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Volume 60 / Humanities

HISTORY: ETHNOHISTORY


Mesoamerica

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


ETHNOHISTORIANS HAVE BEEN PARTICULARLY PROLIFIC since the publication of HLAS 58. As a result, we have dealt with a larger than usual number of individual works. In aggregate, they cover a vast amount of temporal, cultural, and investigatory territory that often defies easy categorization. Entries range from two very useful archival guides (items #bi 98005638# and #bi2002000094#), to reissues of enduringly important, classic studies by Spiden (item #bi2001002604#), Bruman (item #bi2002000100#), and De Berghes (item #bi 99008822#).

Ethnohistorians remain determinedly multidisciplinary, which is, of course, one of the strengths of the field. The dividing line between "precontact" and "postconquest" continues to be blurred in cultural, if not strictly historical, terms, though most of us still tend to package our work with these two fundamental categories in mind. Most of us concentrate on either the Nahuas, particularly the Aztecs, or the Mayas (especially but not exclusively of the Lowlands).

Our field has long been characterized by the use of "ethnohistorical sources," or in other words, pictorial, alphabetic, or even "artistic" records created by indigenous Mesoamericans, which often are used to flesh out or counterbalance archeological or European-authored sources. As James Lockhart once said, to study these societies without recourse to such sources would be akin to investigating the Romans without knowing Latin (for a recent collection of Lockhart's work in the "new philology," see item #bi 00004087#). For this reason, the "bread and butter" of our field has long been studies, transcriptions, translations, and facsimiles of what can broadly be called "codices," or documents that could fall under the typology of "native tradition." Codices are well represented in HLAS 60. As always, most are from the Nahua, Maya, and (at least in the form of pictorials) Mixtec peoples. These documents are sometimes spectacular and always rich in information. Many of them deserve continued analysis, so it follows that some of the noteworthy work contributed here revisits or reinterprets well-known pictorial and alphabetic texts, such as Durand-Forest's investigation of the glyphs of the Códice Borbónico (item #bi2002000103#), Gingerich's revisionist analysis of the Leyenda de los soles (item #bi 00003875#), a new Spanish translation of Chimalpahin's Third Relation (item #bi 99008845#), Prem and Dyckerhoff's examination of different versions of the Anales de Tlatelolco (item #bi 98010413#), a new critical edition of Muñoz Camargo's Historia (item #bi2003006036#), the first-ever publication of Zorita's Relación de la Nueva España (item #bi2003006261#; as opposed to the well-known Breve Relación), and others (such as items #bi 99008865#, #bi 98010411#, and #bi 00004927#). Several scholars mine these documents for new information, resulting in a number of inventive works, such as an investigation of the representations of salt in precontact-style pictorials (item #bi2001002946#), a look at remedies for sleep disorders in the Códice de la Cruz Badiano (item #bi 98005630#), and an innovative study of precontact courtship and marriage using Chimalpahin as a source (item #bi 99009110#).

Yet there seems to be a quickening interest in lesser-known codices, especially postconquest alphabetic texts of the mundane, exemplified by León-Portilla's presentation of a 16th-century Nahuatl letter from a cacique of Soconusco (item #bi2003006024#), León-Portilla's translation of correspondence from indigenous lords of Mexico City to Philip II (item #bi2003006025#), Sell's accessible publication of a set of Nahuatl early-17th-century cofradía records (item #bi2001002949#), and Sell and Kellogg's transcription and translation of 16th-century royal ordinances that had been written in Nahuatl (item #bi 98010418#). Reyes García presents us with a valuable translation and study of the late-16th-century Anales de Juan Bautista (item #bi2003006044#), a little-known text rich with information about indigenous life in this period, an equally significant translation and transcription of the Nahuatl Historia cronológica de la Noble Ciudad de Tlaxcala, compiled in the late 17th century by Juan Buenaventura Zapata y Mendoza (item #bi2003006342#), as well as a fine little collection of transcribed and translated Nahuatl testaments and bills of sale from Cuahuixmatlac, Tlaxcala (item #bi2003006045#). Four high-quality and highly recommended anthologies, De tlacuilos y escribanos (item #bi2003006039#), Códices y documentos sobre México: segundo simposio (item #bi 99008861#), Códices y documentos sobre México: tercer simposio international (item #bi2003003779#), and La collection Aubin-Goupil a la Bibliotheque nationale de France, an issue from the Journal de la Société des Américanistes (item #bi2003006263#) are particularly important for those seeking a deeper understanding of the nature and analysis of documents in the native tradition.

Other scholars have been more concerned with divining the truth about historical records, which are often surrounded by controversy and, really, a certain amount of interpretive mystery. The celebrated Canek Manuscript, which when first described seemed to be a first-hand account of a clerical embassy to the rebel Itza capital in the Petén, has, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a fairly recent forgery (items #bi 00006111# and #bi 00006110#). Some may be surprised when two other works of apparently unsullied pedigree are questioned, too, in Restall and Chuchiak's convincing "A Reevaluation of the Authenticity of Fray Diego de Landa's Relación de las cosas de Yucatán" (item #bi2003006043#) and Milbrath's "New Questions Concerning the Authenticity of the Grolier Codex" (item #bi2003006003#). On the other hand, texts in the related Techialoyan and títulos primordiales (primordial titles) genres, once dismissed as outright fakes, have been deservedly receiving more nuanced attention. This biennium, a number of high quality studies have been made available which will help place these valuable records in a more prominent position as legitimate ethnohistorical sources (items #bi 98010416#, #bi2002000121#, and #bi2003006258#).

This is a good thing, because there are several studies noted in these pages in which apparent Techialoyans, and especially possible primordial titles, are not recognized as such. Without seeing the documents ourselves, it is of course difficult to come to a completely satisfactory conclusion on this matter, but we might gain even more important insights if such records were held up to a new round of critical and comparative scrutiny (items #bi2001004084#, #bi 99008835#, and #bi 98005629#). Some of these suspected Techialoyans/títulos (such as item #bi2001000477#) originate from parts of Mesoamerica that are not normally associated with these genres—Guatemala and the Yucatan, for instance—which may have led them to be unrecognized for what they really are. In fact, as we will see in the works annotated in this chapter, new documentary discoveries outside the Nahua sphere should give us pause, prodding us to rethink our traditional and comfortable assumptions about the spread and scope of particular kinds of documentary forms.

Since a key emphasis in the broad documentary type of "codices" is what we would generally call "history," it is fitting that ethnohistorians have continued to grapple with the issues of historical memory and representations of the past (for instance, see items #bi 00006465#, #bi 99004850#, and #bi2003006257#). We are fortunate that three outstanding works of scholarship address these issues, and do so in fresh, innovative, and accessible ways. Enrique Florescano's Memoria indígena represents a refinement of his significant earlier work in the area (item #bi2001002592#), and Hassig's erudite Time, History, and Belief in Aztec and Colonial Mexico challenges some of our enduring ideas about Aztec historical thinking (item #bi2001001549#). Elizabeth Hill Boone's marvelous Stories in Red and Black, which systematically and imaginatively examines a range of precontact-style historical genres, deserves a long run as a standard and oft-consulted work in the area (item #bi2001002608#).

A second enduring area of ethnohistorical interest well represented in HLAS 60 is that of the friar-ethnographers, dominated almost as a matter of course by a durable scholarly interest in Fray Bernardino de Sahagún and his extensive textual output (see item #bi 98005632#). This biennium, the most significant works are undoubtedly Browne's challenging Sahagún and the Transition to Modernity (item #bi2003004437#), the massive anthology entitled Fray Bernardino de Sahagún y su tiempo (item #bi2003003780#), and León-Portilla's more traditional biography, Bernardino de Sahagún, First Anthropologist (item #bi2003006026#), which approach the friar and his work from markedly different perspectives. At the same time, stand-alone studies of some aspect of the Florentine Codex, while present (items #bi 00003827# and #bi2003006042#), are not as pervasive as in some past bodies of work we have reviewed. It is heartening to see that Baudot has contributed two significant pieces of scholarship—"Los franciscanos etnógrafos" (item #bi 98010417#) and "Los precursores franciscanos de Sahagún del siglo XIII al siglo XVI en Asia y América" (item #bi2003004435#)—which both examine the "old world" roots of later "new world" efforts, and pay attention to other friars like Andrés de Olmos, Martín de la Coruña, and Francisco de las Olmos who are sometimes overshadowed by the larger-than-life figure of Sahagún (see also item #bi 98010414#).

The very existence of the "friar-ethnographers" seems to prove the truism that it is often impossible to separate the mundane from the sacred in texts in the "native tradition," or those that have sought to recover the Mesoamerican past. So it is fitting that investigations of the sacred continue to occupy the thoughts of many of the scholars whose works are reviewed here. Serious, often innovative studies of the precontact sacred are dominated by the ideologies and practices of the Nahuas, though the Mayas get some attention as well, most notably in López Austin and López Luján's Mito y realidad de Zuyuá: Serpiente emplumada y las transformaciones mesoamericanas del Clásico al Posclásico (item #bi2001002579#), Milbrath's Star Gods of the Maya (item #bi 00000184#), and Schele and Mathews' The Code of Kings (item #bi 99008872#; see also items #bi 98010410#, #bi 99008850#, and #bi2003006254#). Numbered among substantial works that concentrate principally on the Nahuas and central Mesoamerica are the praiseworthy anthology edited by Albores and Broda, Graniceros: Cosmovisión y meteorología indígena de Mesoamérica (item #bi 99008825#), Alcina Franch's intriguing study of the temazcalli (item #bi2002000108#), López Austin's evocative Tamoanchan, Tlalocan: Places of Mist (item #bi 99008868#), and Maldonado Jiménez's more regionally focused Deidades y espacio ritual en Cuauhnáhuac y Huaxtepec (item #bi2001002587#). Ritual violence and human sacrifice receive new interpretive attention in Almere Read's insightful Time and Sacrifice in the Aztec Cosmos (item #bi 99008834#), Carrasco's stand-out City of Sacrifice: The Aztec Empire and the Role of Violence in Civilization (item #bi2003004441#), and Graulich's "Aztec Human Sacrifice as Expiation" (item #bi2003006004#). Beyond this, there seems to be an unusually dense grouping of individual deity studies (such as items #bi 00004873#, #bi 98010406#, and #bi 00003874#), with López Luján and Vida Mercado's tour-de-force look at Mictlantecuhtli (item #bi 98005625#) and Nicolson's long awaited Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs (item #bi2003006038#) particularly worth noting.

Once the focus shifts to the fate of indigenous spirituality in the colonial era there are a significant number of studies that advance our understanding of the religious dialogue created when Christianity entered indigenous sacred worlds. These include an able translation into English of don Bartolomé de Alva's A Guide to Confession Large and Small (item #bi2002005718#) which is most revealing, especially when paired with Martiarena's explication of indigenous resistance to Christianity as it emerges from the structure of confessional guides, Culpabilidad y resistencia: ensayo sobre la confesión en los indios de la Nueva España (item #bi2003006031#), Sousa's "The Devil and Deviance in Native Criminal Narratives from Early Mexico" (item #bi2003003838#), and Tavárez's "La idolatría letrada: un análisis comparativo de textos clandestinos rituales y devocionales en comunidades nahuas y zapotecas" (item #bi2001004225#). Sell and Taylor's presentation of a Nahuatl-language sermon attributed to Juan de Tova, S.J. is commendable (item #bi 98005634#), as is Wake's "Sacred Books and Sacred Songs from the Former Days: Sourcing the Mural Paintings at San Miguel Arcangel Ixmiquilpan" (item #bi2001002943#). New studies of indigenous cofradías uncovering a wealth of social, cultural, and political details are provided by Amos Megged, "The Religious Context of an 'Unholy Marriage'" (item #bi2003006032#), and Schroeder, "Jesuits, Nahuas, and the Good Death Society in Mexico City" (item #bi2003006250#), both of which complement Sell's translation of confraternity records noted above.

Devotional music created for and by indigenous Christians has not received much attention from ethnohistorians, and though several ensembles have produced recordings (accurate or not) of this musical genre (generally without particularly enlightening liner notes or transcriptions of lyrics), none of them has ever been mentioned in these pages. However, thanks to Estudios de cultura náhuatl and Cruz, a lucid study of two Nahuatl texts of hymns devoted to the Virgin Mary (including "Yn ilhuicac cihuapille," which elsewhere has been rightly or wrongly linked to the Virgin of Guadalupe), has come to see the light of day (item #bi2003004446#). We need more of this kind of work, since devotional music likely had as much or more of an impact on indigenous parishioners as the better-known and more often studied theatrical presentations (which were always enlivened with music), sermons, Christian doctrines, and other evangelical texts. The theater of evangelization is not ignored by our authors, however, with Díaz Balsera's "A Judeo-Christian Tlaloc or a Nahua Yahweh?" particularly compelling here (item #bi2003004447#).

None of this means that lay culture has been neglected by ethnohistorians. Accordingly, another traditional area of interest, studying various aspects of secular life, its intersections with the sacred, and cultural change during both precontact and colonial eras, is still fairly well represented here. For once, however, Maya-centered studies of the colonial era (such as items #bi2001000478#, #bi2001004072#, #bi 99009109#, #bi 99008855#, and #bi 00007004#) outnumber those about central Mexicans (for instance, items #bi2003006007#, #bi2001002581#, and #bi2003006251#). Most of these make modest though noteworthy contributions, although few could be described as "blockbusters." Jones' admirable work on the conquest of the Itza in 1697, The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom, is a definite exception to this rule as far as the Maya zone is concerned (item #bi 99002319#), as is Bos' impeccable look at caciques in the colonial Valley of Toluca, in central Mexico, The Demise of the Caciques of Atlacomulco, Mexico, 1598–1821 (item #bi 99008818#). Lost Shores, Forgotten Peoples: Spanish Explorations of the South East Maya Lowlands (item #bi2003006030#), edited and translated by Feldman, presents an array of translated documents related to the Manche Chol and Mopan Mayas and their experience of conquest and foreign colonization, in the process bringing out information about a southeastern Mesoamerican people not always accorded much attention in comparison to other groups.

The numerical weight of Maya-specific studies versus those of central Mesoamericans is reversed as far as the precontact era is concerned. (Good examples of the Maya group are items #bi2002000110#, #bi 00001038#, #bi 99008866#, #bi2002000092#, and #bi2002000099#.) Not surprisingly, the Aztecs get considerable attention from high quality scholarship (items #bi 00002964#, #bi 99007141#, #bi2002000117#, #bi 00003878#, and #bi 00003877#). Carrasco, Jones, and Sessions' finely crafted anthology, Mesoamerica's Classic Heritage: From Teotihuacan to the Aztecs (item #bi2001002601#), as well as Carrasco and Sessions' deft Daily Life of the Aztecs: People of the Sun and Earth (item #bi 98010794#), and the comprehensive collection of articles edited by Grove and Joyce, Social Patterns in Pre-classic Mesoamerica (see HLAS 59:90) are especially recommended to our readers. A four-volume assemblage of contributions from a significant number of well-known scholars, Historia antigua de México, expanded from a three-volume version published in 1994–95 and put together by Manzanilla and López Luján, will be an especially useful overview resource (item #bi2004000208#).

Studies of the Mesoamerican calendar are not as numerous as in some past bodies of work reviewed for this section, aside from Durand-Forest's study of the Códice Borbónico mentioned above (see items #bi2001000345#, #bi 00003873#, and #bi 98013188#). Conversely, interest in women and gender remains high. Most of the studies that came across our desks in this area of inquiry are the result of exceptional scholarship (items #bi2001002941#, #bi2003006041#, and #bi 99008854#), and some examine subjects which have received little attention in the past (see Wood in a special edition of Journal de la Société des américanistes entitled La collection Aubin-Goupil, item #bi2003006263#). Notable are Gustafson and Trevelyan's highly useful anthology, Ancient Maya Gender Identity and Relations focused principally on the classic era (item #bi2003003765#), the outstanding anthology edited by Klein, Gender in Pre-hispanic America, with a number of impressive chapters focused on Mesoamerica (item #bi2003006019#), Sigal's innovative study of sexuality among the Mayas, From Moon Goddesses to Virgins (item #bi 00005529#), and Joyce's marvelous Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica, which comprehensively crosses temporal and cultural lines (item #bi2002000109#; see also Joyce, item #bi2003006016#). Having said this, it seems to us that more authors are considering gender as part of their analytical methodologies, a hopeful trend which admittedly still has a long way to go.

Another topic that once caught the imagination of more scholars, but which receives only minimal attention here, is land tenure. Of note for the colonial era are Iglesias' "Tierras indias bajo ley española," a careful look at land struggles in Cuautinchan (item #bi 99005384#); and Palma Murga's "De los usos de la memoria histórica prehispánica sobre la territorialidad en la Guatemala colonial," an investigation of intercommunity conflicts during the 16th- and 17th-centuries (item #bi2001004071#). The few precontact offerings are dominated by Arnold's challenging analysis of the sacred dimensions of the land in central Mexico, Eating Landscape (item #bi2001002603#).

Arnold's work can also be taken to represent what seems to be a rising interest in topics and issues related to ecology, the environment, and flora and fauna, noting in some cases the sacred implications of latter. Especially valuable are a new edition of An Aztec Herbal, edited by Gates (item #bi2001002611#), and an extremely important collection of documents and articles presenting the life, work, and times of the great "naturalist" (to risk using the term anachronistically) Dr. Francisco Hernández. The latter has been crafted by Varey, Chabrán, Chamberlin, and Weiner in companion volumes entitled The Mexican Treasury: The Writings of Dr. Francisco Hernández (item #bi2003005051#), and Searching for the Secrets of Nature: The Life and Works of Dr. Francisco Hernández (item #bi2003005050#). These extremely useful resources are among just a few works of this type with a "colonial" focus, though Garavaglia's fine article, "Atlixco: El Agua, los Hombres y la Tierra en un Valle Mexicano, Siglos XIV–XVII," is, among other things, an analysis of the impact of introduced European livestock and crops (item #bi 99001550#). Others, such as Berres (item #bi2001000340#), Schlesinger (item #bi2003003763#), and González Torres (item #bi2002000098#), examine the precontact era Basin of Mexico and the flora and fauna of this region and of the Maya zone. Here is an area of inquiry that can still bear more sustained study, though it is potentially a difficult topic for ethnohistorians to pursue. Yet as is apparent in the work of Arnold and Hernández, the landscape and the living and even inanimate things that inhabited it loomed large in the sacred and secular lives of the Mesoamericans. History is embedded in the landscape in precontact-style pictorials such as the cartographic histories, as it was in colonial-era primordial titles. Murals such as those found at Ixquimilpan present viewers with a swirling mass of vegetation bearing other kinds of figures and messages. Just as in the case of gender, we must constantly challenge ourselves to factor in "the landscape" broadly speaking as we seek to craft meaningful ethnohistorical studies.

If one searches beyond the Nahuas and the southeastern Mayan region, it quickly becomes apparent that other Mesoamerican groups are still being overlooked. In the past this was explained by the "fact" that primary ethnohistorical sources comparable to those associated with the better represented groups were almost nonexistent. However, the research and recent publications of a small number of scholars should be seen as a challenge to this convenient assertion. Three of the more important pieces of scholarship reviewed for this volume of HLAS are models of the perceptive analysis of Mixtec-centered ethnohistorical sources, including many written in the indigenous language: Kevin Terraciano's The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Nudzahui History, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries (item #bi2003003755#), "The Colonial Mixtec Community" (item #bi2002000960#), and "Crime and Culture in Colonial Mexico: The Case of the Mixtec Murder Note" (item #bi2001007624#). Of similar significance is Oudijk's laudable evaluation of postcontact Zapotec records, Historiography of the Bénizáa: The Postclassic and Early Colonial Periods (item #bi2002000095#; see also item #bi2003006040#). Equally weighty work on Purépecha sources and culture in the postconquest includes Roskamp's La historiografía indígena de Michoacán: El Lienzo de Jucutácato y los títulos de Carapan (item #bi2003006047#; see also items #bi2003006048# and #bi2003006049#) and Verástique's Michoacán and Eden (item #bi2001001580#), a new look at Vasco Quiroga's enterprise through an indigenous lens. The Otomí get some attention from Crespo and Cervantes (item #bi 98003930#), García Castro (item #bi2001001591#), and the Huastecs from Escobar Ohmstede (item #bi 99008838#). Some of these "northerners" were actually Otomí and Tlaxcalan colonists and thus of interest to scholars who study "central Mexicans." Their story, as told in such things as Miguel Caldera y los tlaxcaltecas en el norte de la Nueva España (item #bi 99008853#), is not to be missed.

So we issue a challenge to present and future ethnohistorians, urging them to leave behind archival complacency and venture into some of these newly unfolding areas of investigatory possibility. We would like to applaud the initiative of Reyes, Sullivan, Campbell, Karttunen, and scholars from the University of Leiden (such as Bos, Oudijk, and Roskamp, who are represented in these pages) who are collaborating with native speakers of indigenous languages, people who can bring vital insight to the reading of precolumbian and colonial texts, even if languages and cultures have evolved considerably in the interim. We are also encouraged by our colleagues both in and outside of Mesoamerica who read the work of all serious contributors to the field regardless of their national origin and first language. We live in a time remote from that of the peoples we are studying. In this sense, most of us are outsiders seeking to gain entry into an often alien world. Maintaining mutual respect, working together, and learning from one another will allow us to achieve our common goals more quickly and more successfully than otherwise. It is our sincere wish that the annotated bibliography which follows will serve these ends.


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