanza ("The Massacre") of 1932 and laws passed by the government of El Salvador that made it a crime to speak the Nawat language.


A cohesive group sharing a central Mexican culture migrated to the southern Guatemalan piedmont during the Late Classic. They settled around the town of Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa, erecting Monument 4 at around the division between the Late and Terminal Classic. The culture lasted until the Spanish conquest, at which time they still maintained their Nawat language, despite being surrounded by Maya.[2]

The region was rich in natural resources, particularly cacao.

The Pipil introduced the cults of Xipe Totec, Tlaloc, Quetzalcoatl, Huehueteotl, Ehecatl, and Tlalchitonatiuh. Their architecture is death-obsessed; as in their central Mexican homeland, their religion demanded human sacrifice. The Pipil calendar was also expressed in central Mexican terms.[2]

A third group, designated as the Izalco Pipil, are believed to have migrated into the region late in the tenth century, occupying lands west of the Lempa River during the 1000s[citation needed]. Legend and archaeological research suggest these migrants were refugees from conflict within the Toltec empire to the north[citation needed].

The Pipil organized a nation known as Cuzcatlán, with at least two centralized city/states that may have been subdivided into smaller principalities.[citation needed]. The Pipil were also competent workers in cotton textiles, and developed a wide ranging trade network for woven goods as well as agricultural products.[citation needed]

By the time the Spanish arrived, Pipil and Pokoman Maya settlements were interspersed throughout western El Salvador, from the Lempa river to the border with Guatemala. There were four important branches of the Pipil:

  • The Cuzcatlecos, who were a leading community in El Salvador, had their capital in Cuzcatlán (now the town of Antiguo Cuscatlán in greater San Salvador)[citation needed].
  • The Izalcos, who were very wealthy due to their great cocoa production[citation needed].
  • The Nonualcos, of the central region, who were renowned for their love of war[citation needed].
  • The Mazuahas, who were dedicated to raising the White Tailed Deer (now nearly extinct)[citation needed].

Although they were primarily an agricultural people, some Pipil urban centers developed into present-day cities, such as Sonsonate and Ahuachapan. The Pipil communities of Cuzcatlán and Tecpan Izalco in El Salvador were founded in approximately A.D. 1050[citation needed]. The ruins of Cihiuatan, those in Aguilares, and those close to the Guazapa volcano are considered among the most notable remains of Pipil civilization.

Migration and legend

Pipil may refer to a branch of the pre-Columbian Toltec civilization, which flourished in Central Mexico around the close of the 1st millennium AD[citation needed]. The Toltec capital, Tula[citation needed], also known as Tollan and located in the present-day state of Hidalgo) is the most significant archaeological site associated with the Toltec. The apogee of Tula's reach post-dates that of the great city of Teotihuacán, which lies further to the southeast and quite close to the modern Mexico City. Tradition, mythology and archaeology[citation needed] strongly suggest these people arrived in El Salvador around the year A.D. 1000 as a result of the collapse of the Tala[citation needed]. The Tala, apparently a Toltec subgroup or family line, gained power or influence in the Toltec civilization at the fall of Teotihuacan[citation needed]. This group was ultimately defeated in a bloody civil war over succession to the throne of the Toltec capital Tula[citation needed]. The defeated group had little choice but to leave Mexico and emigrate to Central America[citation needed]. Tula fell a short time later, circa A.D. 1070, while under the reign of Huemac-Quetzalcoatl[citation needed].

The faction that lost the war was led by the celebrated hero Topiltzin, son of Mixcoatl[citation needed]. His followers thought he was a reincarnation of the god Quetzalcoatl, and used the name as a title[citation needed]. According to tradition, Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl founded a sanctuary to the god Nuictlan in the region of 'Guija Lake'[citation needed]. Later, he arrived at the now ruined Maya site of Copán in Honduras, and subsequently went to the environs of the present Nicaragua where he established the people known as Nicarao[citation needed].

Spanish conquest

In the early sixteenth century, the Spanish conquistadores ventured into Central America from Mexico, then known as the Spanish colony of New Spain. Spanish efforts to extend their dominion to the area that would be known as El Salvador were firmly resisted by the Pipil and their remaining Mayan-speaking neighbors. Pedro de Alvarado, a lieutenant of Hernan Cortes, led the first effort by Spanish forces in June 1524. Led by a war leader tradition calls Atlacatl, the indigenous people defeated the Spaniards and forced them to withdraw to Guatemala. Two subsequent expeditions were required—the first in 1525, followed by a smaller group in 1528—to bring the Pipil under Spanish control.

Modern Pipil

The Pipil have had a strong influence on the current culture of El Salvador, with a large portion of the population claiming ancestry from this and other indigenous groups. Ninety percent of today's Salvadorans are mestizos (people of mixed native and European descent), with only nine percent of unmixed European ancestry. About 1% is of pure indigenous ancestry. [1] A few Pipil still speak Nawat and follow traditional ways of life. The traditional groups live mainly in the southwestern highlands near the Guatemalan border.

According to a special report which appeared in El Diario de Hoy in 2009 due to the current preservation and revitalization efforts of various non-profit organizations in conjunction with several universities combined with a post-civil war resurgence of Pipil identity in the country of El Salvador the current number of Nawat speakers has risen from 200 in the 1980's to 3,000 speakers at the time of the reports writing, the vast majority being young people giving the language hope of being pulled from the brink of extinction.[3]

Furthermore there is also a greatly renewed interest in the preservation of the traditional beliefs and other cultural practices of the Pipil plus a greater openness by the communities to perform their ceremonies in public and donning traditional clothing.


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  • Carrasco, David, Editor in chief. The Oxford encyclopedia of Mesoamerican cultures: the civilizations of Mexico and Central America, in four volumes. Oxford University Press, New York., 2001. ISBN 0-19-510815-9 (set).
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  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
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  • Fowler, William R. (1983). La distribución prehistórica e histórica de los pipiles. Mesoamérica, 6, 348-372.
  • de Fuentes y Guzmán, Francisco Antonio. (1932-1933 [1695]). Recordación Florida: Discurso historial y demostración natural, material, militar y política del Reyno de Guatemala. J. A. Villacorta, R. A. Salazar, & S. Aguilar (Eds.). Biblioteca "Goathemala" (Vols. 6-8). Guatemala: Sociedad de Geografía e Historia.
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  • Jiménez Moreno, Wigberto. (1959). Síntesis de la historia pretoleca de Mesoamérica. Esplendor del México antiguo (Vol. 2, pp. 1019-1108). Mexico.
  • Jiménez Moreno, Wigberto. (1966). Mesoamerica before the Tolteca. In J. Paddock (Ed.), Ancient Oaxaca (pp. 4-82). Stanford: Stanford University Press.
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  • Lehmann, Walter. (1920). Zentral-Amerika. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
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See also


  1. ^ Culture and Customs of El Salvador.
  2. ^ a b Michael Coe, The Maya (Thames and Hudson) 7th ed 2005 174-6 from 5th ed 1993 137-9
  3. ^ http://www.elsalvador.com/mwedh/nota/nota_completa.asp?idCat=6482&idArt=3957733

External links



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