Meet the Purhépecha People of Pátzcuaro

Patzcuaro | © Carlos Manuel Citalán Marroquín / Flickr
Pablo Mares

It has been calculated that the Purhépecha, as they call themselves (contemptuously called Tarascans by the Spaniards), have occupied the state of Michoacán, Mexico, for at least one thousand years. Because their language doesn’t have a written system, their history is unknown, but there are some myths about their origins. Here is what you have to know.

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One of the Purhépecha origin myths tells the story of how the fire god Curicaueri, the oldest one according to the Purhépecha culture, and his brother gods, known as Tiripemencha, settled along Lake Pátzcuaro, which has been his home ever since.

Pátzcuaro fishing

Nowadays, this beautiful lake is well known for the celebrations of the Day of the Dead in November. This Purhépecha traditional ritual consists in the idea of the return of the souls of the dead on one night every year. The families of the dead prepare the food that their dearest ones loved. They spend all night long alongside the tomb in the cemetery surrounded by flowers like the Mexican marigold.

Día de Muertos

Especially on the island of Janitzio, within Lake Pátzcuaro, Purhépecha people gather to provide offerings to their ancestors in a ceremony that mixes Catholic rites with pre-Columbian traditions. In the ’90s, this particular island within a lake became overpopulated and had some problems with the management of garbage, but now they have solved it.


As farmers and fishermen, the Purhépecha people have taken advantage of the incredible weather in the area, which allows the farming of many types of corn and vegetables. With an estimated population of 200,000 people, this culture is one of the native communities whose language, music, and traditions are still alive. They are very proud of their ethnicity, and they continue to fight to maintain it.

Musica Purhépecha

For hundreds of years, the Purhépecha capital was the town of Tzintzuntzan, a ceremonial center the name means “place of hummingbirds.” This very small bird, unique to the Americas, was their most valuable treasure, and they represented it in many paintings and handicrafts.


In that area, there are some magnificent archaeological sites with pyramids called Yácatas. From there, you have a great view of Lake Pátzcuaro. It is a must-see if you are in the state of Michoacan.

Tzintzuntzan Yácatas
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