The Tarascan are a Native American people centered in the state of Michoacán, Mexico. Tarascan is also the name of their historic language. The Tarascan language was still spoken by somewhat less than 100,000 people at the end of the 20th century, mostly in small rural villages.
The Tarascans refer to themselves as Purépecha. The name tarascan (and its Spanish language equivalent, tarasco) comes from the word tarascuei in their own language, which the Spaniards took as their name, for an uncertain reason. The Nahuatl name for the Tarascans was michoaque (those-who-have-fish).
The Tarascans or Purépecha were one of the pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica. Their capital city was Tzintzuntzán. Tarascan architecture is noted for step-pyramids in the shape of the letter "T". Pre-Columbian Tarascan artisans made feather mosaics making extensive use of hummingbird feathers which were a highly regarded luxury good throughout the region. The Tarascans were never conquered by the Aztec Empire, despite several attempts by the Aztecs to do so, including a fierce war in 1479.
After hearing of the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs and having the native population much diminished by an epidemic of smallpox, the last native Tarascan king, Tangoxoán II, pledged himself as a vassal of the King of Spain without a fight in 1525. In 1530 rogue Conquistador Nuńo Guzmán de Beltran declared himself Tarascan Emperor at Tzintzuntzán, ruling capriciously and cruelly until the area was returned to the administration of Mexico City in 1533.
Last updated: 02-07-2005 05:15:16