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Volume 64 / Humanities

ETHNOHISTORY: Mesoamerica


ROBERT HASKETT, Associate Professor of History, University of Oregon
STEPHANIE WOOD, Associate Director and Senior Research Associate, Wired Humanities Project, Center for the Study of Women in Society, Assistant Professor of History, University of Oregon

LOOKING BACK OVER OUR TENURE as co-contributing editors for the HLAS Mesoamerican Ethnohistory section, which began with HLAS Vol. 54, we have noted a number of positive trends and changes in the body of works we have reviewed. There has been an absolute increase in the number of scholars who, as a matter of course, employ indigenous language texts in their work (both precontact-style codices and alphabetic manuscripts of many different kinds), above all Nahuatl. However, other scholars have added the voices of Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Maya, Purépecha, and others to the mix, so that our field has become far deeper and broader than ever. While significant codices rightly have not been neglected, increasing numbers of investigators have followed the lead of people such as James Lockhart, Luis Reyes García, and others to move "beyond" these kinds of ethnohistorical treasures to an equally significant body of "mundane" records such as testaments, bills of sale and rental, petitions, letters, alphabetic annals, local histories (primordial titles, Techialoyans, and the like), Catholic didactic texts and plays, and so on. At the same time, continuing breakthroughs in the field of epigraphy have revealed more precontact archeological texts for Maya specialists, for instance, to read and analyze. These types of records have provided more pathways into the study of society and politics, religious dialogues, everyday life, and a persistently "indigenous" way of thinking of the past, present, and future well into the Spanish colonial era (and beyond). Breakthroughs in the study of women and gender have accompanied all of this, yet this is the one area where there have been fewer stand-alone studies of this genre, replaced, perhaps, by a greater tendency for gender to be incorporated as a matter of course into the scholarly interpretive repertoire.

For HLAS 64, some of the more significant article-length work to cross our desks has come in the pages of high-quality scholarly anthologies. Collectively, these volumes present cutting-edge studies covering a diversity of times, places, and topics. The informative compilation from the Historia de la vida cotidiana en México series (item #bi2007000950#), edited by Pablo Escalante Gonzalbo, contains numerous, well-researched articles ranging in time from the Olmec era through the Spanish era, and covering much of geographic and cultural Mesoamerica in the process. Similarly wide ranging in specific topical content and temporal spread, but focused on the Nahuas, is Ethnic Identity in Nahua Mesoamerica (item #bi2008002888#), edited by Frances F. Berdan and others, which collectively extends our reach into the realm of identity and its evolution over time, from precontact through colonial situations (and beyond). A very recent collection of serious works of ethnohistorical scholarship, and one that we just received a few days before completing our labors on this volume, is Símbolos de poder en Mesoamérica (item #bi2008004800#), coordinated by Guilhem Olivier, comprised of 27 chapters whose authors investigate this theme across the precontact and colonial eras among the Nahuas, the Maya, the Otomí, and the Purépecha.

Other anthologies have narrower temporal foci. Wars and Conflicts in Prehispanic Mesoamerica and the Andes (item #bi2007001612#), compiled by Peter Eeckhout and Geneviève Le Fort, includes five chapters (out of 10) pertinent for this section, two of them dealing with the Nahuas and three with the Maya, linking warfare with the sacred in a number of ways. Indigenous peoples' responses to Catholicism are featured in many of the articles found in the important new book entitled Religion in New Spain (item #bi2008002900#). Crafted by Susan Schroeder and Stafford Poole, this collection takes readers from sacred dialogues to religious conflicts, and from idolatry through marriage practices, issues of sexuality, priest-indigenous relations, and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Some of the contributions to the anthology Local Religion in Colonial Mexico (items #bi2008003745#, #bi2008003746#, #bi2008003748#, #bi2008004803#, and #bi2008002907#), put together by Martin Austin Nesvig, contribute similarly high-quality studies to the mix. Finally, Matthew Restall's edited work, Beyond Black and Red (item #bi2008002889#), includes a number of Mexico-focused chapters that make important new contributions to our understanding of the conflicts and sociocultural interactions of indigenous and African peoples during the viceregal era.

Traveling farther back in time, society and culture during the precontact era is showcased in a number of excellent books and articles. Stephen Houston, David Stuart, and Karl Taube have given us an exacting book-length investigation of classic Maya concepts of the human body (above all male royal bodies) in The Memory of Bones (item #bi2006002156#). María Castañeda de la Paz, in the intriguing Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl article entitled "Itzcóatl y los instrumentos de su poder" (item #bi2008002912#), maintains a focus on male elites while at the same time establishing more clearly how this Mexica ruler's efforts to recraft his people's identity truly succeeded. In another issue of the same journal one finds Jongsoo Lee's enlightening "Reexamining Nezahualcóyotl's Texcoco" (item #bi2008002930#), in which the author convincingly calls into question the often highly romanticized image of this ruler. Of necessity, elites are also the focus of a very good study from Polish Mesoamericanist Justyna Olko, who in the impressive book Turquoise Diadems and Staffs of the Office (item #bi2008002898#) explores sculptural and pictorial evidence to unravel the ways in which elite dress and adornment among the Mexica and other Nahuas expressed their power and status. Representations of concubines and the gendered nature of slavery among the Mexica are explored in Camilla Townsend's innovative article, "'What in the World Have You Done to Me, My Lover?': Sex, Servitude, and Politics among the Pre-Conquest Nahuas as seen in the Cantares mexicanos" (item #bi2006002051#). The "Chalca Woman's Song," the focal point of Townsend's article, is interpreted with more politically charged meanings in mind by Kay Almere Read and Jane M. Rosenthal's "The Chalcan Woman's Song: Sex as a Political Metaphor in Fifteenth-Century Mexico" (item #bi2007004261#) (both of these impressive articles appear in the same volume of The Americas). While Townsend does take us some way beyond the higher societal levels, as do some of the contributions found in the anthology from the Historia de la vida cotidiana en México series (item #bi2007000950#), what is generally lacking in this biennium's body of scholarship is significant attention to the lives of the majority; we have seen nothing like Ancient Maya Commoners, reviewed in HLAS 62:194.

This lack of significant social depth is apparent in the numerous investigations of the sacred, perhaps inevitably, given the nature of available archeological and archival sources mainly generated by elite specialists. Nonetheless, this broad and complex subject remains a lively topic of inquiry, fascinating scholars with a variety of concentrations. We have reviewed a particularly rich cache of studies of precontact Nahua religion, ritual, and cosmology. Elizabeth Hill Boone's impressive Cycles of Time and Meaning in the Mexican Books of Fate (item #bi2007001394#) sets a very high standard of accessible yet exacting analysis of precontact-style divinatory codices. Carlos Viesca T., Andrés Aranda C., and Mariblanca Ramos de Viesca, meanwhile, inform us about what might be called the medico-cosmic ideology of hearts among the Nahuas in their article "El corazón y sus enfermedades en la cultura náhuatl prehispánica" (item #bi2008003004#). A number of works reviewed for this volume are preoccupied with building a better understanding of "human offerings" (which of course involved hearts) among the Nahuas. Sacrifice and the ritual "feeding" of the gods receives enlightening interpretive discussion from Michel Graulich and Guilhem Olivier in their article "¿Deidades insaciables?: la comida de los dioses en el México antiguo" (item #bi2008002921#), while Laura Ibarra gives a very sophisticated examination of the origins of those deities in "El origen de algunos dioses prehispánicos: una explicación desde la teoría histórico-genética" (item #bi2008002924#). Sacrifice, gods, and ideologies about human aging and death among the Nahuas are the concern of Patrick Johansson K. in both his "La rendición sacrificial del envejecimiento en la fiesta de Tititl" (item #bi2008002926#) and "Días de muertos en el mundo náhuatl prehispánico" (item #bi2008002927#). Meanwhile, Leonardo López Luján and Javier Urcid address a more practical subject in "El Chacmool de Míxquic y el sacrificio humano" (item #bi2008002933#), the functional use of sculptural figures in the process of providing precious human sustenance for supernatural beings. Unraveling the interweaving of gender into the Nahua sacred is the concern of several studies, including Cecelia F. Klein's challenging reinterpretation of the famous sculpture of Huitzilopochtli's mother, "A New Interpretation of the Aztec Statue called Coatlicue, 'Snakes-Her-Skirt'" (item #bi2008003579#).

In terms of the works received in the Library of Congress on Mesoamerican ethnohistory, the prehispanic Maya sacred has received somewhat less attention than usual. Yet several relevant works deserve mention here. A worthy representative example is provided by Markus Eberl, who like some of his colleagues interested in the Nahuas focuses on ideologies and practices related to death and the afterlife in Muerte, entierro y ascención: ritos funerarios entre los antiguos mayas (item #bi2008003012#). The esoteric, cosmic meanings of mirrors among the lowlanders is intriguingly explored in Miguel Rivera Dorado's Espejos de poder: un aspecto de la civilización maya (item #bi2007000940#). Turning to the highlands, a continuing scholarly preoccupation with the Popol Vuh is signaled by Enrique Florescano's "Chichén Itzá, Teotihuacán, and the origins of Popol Vuh" (item #bi2007004268#), in which the author employs evidence from postconquest alphabetic Maya-language titles as well as from the more famous Quiché text, while Nestor I. Quiroa cautions us to interpret this important resource within its proper historical and cultural context in "Francisco Ximénez and the Popol Vuh: Text, Structure, and the Ideology in the Prologue to the Second Treatise" (item #bi2005001391#), a revisionist treatment that is a must-read for anyone interested in the text.

As always, a significant subset of scholarship related to time and the sacred is represented by studies of traditional Mesoamerican calendrical systems. Aside from Boone's book which addresses the subject of concepts of time (see above), informative studies about various aspects of the calendars include articles by Gordon Brotherston (item #bi2008002911#); the similarly themed "Cempoallapohualli: la 'crono-logía' de las veintenas en el calendario solar náhuatl" (item #bi2008002929#), by the prolific Patrick Johansson K.; Stanislaw Iwaniszewski's "La breve historia del calendario del Códice Telleriano-Remensis" (item #bi2008002925#); and Marc Thouvenot and Celia Villejuif's "Escritura y lecturas del Xiuhtlalpilli o ligadura de los años" (item #bi2008003002#). Finally, Guy Stresser-Péan breaks new ground in many ways by examining the Totonac calendar and its relationship to better-known central Mesoamerican traditions in his "El antiguo calendario Totonaco y sus probables vínculos con el de Teotihuacán" (item #bi2008002949#).

Interest in the many issues related to the sacred during the colonial era finds expression in a thick assemblage of monographs, articles, and manuscript studies too numerous to mention here individually; the two impressive anthologies mentioned above are only the tip of an iceberg. Additional exemplary representatives of this body of work are David Tarávez's "The Passion According to the Wooden Drum: The Christian Appropriation of a Zapotec Ritual Genre in New Spain" (item #bi2007004263#), a study of the first Tlaxcalan encounters with Christianity through the lens of Diego Muñoz Camargo's work (item #bi2008003003#), and Dominique Raby's study of the practices of curanderas and curanderos in Ruiz de Alarcón's 17th-century Treatise (item #bi2008002946#). Many scholars continue to seek both Spanish and indigenous voices in native language Christian didactic texts, such as Danny Law's intriguing study of Ch'olti'-language doctrinal works (item #bi2008003580#), Pilar Vidal Maynez's investigation of a Nahuatl-language text entitled La historia de la Pasión de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo, (item #bi2008002938#), Berenice Alcántara Rojas' careful examination of terminology found in a text transformed from Latin into Nahuatl in Fray Juan Baptista's Confessionario, (item #bi2008002909#), and an analysis by Eileen M. Mulhare and Barry D. Sell of formulaic prayers rendered into Nahuatl by Pedro de Gante (item #bi2008002941#). Sell is one of the scholars (along with Louise M. Burkhart, Stafford Poole, and Elizabeth R. Wright) who presides over what must be considered the two jewels of this collection of works, the second and third volumes of Nahuatl Theater: Our Lady of Guadalupe (item #bi2008002905#) and Spanish Golden Age Drama in Mexican Translation (item #bi2008002906#). Both volumes will be highly useful for advancing research and teaching.

Fray Bernardino de Sahagún's imprint on much of the extant Nahuatl-language didactic texts is undeniable, and in fact many of our colleagues maintain a justified interest in probing deeper into the Franciscan's work. Thus Danièle Dehouve provides a good overview study of Sahagún's Colloquios y doctrina christiana (item #bi2008002914#), while John Frederick Schwaller contributes two succinct and informative articles focused on terminology in "'Centlalia' and 'Nonotza' in the Writings of Sahagún: A New Interpretation of his Missiological Vision" (item #bi2008002947#) and "The Ilhuica of the Nahua: Is Heaven Just a Place?" (item #bi2007004262#). Two other articles stem from an ongoing project based at UNAM to produce an exacting critical edition of the Florentine Codex (items #bi2008002919# and #bi2008002932#). The book El universo de Sahagún, pasado y presente provides even more examples of the ongoing work on this project, including articles surveying the nature and process of the translation as well as more topically focused investigations on several specific aspects of this enduringly important codex (item #bi2008004804#).

Codices themselves continue to fascinate, and rightly so. A number of important works reviewed here present significant new insights into the interpretation, meanings, and significance of these often-spectacular ethnohistorical treasures. A roster of noteworthy examples must include Cave, City, and Eagle's Nest: An Interpretive Journey through the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 (item #bi2007005347#), beautifully realized by Davíd Carrasco and Scott Sessions, and Keiko Yoneda's similarly significant book-length treatment of the same manuscript, Mapa de Cuauhtinchan núm. 2 (item #bi2007001603#). An important article-length study of genealogical pictorials from Tlaxcala has been created by Delia A. Consentino in "Genealogías pictóricas en Tlaxcala colonial: nobles afirmaciones del orden social" (item #bi2008003007#). Luz María Mohar looks at government, justice, and punishment in a detailed study of the postconquest Texcocan Códice Mapa Quinatzin (item #bi2007001615#), while Eleanor Wake has crafted a detailed study of the drawings and text of Diego Muñoz Camargo's Codex Tlaxcala (item #bi2008003005#). The first English translation of Karl Anton Nowotny's Tlacuilolli: Style and Contents of the Mexican Pictorial Manuscripts with a Catalog of the Borgia Group makes this important body of work accessible to a much wider audience than was the case with the 1961 German original (item #bi2007001610#). A critical edition of a major Maya postcontact codex, Kaqchikel Chronicles: The Definitive Edition (item #bi2006002283#), comes from translators and editors Judith M. Maxwell and Robert M. Hill. Gabrielle Vail and Anthony Aveni serve as editors and contributors to an important collective study of The Madrid Codex: New Approaches to Understanding an Ancient Maya Manuscript (item #bi2008003401#).

While the painters and authors of the codices are usually anonymous or unclear, the same is not true for Chimalpahin, the Nahua writer and historian whose life and work continue to receive attention from scholars such as Valérie Benoist, in the article "La construcción de una comunidad Nahua/Española en las Relaciones de Chimalpahin" (item #bi2008002908#), and Josefina García Quintana, Silvia Limón, Miguel Pastrana, y Víctor M. Castillo, in their edition of the Primera, segunda, cuarta, quinta y sexta relaciones de las différentes histoires originales (item #bi2007000943#). But the most significant new arrival on this topic is certainly Annals of His Time, a fact-filled and engaging historical text covering the late 16th and early 17th centuries, transcribed and translated in a critical edition by James Lockhart, Susan Schroeder, and Doris Namala (item #bi2008002895#).

This noted Amaquemecan author ushers us into the world of colonial indigenous societies that are the focus of numerous studies under review here. The Nahuas again receive the lion's share of attention, a body of scholarship studded by standouts such as Caterina Pizzigoni's essential collection of Nahuatl-language Testaments of Toluca (item #bi2007002263#), Patricia Cruz Pasos, Francisco M. Gil García, and José Luis de Rojas' careful study of an 18th-century genealogical text from Coyoacan, "Soy descendiente de don Juan Istolinque y Guzmán: el cacicazgo de Coyoacán en el siglo XVIII" (item #bi2008003008#), and Antonio Escobar Ohmstede and Ricardo A. Fagoaga Hernández's look at trade and exchange in the colonial Huasteca, "Indígenas y comericio en las Huastecas (México), siglo XVIII" (item #bi2007004264#). Away from the Nahua zone, Patricia Escandón looks into the "hot lands" of Michoacán (item #bi2008003009#), Alberto Carrillo Cázares takes us to congregated indigenous communities on the Chichimec frontier (item #bi2008003006#), and Lisa Sousa and Kevin Terraciano contribute a well-mounted study of primordial titles and the retrospective interpretations of the Spanish invasion sometimes found in them, "The 'Original Conquest' of Oaxaca: Nahua and Mixtec Accounts of the Spanish Conquest" (item #bi2004001685#).

Centered more directly around the actual era of that invasion is Camilla Townsend's outstanding, multifaceted study of the famous (or infamous) Doña Marina, Malintzin's Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico (item #bi2008002903#). In addition to the many insights offered into her culture, including gender ideologies, the book also serves as an excellent account of the Spanish invasion of Mexico. Townsend has written an article focused on the age of conquest, too, exploding the old idea that the indigenous peoples believed the Spaniards to be deities: "Burying the White Gods: New Perspectives on the Conquest of Mexico" (item #bi2008003013#). The fact that this fine article appeared at about the same time as Matthew Restall's well-known book, Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest (item #bi2008002901#), should not dissuade anyone from reading Townsend's contribution. Guilhem Olivier adds another article-length study of what might be called the myths of the invasion of Mexico in his persuasive piece, "Indios y españoles frente a prácticas adivinatorias y presagios durante la conquista de México" (item #bi2008002943#). All of these notable items join with Indian Conquistadors (item #bi2007002342#) and another work, Invading Guatemala (item #bi2008002893#) (a useful collection of translated indigenous-language texts from Matthew Restall and Florine Asselbergs), to enhance our understanding of the ways in which indigenous peoples participated actively in the process of "conquest," both as allies and adversaries, as well as their later interpretations of those conflicts.

Not mentioned in our section on anthologies but reserved for discussion here is the collection of methodological essays from the Lockhart school of New Philology, rooted primarily in indigenous-language manuscripts, Sources and Methods for the Study of Postconquest Mesoamerican Ethnohistory, edited by James Lockhart, Lisa Sousa, and Stephanie Wood (item #bi2008004801#). This provisional version is currently being offered only in electronic form, with more essays to come. Included at the moment are 21 substantive chapters that look at testaments, tributes, cofradía records, genealogies, primordial titles, annals, plays, petitions, legal documents and court records of various kinds, pictorial records and murals, as well as sources for exploring gender and sexuality, the far north, and Africans in the Yucatán.

Digital resources continue to become available, including both primary and secondary materials. Some of the scholarly journals we have reviewed here are available on line, with Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl, Mexicon (largely archeology, but some ethnohistory), and Relaciones as notable examples for putting scholarship before profits and making it easier than ever to access pertinent articles on a variety of ethnohistorical subjects. Not indexed here but worthy of note are the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies (FAMSI), which continues to underwrite and publish electronic research reports (although largely archeological) [http://www.famsi.org/], Mesoweb (especially known for its Palenque Roundtable publications as well as material from the Precolumbian Art Research Institute) [http://www.mesoweb.com/], Wayeb (especially the journal Wayeb Notes as well as theses and dissertations, but more epigraphy than ethnohistory) [http://www.wayeb.org/], and Mayavase.com.

Thanks to museums and archives, electronic versions of native-language documents are becoming more readily available on the web. The Princeton University Library, the Peabody Museum at Harvard, the Benson Library in Austin, and FAMSI are standouts for putting facsimiles on line. Sup-Infor, often in collaboration with CONACULTA and INAH, has added more vocabularies and dictionaries, pictorial and alphabetic, to its valuable manuscript transcriptions on line. The Wired Humanities Project (WHP) at the University of Oregon, which hosts the Lockhart methodology volume already mentioned, is enhancing the Virtual Mesoamerican Archive finding aid and an online searchable Nahuatl Vocabulary that indexes the work of the Lockhart school, among other resources. WHP is also working on mounting free scholarly editions of four Techialoyan manuscripts recently donated to the Library of Congress by the Jay I. Kislak Foundation as part of its revamped, expanding, online Mapas Project of pictorial manuscripts from New Spain, with transcriptions and translations from Nahuatl to English and Spanish, side by side and with the facsimiles, as part of its offerings. WHP has also begun a digital Early Nahuatl Virtual Library Project with the collaboration of the Luis Reyes García Seminar Group and contributions from some members of the Lockhart school.

Our involvement in some of these electronic projects leads us to announce with regret that this issue represents our last as co-editors of this section. We have enjoyed and benefited from our HLAS work, which has presented us with welcome exposure to many useful scholarly sources we might not have discovered on our own. Yet both of us feel an urgency to devote more time to our own research projects, digital and otherwise. We are confident that the staff at the Hispanic Division will recruit a scholar or scholars to take up this task who will maintain or, more likely, improve on the standards we have tried to maintain.


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