Number 18

Editor’s note: This content is archival.

Nahua Newsletter

November 1994, Number 18

The Nahua Newsletter

With support from the Department of Anthropology

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne

Alan R. Sandstrom, Editor

A Publication of the Indiana University

Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies


Nahua Newsletter News

Welcome to the November 1994 issue of the Nahua Newsletter. Interest continues to be
strong in the newsletter and the editor is happy to note the completion of nine years
of publication. With each issue new individuals and institutions write to be added to
the subscriber list, making the NN an even more effective communication instrument for
people whose reading or research focus is the culture, history, and language of Nahuas
and related groups.

Please keep the letters coming and make use of this unique forum to let others know
of your work or to request information about your particular interests. Send
announcements or requests in care of the editor at the address listed below. If the
material you wish to appear in the NN is longer than a few lines, please send it on a
3.5-inch disk saved in WordPerfect or as an ASCII/DOS text file. This frees the editor
from a great deal of work and insures the accuracy of your communication.

I am very pleased to announce that the NN has received an Inter Campus Outreach
Grant from the Indiana University Office of International Programs. The grant, in the
amount of $600, is to help offset costs of printing and mailing future issues. Thanks
are due to Patrick O’Meara, Dean of the Office of International Programs, who by
approving the grant recognizes the contribution that NN makes to international
scholarship on Nahuatl-speaking peoples. Thanks are also due to Russell Salmon,
Director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, who sponsored the
grant application.

In addition we should express our gratitude to loyal readers who sent donations of
their own. Since the last issue, these gifts have amounted to more than $300. The
generosity of these readers in combination with the grant from Indiana University means
that we currently have enough money in the account to publish three future issues. I
hope that these positive events will encourage even more of you to send in donations to
help support the NN. All money received is put toward future issues, and production and
mailing overhead has been kept to an absolute minimum. Please mail checks made out to
the Nahua Newsletter to:

Alan R. Sandstrom, Editor Nahua Newsletter Department of Anthropology Indiana-Purdue
University Fort Wayne 2101 Coliseum Blvd. East Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805

In this issue you will find news items of interest, book reviews, and a directory
update containing address changes and additional information sent in by individual
subscribers. The purpose of the NN is to facilitate communication and create a
worldwide community of people with similar interests. Your input is important if we are
to succeed. The next issue is scheduled for early spring, so if you have items to be
included please forward them to the editor.

Finally, the editor would like to express a debt of thanks on behalf of readers to
those scholars who have taken the time to review books for the NN. Book reviews are a
convenient way for researchers and students to keep abreast of recent publications and
for reviewers to express their opinions on the direction of scholarship in their
specialties. However, not everyone has managed to submit their review in a timely
fashion. If you have agreed to review a book for the NN, it would be a great help to
the editor if you would submit it as soon as possible. Readers are interested in your
evaluation and words of wisdom regarding recent publications in the field.

News Items

(1) As a service to readers, the NN editor contacted Leonard Glick, a dealer in
anthropology books, and asked if he would be interested in providing a list of titles
on Mesoamerica that readers may purchase. The idea is to make the list available so
that readers would be able to add to their own collections or perhaps have their
university libraries acquire needed items. It is my hope that NN readers will find this
service useful, particularly overseas subscribers who do not have convenient access to
the U.S. used-book market. If readers find this service to be a good idea, I would like
to expand the list, making it a regular feature of future issues. Please let me know
what you think. Len sent the following statement about his company, Quabbin Books,
along with a brief list of titles that are currently available.

“Quabbin Books, dealers in used, new and out-of-print books in anthropology and
archaeology, have been providing books by catalogue to professional anthropologists,
graduate students, and libraries since 1982. The owners, Nansi and Leonard Glick, are
anthropologists. Our books are carefully selected, with emphasis on ethnographic,
cross-cultural, theoretical and archaeological studies of professional quality. New
books are offered at substantial discounts, and all books are reasonably priced. Below
is a sample listing of our books; most are still available, but of course some may have
been sold by the time this list is published. New titles are being added regularly, and
catalogues are issued several times annually.

“To order books or to be placed on the mailing list, please write to Quabbin Books,
P.O. Box 14, New Salem, MA 01355. Individuals with departmental or other professional
addresses may order without sending advance payment; others are asked to send payment
until credit is established. We are unable to accept credit cards.

“When ordering, please mention that you saw the Quabbin list in the Nahua
Newsletter. Mailing fees are $1.00 for one book to a maximum of $3.00 for four or more
books. Foreign fees are $1.50 for one book to a maximum of $4.00 for four or more.
Note: (i.p.) = book in print at listed price; Quabbin Books price follows.”

BENJAMIN, THOMAS. A Rich Land, A Poor People: Politics and Society in Modern
Chiapas. Univ. of New Mexico Pr., 1989. 360 pp. Cond. exc. (i.p. 40.00) 18.00

COVARRUBIAS, MIGUEL. Mexico South: The Isthmus of Tehuantepec. 1st ed. N.Y.: Knopf,
1946. 427 pp., 93 plates, 8 color pl., numer, line drawings. Cond. very good. 20.00

MARTIN, CHERYL E. Rural Society in Colonial Morelos. Univ. of New Mexico Pr., 1985.
255 pp. Cond. exc. (i.p. 27.50) 14.50

HEDRICK, BASIL C. et al., eds. The North Mexican Frontier: Readings in Archaeology,
Ethnohistory, and Ethnography. Southern Illinois Univ. Pr., 1971. 255 pp. Cond. exc.

JOSEPH, GILBERT M. Rediscovering the Past at Mexico’s Periphery: Essays on the
History of Modern Yucatan. Univ. of Alabama Pr., 1986. 203 pp., 10 photos. Cond. exc.
(i.p. 30.00) 16.00

HILL, ROBERT M. II & JOHN MONAGHAN. Continuities in Highland Maya Social
Organization: Ethnohistory in Sacapulas, Guatemala. Univ. of Pennsylvania Pr., 1987.
176 pp. Cond. exc. (i.p. 35.00) 15.00

MADSEN, WILLIAM. The Virgin’s Children: Life in an Aztec Village Today. Greenwood
Pr., 1960, repr. 1969. 248 pp., numer, illus. Cond. v.g.-exc. (i.p. 48.50) 17.00

BRAND, DONALD. Quiroga: A Mexican Municipio. Smithsonian Inst., Inst. of Soc.
Anthrop., Publ. No. 11, 1951. 242 pp., 4 maps, 35 plates. Soft cover. Cond. good-v.g.

BEALS, RALPH L. Cheran: A Sierra Tarascan Village. Cooper Sq., 1973 (Orig. ed.
1946.) 225 pp., 8 pl. Cond. v.g.-exc. (Repr. ed. 35.00) 12.00

PENNINGTON, CAMPBELL W. The Tepehuan of Chihuahua: Their Material Culture. Univ. of
Utah Pr., 1969. 413 pp., 63 illus. Soft cover. Cond. v.g. exc. 15.00

TAGGART, JAMES M. Nahuat Myth and Social Structure. Univ. of Texas Pr., 1983. 287
pp. Cond. exc. 15.50

FINKLER, KAJA. Spiritualist Healers in Mexico. Bergin & Garvey, 1985. 256 pp.
Cond. exc. (i.p. 30.00) 15.50

STONE, MARTHA. At the Sign of Midnight: The Concheros Dance Cult of Mexico. Univ. of
Arizona Pr., 1975. 262 pp., 11 illus. Cond. exc. 15.00

GREENBERG, JAMES. Santiago’s Sword: Chatino Peasant Religion and Economics. Univ. of
Calif. Pr., 1981. 227 pp. Cond. exc. (i.p. 30.00) 16.50

LOGAN, KATHLEEN. Hacienda Pueblo: The Development of a Guadalajaran Suburb. Univ. of
Alabama Pr., 1984. 141 p., 9 photos, 3 maps. Cond. v.g. exc. 14.50

EDMONSON, MUNRO S., ed. Handbook of Middle American Indians, Supplement 3:
Literature. Univ. of Texas Pr., 1985. 195 pp. Cond. exc. (i.p. 35.00) 20.00

FOX, JOHN W. Quiche Conquest: Centralism and Regionalism in Highland Guatemalan
State Development. Univ. of New Mexico Pr., 1978. 322 pp., 43 figs., 11 maps. Cond.
v.g.-exc. 19.00

DE SAHAGUN, FR. BERNARDINO. Veinte Himnos Sacros de los Nahuas. Univ. Nacional
Autonoma de Mexico, 1958. 277 pp. Library copy, rebound in boards. Cond. good.

(2) The following information about a new Mesoamerican research foundation was sent
to the NN by Sandra Noble Bardsley, Executive Director, and is reproduced for the
convenience of readers:

Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. 268 South Suncoast
Blvd. Crystal River, FL 34429 Tel. (904) 795-5990 or 7721 Fax (904) 795-1970

I. Statement of Purpose

The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc., was formed in 1993
to foster increased understanding of ancient Mesoamerican culture. The goal of the
Foundation is to support research in art, history, archaeology, anthropology,
epigraphy, linguistics, sociology, and other related fields focusing on PreColumbian

The Foundation is located in Crystal River, Florida, and involves three major
departments: the Granting Facility, the Research Facility, and the Conference Facility.
The Conference Facility is arranged to accommodate small Study Sessions. The Research
Facility is comprised of a comprehensive Mesoamerican-oriented library, a privately
owned PreColumbian art collection, and individual offices for scholars. The Foundation
Granting Facility is funded by an endowment for research grants determined annually by
a grant application competition. The research grants are not restricted to
investigations conducted only at the Foundation premises.

The Foundation Facilities are intended to allow recent college graduates, master’s
and doctoral candidates, and active professionals opportunities for scholarly
contributions to the advancement of Mesoamerican studies. Projects may include field
work, library research, writing support, special projects in the social sciences, art
history, humanities, or a combination of these. Along with opportunities for
intellectual and professional growth, the Foundation’s intent is to encourage
cross-cultural interaction and mutual understanding on a person-to-person basis in an
atmosphere of academic integrity and intellectual freedom.

II. The Foundation Granting Facility

1. The purposes of the Foundation Granting Facility are to assist and promote
well-qualified scholars who might otherwise be unable to complete their programs of
research and synthesis, and to support scholarly works with the potential for
significant contributions to the understanding of ancient Mesoamerican cultures.

2. The Foundation Granting Facility is supported by an annual gift of $100,000, to
be distributed as research grants of up to and no more than $10,000 each. With
assistance from an Advisory Board, the final selection of all Foundation Grantees is
the responsibility of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for the Advancement of
Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSBD), which establishes the procedures of the Granting
Facility and the criteria for selection of Grantees.

3. It is the policy of the FAMSBD that grants be awarded to the best qualified
scholars regardless of degree level. However, preference is for recent graduates,
degree candidates, and active professionals who are currently involved in
fully-developed programs of study and/or research.

III. Types of Grants Available

1. Foundation Grants. As the Foundation’s intent is to support a wide variety of
projects such as field work, library research, or writing of syntheses, grants are
available in likewise varying amounts. Grants may thus range from $500, to amounts of a
few thousand dollars, to grants of up to $10,000. These grants are payable in U.S.
dollars, in up to three installments. Dates of installments vary according to specific
circumstances, but initial disbursements occur within ninety (90) days from the date of
an applicant’s approval by FAMSBD. All notification of FAMSBD decisions is generally
made prior to December 31 or June 30, for each calendar year.

2. Foundation Contingency Grants. One of the Foundation’s goals is to provide
emergency funds, especially for unforeseen situations encountered during research,
field work, and/or the dissemination of new research. Such contingency grants are for
unspecified amounts to be determined by FAMSBD according to specific circumstances, and
are generally awarded within one month of Foundation approval.

3. Foundation Discretionary Funds. Note that the Foundation reserves the right to
make partial reservations of the endowed grant monies, for discretionary research funds
earmarked for specific areas of scholarship and study. Such decisions are publicized
sufficiently in advance.

IV. Criteria Determining Grantee Eligibility/Ineligibility

1. Preference is for applicants who have recently completed, or who are undertaking
completion of a graduate-level university degree, or who have extensive professional
study and/or experience in ancient Mesoamerican cultures.

2. Grantees who have received a grant from the Foundation are eligible to reapply
for an additional Foundation Grant or Foundation Contingency Grant, although it should
be understood that new applications may be given greater priority.

3. Members of the Foundation Board of Directors, the Advisory Board, their spouses,
and their lineage descendants are ineligible for grants.

4. To the extent that a Grantee does not complete the project and/or does not comply
with all Grantee Agreements, that person shall be permanently ineligible for future
grant monies from the Foundation.

5. To the extent that the approved project requires the use of a foreign language,
applicants without proficiency in that language are ineligible.

(3) Susan Evans writes, “Garland Publishing Co. is now producing a series of
encyclopedias on archaeology, including a three-volume set on the archaeology of the
New World. One of the volumes is Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia,
edited by Susan Toby Evans and David L. Webster (both at the Department of
Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802-3404). The
volume will include about 500 articles on topics ranging from archaeological sites and
regions to ideological concepts and symbolic domains. The topic list is now in working
order and many articles are now being written, but changes in the scope of topics will
continue until June 1995. Suggestions for topics and authors are welcomed. Please
contact Susan Evans at the above address, by e-mail at or by phone at (814) 237-5978.”

(4) Susan Schroeder has sent along the following announcement about the Codex
Chimalpahin Project of which she is general editor. The codex will be published in six
volumes by the University of Oklahoma Press. Each volume will be fully Indexed with
bibliographic information and cross referencing when appropriate. Facsimile publication
of the Bible Society, Browning, and “Diario” manuscripts to be considered later.

Volume 1, Chimalpahin: His Life and His Histories; volume editor and author, Susan

Bringing together everything that is known about Chimalpahin–his home in Amecameca,
his family, his life in Mexico City, his career as a copyist and historian and the
tradition of indigenous literacy and history keeping in colonial Mexico, his possible
association with historian and educator Juan de Tovar, S.J. and the Colegio de San
Gregorio, and the significance of his contributions as author and compiler of the most
comprehensive collection of Nahuatl and Spanish histories by a known Nahua.

Volume 2, Society and Politics in Mexico Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco, Texcoco,
Culhuacan, and Other Nahua Towns in Central Mexico; volume editors and translators,
Arthur J.O. Anderson, Susan Schroeder, and Barry David Sell; Manuscript editor, Wayne
Ruwet; British and Foreign Bible Society Ms. 374.

Nahuatl annals, chronicles, and other texts relating to politics and society in the
principal kingdoms of central Mexico during the preconquest and colonial periods as
collected and collated [apparently] by don Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora.

Volume 3, Society and Politics in Mexico Tenochtitlan, Tlateloloco, Texcoco,
Culhuacan, and Other Nahua Towns in Central Mexico (cont.); volume editors and
translators, Arthur J. O. Anderson, Susan Schroeder, and Barry David Sell; Manuscript
editor, Wayne Ruwet; British and Foreign Bible Society Ms. 374, Ayer Ms. 1484, Newberry
Library, Chicago; and Exercicio Quotidiano by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún,
copyist, Chimalpahin, translated by Arthur J.O. Anderson.

Annals, genealogies, calendrics, with appendixes containing relevant anonymous
Nahuatl accounts not by Chimalpahin but part of the “Sigüenza” collection. A long
letter in Nahuatl by a Juan de San Antonio of Texcoco is included, as is Chimalpahin’s
(and the only one extant) copy of Sahagún’s Nahuatl “Daily Exercise” for Nahua

Volume 4, Part l, Relaciones 1 through 6, trans. and ed. by J. Richard Andrews;
volume editor, Susan Schroeder; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Fonds Mexicain,
Ms. 74.

Migrations and rituals; early kingdom formation in the Valley of Mexico, ca. 670
A.D. to 1500 A.D.; Amecameca and Chalco, especially.

Volume 4, Part 2, Relaciones 7 and 8, trans. and ed. by J. Richard Andrews; volume
editor, Susan Schroeder; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Fonds Mexicain, Ms.

Preconquest and early colonial Mexico, ca. 1500-1612, with some overlap in the
annals, history of Amecameca.

Volume 5, Diario, trans and ed. by J. Richard Andrews; volume editor, Susan
Schroeder; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Fonds Mexicain, Ms. 220.

Nahuatl annals and first-hand eyewitness accounts of Spanish and indigenous life in
colonial Mexico City, 1589-1615.

Volume 6, La conquista de México by Francisco López de Gómara;
volume editor and translator, Susan Schroeder; Browning Ms., Newberry Library,

Translation and critical analysis of Chimalpahin’s version of López
deGómara’s Conquista de México as it is known from the earliest extant
copy (Boturini, ca. 1746). This copy contains Chimalpahin’s additions, deletions, and
other emendations as well as forty crucial chapters about Nahua culture missing from
Lesley Byrd Simpson’s edition in English. Addresses how it was that a Nahuatl-speaking
Indian came to make a copy of this forbidden book.

(5) And Cristian Alvarez sends this communication to the NN editor:

“Mi investigación la estoy realizando en San Esteban Tizatlán, uno de
los cuatros señorios de lo que fue la República Tlaxcalteca. El objeto de
estudio es la estructura y dinámica barrial en la organización social de
la comunidad. De momento no puedo aventurarme en conclusiones pues sólo tengo
datos sin analizar; no obstante, creo haber encontrado un sistema barrial que no
está reportado en la literatura etnográfica sobre el tema (al menos en la
que yo he revisado). En Tizatlán, hay un doble sistema barrial cruzado: a una
división físico-territorial (barrio de arriba-barrio de abajo) se
“superpone” una división eclesiástica (barrio de arriba-barrio de abajo)
que no es simétrica a la división territorial, sino que divide a cada
mitad en dos mitades eclesiásticas. Es decir, la comunidad esta dividida por una
barranca en un barrio de arriba y un barrio de abajo. Esta división
física se hace patente principalmente con respecto a la lucha política
por obtener la agencia municipal. A su vez, la comunidad, con respecto a la
mayordomía eclesiástica y las colaboraciones, está dividida en
barrio de arriba y barrio de abajo: un año colaboran y ostentan los cargos un
barrio y al siguiente el otro barrio. Mi sorpresa fue que estos barrios
eclesiásticos no son simétricos a los territoriales: en el barrio
físico de arriba las familias están eclesiásticamente divididas, y
en el barrio físico de abajo ocurre lo mismo. Ya se puede imaginar el efecto
integrativo que esta división eclesiástica tiene sobre las tendencias
“separatistas” de los barrios físicos. No le puedo anticipar más cosas,
pues como le digo, los datos están todavía sin analizar. En el momento
que tenga algo más elaborado o la misma tesis, se lo mandaré para que
pueda revisarlo y me pueda ofrecer sus opiniones.”

Book Reviews

The Cultural Evolution of Ancient Nahua Civilizations: The Pipil Nicarao of Central America. By William R. Fowler. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989. Pp. xi+331. $37.50 (cloth). ISBN O-8061-2197-1.

Quite simply, William R. Fowler’s culture history of two pre Columbian ethnic
groups, the Nahua-speaking Pipil and Nicarao of northern Central America, is a tour de
force. Skillfully drawing upon the conjunctive approach of mining data from history,
linguistics, ecology, and to a lesser extent, archaeology, he meticulously reconstructs
and analyzes the cultural evolution of the two groups. Another volume dealing with
detailed archaeological data and investigation is promised. This book, which gives
close attention to the broader theoretical questions of cultural evolution, is a
substantially revised version of part of his doctoral dissertation (Calgary, 1981).

This book consists of fourteen chapters containing seventeen illustrations and
thirteen tables. The introductory chapter persuades the reader that in addition to
their intrinsic value the Pipil-Nicarao are worthy of study for many reasons.
Specifically, these groups are examples of frontier societies that can be used as a
lens from which to examine the ideology and adaptations of related core societies. The
transformation of the Pipil-Nicarao also exemplify two processes of culture change,
namely, migration and warfare. Furthermore, the evolution of cultural complexity
through economic institutions such as interregional and long-distance trade also
figures into his exegesis. Using cultural ecology as the organizing framework, the
conjunctive approach employed by Fowler expands the range of topics that can be
addressed within this kind of study, and the ensuing chapters reflect this breadth and

In the absence of surviving native texts, Fowler relies upon primary historical
sources, and he is to be commended for his extensive research in colonial archives in
Spain and Central America. In this volume and elsewhere, he has critically analyzed the
historical sources on the Pipil Nicarao before presenting a rigorous and thorough
synthesis. Following the high standards for which ethnohistorical research in the
Mesoamerican region is known, Fowler carefully weaves together a contribution which
fills a particular lacuna in our knowledge of the Postclassic and Protohistoric Pipil
of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and Nicarao of Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The focus of Chapter 3 is the Pipil-Nicarao migrations. Fowler summarizes the
historical evidence and previous interpretations. Based on exhaustive historical,
linguistic, and archaeological evidence, Fowler’s assessment is that quite-complicated
Nahua population movements took place from about A.D. 900 to A.D. 1350 in Central
America (p. 49). Chapter 4 continues discussion of Nahua territory and population
distribution in this region at the time of the encounter and shortly afterward. This
presentation lays the groundwork for his later discussion of the Pipil Nicarao
population at Spanish contact (Chapter 9). He uses four different methods to
reconstruct these population estimates. They involve (1) the analysis of the few extant
contemporary sources, including the eyewitness Pedro de Alvarado, and Oviedo’s reports
of Mercedarian missionary efforts prior to 1535; (2) estimates based on the number of
Pipil and Nicarao troops engaged in combat with Spaniards and their allies, the size of
their home territory and the establishment of a ratio of warriors to the entire
population; (3) extrapolations from census data recorded in the first half of the
sixteenth century; and (4) calculations made on the basis of average carrying capacity
at the time of the encounter. As Fowler himself admits, each of these sources has
limitations in preciseness and availability of information. The thoroughness with which
he investigates this problem and the congruence of the results of the four methods are
quite convincing. In sum, Fowler estimates that in 1519 the Pipil numbered at least
350,000 in western and central El Salvador and 100,000 in southeastern Guatemala, while
the Nicarao numbered some 100,000 to 140,000 in western Nicaragua (p. 151).

Adhering to his cultural ecology perspective, Fowler provides in Chapters 5 through
8 detailed and highly informative data on the natural environment of the Pipil-Nicarao,
their ethnobotany, agriculture, and ethnozoology. This information is useful for
comparative purposes with other areas of Mesoamerica. Certainly the rich natural
resources and conditions he describes support his contention that the region was able
to sustain a quite large and densely-settled population before the encounter.

Chapters 10 through 13 reconstruct economic organization emphasizing production
exchange and tribute, social structure and dynamics, warfare, law and politics, and
finally, religion and ideology. His research is well-documented and extremely detailed,
admirable characteristics that infuse the entire volume. In addition, the sections on
economic and social organization are sensitive to including information concerning
gender and class.

The final chapter, “Cultural Evolution and the Pipil-Nicarao,” examines the
processes of specific cultural evolution between the ancient Pipil and the Nicarao in
order to explain their sociocultural similarities and differences. Fowler’s arguments
center on a “holistic ecological explanation” (p. 250), which gives consideration to
environmental factors, but focuses on the larger arena of dynamic social factors in
order to more fully explain why the Pipil reached the state level of organization while
the Nicarao remained chiefdoms. He frames his discussion within the broader
Mesoamerican context.

It is most appropriate that Fowler uses the concept of frontier society since it is
within this framework that researchers have made distinctive contributions to
historical ethnography. His claim that frontier societies “represent simpler versions
of related core” (p. 5), however, does not acknowledge the inherent complexities of the
dynamics of frontier situations. The evidence he presents does not explicitly address
his contention that the distance of the Pipil and Nicarao from the core makes it
possible “to detect and analyze the forces and direction of change at the periphery”
(p. 5). It appears that he could more fully utilize frontier theory for the powerful
explanatory tool it can be.

Certainly Fowler has significantly advanced our knowledge of the southeast periphery
of Mesoamerica. In the last twenty years, many Mesoamerican anthropologists — Robert
Carmack, John Weeks, Grant Jones, Kent Flannery, and Ronald Spores, to name just a few
— have used the conjunctive approach, combining several lines of evidence, in order to
push the boundaries of our insights into the prehistory and protohistory of this
region. Fowler’s efforts encourage anthropologists not only to delineate cultures and
locate them in historical time, but to study the process, conditions, and events that
affect and transform their social structure. His contribution is worthy of

Nancy J. Black
Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, Minnesota

Making the World Safe for Existence: Celebration of the Saints among the Sierra Nahuat of Chignautla, Mexico. By Doren Slade. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992. Pp. viii+271. $39.50 (cloth). ISBN 0-472-10289-3.

This book describes and analyzes the cargo rituals of a Nahua Indian village,
Chignautla, in the Sierra de Puebla of Mexico. The focus is on religious belief, but
the book brings other ethnographic topics, such as economics and kinship, into the
discussion of religion. The author seeks to describe the awareness of the supernatural
world created by the cargo rituals and is less interested in the real consequences,
such as economic ones, of the rituals. She uses an inductive method in which the
meaning of rituals is revealed by the structure of people’s behavior rather than by
their conscious descriptions. She observes the “attitudes” of the cargo holders. From
these she induces the cultural meaning of the rituals. This is in keeping with her
present profession as a psychoanalyst. The author claims to have new insights, but many
old ones appear: reciprocity is the fundamental organizing principle (p. 9), and the
Indians have concepts of the universe resting on pre-Hispanic conceptualizations (p.

The original field work was done for a Ph.D. thesis in cultural anthropology. After
receiving the degree, the author started training in, and then the practice of
psychoanalysis, which added more methodological tools for the book. After twenty years
of experience as a psychoanalyst, the author went over her tapes of her early field
interviews, carried out in the 1970s, and arrived at new insights that allowed her to
see the philosophy of the cargo rituals as expressions of an underlying ideology. The
author sees Chignauteco ideology as premised on balance, harmony, reciprocity, and
rank. She claims to be able to fathom the unconscious experiences of the Chingnautecos
as well as their conscious experiences.

There is a 24-page chapter on the ethnohistory of the region. It is quite sketchy
and there are no references to original documents. For example, one wonders how the
author knows that the following occurred during the Mexican Revolution: “That
hostilities instigated elsewhere would come to affect the life in this community was
accepted as the natural order of things by Chignautla’s Indians, since imposition from
the world beyond Chignautla was already experienced as inevitable.” This chapter also
contains a description of a barrio organization that is related to patrilineal descent
groups. There are less significant barrio cargos as well as larger pueblo cargos.

Individuals serve the saints for their own reasons, which reflect their personality,
and not because they desire prestige (p. 58). The cargos are organized by the author
into seven groups with different “ritual values,” a phrase that the author uses instead
of prestige. The Chignautecos seek to sponsor consecutive compatible cargos rather than
incompatible ones that would disturb the balance necessary to achieve the sacralizing
effects of reciprocity and respect (p. 65). There is a general upward progression
through the groups. This progression the author describes as an increase in “ritual
value” and steadfastly insists that there is no increase in “prestige” involved.

The author hangs many different bits of information about the village on her tree of
religion. Thus there are minor descriptions of agriculture, household economies, trade,
kinship, marriage, politics, gender relationships, and compadrazgo included in the

The most complete descriptions are those of the ritual events in which mayordomos
participate. The mayordomos are the most important cargo holders. Descriptions of the
ritual events from the point of view of other cargo holders (fiscales, sacristanes,
tenientes, dancers, jubileos, pilatos, alguaciles, and dipudados) are treated only in

Members of wealthy families seek to display their success by requesting certain
cargos. Barrios have a partisan interest in requesting cargos, which reflect on their
glory. There is an underlying territorial structure to the cargo system with certain
barrios having a greater claim to certain cargos. Patrilineal kinship also confers some
rights to request cargos.

Changes are were taking place in the town during the ethnographic present, which we
can assume was during the primary period of field work in 1970. Young men were
requesting specific cargos rather than accepting the ones handed to them by the
fiscales who were in charge of organizing the cargo system. There are currently an
increasing number Protestants in the community. Mestizos are now requesting traditional
Indian mayordomoships. The priest is reacting to the presence of the Protestants. These
events which are typical of the changes that are now taking place in Indian communities
of the eastern Sierra of Mexico are just mentioned in a few sentences. The heart of
this book is the description and analysis of the full-blown cargo system of 1970.

Throughout, the book describes behavior in abstract terms that have weak referents
to other literature. The author works hard at developing her own somewhat groundless
system of abstract terminology. Since so much abstraction is woven into the
ethnographic descriptions, the final chapter of conclusions is a rather tepid
reassertion of the ideas previously expressed: the cargo cults bears the mark of
sixteenth-century Hispanic folk Catholicism; unconsciously held assumptions follow from
venerative acts; Indians and mestizos do not share the same cosmology; reciprocity
sacralizes acts; cargos are assigned according to “ritual value”; and younger people
are not interested in the old truths. The book ends with some useful appended tables on
annual income in 1971-72, land holdings of ritual sponsors in 1971, and ritual

The blend of the subjective and objective is not as confusing as it might be, for
example, in the full-blown French style of ethnography. There is a American Boasian
tendency to clearly state what people do and the rules that they have articulated for
themselves in doing it. When the author infers meaning from the behavior, she makes it
clear that this is an analytical effort, and, in many places the clarifying phrase “I
believe that X symbolizes Y” occurs indicating that she is describing her own
intellectual imagination and not any objective fact. Thus the subjectivity is not so
completely blended with the objectivity that the facts are lost.

The unheralded solid ethnographic facts about what people do and say about what they
do is the most valuable part of this book. Unfortunately, the ethnographic facts emerge
in a stream of consciousness, rather than in a highly organized fashion. The author
seems to think that their value lies not in their objectivity, but in their ability to
evoke visions of the workings of the inner mind of the subjects under study. Thus a
reader who might want to know how labor is used in the household or the amount of corn
produced per hectare, will have to find this briefly sketched out in a chapter entitled
“Economic Dimensions of Sacralizing Activities.” The descriptions are of a high enough
quality that they sometimes contradict the theoretical assertions of the author. This
is a mark of good ethnography. For example, the reader can also see that the Chignautla
cargo system is a means for legitimizing wealth differences in the community in spite
of the author’s contention that it is a means of “sacralizing interdependence.”

The cargo system of this town is complex and the author is concerned with its social
structure. Unfortunately the structural description is not systematic, and, in places
it is paradoxical. For example, on page 58 we learn that there is a separation of the
Autoridad Eclesiástica from the mayordomos and dancers, but on page 59 we learn
that four mayordomos of San Mateo and four mayordomos of the Santísimo
Sacramento are members of the Autoridad Eclesiástica. The author makes no effort
to clarify these contradictions nor to present the social structure in a concise way
that would guide the reader in understanding it. On the contrary, the structure is
presented in a haphazard manner that requires the reader to dig through the text in an
effort to comprehend it, an effort that is often futile. No doubt the author has a
understanding of this structure, but has felt it less important to share it with her
readers than to wax eloquently about the deeper meaning of the ritual symbolism that
she has teased out of the “unconscious” aspects of the participants “experience,” which
she feels she can comprehend with her methodology. Abstract reformulations such as
mayordomías being “direct venerative statements that serve a propitiatory
purpose” (p. 149) take precedence over observations of a reality seen by the author
from which these abstractions are made. Thus the reader is given a scant basis from
which to agree or disagree with what the author has concluded from her experience of
other people’s “experience.”

One seems to gain little more that confusion from calling “ritual value” what every
other investigator has called prestige. This is a semantic trick to back up the
author’s effort to capture the spirit of sacrifice so well symbolized in Mesoamerican
cargo rituals. In fact, there is a clear correlation between the age of the carguero
and the ritual value of the office (p. 77). The ritual value of the cargos is also
correlated with the authority of the office holder (p. 81). The author admits that
cargo service generates respect (respeto), but insists that this is quite different
than prestige (p. 82).

In one sense this book endeavors to explain the sense of the sacred felt by cargo
holders. The author concludes that successful ritual sponsors avoid vanity, arrogance,
deviousness, and greed (p. 56). However, It seems odd that one trained in
psychoanalysis would ignore the possible denial of such emotions actually existing at
the unconscious level. The author goes so far as to say that the desire for prestige is
not a motivating factor in sponsoring cargos. One gets a rather abstract and
disembodied image of holy men seeking to transcend their earthly desires, a rather
ethereal image that one familiar with the more gutsy aspects of Mesoamerican peasant
life might find difficult to accept. The author’s refusal to use the concept of
prestige to describe a system that is practically identical to other cargo systems that
have been described so aptly as redistributive systems for converting wealth into
prestige seems to be an act of pure stubbornness without any scholarly or scientific

The informant’s statement contradict the author’s contention that there is a
fundamental difference between the secular and the sacred (pp. 85-86). One more very
ethnographic book like this one not paying attention to scientific methodology and
glorifying its own philosophical symbolist perspective raises the question of where
cultural anthropology is going by creating more knowledge of this sort. Whereas the
natural sciences increase the welfare of humans by creating a reliable knowledge base
that allows the manipulation of objects, the social sciences increase the welfare of
the few by creating knowledge that allows the manipulation of other human beings. The
two sorts of knowledge are different. The former, the scientific, must be replicable,
empirical, and objective to be useful, but the latter, the social, need only be
empirical and communicable to be useful. Nonobjective, intersubjective, ideas of
people, their behavior, and their culture are still useful in opening an opportunity
for communication and the exploitation of social relationships. Thus the social
sciences have an amazing tolerance for subjective analyses of human behavior. What we
see in this book is a subjective analysis of the subjective experience of other people.
If another such anthropologist went to the same village at the same time, an entirely
different analysis would emerge.

So, cultural anthropology is opening up an opportunity for literate people to relate
to other people, often with an attitude of superior power. However, a reliable
understanding of human nature must draw on more scientific principles. To be useful in
theorizing correctly about human nature, ethnography must have greater objectivity.
This book does contain within it the empirical tradition set by Frans Boas many years
ago. It sets down detailed observations of human behavior and records the ideas of
other people in a language and philosophy that is reliable. However there seems to be
no consciousness of the value of such work in the book. Thus, it fails to organize the
data in meaningful structures. It does not integrate qualitative and quantitative data.
It does not bring to bear scientific paradigms and theories on the organization of the
data. Even following Murdock’s Outline of Cultural Materials would be more enlightening
than the form in which the ethnographic data is presented. People who are working with
human nature, be they anthropologists, sociologists, biologists, or psychologists,
appreciate an organized collection of ethnographic facts. If cultural anthropology is
going to be anything more than a training program for the Peace Corps, it should give
greater weight and prestige to the organized presentation of facts in an as objective
manner as possible and with less weight on philosophical ramblings without coherence or
empirical stability (p. 150).

James Dow
Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan

Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World. By Miguel León-Portilla. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992. Pp. vi+307. $24.95 (cloth). ISBN 0 8061-2441-5.

My first introduction to the Nahua world of pre-Conquest Mexico was in the spring of
1980, the first year I returned to school seeking new career paths at the University of
Colorado. In a class taught by Davíd Carrasco, we read Miguel
León-Portilla’s Aztec Thought and Culture (University of Oklahoma Press, 1963).
That book opened up a whole new universe created by cosmic deities and populated by
creative humans who made cosmic poetry, paintings, and sculpture. As a professional
artist, my own imagination was stimulated and my philosophical bones rattled. From then
on, I was hooked. And in spite of the bloody aspects of this curious and often gripping
culture, I have never forgotten that first encounter. Even though the Aztecs hauled
people up temple stairs to rip their hearts out on a disturbingly regular basis, I
still cannot help seeing them as intelligent, feeling human beings, as individuals who
struggled with life like the rest of us. Such is the legacy of Miguel
León-Portilla and a good one it is.

This book emerges from that legacy. In it, León-Portilla lures readers into
the personal worlds of apparently real individual members of the elite class, fourteen
men and one woman. The book was first published a quarter of century ago as Trece
poetas del mundo azteca (UNAM, 1967). This new effort includes two additional poets and
rethinks earlier approaches to interpretation. The Nahuatl for all the major poems is
again provided. However, this time with the help of Grace Lobanov, León Portilla
has produced entirely new English translations of the Nahuatl poetry, recognizing
rightly that to simply translate the earlier Spanish versions into English would be, at
best, risky. The book’s thesis is that actual people existed in the pre-Conquest Nahua
world who were recognized as outstanding poets and, moreover, a rich variety of
resources allows people today to become acquainted with them and the greatness of their

In its English edition, the book is a valuable contribution, making available to a
wide audience some of the excellent scholarship that has been hidden within the
confines of Mexico. Only recently has more of this scholarship crossed borders, a trend
that was excruciatingly slow to take flight. I only hope it not only soars but
continues to do so. For without such cross-cultural publishing journeys, all
scholarship suffers.

Fifteen Poets will serve as an excellent teaching tool and introduction for
beginners and non-specialists. Like my own students now, I too was influenced by
popular portrayals of and a macabre fascination with the blood and guts of sacrificial
rites. León-Portilla’s personal love for the Nahua and his personalized approach
to them offers a good antidote for both overly base depictions and some
social-scientific works which treat the Aztecs as an impersonal, even sometimes
implicitly evil corporate body.

An imaginative and sensitive understanding of philosophical and spiritual issues
brings out complex ideas about truth and the human condition. León-Portilla has
a talent for disclosing the tentative, impermanent, and even futile life of the Nahua
elite. These verses also remind one that poetry’s subject matter and role differs world
wide. As in some other places like the pre-Islamic world, poetry in the fifteenth- and
sixteenth-century Mexican Highlands sang of not only spiritual topics, but also
historical events and political conquest. Moreover, as an activity integral to civic
and military duties, it could become a contest and/or musical performance. Speech was a
skill fostered and admired because it realized honored traditions and helped shape
present situations. These poems do all that. They both picture a host of ancient
deities and values and, with consummate metaphoric skill and sometimes bold humor, try
to alter present human circumstances. Because of his skill as a translator,
León-Portilla describes well many of the wonderful poetic devices employed by
his songsters.

The book’s very accessible introduction provides not only his own concise and clear
summaries of Aztec world views and history, but also a discussion of some
interpretational problems in the difficult “after-the fact” reality of Mesoamerican
pre-Conquest scholarship. León-Portilla recognizes that to overcome the
fragmentation of his resources he must support his claims with multiple attestations
drawn from a large variety of verbal and visual texts, something that, for the most
part, he accomplishes. Finally, he gives valuable background on his four primary
sources: 20 hymns from Tepepulco found in the “First Memorials” of the Codíces
matritenses and the appendix of Book II of the Florentine Codex; songs scattered
elsewhere throughout Sahaguntine and other sources; the Cantares mexicanos; and the
Romances de los señores de nueva españa.

The rest of the book is divided into four parts, each focusing on a particular
central Mexican region. A short history of each region is given, followed by the
historical place of each poet and an analysis of his/her poetry. Part 1 discusses poets
from the Tezcocan area. His fine literary analysis of Nezahualcoyotl’s poetry isolates
seven truly evocative themes. Part 2 focuses on poets of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. One’s
curiosity about the role and standards of poetry is piqued when one hears that the
Mexica ruler, Axayacatl, used elders as ghost-writers. And questions about the role of
women both in war and courtly society arise when one reads the poem by Macuilxochitl.
Poets from Puebla-Tlaxcala are featured in Part 3 which includes one of his new
additions, Xayacamach of Tizatlan. The fourth Part speaks about the Chalco-Amaquemecan
region with Aquiauhtzin of Ayapanco as the second new addition. This last poet gives
the reader one of the must fun pieces in the volume, a ribald and humorous
poetry-challenge to Axayacatl called “Song of the Chalcan Women,” which
León-Portilla published earlier in a somewhat different translation in the New
Scholar 5(1978):235-62.

While teachers and lay people surely will praise the work, specialists may find the
book somewhat less useful. I translated a few of his poetic selections using John
Bierhorst’s transcriptions in Cantares Mexicanos: Songs of the Aztecs (Stanford
University Press, 1985) as a point of reference. Although this is not the same as
viewing the originals (which were unavailable to me), Bierhorst’s transcriptions
received praise from León-Portilla himself (p. 42) and were called “definitive”
and found to be without error (p. 120) by James Lockhart (“Care, Ingenuity and
Irresponsibility: The Bierhorst Edition of the Cantares Mexicanos,” Reviews in
Anthropology 16(1991):119-32. I was disappointed to find serious discrepancies between
the two copies of the poem, “Song of the Chalcan Women” (León-Portilla, pp.
267-80; cf. Bierhorst, pp. 384-91). León-Portilla’s transcription unfortunately
seems to be missing passages that are contained in Bierhorst’s and includes some
differences in spelling as well. Discrepancies also appear due to
León-Portilla’s regularization of the often very irregular Nahuatl. While this
makes reading easier, the practice subtracts and adds letters not in the manuscript,
sometimes splits word clusters differently, and often adds punctuation that isn’t
there. All of these things can, on occasion, alter meaning.

Translating Nahuatl is a most difficult task. Lockhart noted that “every Nahuatl
translator of this century and the past one has made deplorable errors” (1991:122). For
this reason, readers may wish that glosses had been provided for the difficult passages
in which meaning is not instantly clear. Such glossing also lends important
illumination to those passages with multiple layers of metaphoric meaning. For example,
León-Portilla translates the passage Ma huel manin tlalli (p. 218) to mean “Let
the earth forever remain!” However, one can break it down like so:

ma huel manin tlalli

ma wel Ø-MAN(I) in \ALI

opt. successfully, it-spreads, art. earth

fully, well stretches, extends

May well it extends the earth

May the earth extend well.

While “forever remain” might be a possible translation of mani, it seems less
obvious than some others, raising questions as to why it was chosen. For this choice
gives a temporal sense that appears at odds with many other messages about impermanence
in this and other poems. It also misses the visually horizontal sense of mani, a
metaphoric image particularly suited to the Nahua cosmos in which earth’s surface
spread out between the sky and underworld. Because such inevitable difficulties are
never pointed out, the book’s translations appear to be more accurate than some may
credit. Nahuatl is fraught with pitfalls, many of which Lockhart notes in his essay on
Bierhorst’s volume (1991:123). The best any translator can do is mark the difficulties,
support the choices, and hope for the best.

I find his main thesis plausible, although in need of a few more qualifications; for
even though aware of the interpretational problems, the author still underplays the
effects Spanish contact might have had on these texts. Along with him and Lockhart, I
often presume that the historical figures of the Cantares (and other texts) “are mainly
imagined to be speaking in their own time, not in the song-present, and that the events
referred to are the real original ones” (Lockhart 1991:129). Yet some caution should be
taken, for “Nahuatl comes in Spanish wrapping” (Lockhart 1991:124). The original
grammars and dictionaries all are in Spanish and often embed their clerical collectors’
spiritual assumptions. One must recognize, moreover, that changes due to contact could
be considerable. This is not India where the oral Vedic traditions were memorized by
Brahmins using mnemonic devices so effective that almost nothing changed in over three
millennia. On the contrary, Mesoamerican songsters sometimes were expected to
improvise. Furthermore, León Portilla’s uncritical reliance on Ixtlilxochitl, a
chronicler who can be especially treacherous (Lockhart 1991:121), may undercut the
value of his work on the Tezcocan poets. I also found his extended criticisms of
Bierhorst’s ghost-dance theory, while needed, to be a bit overdone. Although Bierhorst
allowed his theory to color his translations and commentaries too brightly, he is not
alone in other problems, and he is an excellent scribe. As Lockhart said, we all make

In spite of its shortcomings (and what work is without them?), Fifteen Poets is a
wonderful addition to English-speaking audiences. That good legacy of
León-Portilla’s scholarly personalism has profoundly affected many and should
affect many more, including both lay people and scholars. He is right in seeing the
Nahua as more than bloody terrorists; they were real people with their own individual
thoughts on life’s challenges. Our challenge is figuring out what those thoughts were
and Miguel León-Portilla has always helped us do that.

Kay A. Read
DePaul University, Chicago

Exits from the Labyrinth: Culture and Ideology in the Mexican National Space. By Claudio Lomnitz-Adler. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Pp. vii+386. $45.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-052-07788-1.

Beginning in the 1930s, Mexican pensadores (thinkers) have written a number of
well-known works on the problem of Mexican national culture. They attempt to answer
questions such as, What kind of a nation is Mexico and what could it become? For
example, Samuel Ramos suggested that Mexicans feel a sense of deep-seated inferiority,
Guillermo Bonfil Batalla suggested a return to the pre-Hispanic roots of Mexican
culture, and Octavio Paz found at the core of national culture an overwhelming sense of
isolation he labeled the “labyrinth of solitude.” These works suffer from a number of
shortcomings, including the problem of how representative they are of the Mexican
people. In Exits from the Labyrinth, Lomnitz-Adler proposes to correct these defects by
focusing on the spatial distribution of political, economic, and social centers, and by
showing how this distribution, in conjunction with the class and caste relations within
it, is productive of national cultural features. The book is filled with insights about
Mexico and Mexicans, but in the end it fails to deliver what it promises. In attempting
to escape from one labyrinth, the author leads the reader into another, this one filled
with methodological problems, theoretical dead ends, fuzzy concepts, and opaque

Lomnitz-Adler notes the inability of both anthropology and the pensadores to handle
the theoretical and methodological issues involved in studies of national culture. The
author hopes to “understand what Mexican ideology represents” (p. 14) by bridging the
two traditions to forge a new method to understand national culture. He proposes to
define the essence of Mexico by comparing the state of Morelos with the multi state
region in the eastern part of the country known as the Huasteca. These two regions
differ in how power is distributed both hierarchically and spatially and thus each
articulates with the national whole in a distinct manner. These differing modes of
articulation produce different regional cultures and it is in the process of regional
cultural production that the author hopes to identify the essential Mexico. Following
the comparison of Morelos and the Huasteca, Lomnitz-Adler ends the book by turning his
attention to two classical themes of the pensador tradition: “the history of legitimacy
and charisma in Mexican politics, and the relationship between the national community
and racial ideology” (p. 4).

In order to overcome methodological difficulties, the author proposes five new
concepts: intimate culture, culture of social relations, localist ideology, coherence,
and mestizaje. Intimate culture “represent[s] the real, regionally differentiated
manifestations of class culture. Intimate culture is the culture of a class in a
specific kind of regional setting” (p. 28). This seems to refer to cultural traditions
of neighborhoods, work sites, and people’s homes. Culture of social relations is
composed of the “forms of interaction between intimate cultures” (p. 29). An example of
this concept might be interaction between peasant intimate culture and middle-class
intimate culture, or between Indian and mestizo intimate cultures. Localist ideology
serves to ease tensions produced when the culture of social relations is dominated by
class relations. Thus, appeals to Zapata as an example of localist ideology in Morelos
serves to justify the regional hegemonic order, and at the same time, Zapata’s
martyrdom serves as a critique of that order because it shows that no honest politician
can survive in Mexico. Coherence “refers to the degree to which cultural institutions
— and beliefs produced in the context of these institutions — are mutually
referential and mutually compatible” (p. 38). Finally, mestizaje is the process by
which intimate cultures of dominated groups lose their coherence and at the same time
are denied access to the power elite or status as a new independent coherent

Starting with Chapter 3, Lomnitz-Adler analyses Morelos according to the five
concepts outlined above. The analysis is complex and often hard to follow but he seems
to be saying that the character of the regional culture of Morelos reflects the absence
of a locally based elite. Members of the hegemonic elites of Morelos live in nearby
Mexico City. To make matters worse, political officeholders are appointed by the
national PRI party and have no local connections. Lomnitz-Adler outlines the types of
communities found throughout Morelos but he focuses much of his analysis on Cuernavaca,
the largest city in the state and a “central place” in the regional cultural
organization. In the absence of a local hegemonic class, the city has developed a
culture the author labels “Cuernavaca baroque” (p. 84). He defines this situation as
“the existence of a rich and private group culture which is not backed as a coherent
system by the local hegemony, but which is not substituted by a hegemonic coherent
culture” (p. 88).

The author goes on to analyze rural cultures in the state and suggests how they
interact among themselves and with Cuernavaca. He finds that “Intimate cultures in
Morelos revolve around three coherent poles: a pole of peasant coherence, a pole of
petit-bourgeois coherence, and a pole of proletarian coherence” (p. 149). These are
scattered in different communities but come into contact in larger towns and most
intensively in Cuernavaca. In the absence of a local hegemonic class, interchanges
among these intimate cultures produce a characteristic culture of social relations that
defines the region. The characteristic culture of Morelos is its identity as the model
state for the rest of Mexico. It is here where Zapatismo is centered and where
large-scale land reform was first carried out following the Revolution. Morelos is
associated with lowland hacienda culture, Indian culture, and peasant culture. Yet, in
the absence of a local hegemony, Lomnitz-Adler calls Morelos regional culture
“disarticulated” (p. 62). Political rhetoric and regional identity focus on Indians and
peasants even though they are proportionately a less important segment of the
population with each passing year. The region has become part of the myth of nationhood
created by elites in Mexico City to serve as an example of the essence of Mexican
national culture.

The Huasteca presents a very different picture. The region has been marginalized
from the national project and its history and culture are seen to differ from Mexico as
a whole. Thus the region is defined in Mexican ideology as a frontier, a remote and
lawless place that “has not yet been immortalized in textbook or mural” (p. 51). But
the region is believed to have its hidden sources of wealth. Central Mexicans are
convinced that Indian peoples of the Huasteca can predict weather or cure diseases that
modern medicine cannot. The Huasteca is widely believed to be the location of hidden
treasure or untold mineral wealth (it does in fact contain major oil resources). The
region is a kind of untapped periphery that remains unexplored and unexploited. Yet
paradoxically this reserve of physical and cultural wealth “is seen as quintessentially
Mexican because it represents the great, dormant, untapped Mexico” (p. 51). The
Huasteca serves national elites as a metaphor of untamed possibilities, both the
strength and the potential of an unrealized Mexico. I should add here, that
Lomnitz-Adler writes only about the portion of the Huasteca that lies in the state of
San Luis Potosi and leaves open the question of whether or not his characterizations
apply to vast majority of the region that lies outside of this state’s borders.

According to the author, the very different role played in the national ideology by
the Huasteca Potosina as opposed to Morelos can be traced to distinctive spatial
organization of the region and the distinctive set of class relations within it. The
Huasteca Potosina has no central city like Cuernavaca, only Ciudad Valles, a smaller,
less important urban center. In place of the range of communities found in Morelos,
this region has only important and unimportant villages (p. 164). A critical feature of
Huastecan social organization is that it possesses a local hegemonic class in the form
of rancheros. These are owners of landed estates ranging from twenty or thirty hectares
up to two- or three-thousand hectares. The ranchos are usually commercial
cattle-raising operations and owners live either on the property itself or in nearby
towns and oversee operations through daily visits. Rancheros are a remarkably cohesive
group and “The ranchero class has effectively articulated the Huasteca as an economic,
political, and cultural region” (p. 166).

Beneath the rancheros but affiliated with the same class are the mestizo cowboys who
owe loyalty to their employers. Further down in the social hierarchy are mestizo peones
who also work on the ranches, and finally the population of Indians who outnumber
mestizos in the region. Thus, the Huasteca is organized into three intimate cultures:
ranchero and cowboy, mestizo peón, and Indian. With local industrialization and
shifts in the national economy, this neat system is currently coming unraveled. But it
continues to determine cultural production in the region. This culture includes high
values placed in knowledge of cattle, plants, and animals of the region, individualism,
a kind of rough-and-ready rural common sense, and a direct, unadorned manner of

The introductory chapters of the book and the actual analysis of Morelos and the
Huasteca Potosina are written in a dense style that makes it very difficult for readers
to follow the main argument. This work is an updated version of the author’s Stanford
University dissertation, and frankly, much of the text reads like a dissertation.
Lomnitz-Adler himself admits (p. 107) that this type of analysis is “arid.” In my view,
the writing style seriously diminishes what value and insight are contained in the
text. One gets the feeling that the author is on to something and that he has valuable
insights, but just what these are remains obscure. For example, subheadings in a book
are generally meant to aid the reader by clarifying organization and by indicating what
is to come. What are we to make of a subheading that reads “Residual, Dominant, and
Emergent Forms of Production and Epistemological Spaces of Cultural Synthesis” (p.
222)? The words are suggestive but sentence after sentence of such dense verbiage
eventually boggles the mind.

In addition, I found the author’s over-use of terms such as “dialectic” and “space”
to obfuscate rather than clarify his insights. Almost everything he discusses is
related dialectically to something else as if the assertion explains something. It
would have been helpful to the reader if he had discussed specifically what he means by
a dialectical relationship and then demonstrated how use of this concept improves over
the far clearer and more measurable formulations such as positive and negative feedback
systems. I strongly suspect that dialectic is one of those ill-defined, catch-all words
scholars employ to mask weaknesses in conceptual or analytical frameworks. His over-use
of the currently fashionable word “space” also serves to confuse rather than clarify.
He writes of the national space, regional space, economic space, political space,
institutional space, and spaces where culture is synthesized. The term is clearly used
to relieve the author of the need to specify how and where culture is actually

Despite these criticisms, Lomnitz-Adler makes a contribution to our understanding of
Mexican national culture. Morelos and the Huasteca are two distinct regions and he
provides insights into the bases of these differences. But the book really comes alive
when he discusses actual case studies to illustrate his major points. He interviews
intellectuals and politicians in Cuernavaca and the Huasteca and shows how they respond
to the differing spatial and class relations in their respective regions. Particularly
interesting and enlightening are his discussions of Zapatismo in Morelos and the
Huastecan cacique, Gonzalo N. Santos. I also found his analysis of the origins of
liberalism in nineteenth-century Mexico and its implication for subsequent political
and social developments to be excellent. The last section of the book, which seems
strangely unrelated to the first part, contains informative and insightful discussions
of the history and modern forms of racial ideology in Mexico, and comparisons of the
caudillo and cacique roles.

But even as he recounts interesting discussions with people from each region, I am
disturbed by a fundamental weakness in Lomnitz-Adler’s approach. He rejects the use of
traditional community studies in the analysis of national culture even though these
have been the hallmark of anthropological research in Mexico. In their place he follows
other scholars in advocating a regional focus (pp. 255-57). However, a regional
analysis produces the arid discussion we witness in the first part of his book, far
removed from real lives of real people. Thus, he robs the anthropological approach of
one of its strongest contributions to social science. This may also explain why the
author overlooks many works produced by anthropologists on the Huasteca. But what I
find most disturbing is that Lomnitz-Adler forsakes his scientific responsibility to
give the reader a representative sample of the (real?) people in the region. He
interviews one politician, one mestizo healer, one Huastec Indian. He takes their words
as illustrative of broader truths he is attempting to establish without investigating
if these words are widely shared or whether they have consequences in the world of
action. In short, he weds his regional analysis, which has a validity problem, with
superficial field research, which has a reliability problem. The result is a work that,
while filled with insight and promise, leaves the reader unsure how to value the
contribution it makes.

Despite these shortcomings, the book contains many insights that reward the reader,
particularly those with an interest in Morelos, the Huasteca, and the efforts on the
parts of anthropologists and pensadores to define a national culture for Mexico.
Lomnitz-Adler takes on an enormous task in this book but I worry when we stray too far
from the empirical research that has established the worth of anthropology among the
social sciences. While I do not believe that the author has solved the problem of how
we are to study national culture, he has certainly clarified many of the issues
involved and his efforts serve to define a potentially fruitful area for future
anthropological work. He may not have led us out of the labyrinth but he has certainly
managed to get us moving in the direction of the exit.

Alan R. Sandstrom
Indiana-University Purdue University, Fort Wayne, Indiana

The Conquest of Mexico: The Incorporation of Indian Societies into the Western World, 16th-18th Centuries. By Serge Gruzinski; translated by Eileen Corrigan. Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 1993. Pp. vi+336. $48.95 (cloth) ISBN 0-7456-0873-6. $19.95 (paper) ISBN 0-7456-1226-1.

Reconstructing the past — creating a plausible, coherent, and (presumably) accurate
model of life in ancient societies — is a major goal of paleoethnography, and we spend
our lives as archaeologists and ethnohistorians contributing to this model and
critiquing its progress as it evolves. We witness the changing dimensions and shape of
a semi engineered mythical world we label “the Aztec.” In any academic decade, the
world will reflect to some degree its intellectual context. Scholars can look back on
the Aztecs as studied in the 1960s and 1970s, and find a sturdy eco-world model with
clean systemic lines, combining solid baseline data on populations and settlements with
the new review of old documents of many kinds. Of the many valuable studies published
in this fertile period, among the most outstanding in reach and grasp was Charles
Gibson’s Aztecs Under Spanish Rule, published in 1964. The book laid out the
socioeconomic, political, and ideological relations of native Americans and their
immigrant overlords in the contact and Colonial periods. Gibson’s world of the Aztecs
pulsed with everyday detail — lawsuits and congregaciones, export lists and tax rolls
— all woven into a lively and exhaustively documented reconstruction.

Since the 1960s, scholars have uncovered and analyzed important features of the
Aztec world, changing the basic model to reflect an improved understanding of economic
and social relations, political power struggles, and the complexities of the belief
system. Gruzinski’s The Conquest of Mexico, originally published as La colonisation de
l’imaginaire in 1988 and now translated into English, is an excellent analysis of Aztec
belief systems highlighted against the European ideological and intellectual tradition
with which they were compelled to join. Gruzinski’s approach combines a substantial
weight of accumulated evidence with a balance of sources and their interpretation, all
made highly accessible by the author’s readable style and willingness to engage in
speculation about meanings. This book is a rare specimen: the reliable source combined
with fascinating discourse.

Gruzinski’s book inquires into the realm of ideology at several levels: it is a
richly documented reconstruction of the shifting relations of native Mexicans and new
migrants, and it is an absorbing epistemological treatise, challenging us to question
the nature of reality and the real, and whether such matters can ever be adequately
resolved. For example, one of Gruzinski’s major themes is the effect of the
introduction of writing on native culture — a “revolution in modes of expression,”
“restructuring and altering the Indian view of things,” thus changing “the indigenous
memory” and transforming its Index. Such “modifications in the Indian relationship to
time and space” suggest “to what extent could the Indian peoples’ perception of the
real and the imaginary have changed” (p. 2). These are far-reaching concerns, yet
Gruzinski’s study is firmly anchored in empirical reality. He discusses the changes
wrought by the “substitution of alphabetic for pictographic representation” (p. 52).
The words themselves, in songs and prayers and annals, could be saved, and represented
an important sector of the intellect.

The intellect, however, encompasses beliefs, knowledge, and feelings which are
inexpressible through the abstract icons of Latin script. The native paintings revealed
“relations of form and color and spatial effects, offering modes of reading and
multiple approaches… an intuitively and immediately perceptible specificity.” When
the form of representational expression changed — from paintings plus memorized
recitation to writing — there was a loss of information-carrying potential. And this
erosion of the cultural fabric “extended beyond the realm of intellectual or aesthetic
categories to become a question of the implicit basis for any representation of
reality” (p. 53). What elements from the old, richly expressed story do you select to
translate it into its new encoding?

If the new code is much simpler (and more efficient, in terms of simply preserving
the narrative), then the loss of accompanying information will cause ramifications
throughout the culture. Here, says Gruzinski, “we are touching on the deepest and least
explored sediments of a culture, those which, never explicit and never questioned, make
up the singularity of a cultural configuration.” Giving up painting books was more than
a repudiation of the pre-Columbian “way of grasping reality,” but also a distancing
from painting’s ritual uses, and even from the ideological trappings of native paper
itself, its use to hold the drops of blood and rubber that spoke silently and fervently
to the spirits of the ancient world.

And what of the words spoken aloud, the verbal monuments to a culture whose highest
leaders were called speakers? Gruzinski discusses the Colonial-period expressions of
the valued skills of oratory and rhetorical composition, noting how these talents were
redirected and nurtured as part of the Christian conversion process. He also considers
what was lost: an entire performance context, the formalized roles, and the pageantry
of the spatial presentation that had worked together to form a ritualized event, heavy
with meaning and completely, vitally alive.

Yet the Nahua tradition of producing skilled orators did not cease with the
conquest. Gruzinski details this and other areas in which the Aztecs mastered and
excelled at European-style variants of their own cultural strengths. Nor does he
underestimate the role of the terrible 16th century demographic collapse in
transforming the culture. Rather, his emphasis, and the perspective he encourages the
reader to take, is one of sensitivity to the range of adjustments necessary to
syncretism. Think not so much of Spanish Inquisitorial manifestoes (while respecting
their considerable power) but perceive, instead, the myriad ways in which the nuanced
complex of beliefs began to disintegrate, some parts of the belief system fading or
collapsing from “disqualification, decontextualization… withdrawal of connotations
from the field, or distancing” (p. 69).

The power of Gruzinski’s book to inform while provoking thought is exemplified in
the conclusion of the first chapter, “Painting and Writing.” He briefly speculates on
the lessons of the Mexican experience, how it “illustrates the course of a culture
which suddenly shifts from the image to writing, the reverse of what we can observe
around us today.” (p. 69). In these few words he casts the situation under study, so
alien and distant in time, into terms applicable to our modern information revolution,
the new age wherein learning to read is a secondary experience to tracking visual
imagery. The reader has just been immersed in a consideration of the Aztec experience,
and now begins to think along these lines to interpret modern life, seeing how costumes
and postures so rich with meaning and belief in one generation pass into obsolescence
in the next. No doubt many of us have mixed feelings about the information revolution
we are witnessing, viewing with dismay the shift in the popular culture away from
reading as a most fundamental daily activity for any literate person, to reading as
perceived by many young people as difficult and certainly a less desirable means of
acquiring information than video images.

Considering the reflective aspects of reading, of the exercise of concentration and
imagination, one feels that something very worthwhile has been lost from the common
consciousness. Thus, by means of logical reasoning, the reader of The Conquest of
Mexico has been brought to a position of empathy with the Aztecs, who were caught in
their own information revolution. And the reader must further conclude that when the
experience of reading a book engages the mind on so many worthwhile levels at once,
reading this book is, indeed, a valuable experience.

Susan Toby Evans
Pennsylvania State University

Illustrations this issue

The illustrations that appear in this issue were taken from Montezuma: ou
l’apogée et la chute de l’empire aztèque by Michel Graulich. Paris:
Fayard, 1994. ISBN 2-213-59303-5.


Editor’s note: For privacy reasons, Directory mailing lists are only provided on the print version. If you have any questions, please contact the editor.

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