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A powerful and numerous Mexican tribe located chiefly in Oaxaca and Guerrero, forming with the Mixteca and Mazateca the Zapotecan linguistic stock. At the time of the conquest of Mexico they were independent of the Aztec, whom they resembled in customs; they were defeated by the Spaniards only after several campaigns between 1522 and 1527, not submitting finally till 1551. They were a sedentary race and well advanced in civilization, living in large villages and towns, in houses constructed with stone and mortar. They recorded the principal events in their history by means of hieroglyphics, and in warfare they made use of a cotton armour. The well-known ruins of Mitla have been attributed to them and were clamed by them to be the tombs of their ancestors.
They had an elaborate religious system, and human sacrifices were offered. The modern Zapotecas are very intelligent, progressive, and hard-working; they make good soldiers and political leaders, and are excellent citizens. Benito Juarez, President of Mexico, was a full-blooded Zapoteca. They number almost 300,000, and with their kinsmen 750,000. Many of them still speak only their native Indian language. Though they are now Catholics, some of their ancient beliefs and practices, such as burying money with the dead, still survive. The first missionaries among the Zapotecas were Bartolomé de Olmeda, a Mercedarian, and Juan Díaz, a secular priest, who was martyred by the natives in Quechula near Tepeaca for having overthrown their idols.
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