We visit Tonala at least two times a year as an excuse to visit Mexico, to meet new artists and to stay in touch with our artist friends. Tonala has a Thriving folk art scene and we visit artisans in Barro Brunido, Barro Canelo, Barro Betus and Ceramic Sculptures.
The town started as a Zapotec settlement, which latter incorporated Toltec and Nahua migrants, leading to a blending of cultures. Another influence were the nomadic Cocos and Tecuexes, who also lived in the area. Religious practice focused on gods such as Teoplizintli (child god), Heri (sciences) and Nayart (god of war), along with Tenaguachi and Tezcatipoca. The name, Tonala, comes from the Nahuatl phrase Tonallán, which means "Where the Sun rises".
When the Nuño de Guzmán and Spanish arrived in 1530, the town was the capital of a dominion ruled by a woman named Cihualpilli Tzapotzinco. This dominion included the neighboring towns of Tlaquepaque, Tololotlán, Coyolán, Mexquitán, Tzalatitán, Atemajac, Tetlán, Tateposco, Tlaxomulco, Cuescomatitán, Coyutlán and Toluquilla as tribute paying entities.
The leaders of the dominion were divided on how to respond to the foreigners Cihualpilli did not want to resist, due to Spanish power, but local leaders, notably those from Coyolan, Ichcatán, Tzalatitán, and Tetlán wanted to resist. Cihualpilli sent gifts to Guzmán, who not only demanded more, but also demanded allegiance to the Spanish king. Dissidents gathered numbering about 3,000 and attacked the Spanish. This began a battle that lasted several hours, with a Spanish victory on March 25, 1530. This battle is celebrated every year on Juy 25. as Masked Native dancers mock fight with Saint James, (the spaniards).
When we visited last, our Artist friend, Pablo Pajarito introduced us to Serapio Medrano, son of the most famous Candelario Medrano, as well as Cesar Lucano, who is creating his own style of ceramic Toy Art Sculpture, breaking away form his family's more traditional Petatillo style ceramics.
We discovered that Tonala is also famous for Black Clay Ceramics, Barro Negro at the workshop of the Mateos twins, Eusebio and Pablo, we have their horses, plates and crosses, they are beautiful.
Frequently, people ask us, "is Mexico safe for travelers?". While we cannot speak for every place and situation, we tell those people that, just like here in the United States, we do not go to sketchy neighborhoods at night, when we go out we don't wear flashy clothes or jewelry and we don't do anything stupid like getting drunk and flash a lot of cash. We have never had a problem in the years that we have travelled for POCHTECA.