The Tastoanes: Central Mexico’s Fierce Defenders
A young man prepares to don his tastoan mask.
Santiago el Apostól (St. James the Apostle), the patron saint of Spain, was reputedly one of Jesus of Nazareth’s apostles and among the first to be martyred. He is also known as St. James the Greater (Santiago el Mayor) to distinguish him as the son of Zebedee (James the son of Alpheus was supposedly younger), and sometimes St. James the Moor-Slayer (Santiago Matamoros), based on the myth that he appeared on the battlefield some 700 years after his death to help the Spaniards repulse a Moorish attack at Clavijo–a battle that, in fact, never occurred. Nonetheless, St. James carries a reputation throughout Spain and Latin America as a Catholic conquistador.
Many communities in Catholic countries treat St. James as a local patron saint, including Tonalá in Jalisco. Tonalá is a town of moderate size, located a short distance from the state capital, Guadalajara. The locals are known as tonaltecos, and they recall with pride the resistance of their forbears to Spanish conquest. The conquest in Jalisco was particularly brutal, led by Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán, whose strategy was to slaughter and torture the indigenous peoples of Jalisco (called Chichimecas by the Spaniards) until they submitted to slavery and Catholicism. Despite the sturdy resistance of the Jalisco peoples, the Spaniards conquered them with the help of a large number of indigenous allies (Aztecs, Tarascans, Otomies, and others).