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legend of Donají

The Oaxacan legend of Donají

According to the Oaxacan legend of Donají, when Oaxaca was dominated by the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, King Cosijoeza, sovereign of the city of Zaachila, had a daughter who was given the name of Donají, which means “Big soul”.

After Mixtecs and Zapotecs battled the Mexica who tried to conquer the Oaxaca region to annex it to their empire, a series of events sowed the discord between the two peoples, provoking their estrangement and at the same time the beginning of violent disputes between them.


In the midst of such clashes, a Mixtec warrior was taken prisoner by the Zapotecs and placed at the disposal of King Cosijoeza. During her stay, Princess Donají discovered the captive, named Nucano, who was a Mixtec prince, falling in love with him and caring for him until he recovered completely from his wounds, at which time he asked Donají for his freedom to continue fighting.

Released by the princess, Nucano encouraged his people to end the war, while Donají did the same with her father. Both peoples agreed to peace, although the mistrust of the Mixtecs made them request that Donají become a pledge of peace to guarantee the promise of King Cosijoeza, since otherwise she would be sacrificed.

Putting love before her people and before her own life, the princess told the Zapotec warriors that their jailers would meet at nightfall in Monte Alban, where they were surprised and killed by the people of Cosijoeza.

Discovering the plan of Donají, the Mixtecs decided to take revenge on the king by beheading the princess near the Atoyac river, place where she was buried. Over time, her head was discovered, and this is how Donají became the official coat of arms of the City of Oaxaca de Juárez.

Like many legends, the legend of Donají has several versions, but they all portray a woman willing to give her own life for the love of her people and land.

It took more than a century for a university dance group to decide to take the story to the theater. Now the show has filled the Guelaguetza auditorium in Oaxaca for over 30-years during the state’s largest annual festival, the Guelaguetza Festival.

The famous Guelaguetza festival is held each July in Oaxaca. Also known locally as “Los Lunes del Cerro” (Mondays on the Hill), this celebration takes place on the last two Mondays of July.


About the author

This article was written by Ian Hayden Parker, Oaxaca Life staff writer, the leading source for English news in Oaxaca, Mexico.