Editor’s note: This content is archival.
February 1993, Number 15
With support from the Department of Anthropology
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
A Publication of the Indiana University
Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
- Nahua Newsletter News
- AAA Meeting News (in print version only)
- News Items
- Book Reviews
- The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations. By
NORMAN YOFFEE and GEORGE L. COWGILL, eds. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991.
Pp. v+333. $35.00 (cloth); $14.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8165-1049-0 (cloth); 0-8165-1249-3
(paper). Reviewed by Richard Blanton.
- War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica. By ROSS HASSIG.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Pp. x+337, 16 plates. $45.00. ISBN
0-520-07734-2. Reviewed by Robert Jeske.
- The Aztec Image of Self and Society: An Introduction to
Nahua Culture. By Miguel León-Portilla; edited with an introduction by J.
Jorge Klor de Alva. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992. xxiii+248.
$27.50. ISBN 0-87480-360-8. Reviewed by Harold B. Haley.
- The Worlds of Christopher Columbus. By WILLIAM D.
PHILLIPS, Jr., and CARLA RAHN PHILLIPS. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Pp. vii+322. ISBN 0-521-35097-2.. Reviewed by Paul Jean Provost.
- Four Masterworks of American Indian Literature:
Quetzalcoatl, The Ritual of Condolence, Cuceb, The Night Chant. Edited with
commentaries and new translations by JOHN BIERHORST. Tucson: University of Arizona
Press, 1984. Pp. xxiv+371. ISBN 08165-0886-0.. Reviewed by Juan Adolfo
- Golden UFOs: The Indian Poems = Los ovnis de oro: Poemas
indios. By ERNESTO CARDENAL; translated by CARLOS and MONIQUE ALTSCHUL; edited, with
an introduction and glossary by RUSSELL O. SALMON. Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1992. Pp. xli+433. ISBN 0-253-31302-3 (cloth); 0-253-20677-4 (paper). Reviewed
by John Bierhorst.
- The Mixe of Oaxaca: Religion, Ritual, and Healing. By
FRANK J. LIPP; forward by MUNRO S. EDMONSON. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.
Pp. viii+253. ISBN 0-292-76517-7. Reviewed by Carlos Garma Navarro.
- Illustrations in this Issue
- Directory Updates
- New Subscribers Address
Welcome to the 15th issue of the Nahua Newsletter, your gateway to the Nahua
Network, a loose-knit group from around the world that shares an interest in the
culture, history, and language of Nahuatl speaking peoples. The Nahua Newsletter was
founded by Brad R. Huber and the first issue was sent out in February 1986. Since that
time our membership has grown to over 300 subscribers and we add new names with each
In this edition you will find announcements of publications, offers of research
materials, and news items of interest to Nahua specialists. We also have a number of
book reviews contributed by Nahua Newsletter readers. The books cover a wide range of
topics that are directly or indirectly linked to Nahua studies. Because of the
extensive review section, I have decided to limit the Directory Update to changes that
have occurred since publication of the entire list of names and addresses in the last
issue. The complete directory will be printed in future issues.
As editor, I am happy to publish items that will keep Nahua specialists better
informed, so take a minute to send me news to share about your current activities.
Please forward to me any announcements, updates, requests for cooperation, assessments
of our state of knowledge, recent achievements, or fighting words so that I can include
them in the next issue. If you send anything longer than a few lines, please provide
the text in hard copy as well as on a disk, preferably in 3.5-inch (either double- or
high-density) format using WordPerfect software (otherwise send an ASCII-text
The Nahua Newsletter is distributed free of charge to interested persons and costs
entailed in printing and mailing are subsidized by the Indiana University Center for
Latin American and Caribbean Studies and by the Anthropology program of Indiana
University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne. However, economic times are tough for
higher education in the United States and donations from readers are most welcome.
Since the last issue, several readers have generously sent checks to help offset the
expense of producing the Newsletter. If you find the Newsletter to be a benefit in your
work, please consider making a donation. Even a modest contribution is greatly
appreciated and all gifts are tax deductible.
Three readers have responded to an offer made in the last issue by ordering the
complete run of back issues of the Nahua Newsletter. The $10 fee has been applied
toward printing and mailing the current issue. Anyone else who would like issues 1
through 14 to insure that your collection is complete should write to the editor and
include a $10 check.
Please send all correspondence to:Alan R. Sandstrom, Editor Nahua Newsletter Department of Anthropology Indiana-Purdue University 2101 Coliseum Blvd. East Fort Wayne, IN 46805
(1) Ricardo Salvador makes the following announcement: An electronic bibliographic
database of the Index of Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl is available. The file contains
all table-of-Index information (except forwards, necrology, and book review items) and
is maintained as an EndNote file (this bibliographic management software from Niles and
Associates is available for both Macintosh and DOS compatible computers running
Windows). If a sufficient number of people are interested, the file could also be
ported to Claris FileMaker Pro 2.0 format (database software also available for both
Macintosh and DOS/Windows platforms). The file, which includes information from volumes
1-21 of Estudios, currently consists of 299 citations.
The advantage of the electronic edition of this listing is that quick searches for
terms or parts of items can be performed, and data can be grouped, sorted, and exported
by an number of convenient criteria. Those desiring the EndNote data file should mail a
3.5-inch formatted disk with a self-addressed, stamped disk mailer to the address given
below. Those desiring a strict text dump of this file may obtain it electronically or
by standard mail. Persons with access to the Internet may access a copy of the file
named ECNIndex by anonymous FT to ISUMVS@IASTATE.EDU on the directory: A1$RJS.MEXICO. A
disadvantage of this file format is that it omits diacritical marks. A self-dissolving
binary-encoded version of the file including diacritical marks is available as file
ECNBINHEX on the same directory and can be decoded by Macintosh users who have the
StuffIt archiving utility.
Those desiring a printed version of the list (21 pages, sorted by author), should
send a request including $2.00 U.S. to cover duplication and mailing to: Ricardo
Salvador, 1126 Agronomy Hall, Iowa State University, Ames IA 50011-1010. E-mail:
email@example.com. Phone: (515) 294-9595.
(2) Yolandra Lastra has sent notice that a series of otherwise unobtainable
publications printed in Mexico and of interest to Nahua Newsletter readers are now
available through mail order. This includes “Tlacuilo,” an Aztec film (on VHS) in
English. If you have been looking but have not been able to find material that would be
an aid in your studies or teaching, please send your requests. All orders will be sent
by registered mail or special delivery service. For information write to Braulio
Suarez, Vertiz 1258-701, México, D.F. 03650 MEXICO.
(3) Fran Karttunen writes that she will be teaching a five-week course this summer
that will concentrate on the basics of Nahuatl grammar. There will be daily written
work and class size is limited to 15. If fewer than 15 enroll for credit the remaining
places will be open to auditors. Dates of the course are July 12 to August 16, 1993.
Persons interested in enrolling for credit should contact Ann Dibble at the Institute
of Latin American Studies (ILAS), University of Texas, Austin, Austin, TX 78712, (512)
471-5551. Persons who are interested in auditing should write to Fran Karttunen at
The new four-volume critical edition of the Codex Mendoza from the University of
California Press (1992) contains an alphabetical catalog of all the place-name glyphs,
personal-name glyphs, and title glyphs in the document. Since Mendoza is a major source
of Central Mexican glyphs, this catalog is of great importance. I have prepared a
critique of the catalog which suggests alternative glosses of the Nahuatl names and
separates morphemic analyses of the names from the glyphic elements used to represent
them. Because my critique runs to over 100 pages, I am not offering it as hard copy,
but I will make it available to anyone who sends me a 3.5-inch, double-density (not
high density) disk. It will be readable with Microsoft Word on Macintosh. Send requests
to Frances Karttunen, Linguistics Research Center, University of Texas, Austin, P.O.
Box 7247, Austin, TX 78713-7247.
(4) Manita Kleijer writes to announce the 1992 publication of two books in Dutch by
Rudolf A.M. van Zantwijk:
‘Met Mij is de Zon opgegaan,’ De levensloop van Tlacayelel (1398-1478), stichter van
het Azteekse Rijk = Course of the Life of Tlacayelel (1398-1478), Founder of the Aztec
Empire. Prometheus, 1992. ISBN 90 5333-1166.
‘De Oorlog tegen de Goden,’ Azteekse kronieken over de Spaanse verovering = Aztec
Chronicles of the Spanish Conquest. Meulenhoff Nederland B.V., Amsterdam, 1992. ISBN
(5) Terry Stocker wants to advise all friends that in June of this year the price of
Volume 1 of the New World Figurine Project is going up to $75. Until that date the
price of Volume 1 (1991) is still $23 ($25 outside the U.S.) (ISBN 0-934893-09-8
cloth). If you purchase Volume 2 (1992) before June 1st you will be placed on a list
and receive the book for around $30. Thus, anyone can get the two volumes now cheaper
than the price of one later. The reason for the price increase is that Research Press
is going to target libraries in its marketing. The address for information or orders is
Research Press, P.O. Box 7113, University Station, Provo, UT 84602. Their toll-free
phone number is (800) 327-6715.
(6) From SUP-INFOR, Editions sur supports informatiques, comes the following updated
listing of publications of their Mesoamerican Collection:
(paleographies of Amerindian texts with trilingual introduction): CASTILLO: Ecrits
de Cristobal del Castillo. Marc Thouvenot. 1990. Manuscrit nahuatl: Bibliothèque
Nationale de Paris N° 263, 305 et 306. (62K) ISBN 2-908782-04-9: FF. 90.
303PBN: BN 303 ou Anales Mexicanos. Marc Thouvenot. 1990. Manuscrit nahuatl:
Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris N° 303. (20K) ISBN 2-908782-05-7: FF.
3CHIMAL: Troisième Relation de Chimalpahin. Jacquelinede Durand-Forest avec la
collaboration de Marc Thouvenot. 1990. Manuscrit nahuatl: Bibliothèque Nationale
de Paris N° 74. (154K) ISBN 2-908782-06-5: FF. 150.
TECHIA: Corpus Techialoyan: Textes en caractères latins. Joaquín Galarza
avec la collaboration de Marc Thouvenot. 1990. 43 Manuscrits nahuatl. (590K) ISBN
2-908782-07-3: FF. 385.
P001A: Annotations du Codex Xolotl. Marc Thouvenot. 1992. Manuscrit nahuatl:
Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris N° 1-10. (31K) ISBN 2-908782-09-X: FF.
P011A: Annotations de la Mapa Quinatzin. Marc Thouvenot. 1992. Manuscrit nahuatl:
Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris N° 11-12. (19K) ISBN 2-908782-10-3: FF.
P022B: Annales de Tlatelolco. Marc Thouvenot. 1992. Manuscrit nahuatl:
Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris N° 22bis. (125K) ISBN 2-908782-12-X: FF.
P040A: Histoire mexicaine depuis 1221 jusqu’en 1594. Marc Thouvenot. 1992. Manuscrit
nahuatl: Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris N° 40. (32K) ISBN 2-908782-13-8:
P085A: Fragment de l’histoire des anciens mexicains. Marc Thouvenot. 1992. Manuscrit
nahuatl: Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris N° 85. (24K) ISBN 2-908782-14-6:
P217A: Fragment d’ histoire du Mexique. Marc Thouvenot. 1992. Manuscrit nahuatl:
Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris N° 217. (44K) ISBN 2-908782-15-4: FF.
P311A: Crónica Mexicayotl. Marc Thouvenot. 1992. Manuscrit nahuatl:
Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris N° 311. (160K) ISBN 2-908782-16-2: FF.
P312A: Codex Chimalpopoca : Annales de Cuauhtitlan. Marc Thouvenot. 1992. Manuscrit
nahuatl: Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris N° 312. (215K) ISBN 2-908782-17-0:
P312B: Codex Chimalpopoca : Leyenda de los Soles. Marc Thouvenot. 1992. Manuscrit
nahuatl: Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris N° 312. (47K) ISBN 2-908782-18-9:
P373A: Annotations de la Mapa Tlotzin. Marc Thouvenot. 1992. Manuscrit nahuatl:
Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris N° 373. (11K) ISBN 2-908782-11-1: FF.
XOLOTL: Codex Xolotl. Etude d’une des composantes de son écriture: les
glyphes. Dictionnaire des éléments constitutifs des glyphes. Marc
Thouvenot. 1990. Publication of the text part (around 1,000 pages) and of all the
images, from a doctoral thesis (1987). (1.3 Mb of text + 3.8 Mb of images) ISBN
2-908782-02-2: FF. 780.
XOLOTL: This is the data base used in writing the text of the Xolotl Codex. Access
to the data base is through a program that allows users to consult, search, and
paginate the results. Online help (in French) is continuously available. 1990. (8.26 Mb
+ 3.8 Mb of images). ISBN 2-908782-03-0: FF. 1500
TEMOA (2.1) is a trilingual (French, Spanish, and English) text editor that includes
advanced searching functions of strings of characters, some of which are specific to
the Nahuatl language. This editor only works with encrypted texts. It allows the user
to search from one to three strings of characters in a given context (word, sentence,
or paragraph), according to certain specifications relating to the spelling (original
spelling, suppression of the difference between small and capital letters, or altered
spelling adapted to the various ways of writing Nahuatl words), and according to the
nature of the words (filters for toponyms, anthroponyms, absolute substantives,
adjectives, and possessives).
Without any context, TEMOA can achieve searches on an infinite number of strings. It
includes GENOR, a program that generates, for a given Nahuatl word, all its possible
spellings. Thanks to GENOR, it is possible to find the word ihuan even if it is
written: ihoan, jhoan, jhoâ, yhoan, yhoâ, ihuan, jhuan, jhuâ, ihvan,
jhvan, jhvâ, yhuan, yhuâ, yhvan, ioan, joan, joâ, yoan, yoâ,
iuan, juan, ivan, jvan, yuan, or yvan in the text. Moreover, the search would succeed
even if it is written jh[u] an. TEMOA can ignore the segmentation of words and
conventional characters introduced in paleographies.
TEMOA allows searches on Corpuses (compilations of documents) from the Thesaurus
(lists of words that belong to the same semantic field).
The results of the searches can be stored in a file that can later be retrieved with
any program. You can illustrate documents containing images (boards, figures, charts,
glyphs, or vignettes) if equipped with a graphic card. 1992. (329K) ISBN 2-908782-08-1:
FF. 800. Update of TEMOA 1.0: FF. 100. Evaluation version of TEMOA 2.1: FF. 100.
POHUA allows the user to create a data base for analysis of the glyphs or persons
contained in any Aztec codex. Online help (in French) is continuously available
(printed directions for use are not available). The program is structured around a main
menu presenting six options: WRITE, CONSULT, SEARCH, LAY OUT, OTHERS, and HELP. 1990.
(994K) ISBN 2-908782-00-6: FF. 2000.
Texts and studies are consulted through the TEMOA text editor.
Programs run on PC/XT, PC/AT, PS/2 or any true IBM compatibles in which the operating
system is DOS 2.1 or greater and in which RAM equals at least 512K. For the image
display, a CGA, VGA or Hercules graphic card and 640K of RAM with 570K free is
necessary. By simple request, you can obtain a complete documentary sheet for each
For any order please indicate the desired floppy-disk format: 5-1/4 in. 360K, 5-1/4
in. 1.2 Mb, 3-1/2 in. 720K, or 3-1/2 in. 1.44 Mb.
Please send payment as follows:
– By bank transfer, payable to the Editions SUP-INFOR, Banque Nationale de Paris,
France, N° 30004 / 01657 / 00000736455 / 35.
– By cheque made out in French francs, payable to Editions SUP-INFOR. Items will be
forwarded after receiving payment on our account. There is a special discount of 50%
for students (please include a photocopy of student card).
Any interested persons are welcomed to get in touch with Marc Thouvenot, la Jasse
d’Eyrolles, Russian, 30190 FRANCE. The address of SUP-INFOR is 28 rue Racine, 75006
Paris, FRANCE. Fax: (33) 66 63 16 50.
The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations. By NORMAN YOFFEE and GEORGE L. COWGILL, eds. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991. Pp. v+333. $35.00 (cloth); $14.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8165-1049-0 (cloth); 0-8165-1249-3 (paper).
We should all thank Norman Yoffee, George Cowgill, and the School of American
Research (as this book is an outcome of one of the school’s advanced seminars) for
bringing together such a distinguished group of scholars to ponder an important issue
needing attention in our literature, namely the nature and causes of collapse of
ancient states and civilizations. As is typically the case in such broad-ranging
efforts, it was difficult to steer the seminar participants toward a unified
conceptualization, problem-orientation, or theoretical framework. But the chapters
contain abundant evidence of cross fertilization of ideas and comparative insights,
owing to the intense interaction that takes place in these seminar settings.
Yoffee starts with a thoughtful orienting chapter, which is followed by a series of
regionally-focused and problem-oriented chapters that I found appealing because they
are so rich with historical and archaeological details. These include Robert McC. Adams
and Yoffee, both on Mesopotamia, T. Patrick Culbert on the Classic Maya, René
Millon on Teotihuacán, G.W. Bowersock on the Roman Empire, Cho yun Hsu on the
fall of the Han Dynasty, and Bennet Bronson on the role of barbarians in the fall of
states. Millon’s lengthy chapter is particularly notable among this useful group of
chapters, not only in the sense of its contribution to this volume, but as the best
coverage of this topic available anywhere. Summary comments are then provided by
Herbert Kaufman in his “The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations as an
Organizational Problem,” in Shmuel N. Eisenstadt’s “Beyond Collapse,” and in Cowgill’s
concluding chapter, titled “Onward and Upward with Collapse.”
A central theme of the book is that collapse is less difficult to comprehend when it
is realized that states are quite fragile, volatile, and prone to social breakdown and
environmental problems. I find this a useful counter to the functionalism of
systems-speak that dominates the current literature of anthropological archaeology.
When the causes of breakdown are summarized, in the chapters by Kaufman and Cowgill, we
get only dry, disconnected lists of all the things that can go wrong, but there is
still much to be gained from adopting a theoretical position like this. Only Kaufman
assumes that there are general benefits from states, and that when collapse occurs,
people suffer, including a declining standard of living (e.g., p. 219). In my opinion
this is always an empirical issue, not something we can assume, and overall Kaufman’s
implicit functionalist stance is at variance with most of the book’s theoretical
The seminar organizers, Yoffee and Cowgill, had encouraged seminar participants to
emphasize the process of political fragmentation rather than the larger problem of
civilizational (i.e. “great tradition”) dimensions of collapse, but, fortunately, most
authors ignored their suggestion. Some of the most useful contributions, including
Yoffee’s on the decline of Mesopotamian civilization, highlight the complex
relationships among political decline and cultural change, and allow us to better
understand aspects of “…the causal connections between ideas and material phenomena”
(Cowgill, p. 276). Cho-yun Hsu discusses at some length the growing antagonism between
the Han court and the literati who controlled government administration. In this case,
central government had decreed that demonstrated mastery of a cognitive system, based
on Confucian thought, would provide access to positions in government administration,
thus subverting competing power spheres based on traditional noble status, or military
and commercial success. The failure of this strategy was clearly a major reason for the
decline of the dynasty.
In his concluding comments, however, Cowgill claims that Hsu has taken a “strongly
idealist position” by emphasizing differences between the Confucian bureaucracy and the
Han emperors (p. 271). This kind of paradigm-driven accusation indicates to me that
less progress was made in understanding causal connections among ideas and material
phenomena than the conference aimed for. A more productive line of inquiry, in my
opinion, would be a consideration of why some whole civilizational traditions embraced
powerful cognitive structures (like China and Islam), while others, like the Romans,
were “…successful empire builders on a much lower ideological plane” (Cowgill, p.
276). Cowgill asks a pertinent question when he writes: “Was strong dependence on
ideology one reason some empires were short-lived, since there may be little else to
hold things together if ideological fervor wanes?” (p. 276), but the issue is not
systematically pursued, leaving this reader wanting to know more.
War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica. By ROSS HASSIG. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Pp. x+337, 16 plates. $45.00. ISBN 0-520-07734-2.
Hassig has written several books concerning the interactions of economics, war, and
society in Mesoamerica, including Trade, Tribute and Transportation: The
Sixteenth-Century Political Economy of the Valley of Mexico (Oklahoma, 1985) and Aztec
Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control (Oklahoma, 1988). In the present
volume, Hassig has three stated purposes: to clarify the military history of
Mesoamerica, to explain the role of warfare in Mesoamerican society, and to show that
military matters played a role in creating and maintaining Mesoamerica as a culture
area “providing the indispensable basis for linking and integrating much of the region”
(p. 1). He attains these goals with varying degrees of success.
Chapter 1 in the book is a very brief and sketchy overview of theoretical approaches
to warfare study, justification for the organization of the book, the nature of the
data, and Hassig’s reasons for using military data to infer social interactions. The
book is organized chronologically, with an emphasis on the sequential development of
military technology, tactics, and social organization. The data used to infer these
developments come from archaeological recovery of artifacts, but more importantly, on
artistic representations of warriors and rulers. Hassig makes several important points
here, including the fact that while military technology is important, it is not the
engine of war. Social organization and ideology are what allow technology, tactics and
strategies to be adopted or abandoned depending upon culturally derived goals.
In Chapter 2, Hassig sets out the rise of warfare in Mesoamerica, starting with the
Olmecs. He brings in some useful concepts such as specialized weapons versus
utilitarian tools adapted for warfare. He also discusses the logistical and demographic
constraints on fielding and feeding an army as well as the potential size of the
military given a general population size and social organization. Two inventions of the
Olmecs turn out to be important in the evolution of warfare. The invention of the
tortilla, denoted by the appearance of comales in the archaeological record, enabled
more efficient movement of troops because of their portability. The invention (or at
least the highly visible use) of the sling, provided the Olmec with a long-range
projectile that could be effectively used against smaller, less organized military
groups. The use of the sling is signaled in the archaeological record by the abundance
of smooth ceramic balls, 2 to 4 cm in diameter. Olmec elites used these inventions to
project military force in order to protect trade networks and traders, rather than to
expand political control over other polities. True expansionist military operations do
not begin until long after the Olmec decline.
In Chapter 3, Hassig discusses the Late Formative period in Central Mexico, the Maya
Lowlands, and the Valley of Oaxaca. He spends some time discussing the rise of Monte
Albán. A number of military sophistications occur during this period, most
notably professional weapons such as thrusting spears and heavy shields. These
inventions spread across polities, making it difficult for any one group to gain
dominance over the others at this time.
Chapter 4 introduces Teotihuacán as the first great empire of Mesoamerica.
Here Hassig makes a number of interesting points, such as the expansionist state’s need
to change military ideology from personal glory to achieving state goals. He also
points out the limitations inherent in military activities by agricultural societies,
even for a state-level society such as Teotihuacán. Time constraints were major
problems facing any military campaign. Planting and harvesting of crops required major
manpower employment, limiting the number of individuals free for military duty. The
lack of major roads slowed troop movements and weather conditions hampered operations
in the rainy season. While military expeditions near Teotihuacán were
logistically feasible, long-range expeditions in ecosystems with different climates and
food supplies required considerable planning and support.
Also, the ability to project power declined rapidly with distance: distant cities
and regions that could put up even moderate struggles were expanded around, rather than
confronted militarily. By garnering surrounding areas, Teotihuacán could thus
dominate cities such as Cholula economically and culturally, rather than militarily. A
second effect of logistical supply problems, according to Hassig, is that
Teotihuacán did not expand out uniformly — long-distance exchange was largely
carried on in resource-rich areas, while resource-poor areas were ignored. A map of
Teotihuacán “influence [would be] highly discontinuous, with zones of influence
sandwiched between areas showing little impact” (p. 56).
In order to maintain its long-distance empire, Teotihuacán followed a
strategy of hegemonic, rather than territorial, expansion. Territorial empires, as
defined by Hassig, control their peripheries with troops. These garrisons are expensive
and territorial empires are small. Hegemonic empires maintain control by coercing local
elites to maintain local control, with the threat and/or protection of imperial power
used to deter aggression between local populations. In addition, a meritocratic, rather
than aristocratic, military system allowed for a greater proportion of the population
to enhance their social standing through the military, fostering more involvement by
local groups in the imperial system.
Finally, Teotihuacán complimented its limited ability to expand militarily by
colonizing distant, yet strategically important, regions. Colonization was a relatively
cheap way to maintain control of an area by moving groups of colonists as needed into
the region to displace the local population.
Chapter 5 looks at regions beyond the Teotihuacán empire such as Monte
Albán and the lowland Maya. The Maya fought constantly among themselves, but
were limited to relatively small armies due to their aristocratic organization of the
military. The aristocratic system ensured that most Maya cities were safe from other
Maya armies; not enough offensive soldiers could be placed in the field to besiege a
fortified city successfully. According to Hassig, Maya military activities appear to
have been centered on raiding hinterland areas between cities in order to control
necessary resources. Once a city controlled a hinterland area too large for efficient
transportation of goods back to the city, expansion was curtailed. Teotihuacán
had contact with Mayan cities, notably at Tikal. The aristocratic nature of cities such
as Tikal, and non-Maya cities such as Monte Albán, meant that they posed little
danger to Teotihuacán, even if logistics kept Teotihuacán from directly
controlling them through military means. Teotihuacán’s interest in these regions
was thus largely from a mercantile standpoint.
In Chapter 6, Hassig documents how Teotihuacán’s success bred competition,
with local elites setting themselves up as their towns became trade centers within the
Teotihuacán mercantile system. Eventually, Teotihuacán’s ability to
intimidate militarily any one polity was not supportable, as distant centers no longer
provided the city with the resources necessary to mount long-distance military
offensives. Eventually, the city could not sustain its large population either
physically or politically, and it was ritually destroyed and abandoned.
Chapter 7 is a brief description of several powerful local polities that arose after
the demise of Teotihuacán, and a few changes in military technology and tactics
during the Late Classic.
Chapter 8 is largely the story of the Toltecs, who reintegrated Mesoamerica using a
meritocratic military, a system of trader-warriors similar to the Aztec pochteca, and a
hegemonic type of expansion. Like Teotihuacán, the Toltecs did not take on
difficult targets, but expanded around potential threats, eventually economically and
politically undermining them. According to Hassig, the eventual downfall of the Toltecs
was the use of the bow and arrow by Chichimec invaders and the hegemonic aspects of the
empire. Chichimec warriors armed with this new weapon were able to attack distant
cities successfully, while Tollan could not exert sufficient power quickly enough to
keep the distant trade centers functioning smoothly. Weakened by its loss of distant
resources, eventually Tollan itself fell to the invaders. Hassig also includes a
discussion of the Mixtecs, Chichén Itzá, and Cobá at this
Chapter 9 focuses on the Aztecs, covered in great detail in Hassig’s previous book
on Aztec warfare. Here, Hassig recaps how the Aztecs used the ritual flower wars to
occupy and wear down stubborn adversaries, softening them up for eventual conquest
after Aztec subjugation of surrounding areas. The Tlaxcalans and Tarascans were both
apparently undergoing this process at the time of the Spanish contact. He also provides
some detail about the organization of the Aztec tribute empire, with its ties to
ideology and marriage alliances.
One interesting aspect of the empire is where Aztec expansion was limited. The
northern Chichimecs, with their nomadic lifestyle and relatively simple social
organization were poor targets for Aztec domination. With no political elites to coopt
and no major centers of trade to control, the Aztecs could not expand north out of
Mesoamerica. Even within Mesoamerica, Aztec expansion was limited in some areas. The
Yopes in central Mexico presented problems similar to the Chichimecs: no central
political authority and a good knowledge of the use of the bow and arrow.
Unlike the Chichimecs and Yopes, the Tarascans, Tlaxcalans, and Maya city states all
had resisted, at least temporarily, the Aztecs through force of arms. The Tarascans and
Tlaxcalans held because of their size and social organization. The Maya, however, had
remained safe because of their distance from Tenochtitlán. Although the Aztecs
did have some presence in the Yucatán, that presence was cut short by the
Spaniards. The Spaniards and their technology did not by themselves overthrow the
Aztecs: the Aztecs were able to adapt quickly to neutralize most of the Spanish tactics
and arms. However, the disruption of the Aztec political machine was fatal. Tributary
states allied with the Spanish against their oppressor; the loss of forces and
resources forced the Aztecs into defending Tenochtitlán, which eventually fell
due to famine. “Although Spanish weapons technology did play a role, Cortés’s
victory was more political than military, disrupting Aztec allegiances through the
death of two kings and augmenting his own meager forces with tens of thousands of
native troops while undercutting the Aztecs…[T]he Spanish conquest effectively
brought large-scale indigenous warfare to an end” (p. 164).
Finally, in Chapter 10, Hassig restates and expands on many of the points he makes
throughout the book: the nature of arms and economy in expansion, a description of
historical trends in Mesoamerican military patterns, and the cyclic nature of the rise
and fall of Mesoamerican expansionist polities. He describes four types of empire:
aristocratic hegemonic, aristocratic territorial, meritocratic hegemonic, and
meritocratic territorial. He points out that these differing types have spatial
correlations in Mesoamerica and had varying limitations and successes. The Classic Maya
(aristocratic hegemonic) were small. Monte Albán (aristocratic territorial)
likewise could not control a very large region. The three largest empires,
Teotihuacán, Toltec, and Aztec, were all meritocratic hegemonic. However, Hassig
does not dwell on the implications of these patterns, nor does he attempt to elucidate
why one group adopts one system versus the other.
From a reader’s point of view, the book is difficult. Hassig’s writing style is best
described as yeoman-like, with little personality or levity to break the serious
discourse. The eight pages of plates displaying artifacts, details from lintels and
stelae, and portions of codices, are not referred to in the text. Moreover, the liberal
use of endnotes to bring in details that should be included in the text itself is
irritating. The book contains 80 pages of detailed notes, compared to 179 pages of
text, which means that the reader is constantly paging back and forth from text to
notes and back again. This format is particularly inconvenient in terms of references
cited in the text: the reader must go from the text to the notes to find the
author/date, then to the references section to see what that citation is. A
straightforward author-date reference system and a better attempt to incorporate useful
information into the text rather than in notes would make the book a much better
As a whole, Hassig’s book achieves well his first goal of clarifying the nature of
Mesoamerican warfare. Taking into account the nature of the data, the book gives
detailed discussion of arms, tactics, and fortifications. His second goal, placing
warfare into the general context of Mesoamerican society, meets with qualified success.
He discusses warfare and marital alliances glancingly, but does make some good points
about meritocratic verses aristocratic organization as well as how hegemonic versus
territorial organization affects the nature of warfare and conflict. His third goal, to
show that military matters created and maintained Mesoamerica as a culture area, is not
met well. First, Hassig does not discuss clearly what he means by culture area. Second,
he fails to make the case that Mesoamerica would not have been a culture area without
expansionist states. This book is a description of historical occurrences, but offers
little by way of explanation. In the end, it is unsatisfying.
While he attempts to view warfare in Mesoamerica as an integral part of cultural
norms and values, Hassig does not even come close to linking imperialism to the rest of
social organization and ideology. The problem lies in Chapter 1, where he presents his
theoretical perspective. This chapter contains only seven pages of text, and is
woefully inadequate to set the stage for the rest of the book. For example, Hassig
wishes us to accept that warfare and imperialism are integral to understanding
Mesoamerican culture, yet he claims that a thorough analysis of how imperialism is
defined and used in the literature of empires is “beyond the scope of this book” (p.
3). He then gives us two-sentence descriptions of two theories for imperial
establishment and maintenance. Although Hassig tells us that both theories have some
merit, he gives us a six-sentence description of a third theory that he accepts as most
appropriate for Mesoamerica. The crux of this theory is that “expansion is seen as a
natural consequence of power differences between polities rather than as arising from a
particular social structure….[I]mperialism springs from the existence of competing
national sovereignties that expand in relation to their relative power….In the
Mesoamerican case, many political developments can be seen as attempts to gain control
over external resources” (p. 3). In short, polities (of an unspecified nature) will
naturally and inexorably expand to control external resources deemed important until
they meet logistical and/or competitive constraints.
This argument as sketched by Hassig is nothing new, nor is it entirely acceptable.
The same unspecified political events cited by Hassig to demonstrate a need to control
external resources might be explained in many cases as an attempt by competing elites
to maintain control over others in society; expansion may be a result of internal
conflict and competition. For example, can the rise of Teotihuacán be explained
in terms of the need to control obsidian, as some would suggest? Hassig does not
discuss what Teotihuacán needed to control, he simply assumes that the city
expanded as a result of the need to control something. It might be argued, however,
that problems inherent in craft specialization (e.g., maintaining internal as well as
external trade, regulating social relations among competing economic groups) as well as
competition for prestige and internal political control pressure elite rulers into
expansionistic policies as a means to solidify their own political and economic bases.
We’ll never know, because there is no theoretical discussion to provide support for
Hassig’s assumptions about why empires are established and expand.
This lack of theoretical discussion and simplistic approach to expansion and
imperialism is a serious detraction from the chapters that follow. It seems hard to
accept that all of the expansionist polities over 3,500 years in Mesoamerica were
propelled by the same monolithic forces, with little effect from internal social and
political structures. Surely, not all polities at all times in Mesoamerica were
expansionistic? Or would they have been expansionistic if competing polities had not
constrained them? Why were some able to expand while others could not? For example,
Hassig (p. 118) poses two possible reasons for Toltec expansion: the need to control a
vast trading empire, or the need for nobles to “achieve greater societal complexity and
continue to maintain an adequate standard of living for the people, who ultimately
support the elites.” He does not attempt to evaluate either of these possibilities.
Indeed, he does not even equip the reader with the ability to evaluate them. Without a
more detailed discussion of the theoretical conditions under which we might expect
political and military expansion, explanation of imperialism in Mesoamerica is
difficult, if not impossible.
This lack of explanatory power leaves the rest of the book a simple chronicle of the
evolution of military technology and tactics derived from scant archaeological and
artistic data. While the book contains many details of interest, the overall framework
and driving forces of warfare in Mesoamerica still remain a mystery.
The Aztec Image of Self and Society: An Introduction to Nahua Culture. By Miguel León-Portilla; edited with an introduction by J. Jorge Klor de Alva. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992. xxiii+248. $27.50. ISBN 0-87480-360-8.
This book updates, reassesses, and expands the thoughts expressed in
León-Portilla’s 1961 book, Los antiguos mexicanos a través de sus
crónicas y cantares. It is a chronological and historical synthesis based on his
interpretations of codices, early manuscripts (primarily Aztec poetry), and
post-Conquest documents, relating these to other Nahua scholarship.
To quote the introduction, “This book has two purposes. The first is to introduce
English speakers to the culture of the Nahuas of preconquest Mexico as described in
their own words. The second is to make the indigenous observations more intelligible
than might otherwise be possible,” and to relate these to broader areas.
Chapter 1, entitled “The Millennia of Ancient Mexico,” presents history and myth of
what and who came before the Aztecs. León Portilla begins with a short
interpretation of the Five Suns, emphasizing that each succeeding Sun was a better form
of life. Quetzalcoatl, as the symbol of ancient Mexican wisdom, is introduced early and
referred to throughout the book. Aztec history is presented, including origins in
Teotihuacán, Tula, and later Nahua sites in the Valley of Mexico. The
toltecayotl (“the quality of being Toltec”) is explored. In the section, “The Mexica:
The People Whose Face Nobody Knew,” the author historically describes the early Aztecs.
This leads to “Tlacaelel: The Man Who Made the Aztecs Imperial.”
Chapter 2 is entitled “Ihtoloca and Xiuhmatl: ‘Tradition’ and ‘Annals’ in Ancient
Mexico.” León-Portilla’s analyses give valuable insights into the validity of,
relationships among, and approaches to the codices. This leads to a summary, “The
Documentary Legacy from Ancient Mexico.”
Chapter 3, “The Hundred Years of the People of the Sun,” presents the origin,
history, and concept development of the Mexica, including “Toltecization.” The ascent
of the Mexica emphasizes the role of Tlacaelel in the imperial expansions of the last
four rulers. This discussion outlines the development of “mystico-military practice”
transforming the Mexica into the “people chosen by the sun to lead and survive.”
Chapter 4, “Society and Economy,” begins with a discussion of kinship and community
organization. The primary content of this chapter is an extensive description and
evaluation of pipiltin (“nobility”) and macehualtin (“commoners”) with a closing
section entitled, “The Extreme Social Contrast.” Documentation is well provided.
Chapter 5, “Art, Tradition, and Worldview,” opens with one of the most interesting
insights of the book: León-Portilla presents an extensive discussion of
disagreements expressed by other Nahuas from Texcoco, Huexotzinco, Tlaxcala, and
Tenochtitlán itself over the martial attitude of the Mexicas. A long dialogue
(in translation) is presented from a conferences of sages to illustrate this view. This
chapter and the book end with León-Portilla’s views of the spiritual legacy of
ancient Mexico in “Face and Heart: The Nahua Concept of Self,” as well as with a
treatment of the artistic legacy.
Klor de Alva’s introduction is substantive and deserves attention. Entitled “Nahua
Studies, the Allure of the ‘Aztecs,’ and Miguel León Portilla,” he organizes
chronologically the state of Nahua scholarship, relating and referring to the works of
the increasing number of scholars in the field. This introduction presents an excellent
perspective on León-Portilla’s thinking and contributions. The bibliography and
Index are extensive.
This is a potent book that provides a significant synthesis valuable to any worker
in this field. One can learn, rethink, and find areas of agreement and disagreement. It
is good reading and I recommend it highly.
The Worlds of Christopher Columbus. By WILLIAM D. PHILLIPS, Jr., and CARLA RAHN PHILLIPS. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Pp. vii+322. $27.95. ISBN 0-521-35097-2.
The Worlds of Christopher Columbus is excellent history and should be read by all
those interested in the question: Who is Christopher Columbus and why is everybody
talking about him?
It is probably fair to say that Columbus is the most international of World Heroes:
there are towns and cities throughout the world named in his honor, he has the rare
honor of having an entire country named after him, and he even has the accolade of
having holidays dedicated to him by general acclaim. Aside from the famous question:
Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?, the names of his three small ships — the Niña,
the Pinta, and the Santa María — are probably known to more people worldwide
than any other similar piece of historical trivia.
Yet despite his international fame, posterity does not possess one actual portrait
of the man, nor know much about his life, nor even know where he is really buried.
Furthermore, controversy reigns over whether he was a villain, hero, or bumbler. So for
the average person the problem that remains is: What is the real scoop on C.
Phillips and Phillips have put together a comprehensive and delightfully informative
picture that enlightens the reader not only about Columbus the man but also, more
importantly I feel, about the times and milieu in which he lived and dreamed. In fact,
of all the recent news articles, television shows, books, and movies that I have seen
about Columbus, I would say this book was by far the most informative for the general
It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that Christopher Columbus is today
the most famous man of history. The consequences of his actions set in motion the birth
of the international age we live in, the culturally mixed continent we live on, and
even the cosmopolitan food that we dine on. Aside from certain religious figures,
Columbus has been admired in more countries and for a longer time than any other
comparable figure. The school rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” is
known to legions of school children the world over.
I think that the main reason Columbus is so admired is because his actions were
typically not framed as acts of conquest or domination but those of an
independent-minded pioneer whose convictions flouted the traditional conventions of his
times. He is portrayed as a maverick whose determination and commitment to noble
beliefs finally won him recognition in the end. This virtuous and simplistic portrait
of Columbus was shown to generations of school children and served as the backdrop for
such honor societies as the Knights of Columbus.
But as Phillips and Phillips show, that is not the picture of the real Columbus.
Coming from a family of working merchants, Columbus was driven to achieve financial and
social gains. Of the few remaining documents actually in his hand or concerning him in
his lifetime, a majority complained about the money that others owed him. He was petty
about it too. Queen Isabella had offered a cash reward to the first seaman that sighted
landfall. Although this act was achieved by a nameless seaman, Columbus claimed the
prize for himself. Furthermore, he felt that the goal of his explorations was to make
enough money to fund a military reconquest of Jerusalem. Against the wishes of the
Spanish monarchs, Columbus actively fostered and engaged in the slave trade as a way of
accumulating capital to achieve this end. Columbus was such a cruel administrator of
the early Spanish colonies that he was recalled to Spain in chains. This and more about
Columbus opens the eyes of the general reader as to the real nature of Columbus as a
person. It was for me disconcerting to learn that Columbus was more of a medieval man
living in the Renaissance than an avant-garde pioneer seeking to open his age to the
future. Rather, even by standards of the times, Columbus was a man of the past, hoping
for a new Crusade, looking for the Garden of Eden, seeking Prestor John’s Oriental
Columbus’ plan to explore the Atlantic was downright incompetent. Columbus used
mathematical calculations that were antiquated and incorrect. By 1492 everybody knew
that the earth was round and that Asia lay over a vast Atlantic Ocean in the West. But
Columbus proposed that the earth was made of 360 degrees that were 56 miles in length.
This figure had not been used since Roman times and was in direct conflict with the
more correct assessment of 69 miles by geographers of the time. According to Columbus,
Japan was located where California is. To put this modern terms, it would be like
proposing a trip to the moon and then suggesting to go in a four-wheel drive jeep. In
short, it was a harebrained scheme.
The Columbus of history, as opposed to the Columbus hero of our childhood myths,
thought that Cuba was a continent and that Venezuela was an island. He died thinking he
landed in Japan and was still hoping to find the Garden of Eden. While much of Europe
was breathing the fresh air of the Renaissance, Columbus was intoxicated with medieval
goals such as the second coming of Christ, a Crusade against the Infidel, and
conquering Jerusalem. Frankly, Columbus was a very common man with many weaknesses,
hardly the hero I saw in my high school textbooks or on the movie screen.
Phillips and Phillips point out that Columbus was a great sailor and had been around
the sea lanes of his world. Furthermore, he was the first person to suggest using, and
actually to use successfully, the trade winds to circumnavigate the Atlantic Ocean.
These routes are still used today in trans-oceanic crossings. This is no mean
accomplishment for any pioneer and one for which Columbus will always be
As the authors show, the world of Columbus was a world in flux. The milieu of the
medieval period was still the breath of the times although a new age was dawning with
every year that passed. Leaders in Europe, long isolated from the trade networks of the
East, were seeking a way to achieve direct access to the gold, spices, silks, and
luxury items from China, Japan and India. Europeans knew that the earth was round but
calculations for the distance across the vast Atlantic in small European caravels meant
that the trip was too long for conventional sailing vessels. Some scholars suggested
that there might be islands all along the way but no one knew what was actually out
there in that vast expanse of unknown ocean.
So Europeans explored down the coast of Africa hoping to break the Moslem blockade
on eastern trade routes. The Columbus scheme as put before the royal court of Spain was
to cross the Atlantic Ocean directly, hoping to island-hop on his way to Japan.
Columbus assured the Spanish monarch that such an island lay only 3,000 miles west of
the coast of Portugal, an utterly wrong assessment. The plan to sail to Japan failed
miserably but history has forgotten this little oversight because Columbus’ voyages
opened up continents to exploration, exploitation, and expansion. The results of this
serendipitous discovery included maize, chocolate, potatoes, tobacco, tomatoes,
peanuts, pineapples, pumpkins, turkeys, and more gold and silver ingots than Europe had
seen since Roman days. In a sense, the results of Columbus’ discovery shattered his
world and set in motion the beginnings of our own. These were not, in any sense of our
understanding of Columbus, his own intentions in setting out for the Orient. His goals
were rooted in the medieval desire to trade with the East and conquer the Infidels in
the Holy Land. It is interesting to speculate if one could travel back in time and
inform the young Columbus of what was to result from his discoveries, whether he would
have then so eagerly pursued Western oceanic exploration.
The Worlds of Christopher Columbus is well worth exploring and the interested reader
will discover many new and insightful facts about the the life and times of Columbus.
However, I found the authors only confuse matters by using the sometimes unknown birth
names of certain famous historical contemporaries, but not those of others. For
example, John Cabot becomes Jacobo Coboto and Ferdinand Magellan becomes Ferñao
Magalhaes, while Cristobal Colon becomes Christopher Columbus.
The main problem that I found with this book was that it was cartographically
inadequate: the maps were too few and too small. A book about the voyages and sojourns
of Columbus should have more maps about the world that he explored. Also the maps
should be printed to the full size of the page for easier viewing. The book has one map
that has all four voyages of Columbus delineated on it, but due to the small size and
the baffling array of criss-crossing dots, spaced lines, and arrows it was too
confusing to give the inexperienced any idea about where Columbus went and when.
Notwithstanding this criticism, I highly recommend this book to all those interested in
Columbus and his worlds.
Four Masterworks of American Indian Literature: Quetzalcoatl, The Ritual of Condolence, Cuceb, The Night Chant. Edited with commentaries and new translations by JOHN BIERHORST. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1984. Pp. xxiv+371. $14.95 (paper). ISBN 08165-0886-0.
John Bierhorst, a leading figure among students of American Indian traditions,
introduces his book with the statement that it “is intended as a first step toward
establishing a body of standard works, a canon, of native American literature.” The
four pieces selected on this occasion are texts well-known to scholars who are familiar
with the respective indigenous societies: Aztec, Iroquois, Maya, and Navajo.
The Navajo “Night Chant,” or creation story, is part of a dramatic ceremony that
includes songs and prayers. Bierhorst uses the old translations by Washington Matthews
(Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 6, 1902). The more recent
translation by Paul G. Zolbrod (Dine Bahane, 1984) was not available by the time of the
first edition of Four Masterworks (1974).
“Cuceb” (“that which revolves,” an allusion to cyclical time) is a Maya prophecy of
war, drought, etc., of the last years of the 16th century, preserved in the “Chilam
Balam of Tizimin,” and with some variations, in the “Chilam Balam of Mani.” In the
volume under review it is given in the translation by Ralph L. Roys (The Prophecies of
the Maya Tuns or Years in the Books of Chilam Balam of Tizimin and Mani, 1949), which
is considered preferable to Maud W. Makemson’s translation in The Book of Chilam Balam
of Tizimin (1951). Roys’ translation, however, has now been revised by Bierhorst.
The “Ritual of Condolence” is offered with ritual texts translated from the Mohawk
Iroquois by Horatio Hale and from the Onondaga Iroquois by J.N.B. Hewitt, with
supplementary texts translated by William N. Fenton. John Bierhorst paraphrases
descriptions of ritual procedures after Hale, Fenton, Hewitt, and others. “The Ritual
of Condolence” deals with the mourning of a dead chief and expresses many religious,
psychological, and cosmological ideas associated with the tragic event.
Myths and rituals related to Quetzalcoatl, perhaps the greatest religious personage
of Mesoamerica, are reconstructed by Bierhorst through his own translations of the
following fragments (with indication of their sources): 1) “The Restoration of Life”
(“Legend of the Sun”); 2) “The Ceremonial Fire” (“Legend of the Sun”); 3) “A Cycle of
Transformations” (“Annals of Cuauhtitlan”); 4) “The Fall of Tollan” (Florentine Codex);
and 5) “A Song of Survival” (“Cantares Mexicanos”). I shall try to summarize the first
three texts, turning into compact prose the poetic renderings of Bierhorst.
“The Restoration of Life” — After the fourth world destruction the gods are
troubled since there are no men to perform the rites they require. As Quetzalcoatl
steals from the Land of the Dead the bones of the departed, the Lord of the Land of the
Dead orders his subjects to stop him. They cause Quetzalcoatl to fall into a crypt and
become unconscious. The quail bites into the bones (origin of man’s mentality).
Quetzalcoatl reassembles the bones and brings them to Tamoanchan (Aztec Paradise) where
Cihuacoatl (Serpent Woman, one of the names of the Earth Mother) grinds them to powder.
Quetzalcoatl bleeds his member over them. The gods do penance and the new men (servants
of the gods) are born. Their nourishment is discovered by the ant inside Food Mountain,
whereupon Quetzalcoatl transforms himself into an ant and takes the kernel of maize to
Tamoanchan where the gods chew it and place it upon the lips of men to make them
strong. Quetzalcoatl fails in his attempt to carry away Food Mountain but Cipactonal
(Aztec Eve) divines that Nanahuatl is to break it open, and he does it, letting the
rain gods steal the food: maize, beans, etc.
“The Ceremonial Fire” — After four days of his mother’s difficult labor, One-Reed
is born, but she dies. He is raised by Serpent Woman (Serpent, symbol of Wisdom). When
grown up, he follows his father in war and takes captives in Xihuacan. One-Reed’s
uncles, who hate his father, kill him and bury his body in the sand. One-Reed looks for
his father and a vulture tells him where the body lies. One-Reed retrieves it and
places it in a temple called Cloud Serpent Mountain. He wants to sacrifice in the
temple a rabbit or a snake, but his uncles tell him to kill a jaguar, an eagle, and a
wolf. One-Reed confides to the wild animals that he will act as if he were going to
sacrifice them but actually they shall devour the bad uncles. Moles dig a passage in
the temple and One-Reed lights a fire, much to the anger of the uncles who want to do
it themselves. They scale the temple and Quetzalcoatl strikes the first and sends him
tumbling down. He then tortures and kills the other uncles. Later he conquers Cuixcoc,
Zacanco, Tzonmolco, Mazatzonco, Tzapotlan, and Acallan, where he crosses the water
(Laguna de Terminos in Campeche?), and finally arrives in Tlapalan (“The Red Place,”
“The Land of the Rising Sun”; Yucatán?) where he falls sick and after five days
he dies and is cremated.
“The Cycle of Transformations” — Quetzalcoatl was the son of Chimalma (“Shield
Hand,” a mythical Amazon who here and elsewhere takes the place of Earth Mother). He
had been placed in his mother’s belly in the form of an emerald. When he reached the
age of nine he asked for his father and was told that he was dead and where he was
buried. Quetzalcoatl searched for his corpse, gathered the bones and buried them in the
shrine of Quilaztli, patroness of childbirth. After several years Huactli, the king of
Cuauhtitlan who did not know how to plant edible corn, died. His subjects, unable to
weave robes, dressed in hides. They ate only birds, snakes, rabbits, and deer. They
were homeless, wandering from place to place. Huactli’s widow Xiuhtlacuilolxochitzin,
became queen. She was able to invoke the devil Itzpapalotl. Later Quetzalcoatl came to
Tollantzinco, where he stayed four years, and built his turquoise house of penance.
Then he went on to Cuextlan, where he made a bridge that still stands there. In another
year the Toltecs installed him as king of Tollan, and he was their priest.
After ruling for twelve years in Cuauhtitlan, queen Xiuhtlacuilolxochitzin died and
was succeeded by king Ayauhcoyotzin. According to the Texcocoans, in the year 2-Reed
Quetzalcoatl died, but in fact in that year he built his fourfold house of penance,
fasting, and prayer, with precious stones, shells, and feathers (the four chambers
symbolizing the four world quarters). At night he went down the stream to The Edge of
Water and set jadestone thorns into his flesh on the top of Xicocotl, also on Huitzco,
Tzincoc, and Mount Nonohualca. He rubbed his body with coarse boughs of the sacred fir
(here called “quetzal plumes”) and his thorns of precious stones were perfumed with
incense. His offerings were snakes, birds, and butterflies. He sent up his prayers and
supplications into the heart of the sky and called out the deities of each heaven and
earth, life and death. His prayers were heard by those who dwell in the Place of
Duality, over the ninefold heavens. He discovered great riches: precious stones, gold,
silver, and plumes of beautiful birds. He also discovered cacao of various colors, and
cotton likewise. He was a great artisan, painting earthenware in many colors and many
other things. He started but did not finish his temple with serpent pillars.
While he lived he did not appear in public, dwelling in his home guarded by his
pages. His home had mats of jewels, of precious feathers, and of gold. His offerings
were always snakes, birds, and butterflies (he did not practice human sacrifice). This
angered the sorcerers who willed that Quetzalcoatl be vexed and put to flight. So in
the year 1-Reed Quetzalcoatl went to Tlillan Tlapallan to die, being succeeded by
Matlacxochitlas ruler of Tollan. The sorcerers who wanted Quetzalcoatl to make human
sacrifices were the god Tezcatlipoca and two more powers: Ihuimecatl and Toltecatl.
They said they would brew pulque, have Quetzalcoatl drink it, and corrupt him so that
he would no longer perform sacrifices. Tezcatlipoca took a two sided mirror and asked
Quetzalcoatl to see his own body in it. The moment Quetzalcoatl saw himself in the
mirror he was filled with fear. He was afraid that if his subjects saw him they would
desert him, as his eyelids were greatly swollen, the eyesockets deeply sunk and the
face much disfigured. Then Tezcatlipoca and the two other powers persuaded Quetzalcoatl
to wear a precious mask, beard, etc., that he might be seen by his subjects. When
Quetzalcoatl saw himself in the mirror he greatly admired himself.
The powers went to an onion field where they stewed potherbs, tomatoes, hot peppers,
young corn, and beans, and also made pulque, which they mixed with honey. They went to
Tollan and after several attempts to see Quetzalcoatl, which his guards frustrated,
they obtained permission to see him. They offered Quetzalcoatl the food and drink they
had prepared. Quetzalcoatl at first refused but finally tasted the pulque, liked it and
drank, making himself drunk. The guards were also drunk. Then the sorcerers persuaded
Quetzalcoatl to sing and he asked for his elder sister to sing with him (a euphemism
for sexual intercourse). The guards brought her from her house of fasting. She was
given pulque and became drunk. Brother and sister no more punctured themselves with
thorns. At dawn they were filled with remorse. Quetzalcoatl composed a song of
departure and his guards also sang. He commanded that a funeral urn be made, and they
placed Quetzalcoatl in it. After four days he asked that all the beautiful things he
had created should be buried. They were hidden where Quetzalcoatl’s bathing place was.
Then he departed for Tlillan (the “Black Land”), Tlapallan (the “Red Land”), and
Tlatlayan (the “Fire Land”). In the year 1-Reed he reached the sacred shore, dressed
himself in his best clothes, and set fire to himself. As he burned, his ashes rose and
went to the sky as beautiful birds. The old people say that he changed himself into the
morning star, and called him Lord of the House of Dawn. He disappeared for four days
and dwelled in Mictlan (“Land of the Dead”), where he made arrows to shoot and wound,
depending on the days when he appears. He was born and died in 1-Reed, and lived 52
years (the Aztec cosmic period).
As everybody probably knows, literary translations are always difficult because
words, besides denotations, have connotations that in many cases do not correspond in
the target language to the word chosen for its denotation. This often happens when
translating into English from any language, and very frequently when the translation is
from an American Indian tongue. Moreover, most literary texts of cosmological, ritual,
and mythological import abound in metaphors and symbols whose meaning must be decoded
for an adequate understanding of the message. If this is not done, the translated
passage remains obscure, even meaningless. In order to clarify it the translator may
choose to paraphrase the original, drifting away from the native text, or explain the
symbolism in footnotes that do not interfere with the flow of the translated discourse.
Bierhorst has illuminated many passages of his own translations and those by other
scholars by commenting on them in very useful endnotes. (I regret that, perhaps for
reasons beyond the control of the translator and the editors, footnotes — ideal for
quick reference — have not been used in this book.)
In his interpretations of symbolism, Bierhorst cautiously draws comparisons from the
same culture or from other American Indian traditions. On one occasion at least,
commenting on Quetzalcoatl constructing a litter of serpents, he refers to the Jungian
psychotherapist Joseph L. Henderson’s report about a patient who dreamed of a serpent
raft as a prelude to “rebirth” after suffering a traumatic experience. This approach
might have been exercised more liberally, bringing to bear not only the findings of
psychoanalysts but also findings by countless ethnologists and leading historians of
religion from many lands.
Bierhorst is also wary in his interpretation of the sage Quetzalcoatl, whom he sees,
following the Aztec texts, as representing the Toltec traditions of Tollan, near
today’s Tula. In my understanding, archaeological research in Teotihuacán favors
the idea that Quetzalcoatl was a figure of the classic period of Mesoamerican history,
Tollan being rather a link in the chain of tradition between Teotihuacán and
Tenochtitlán. In the bibliography, Bierhorst includes Lavrette
Séjourné’s Burning Water (1956) but omits El universo de Quetzalcoatl
(1963), where her interpretation of the hero as a religious leader of
Teotihuacán is more fully displayed.
All things considered, Bierhorst’s Four Masterworks, with his learned commentaries,
stands as a major contribution to the appreciation of American Indian literatures in
Golden UFOs: The Indian Poems = Los ovnis de oro: Poemas indios. By ERNESTO CARDENAL; translated by CARLOS and MONIQUE ALTSCHUL; edited, with an introduction and glossary by RUSSELL O. SALMON. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. Pp. xli+433. $49.95 (cloth); $19.95 (paper). ISBN 0-253-31302-3 (cloth); 0-253-20677-4 (paper).
Among non-Indian poets who have utilized Native American intellectual materials the
Nicaraguan Ernesto Cardenal is without rival. His vast poetic net sweeps up the
prophecies of the Yucatec, the teachings of Lakota mystics, the creation mythology of
the Columbian Kogi, and the laws of the Iroquois League, revealing a minute knowledge
of the scholarship on these and other traditions reaching from the North American Great
Plains to the Gran Chaco of South America.
Previously published in two installments, Homenaje a los indios americanos (1969 in
Spanish, 1973 in English) and Los ovnis de oro (1987 in Spanish), the complete Indian
Poems of Cardenal are now available in a single, Spanish-English volume. The work’s
main title, Golden UFOs / Los ovnis de oro, borrowed from the second installment,
refers to the Cuna tradition in which a hero-god descends to earth on a golden cloud,
reinterpreted by modern Cuna as a flying saucer, or UFO (objeto volante no
identificado). The title is apt because Cardenal’s fondness for “that mixture which
there is between the archaic and the modern” — as he puts it — is one of the
hallmarks of this poetry.
According to the publisher, the Spanish texts in the new edition are appearing with
“emendations.” A spot check against previous editions reveals no changes. However, the
order of the thirty poems is obviously different. They have been regrouped,
geographically, so that the Yucatec, Quiché, and other Maya pieces, for example,
are all together.
Six Nahua pieces, entitled “Mexican Songs,” “Nezahualcóyotl,” “The
Tlamatinimes,” “In xóchitl in cuícatl,” “Quetzalcóatl,” and “The
Náhuatl Girl,” take up a little more than a quarter of the work. Except for the
last of these, which evokes modern Nahua culture, all are based on
mid-twentieth-century Aztec scholarship produced in Mexico. The influence of the late
Angel M. Garibay (d. 1967) is especially evident.
As is well-known, Cardenal was a figure in the anti-Somoza resistance of the 1960s
and 1970s and Minister of Culture in the revolutionary Sandinista government, which
controlled Nicaragua during the 1980s. Mostly written before the 1979 overthrow of the
Somoza regime, The Indian Poems belong to the literature of protest. Anger is not
missing from these pieces. But it is tempered by Cardenal’s Christian idealism and by
Typical is the concluding passage from “Nezahualcóyotl,” in which the poet
imagines the fifteenth-century Texcocan king returning from the dead (as in the
Cantares mexicanos) — but in this case to lead a summit conference of modern-day
Throughout, the English versions by the Altschuls are clear and readable, closely
following the Spanish text. The introduction by Russell O. Salmon, offering insights
and new information, makes a contribution to Cardenal studies. As for the poetry itself
— although one might argue that the scholarship on which some of it is based belongs
to a very definite period, as does the agenda of the now-eclipsed Sandinista regime —
Cardenal’s famous and unique blend of lyricism, satire, and versified journalism seems
destined to outlast the weathering of time. Above all, The Indian Poems stand as an
enduring testament to the ability of Native American intellectuality to claim the
attention of the world.
The Mixe of Oaxaca: Religion, Ritual, and Healing. By FRANK J. LIPP; forward by MUNRO S. EDMONSON. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991. Pp. viii+253. $35.00. ISBN 0-292-76517-7.
This book fills an important gap in recent Mesoamerican ethnography. The Mixe, or
Ayuuk as they call themselves, previously had not received much attention from
researchers, which is somewhat surprising considering the large amount of
anthropological information that exists on the ethnic groups of Oaxaca. The author’s
emphasis is on religious beliefs and ritual practices, though there are chapters on
social organization and subsistence agriculture, which are important for understanding
the context of the following sections. The decision to concentrate on religious
ideology is fortunate since the Ayuuk maintain a strong cohesion in their religion,
which has retained elements that are changing or even disappearing in other Amerindian
communities. Lipp mentions the presence of agents of religious change which have
arrived among the Ayuuk such as Catholic missionaries and Protestant converts. The
Mexican priests of the diocese of Oaxaca have been greatly influenced by the Theology
of Liberation, which is ambivalent toward folk Catholicism. Other recent
anthropological studies of Indian communities in Oaxaca, such as Eckart Boege’s Los
Mazatecos ante la Nacion (Mexico: Siglo Vientiuno Editores, 1988) and Enrique
Marroquin’s “El Conflicto Religioso en Oaxaca” in Religiosidad y Política en
Mexico, (Mexico: Cuadernos de Cultura y Religion, Universidad Iberoamericana, 1992),
point to growing conflicts due to religious differences, which in the long run will
bring about transformation in the beliefs of a part of the population.
Various sections of the book merit special attention. The chapter on the religions
belief system of the Mixe, a complex cosmology of deities with Prehispanic origins is
carefully described. For comparative purposes, I think it would be interesting to find
if the wind and thunder divinities described are not equivalent to the aires and
truenos described in other Mesoamerican studies. The author does not elaborate on this
The chapter on the calendrical system is also noteworthy. Most information on this
topic is based upon Nahuatl or Maya references. For Oaxaca, historical information has
been available but contemporary ethnographic information is scarce. The description
given by Lipp is remarkably complete. The chapter on ritual behavior includes precise
information on the numerical use and value of the elements utilized. Lipp was fortunate
to obtain data on hunting rites. In many, if not most, Indian communities these
practices are quickly disappearing due to the lamentable extinction of large wild
mammals. The author mentions the existence of notebooks utilized by ritual specialists
to carry out properly the ceremonials that are described in mnemonic models.
The final section on medical concepts and behavior is also important. The
characteristics of Mixe curers are described and various healing rites are studied
along with the prayers that are recited during the ceremonial. An analysis of the use
of medicinal plants includes information on the use of sacred mushrooms. Lipp gives a
fine account on this subject, which has been greatly distorted by numerous popular
authors. Use of the sacred mushrooms is not limited to curers and shamans, but
restraint and caution are necessary for their use.
In order to write such a detailed ethnography, it is clear that the author worked
with highly knowledgeable informants who were native specialists, such as curers or
healers. Anthropologists such as James Dow have allowed their informants to appear as
coauthors; see his The Shaman’s Touch: Otomi Indian Symbolic Healing (University of
Utah Press, 1986). Lipp is more traditional since his informants are anonymous. I had
hoped that a discussion of the use of different forms of narrative employed in the
studies of religion would be more developed in the introduction or
postscript of the book, but this a minor complaint.
I also hope that the author will attempt to publish a Spanish translation, which
would give this study the wider audience it deserves, and allow it to be read in
The artwork that appears in this issue has been taken from Haciendo la lucha: arte y
comercio nahuas de Guerrero by Catharine Good Eshelman. (México, D.F.: Fondo de
Cultura Económica, 1988).