Sinaloa is the only place in Mexico where the ancient ball game called ulama is still played. It’s also the home of banda music, damiana, a popular herb–based liquor, boxer Julio Cesar Chavez and soccer player Angel Eduardo Ochoa Uriarte. Sinaloa, the “Breadbasket of Mexico,” devotes over three quarters of its landmass to agricultural production. It is the country’s leading producer of rice and vegetables, and the second largest producer of wheat and beans. Fishing and livestock provide additional revenue, as does Mazatlán’s canning facility, the largest in Latin America.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Sinaloa was inhabited by six major tribes of hunters and gathers: the Cahita, Tahue, Totorame, Pacaxee, Acaxee and Xixime. The Acaxees lived in rancherías (settlements) dispersed throughout the gorges and canyons of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. Along with the Xiximes, Pacaxee and Tahue, the Acaxees were nonaggressive agricultural gatherers who took no part in human sacrifice rituals. The Cahita, on the other hand, were ferocious warriors who practiced cannibalism in the belief that they could acquire the strength of their most valiant enemies.
Little is known of Sinaloa’s early history. Prior to 1529, the region was part of the unexplored Spanish province called Nueva Vizcaya, which also included present-day Chihuaha, Durango, Sonora and Coahuila.
The first Spanish foray into Sinaloa took place in 1529. The Spanish conquistador Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán battled his way through central Mexico to the Pacific coast with an army of 300 Spaniards and 10,000 indigenous fighters. When they reached the vicinity of the Culiacán River, they met and defeated a force of 30,000 Cahita warriors. At that time the Cahita constituted the largest single language group in northern Mexico, numbering about 115,000 in Sinaloa and Sonora.Many of Guzmán’s troops succumbed to an epidemic while in Sinaloa, but he still managed to establish the city of San Miguel de Culiacán before continuing his exploration. When the army journeyed north several years later, they encountered diverse indigenous groups that the Spaniards referred to as ranchería people, whose settlements were scattered over large areas.
The Sinaloan city of El Fuerte was founded by Francisco de Ibarra in 1563. Despite frequent battles with Zuaque and Tehueco Indians, El Fuerte prospered and became a vital economic link to Mexico’s vast northwestern region.
Like much of the region, in the early 17th century, Sinaloa was organized into encomiendas which subjugated the native people to Spanish rule and required them to work land that did not belong to them. Consequently, the 17th and 18th centuries saw several indigenous uprisings. One in 1740 was particularly violent, costing the lives of several thousand Spaniards and more than 5,000 Indians. Following the 1740 rebellion, the Spaniards became slightly more cautious of the native population and, by the end of the 18th century, the rebellions had largely come to an end.
After Mexican independence in 1824, Sonora and Sinaloa were combined to form the Estado de Occidente (Western State), with El Fuerte serving as the capital. In 1830 the state was split into present-day Sonora and Sinaloa.
During the second half of the 19th century, Sinaloa experienced dramatic economic expansion under the rule of President Porfirio Díaz (1830-1915). However, the state’s small population limited its ability to continue growing.
In the late 1800s, partly because of the recent influx of Chinese settlers, Sinaloa became a significant source of opium derived from the cultivation of poppies. Sinaloa’s proximity to the United States provided a large market for the drug, which was legal at that time.
Throughout the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), Sinaloans were divided in their loyalties to the various factions. Many in Sinaloa supported the revolutionary party led by Pancho Villa and by 1917 the state of Sinaloa was ultimately controlled by the newly established constitutional government of Mexico.
Meanwhile, Sinaloa continued to be a major producer of opium in spite of the United States’ Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, which tightly regulated the sale of opium in that country. Opium production rose further as a result of World War II, which increased the demand for morphine, an opium extract. Since Japan controlled most of the world’s opium supply, the United States turned to Mexico–specifically Sinaloa–for assistance. Although the morphine supply was a benefit to the military, the legal market for opium opened the door for more widespread illegal distribution.
Each January the city of Culiacán hosts an agricultural exhibition called the Expo Agro Sinaloa. This premier agricultural trade show is the largest of its kind in Mexico, allowing exhibitors to demonstrate their products, equipment, machinery and technology.
Agriculture accounts for about 21 percent of the state’s economy. Service-based companies account for another 21 percent, followed by trade activities at 19 percent, finance and insurance at 16 percent, transportation and communications at 11 percent, manufacturing at 8 percent, construction at 3 percent and mining at 1 percent.
Sinaloa’s coat of arms is an oval shield resting upon a base of rocks and surmounted by the national emblem: an eagle devouring a serpent atop a Nopal cactus. Four sections on the shield depict a reptile, a castle, an anchor and chain and an anchor with a deer head. Around the shield’s edge is a trail of footprints.
The word Sinaloa, which originated with the indigenous Cahita Indians, means rounded pitaya, a common local fruit.
The small villages of Sinaloa still play a variation of Ulama, an ancient Mesoamerican ballgame played nowhere else in the Americas.
The region has become famous for banda, a traditional form of music performed using brass, woodwind and percussion instruments. The instrument most often identified with this type of music is the tambora, a drum covered with animal hide. La Banda Sinaloense (the Sinaloan Band) is one of Mexico’s best-known banda groups.
Damiana, an herb-based liquor from Baja and Sinaloa, has maintained its popularity in the region since Mayan times. Originally, the leaves were used for medicinal purposes by the indigenous cultures.
Sinaloa is the home of five-time world champion boxer Julio Cesar Chavez. Chavez, perhaps the most beloved Hispanic boxer, is widely regarded as one of the best Hispanic athletes. Another prominent Sinaloan athlete is soccer player Angel Eduardo Ochoa Uriarte, a member of the UAS Tercera Fuerza in Mexico.
The actor and singer José Pedro Infante Cruz, better known as Pedro Infante, was born in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, on November 18, 1917. He is considered one of the finest entertainers of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. Between 1948 and 1954, Infante received six nominations for Best Actor from the Mexican Academy of Arts and Cinematographic Sciences, and in 1956 he won the award. In 1957 he also was honored with the Silver Bear for Best Actor by the Berlin International Film Festival.
One of Mexico’s most popular norteño bands, Los Tigres del Norte, got its start in Rosa Morada, Sinaloa.
MazatlánLocated on the Pacific coast, the city of Mazatlán, which means place of the deer, was founded in the 1820s. By mid-century, a large population of German immigrants had settled in the city and helped it become a successful seaport. Mazatlán served as the capital of Sinaloa from 1859 to 1873. The lighthouse in Mazatlán is the world’s second-tallest lighthouse on a natural base. Each year, the city’s gleaming beaches attract throngs of tourists.
El Fuerte, a city founded by the Spaniards in 1563, was later destroyed by the Indians. In 1610, the Viceroy of Montesclaros ordered the city’s reconstruction, and El Fuerte became the state’s first capital in 1824. Many colonial-era buildings are still in use, including City Hall, the main Plaza de Armas, the House of Culture, the Church of the Sacred Heart and the Home of Congress.
Topolobampo, with its commercial seaport and railway connections to northern Mexico, has become a vital economic hub on the Pacific coast. The area is renowned for its great fishing, and tourists can watch seals and sea lions at the nearby Farallón de San Ignacio, a towering rock formation that is also home to a large population of brown and blue-footed boobies, seabirds related to the pelican.