The Mesoamerican origins of the Matachines dance

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The process of Spanish colonization in Mexico resulted in the widespread diaspora of Mesoamerican people across much of the western hemisphere. In particular, Tlaxkaltekah colonists serving as auxiliary forces for the Spanish crown brought with them Mesoamerican languages, foods, rituals, artistry, and traditions. One such ritual is the dance tradition of los Matachines. This dance, which is still performed in both Mexico and New Mexico (and other areas of colonization) can be traced directly to Mesoamerican dances of conquest such as the Moctezuma Dance and the Danza de Pluma.

Of particular note is the “cupil” headpiece, which comes from the Nawatl “copilli.” These headpieces are designed in the form of traditional Mesoamerican headpieces. Some New Mexican pseudohistorians reject any association between New Mexican and Mesoamerican traditions, but such claims are grounded in provincialism and ideology. This page is meant to serve as a repository for information regarding this tradition, and its Mesoamerican origins. More information will be added as it becomes available.


Photo of Moctezuma Dance taken at LACMA by Kurly Tlapoyawa


Description of Moctezuma Dance:



Excellent article about the Danza de Pluma and los Matachines:

The Return of Moctezuma: Oaxaca’s “Danza de la Pluma” and New Mexico’s “Danza de los Matachines”

Video of Tlaxkaltekah Matachines:

Interested in the Mesoamerican influence in New Mexico and Southern Colorado? Check out my book “Totacho: Our Way Of Talking” available on In it, I detail the major influence that the Nawatl language has had on the “Spanish” spoken by Chicanos and Chicanas in the Southwest.

Click image to order

Kurly Tlapoyawa is an archaeologist, author, and ethnohistorian. His research focuses primarily on the interaction between Mesoamerica, Western Mexico, and the American Southwest. Kurly has lectured at UNLV, University of Houston, and Yale University on topics related to Mesoamerica. His recent book, “Our Slippery Earth: Nawa Philosophy in the Modern Age” was published in 2017. In addition to his work in Archaeology and Ethnohistory, Kurly is a professional stuntman with over 35 credits to his name. Kurly lives in New Mexico.

Follow Kurly on twitter @KurlyTlapoyawa

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About Kurly Tlapoyawa (1010 Articles)

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