Legends of the Mixtec People

The Mixtec have a rich cultural heritage that spans several millennia in the mountainous regions of Oaxaca, as well as parts of the Mexican states of Puebla and Guerrero. The Mixtec developed a sophisticated society known for its remarkable achievements in art, architecture, and writing. Their civilization reached its height during the Postclassic period, around 1000 to 1520 AD, leaving behind an extensive legacy of codices, intricate metalwork, and elaborate tombs. Central to Mixtec culture are their myths and legends, which reflect a deep connection to their environment, spirituality, and history and offer invaluable insights into their worldview and societal values. These narratives, passed down through generations, continue to be a vital part of the cultural identity of the Mixtec people today.  Here are four legends from the Mixtec people.

Number One: A Boy Called “Sun Arrow”

This is the story of Dzahuindanda, which means “Sun Arrow” in English. The mysterious and wise Sun Arrow was born from the legendary Apoala Tree from which the first beings that later gave rise to the Mixtec nation were born. According to the myth—collected in colonial times by Dominican missionaries—when Sun Arrow became a man, he left the sacred valley of Achiutla, where the first Mixtecs had settled, in search of a new place to take his people. In this way he arrived at Mixteca, which at that time was devoid of people. Since only the Sun inhabited that land, Sun Arrow recognized it as the lord of that country, so he challenged him to a combat whose winner would also obtain the right to live in that land. Dzahuindanda shot his arrows towards the Sun, which in response attacked him with its rays, but as time passed, the Sun set, coloring the evening horizon red with his blood. Dzahuindanda defeated the Sun and in this way his people had the right to occupy the territory of the Mixteca.

Another version of the same legend says that there were two gigantic trees that existed at the bottom of a mysterious cave in the lands of Apoala, who came to love each other so much that they intertwined their branches and joined their roots. From this fantastic love, the first man was born. and the first Mixtec woman. Over time, those beings had children and the children’s children founded the city of Achiutla, where Dzahuindanda, or Sun Arrow was born. The population of Achiutla grew so much that there was no room for them, so Dzahuindanda decided to go out to conquer the lands that his people needed to settle, so he took his bow and arrows and left one morning, ready to dispute them with anyone.

For days, he did not rest for a single moment until he reached a vast and uninhabited area where he found nothing to hinder his path, only the sun shone splendor as the owner and lord of those lands; lands that Dzahuindanda coveted for his people as fresh and beautiful. The young man looked up and there was not a single cloud that would take away the sun. After a while thirsty and tired, he felt the sun’s rays like knives, like arrows that stabbed into every exposed part of his skin. Then he understood: The Sun was the lord of those lands. So, he raised his bow and shot many of his arrows at the sun.

Finally, at sunset he realized that the sun had weakened, its rays no longer struck with the same force and the sky had a slight red tint. Little by little the sun began to fall, and the sky became redder and redder, until finally it fell behind the mountains. The sky was dyed with the blood of the sun, it indicated where the powerful lord had fallen defeated, and the land would forever after belong to the Mixtec people.

Number Two: Magdalena the Heartbroken

This brief legend tells the story of a young Mixtec girl named Magdalena, who fell in love with a handsome young Spaniard who settled in one of the valleys of Oaxaca. The story takes place in the late 1500s. Even though Magdalena’s parents and the elders of the village opposed the relationship, she decided to follow her heart and marry the Spaniard. However, on her wedding day, Magdalena discovered that her husband had a wife in Spain and that her marriage was invalid.

Magdalena, heartbroken, decided to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff. No one knows exactly where this was supposed to have occurred.  It is said that her spirit wanders through the region and that she sometimes appears to hikers or other travelers who are passing through.  Magdalena presents herself as a young Mixtec woman wearing a white lace wedding dress, and she is sobbing uncontrollably and pleading with people in the Mixtec language. The legend has been subject to various interpretations and versions over the course of time but remains an important part of Oaxaca culture and tradition and may have its roots in an actual event.

Number Three: The Tabayuco, Spirit of the Mountains

According to Mixtec legends, Tabayuco is the spirit of the mountain, the lord who owns the lands, the one to whom respect is owed. It is common that when a person goes out into the mountains, they must ask for his permission to be there, bury fruit, and toast with him so that he is not bothered by the strange presence in his house. Before planting on a piece of land, they must also ask for permission to start working the land, bury food, a bottle of liquor, and offer the Tabayuco cigarettes. After making an offering ritual, one should talk to him and ask for his permission to start the work. If anyone dares to disrespect him, or trespass on his property without proper permission, they may face serious consequences, from nightmares, the evil eye, illness, and even death. It is said that the Tabayucos commonly appear to people in the countryside, sometimes in their human form and sometimes in animal form to do evil things to the person who encounters them. Sometimes the Tabayuco takes multiple forms in order to trick his victim. He can even transform into a woman dressed in white, who is very beautiful and has Mixtec features.  Sometimes he appears in the form of a man in different clothing, and sometimes in the form of an animal. The Tabayuco can also transform himself into a hideous creature that is neither animal nor human. Various testimonies assure that a Tabayuco has the power to manipulate people’s eyesight and minds and can transport trespassers and transgressors to other places and times. Some claim that the real appearance of a Tabayuco is like an 18th Century rural gentleman, with his chaps, a rope at his waist, a whip and a Tico hat, although the legend does seem to date back deep into pre-Hispanic times.

Number Four:  The Rabbit, the Wolf and the Fireball

A rabbit grazed calmly under the blue sky, careless and trusting.  He did not imagine that in the distance the hungry wolf was stalking him. The wolf soon caught the rabbit and amidst his fear he begged the wolf not to kill him.
The wolf stopped for a moment, something he never did when faced with prey, and looked at him carefully before saying: “If you don’t want me to devour you, offer me something in return, something valuable. If not, say goodbye to this world right now.”
“Okay,” said the rabbit. “I offer you something more than food. In fact, for a long time I have seen you very lonely. What do you think if I introduce you to one of my friends? I have plenty of friends.”
Even the hunger was taken away from the wolf with this proposal.
“Let’s see, do you say you will find me a partner?” asked the wolf.
“Of course!” The rabbit stated. “It’s a matter of you having a little patience and letting me go for her.”
“Yes,” the wolf said, “but first describe her to me and see if you can convince me.”
“Well, well,” said the rabbit. “My friend is very affectionate, she loves hugs. I don’t want to waste any more time, so I’ll go get her at once. Wait for me and I’ll bring her to you here.”
The rabbit felt like he had been reborn. His jumps were more of joy. Not everyone escapes from a hungry wolf, after so much walking he met his friend, who was a ball of fire, a powerful feminine spirit.  They greeted each other without making contact and then he told her what had happened with the wolf. Fireball was surprised and at the same time refused to go with him because she had an engagement at the baptism of the fireflies. She was the godmother in the ceremony. The rabbit explained to his fireball friend that if something happened to him that he would entrust his children to her since their poor mother was eaten by the same wolf that was waiting for him.
“Don’t worry,” said the fireball.  “Just run away and go the other way so that evil guy won’t find you.”
The rabbit tried to be careful, but the wolf went looking for him and found him, accusing him of tricks and not wanting to give him a second chance. The wolf then ate the rabbit and kept the rabbit’s ears as a trophy.
The wolf, his hunger satisfied, decided to take a nap. The wolf woke up when he realized that a creature made of a ball of fire was hovering above and around him. To the wolf, the fireball appeared as if it was looking for something. He asked the fiery creature if he could help her find something or someone.
“Have you by any chance seen a rabbit with burnt whiskers?” the fireball asked.
“Burned?” asked the wolf.
“Yes, I burned them when I tried to kiss him,” she explained. “Have you seen him? Have you seen my friend?”
The wolf tried to hide the rabbit’s ears with his paws.
“What are you doing?” asked the fireball. “What are you hiding? Wait a moment! I know those ears, that mole is unmistakable. Yes, they belong to my friend the rabbit. You lied to me! Right now, I will avenge his death.”
The female fire spirit began to chase the wolf, who was slower than normal after eating the rabbit and taking his nap. The fireball burned the wolf so much that his fur turned tan, and all the other wolves decided to leave the place for fear of the fire, and this is why wolves are no longer seen in this region of Oaxaca.


Spores, Ronald Sr. and Andrew K. Balkansky. The Mixtecs of Oaxaca: Ancient Times to Present. Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013. We are Amazon affiliates. Buy the book on Amazon here:  https://amzn.to/3UI3bxI

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