Tarascan (təräˈskən) [key], Native Americans of the state of Michoacán, Mexico. Their language has no known relation to other languages, and their history prior to the 16th cent. is poorly understood. The polity present at the time of the Spanish conquest (1521) had roughly the same territorial outline as the contemporary state of Michoacán, which it successfully defended against a protracted and bloody Aztec attack in the year 1479. Their capital, Tzintzuntzán [place of the hummingbirds], was located on the shore of Lake Pátzcuaro and had a population of 25,000 to 35,000. Peculiar to Tarascan culture were T-shaped pyramids, rising in terraces and faced with stone slabs without mortar. They were skilled weavers, and were famous for their feathered mosaics made from hummingbird plumage. Most of the over 100,000 contemporary Tarascans are impoverished residents of small rural communities who supplement agricultural production with craft specializations (e.g., weaving, embroidery, woodworking, and lacquerware) and seasonal migration to the United States.
See R. A. M. van Zantwijk, Servants of the Saints (1967); I. R. Dinerman, Migrants and Stay-at-Homes (1982); J. B. Warren, The Conquest of Michoacan (1985).
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