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Tintoque: Ancient connection to the sea forces

By Danna Sabido

August 16, 2023

On the plains of Punta de Mita, in the Bay of Banderas, an exciting past has resurfaced, revealing the secrets of an ancient indigenous civilization called Tintoque. Professor Eduardo Gómez Encarnación, chronicler of Bahía de Banderas, has conducted a remarkable investigation into the mysterious cult of the forces of the sea that characterized this mysterious ancestral people.


Tintoque occupied a vast territory that extended from the port of Corral del Risco to Playa Negra and Coamiles, visually dominating the bay, the mountains and the coastal corridor, especially Punta de Mita. At the time of the Spanish conquest, Tintoque was the largest and most important people in the region, with more than ten thousand inhabitants who bravely resisted the conquistadors led by Francisco Cortés de San Buenaventura.


Sea, trade and spirituality


An important fact that highlights the importance of Tintoque is that it was the place where San Lazaro, the first Spanish city in western Mexico, was founded on March 27, 1525, coinciding with the day of the martyr Saint Lazaro, which adds a religious touch to its history.


Professor Gómez Encarnación’s research has shed light on two fundamental aspects of Tintoque’s importance: trade and the worship of the forces of the sea. According to archaeologist José Carlos Beltrán Medina, Tintoque was part of a coastal and mid-altitude maritime network, along with other nearby maritime towns such as El Malinal de Higuera Blanca, Pontoque, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and Bucerías.


These cities traded in live species and produced beautiful jewelry and sumptuary items that fueled a thriving trade that reached as far as South America. This proves the existence of a maritime trade route between Ecuador and Baja California.


Tintoque and its spiritual connection to the sea


Tintoque not only excelled in trade, but also had a strong spiritual connection to the sea. According to anthropologist Francisco Samaniega, the name Tintoque could mean “place next to the Mictlan,” the indigenous underworld associated with the god of the dead, Mictlantecuhtli, and Quetzalcoatl, the creator of man in that era. The inhabitants of Tintoque honored the sea through goldsmithing, associated with Xipe-Totec, the god of goldsmiths, worshipped by those who lived near the sea.


Studies have also revealed the presence of nearby islands, such as the Marietas Islands, which were once considered places of sacrifice and devil worship. Professor Gómez Encarnación‘s theory about a possible observatory in the ceremonial center of Tintoque, 65 meters above sea level, has opened debates about how the ancient inhabitants recorded astronomical phenomena related to the sea and the stars.


Virgin of the Rosary of Tintoque


The missionaries Fray Francisco Lorenzo and Miguel de Estivales left an important mark by concentrating several villages and catechizing the Valle de Banderas region in 1554. They built churches and gave images to be venerated, such as the Virgin of the Rosary of Tintoque, an image venerated for more than 400 years in this coast, heir of the ancient cult to the forces of the sea, which today is in the main altar of the temple of Valle de Banderas.


Professor Gómez Encarnación’s work has been the key to understanding the history and culture of Tintoque, rescuing from oblivion a civilization that played a transcendental role in trade and the cult of the forces of the sea in ancient Mesoamerica. His research connects us to our roots and teaches us to appreciate the legacy of our ancestors.


The history of Tintoque continues to reveal its secrets, and thanks to the passion and dedication of the official chronicler of the municipality of Bahía de Banderas, the past comes alive again, reminding us of the richness of our cultural identity in the region bordering Puerto Vallarta.





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