The state of Durango has been multi-ethnic since well into the prehistoric period. Due to its geography, it has been a connection between Mesoamerica and what is now northwest Mexico and southwest US. Today, there are several important indigenous groups: the Mexicaneros, the Tarahumara, the Huichol and the largest ethnicity, the Tepehuans.
They are divided among a group that lives in the north of the state and several that live in the south… a division that came about with the Spanish conquest and Tepehuan resistance. Although southern Durango is only about 11 hours from Mexico City, Tepehuans speak a language which is more closely related to the Pima of Arizona than the Nahuatl of central Mexico. The largest Tepehuan communities are Santa María de Ocotán, San Francisco, Teneraca, Taxicarinaga, San Bernadino de Milpillas and Lajas.
Tepehuan beliefs are a syncretism of indigenous and Catholic. The most important type of ceremony is the mitote or xibtal, which centers on a dance around a bonfire, accompanied by one-stringed bow instruments.
The state’s indigenous people in general produce pottery and textiles, almost always for utilitarian and ceremonial purposes. The southern Tepehuans are noted for the making of traditional carrying bags called morrals, distinguished by bags made by other groups by their geometric designs. These and certain other small items are woven on backstrap looms and the designs are woven into the fabric, embroidered or both. Most Tepehuan women and many men still wear traditional dress, but the material used for these garments is commercially-made. The women’s dress bears a striking similarity to that of Otomi women, which makes sense as the Spanish brought indigenous from this and other central Mexican groups to Durango to help conquer and settle the area.
Pottery is also done but all of Durango’s native peoples. The state does not have a large or long history of fine pottery making and that made by Tepehuans and others is particularly rustic. It is mostly limited to simple bowls and other containers as well as some figurines, especially those of deer.
Despite being told that this was all that the Tepehuans do. I did come across a cooperative doing one other craft, pine needle baskets. Durango has wide expanses of pine forests. The O’dam Cooperative is based in a very small town about 200 km from the city of Durango (I could not catch the name) although they have a presence in the city. I found a young boy selling these baskets at a park and bought a small one.
I met briefly with the representative of the cooperative, Rosalio Caldera, who told me the family group began with collecting wild oregano, but moving on to several handcrafts as oregano is seasonal. Pine needles are abundant here, but lighter in color than those used in State of Mexico/Michoacan to produce their baskets. Nevertheless, Caldera told me that one of the main purchasers are handcraft merchants from this area who buy Durango wares to sell. Their work is as good as anything from there, but unfortunately, the lack of connections and poverty means that the cooperative is still dependent on such middlemen to make any sales at all. They can be contacted, however, through email at email@example.com or Rosalio Caldera can be found at Rosalio caldera on Facebook.