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Volume 58 / Humanities

HISTORY: ETHNOHISTORY


Mesoamerica

ROBERT HASKETT, Associate Professor of History, University of Oregon
STEPHANIE WOOD, Assistant Professor of History, University of Oregon


THE SPLENDORS OF INDIGENOUS INTELLECTUAL achievements, the complexities of precontact cosmological constructions, the iron hard reality of resistance to Spanish invasions, military and cultural, the rhythms of native life before and after the Iberian intrusion; all this and much more has captivated the many scholars whose work is represented in these pages. The Nahuas (above all the Aztecs) and the Mayas (especially the lowlanders) persist as the leading ethnohistorical characters in this academic drama. Here recent scholarship has been graced by the appearance of Graulich's compelling study of Montezuma (item #bi 97009335#); Carrasco's important new reading of the "Aztec Empire" in his Estructura política del Imperio Tenochca (item #bi 97009322#); a new, expanded, and updated edition of Sharer's comprehensive The Ancient Maya (item #bi 97009200#); and a thought-provoking study of the "cult of the dead" among the middle and late formative Maya by McAnany (item #bi 97009221#). Thematically, a sustained interest in the sacred world is highlighted by the significant work of McKeever Furst (item #bi 97009215#) and by seven notable articles collected in De hombres y dioses (item #bi 00004573#). Calendrical analyses such as the impressive monographic treatment created by Malmström in his Cycles of the Sun, Mysteries of the Moon (item #bi 97009324#), food (item #bi 96011435#), costume (item #bi 97004892#), marriage and kinship (item #bi 97005613#), and Graulich's compelling Myths of Ancient Mexico (item #bi 97009321#), an examination of myth and history in the Mesoamerican past, all enrich the corpus.

Yet as far as the Aztec empire is concerned, the focus continues to shift from a preoccupation with a kind of homogenized, Valley of Mexico-centered imperial history to a far more nuanced approach alive to a great variation of regional experiences. This trend is most impressively represented in Aztec Imperial Strategies (item #bi 96011322#). Carrasco's rereading of the empire's structure, and the attention he pays to the often slighted altepetl of Texcoco and Tlacopan, is part of this same process. Gillespie additionally shows us some of the colonial manipulation of the supposed "Triple Alliance" organization in her contribution to Native Traditions in the Postconquest World (item #bi 98010402#).

Thematic diversity can be found among studies of the postconquest situation. Our current sample does not include as many synthetic monographs as in the past. But those which do appear here, such as Piho's posthumous Iztapalapan durante la conquista (item #bi 98010472#); two more information-packed volumes in Zavala's cycle of publications (items #bi 97009333#); Horn's deft, Nahuatl record-based study of indigenous and Spanish society in Coyoacan (item #bi 00004827#); excellent articles by Chance (item #bi 00004204#), Ouweneel (item #bi 96009698#), and Gasco (item #bi 97011219#); and Nebel's study of the evolution of the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe (item #bi 00003435#) are all worthy additions to the literature. While Taylor's monumental, prize-winning Magistrates of the Sacred is not precisely a work of ethnohistory, its detailed examination of local religious beliefs, practices, and of clergy-parishioner relations makes it an essential resource (item #bi 98010541#). Of equal merit is the recently published Quincentenary anthology entitled Native Traditions of the Postconquest World (item #bi 98010402#). For the Maya, Quezada's Pueblos y caciques yucatecos makes a real contribution (item #bi 97009337#). Restall's The Maya World will have a major and lasting impact on the field (item #bi 98010473#). More than any previous scholar of the postconquest Yucatan, Restall has expertly mined Mayan-language sources, from notarial records to primordial titles, to present us with a more thoroughly indigenous-centered reading.

Collectively and in conjunction with the larger number of scholarly articles falling into this category, these works strengthen our grasp of the reality of postconquest cultural durability, something not expected or acknowledged by those who for so long were convinced that native cultures were fundamentally destroyed by the influx of Europeans and their ways.

Two mainstays of ethnohistorical literature have been the publication of critically presented facsimiles of codices and of transcribed and translated alphabetic records in the indigenous tradition. This has remained true of the current sampling, which includes beautifully realized studies of components of the Borgia group (item #bi 98010544#), the historical-genealogical Códice Cozcatzin (item #bi 98010479#), the Códice Durán (item #bi 97009177#), the Cuicatec Códice de Tepeucila (item #bi 99008821#), and analyses provided by Alcina Franch (items #bi 97009307# and #bi 97006686#), León-Portilla (item #bi 97009181#), Yoneda (item #bi 97009179#), and by Batalla Rosado (items #bi 97013115#, #bi 96008312#, #bi 96024475#, #bi 96024268,# and #bi 95013332#). In our current sampling the efforts of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún are not represented by as many independent investigations as in the past, but his Primeros memboriales is featured in two different forms (items #bi 95024522# and #bi 97017207#), and many other scholars continue to mine and interpret his work in the course of their varied ethnohistorical investigations (item #bi 00004203#). The labors, life, and times of indigenous participants in the creation of the Sahaguntine corpus and other similar materials have been brought to life (items #bi 00004575# and #bi 97015387#).

Among postconquest alphabetic texts, the late Arthur J.O. Anderson and Susan Schroeder's two-volume publication of recently discovered manuscripts written by Chimalpahin stands out (item #bi 97012283#). It is a fitting monument to Anderson, one of the greatest and most talented proponents of Nahuatl studies of the 20th century. Of virtue, too, are Spores' offering of documents related to colonial Oaxaca (item #bi 97009185#), transcriptions of mundane Nahuatl-language records in the journal Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl (items #bi 97006693# and #bi 95024516#), the Libro de los guardianes y gobernadores de Cuauhtinchan (1519-1640) (item #bi 97009187#), and Christensen's examination of Cristóbal del Castillo's Nahuatl-language history of the Mexica migration (item #bi 96010502#). Additionally, Restall presents us with a valuable broadly based overview of evolving indigenous written expression during the Spanish era (item #bi 97017682#).

A number of other topical concentrations deserve recognition here. Gender studies ranging across the pre- and postconquest eras continue to proliferate, exhibiting an expanding menu of issues and methodologies. A recent anthology entitled Indian Women of Early Mexico covers a range of different times, places, and topics (see HLAS 56:471). Several other authors have contributed outstanding pieces of scholarship in the area of gender, including Hendon (items #bi 96006548# and #bi 97012110#) and Klein (item #bi 95024518#), and gender assumes a major analytical role in other works as well (items #bi 97006687#, #bi 96011349#, and #bi 00004663#). Theater and public ritual receive continued attention (items #bi 00004557#, #bi 00004576#, and #bi 96008341#). A number of studies push beyond the Nahuas, the Mayas, and even the peoples of Oaxaca to bring the Huasteca, the Populucas, Otomies, and Totonacs on to the analytical stage, most notably in Martínez's Codiciaban la tierra: el despojo agrario en los señoríos de Tecamachalco y Quecholac (Puebla, 1520-1650) (item #bi 97009196#) and an investigation of Sonora entitled Wandering Peoples (item #bi 98010471#; see also items #bi 97011506#, #bi 97013847#, and #bi 96024269#).

Another important event has been the appearance of a consequential series of monographic studies published by Mexico's Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS). All are regionally focused case studies, ranging from Ruz's ethnohistorical investigation of Tabasco (item #bi 97009219#), Romero Frizzi's inquiry into the evolution of Oaxaca's indigenous communities (item #bi 97017212#), and de Vos' treatment of the evolving experiences of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas (item #bi 97009339#), to Hu-DeHart's analysis of Yaqui adaptation and resistance to the Spanish presence in their homeland (item #bi 97009212#) and Radding's study of the Sonoran O'Odham and Teguima peoples from 1520-1830 (item #bi 97009216#). All of these books sweep over a broad expanse of temporal terrain, from precontact times through the end of the viceregal era, and in some cases beyond, allowing for a vital rather than static understanding of the dynamic forces driving cultural evolution, cultural preservation, and sometimes outright cultural resistance. All include documentary appendices and, as a bonus, contain vivid illustrations.

Two of these authors, Hu-Dehart and Radding, are concerned with regions and peoples not customarily defined as part of "Mesoamerica." This volume's ethnohistory section contains several other studies of peoples not always seen as Mesoamericans (items #bi 00004206#, #bi 96011348#, #bi 96011775#, and #bi 97009323#), Phil C. Weigand and Acelia García de Weigand's compelling Los orígenes de los caxcanes y su relación con la guerra de los nayaritas: una hipótesis is of special note (item #bi 97009208#). Yet exactly what "Mesoamerica" was at any given time has long been open to discussion, debate, and redefinition with an eye to the changing cultural situation over vast periods of time. Several of the authors represented in this chapter grapple with the issue of "what is Mesoamerica" or challenge us to do this ourselves, most notably Malmström (item #bi 97009324#), McKeever Furst (item #bi 97009215#), López Austin and López Luján (item #bi 97009201#), and Sprajc (item #bi 97009214#).

Whether or not Sonora, Chihuahua, or the Gran Chichimeca can ever be truly considered part of a cultural Mesoamerica, work on the peoples who inhabited the north echoes many of the same broad issues connected with the evolution of indigenous societies of better known peoples—Aztecs, Mayas, Zapotecs, and Mixtecs. We are discovering that the northern peoples had much more complex societies than once believed; that they were less isolated from the peoples of the center than previously assumed; and that once Spaniards began settling in these regions, the central Mexican colonists who accompanied them brought even more of "Mesoamerica" along with them. And we must not forget that the inhabitants of the basin of Mexico, above all the Aztecs, celebrated their ancestral roots among the Chichimeca of fabled Aztlan.

This volume's bibliography includes descriptions of a number of anthologies, many of them based on the fruits of scholarly conferences and colloquia (such as the aforementioned Aztec Imperial Strategies and Native Traditions in the Postconquest World). The precontact era receives the lion's share of attention in them, but many move into the postconquest era as well; Mayanists, students of Oaxaca, and of the Nahuas are all represented. Thematically the articles range widely and touch on many of the specific topics already covered here. Two volumes dedicated to the work of Jacques Soustelle under the joint editorship of Jacqueline de Durand-Forest and Georges Baudot contain an especially high-powered assemblage of scholarship (items #bi 97009313# and #bi 98010465#). A few of the collections were long in production and admittedly are based on scholarship from the 1980s at the latest (items #bi 97017209#, #bi 00003432#, and #bi 97009217#) and Yet we include them here because they contain vital work by important investigators, much of which can still be seen as making important intellectual and material contributions. Our strategy has been to give as full an accounting as possible of the contents of all of these anthologies to alert interested scholars to the great thematic and methodological variety of the work contained in them.

Looking at the entire corpus of work represented in these pages, we are encouraged by the continued strength of the diverse field of Mesoamerican Ethnohistory. If in quantity postconquest material is somewhat less well represented than it has been in the past, the work reviewed here continues to make methodological and interpretive innovations. The persistent appearance of high quality presentations of codices and of analytically supported transcriptions and translations of other forms of ethnohistorical documentation can be justly celebrated. So, too, can ongoing efforts to include on our menu of worthy topics of Mesoamerica the experiences of indigenous groups who have traditionally received less attention than the Aztecs and the Mayas. Scholars of the precontact era (as well as the postconquest) are testing us with new or deepened cross-disciplinary approaches, and it is not uncommon to find diverse collections of insights from archeology, art history, and ethnography joining forces with more heavily document-based ethnohistory (items #bi 97000703# and #bi 97000704#). As we continue to create new methodological syntheses, we must always remember that considerations of the impact of time, space, race, ethnicity, gender, class, and specific cultural traditions will inform and underlie theoretical constructs. Finally, we need to realize, as so many of our authors do, that the Spanish invasion was not so much a stark historical watershed as only one of many key points in the ongoing evolution of Mesoamerican indigenous society, as different peoples came into contact and conflict, as some new elements entered existing cultural streams while others were rejected, modified, or ignored.


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