Editor’s note: This content is archival.
November 1995, Number 20
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
- News Items
- Book Reviews
- America’s First Cuisines. By Sophie D. Coe. Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1994. Pp. x+276. $35.00 (cloth) ISBN 0-292-71155-7. $14.95
(paper) ISBN 0-292-71159-X. Reviewed by Barbara J. Petit.
- Montezuma ou l’apogée et la chute de l’empire
aztèque. By Michel Graulich. Paris: Fayard, 1994. Pp. ix+520. ISBN 2213593035.
Reviewed by Jacqueline de Durand-Forest.
- The History of the Indies of New Spain. By Fray Diego
Durán. Translated, annotated, and with an introduction by Doris Heyden.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. Pp. vii+642. $49.95 (cloth). ISBN
0-8061-2649-3. Kay A. Read.
- Between Worlds: Interpreters, Guides, and Survivors. By
Frances Karttunen. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. Pp. xiv+364. $24.95
(cloth) ISBN 0-8135-2030-4. Bernard Ortiz de Montellano
- Illustrations in this Issue
- Directory Updates
Nahua Newsletter News
Welcome to the Nahua Newsletter. With this issue we complete ten years of
publication in the service of scholars and students of the culture, history, and
language of Nahuatl-speaking peoples. Our subscription list continues to grow and we
now surpass 360 readers living in fifteen different countries. This issue contains news
notes, requests for information, announcements of publications, a list of used books
for sale, book reviews, and an update of the membership directory. The full directory
will be published in a future issue.
We would like to thank the many readers who have sent generous donations to help
offset costs of printing and mailing the NN. Without their generosity we would be
unable to meet expenses. Funding continues to be a problem for the NN, particularly as
many universities in the United States, including the Indiana University system, face
budget cutbacks. Just as institutional funds are becoming scarce, we have been hit with
a significant increase in the price of paper and, far more serious, foreign postal
rates have jumped for the first time in several years. Please continue to send your
donations to the address listed below. All funds are applied to printing and mailing
the newsletter — there are no administrative costs.
Publishers are showing increased interest in the NN and they are sending greater
numbers of books to be reviewed. Of particular note, publishers in Mexico, such as the
Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS)
and the Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI), have shown special interest in having
their new publications reviewed in the NN. We want to thank all of the readers who have
recently agreed to evaluate books and urge those who are a year or more behind in
submitting their reviews to please forward them as soon as possible.
In tremendous appreciation of their service to Nahua scholarship, we acknowledge the
following individuals who have published reviews in the NN, beginning with issue #13,
- John Bierhorst
- Nancy J. Black
- Richard E. Blanton
- Danièle Dehouve
- James Dow
- Jacqueline de Durand-Forest
- Susan Toby Evans
- Catherine Good
- Carlos Garma Navarro
- Harold B. Haley
- Herbert R. Harvey
- Robert J. Jeske
- Lawrence A. Kuznar Michael H. Logan
- Hugo G. Nutini
- Bernard Ortiz de Montellano
- Barbara J. Petit
- Michael Pisani
- Paul Proulx
- Paul Jean Provost
- Kay A. Read
- Alan R. Sandstrom
- John Frederick Schwaller
- Juan Adolfo Vazquez
John M. Weeks Michael Smith has written that he would like to see more short
descriptions of people’s research and work in progress. We certainly agree and urge
everyone to take a few minutes from their busy schedules to write and let readers know
what they are up to. The NN is not only a medium for keeping others informed of your
work but it should also be used to make crucial contacts with other experts in the
It is a pleasure to announce that Jane Hill of the University of Arizona is now
President Elect of the American Anthropological Association. Jane, a renowned expert on
Nahua language and culture, is one of the founding members of the informal Nahua Group
that has sponsored symposia at AAA meetings. With Jane’s election, we have succeeded in
infiltrating the most powerful organization of professional anthropologists in the
United States. Having Jane as Huei Tlahtoani, we can confidently expect that her first
act will be to declare Nahuatl as the official language of the American Anthropological
Association. Congratulations to Jane!
Please keep in touch. If the text that you wish to have published exceeds more than
a few lines, please send it on a 3.5-inch disk in WordPerfect or as ASCII text. This
saves work and insures that the message will be accurate. Send all your correspondence
(1) Hugo Nutini has been in correspondence and he raises an interesting issue that
we hope readers will respond to: What do contemporary Nahuas call themselves? In the
Tlaxcala region, the term “Mexicano” is apparently used to refer to the Nahuatl
language but not to the people who speak it. In the Huasteca, Mexicano is also used to
refer to Nahuatl but it may also refer to the people themselves. The term “Nahua,”
while often recognized by Nahuatl-speakers, is not used for self-reference. A common
word that Nahuas employ when speaking of themselves is masehuali (pl. masehualmej),
(macehualli, pl. macehualtin, in the Karttunen dictionary) but in the Huasteca, at
least, this word is used as well for any Indian group to distinguish that group from
mestizos. In the Huasteca and other regions, Nahuas call any non-Indian coyotl (pl.
coyomej). Older people in the Huasteca call themselves mexijcatl (pl. mexijcaj) when
distinguishing their ethnic group from other Indians, but members of the younger
generations avoid this term. In the soon-to-be-published Encyclopedia of World
Cultures, James Taggart lists Macehualmeh, Mexica, Mexicanos, and Sierra Nahuat as
names for the Nahuas he has studied in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, while José
Gonzáles Rodrigo notes that Nahuatl speakers in the state of Mexico have no
distinguishing ethnic name. Please write to the editor with examples of what Nahuas
call themselves in other parts of Mexico. We would also be interested in what others
call the Nahuas from these different areas.
(2) We received this note from Elke Ruhnau of the Ibero-amerikanisches Institut in
Germany: “I have recently been working on the German translation of Chimalpahin’s
Diferentes Historias Originales. The project is sponsored by the Ibero-amerikanisches
Institut PK in Berlin and financially supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft,
the major German grant foundation. The translation will be published next year in one
volume together with the Aztec text in synoptic form. The Aztec text will be based on
the paleography of late Günter Zimmermann and in the case of the first
“Relación,” which is still unpublished, on my own paleography. The text will be
accompanied by explanations of why the translation was done in a specific manner in the
case of difficult passages. For critical glosses, the cognitive background of special
Aztec expressions will be described. A Spanish version of the translation is planned
for the future.”
(3) Paul Jean Provost notes: “I have just returned from the 1995 Midwest
Mesoamericanist meetings at Purdue University. It was a great conference with many
interesting papers. One topic that came up was the problem of nocturnal illumination
technology — how did the Aztecs, Maya, and Olmecs “turn on the lights” at night? By
what means did ancient peoples in Mesoamerica illuminate their domestic settings
(private homes), nocturnal rituals (temples and sacred caves), and public buildings
(palaces, etc.)? Anyone having any information on this topic should contact Paul Jean
Provost, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne,
2101 Coliseum Blvd. East, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805.”
(4) Hedda Scherres sends the following request for information: “I will be carrying
out field research until September 1996 in a Nahuatl-speaking community in the Chilapa
region of Guerrero. I would like to make contact with Mr. Jon Ek who, since the 1950s,
has worked in this area and according to the local people still makes occasional
visits. Does anyone know how I can get in contact with him? I would also be grateful
for any information concerning Mr. Ek or his publications. My postal address until
September 1996 is Hedda Scherres, Lista de Correos, 41100 Chilapa, Guerrero,
(5) Eloise Quiñones Keber writes: “I would like to let your readers know
about three of my recently published books:
“Codex Telleriano-Remensis: Ritual, Divination, and History in a Pictorial Aztec
Manuscript (University of Texas Press, 1995; $75) is the first color photographic
facsimile of this important colonial Mexican manuscript. It is accompanied by a
commentary on the manuscript’s images and annotations.
“Two other books were published by Labyrinthos Press (3064 Holline Court, Lancaster,
CA 93535): Mixteca-Puebla: Discoveries and Research in Mesoamerican Art and Archaeology
(1994; $55), edited by H. B. Nicholson and myself. The book contains 16 essays on this
late postclassic pictorial tradition that flourished mainly in the Puebla/Oaxaca area.
“Chipping Away on Earth: Studies in Prehispanic and Colonial Mexico in Honor of Arthur
J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble (1994; $40), which I edited, is a long-overdue
tribute to these two outstanding contributors to our understanding of Nahua culture.
The homenaje contains 28 articles in five sections dedicated to the Florentine Codex,
Sahagún, native languages and texts, Nahua studies, and the archaeology and
history of Texcoco.
“Another important Labryinthos Press publication is Eduard Seler’s Collected Works
in Mesoamerican Linguistics and Archaeology, a revision of the hard-to-get
Bowditch-sponsored English translation. This new edition also includes illustrations
available only in the original German edition, newly translated articles, and an Index.
This six-volume work is a must for Mesoamericanists and very reasonably priced:
$35/vol. or $175/set prepublication price, with four volumes published to date.”
(6) Emily Umberger writes to inform NN readers that the volume Native Artists and
Patrons in Colonial Latin America she edited with Tom Cummins has been published and is
now available for purchase: In addition to a preface, the volume contains the following
articles: “Synthesis and Survival” by Jeanette Favrot Peterson; “Adaptation and
Accommodation” by Ellen T. Baird; “The Madonna and the Horse” by Tom Cummins; “Colonial
Visions” by Carlos Espinosa; and “Who’s Naughty and Nice” by Carolyn S. Dean. The
collection is Volume 7 of Phoebus: A Journal of Art History, published by the School of
Art of Arizona State University. For copies, write to Emily Umberger, School of Art,
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-1505. The price is $15 and checks should be
made payable to School of Art, ASU.
(7) Alan R. Sandstrom wishes to note the publication of an article with co-author
Tsai Wen-hui entitled “The Fate of the Soul in Chinese and Aztec Civilizations: A
Comparative Study of Religious Ideology and the State”: “The article will be published
in January 1996 in the Proceedings of the National Research Council of the Republic of
China 6(1):1-14. Using a theoretical framework elaborated by sociologist Guy Swanson,
the paper compares shared beliefs concerning personal eschatology in classical Aztec
and Chinese societies. We show that for the Aztecs the way an individual died was the
controlling factor in determining the soul’s fate, while for the classical Chinese it
was conformity to state-established rules of conduct. We argue that beliefs about the
fate of the soul are an important mechanism used by the state apparatus to impose
ideology on people. Anyone who would like a copy should write to Alan R. Sandstrom,
Department of Anthropology, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, 2101
Coliseum Blvd. East, Fort Wayne, IN 46805.”
“My entry for the Supplement to the Handbook of Middle American Indians, entitled
“Contemporary Cultures of the Gulf Coast,” is currently being prepared for publication.
It covers ethnographic research since the mid-1960s on Gulf Coast Nahuas, Huastecs,
Totonacs, Tepehuas, and Zoque-Popolucas. I have been asked by the editor to add Gulf
Coast Chontols and Chols to my coverage. If anyone knows of bibliographies or key
sources on these groups, I would appreciate hearing from them.”
(8) Susan Kellogg sends the following description of her new book Law and the
Transformation of Aztec Culture, 1500-1700 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995).
According to the book jacket, the book “tells the story of how Spanish law served as an
instrument of cultural transformation and adaptation in the lives of the indigenous
population during the first two centuries of colonial rule. It shows that law had an
impact on numerous aspects of daily life, especially gender relations, patterns of
property ownership and transmission, and family and kinship organization. Seemingly
small changes in behavior patterns led to new kinds of cognitive patterns, which in
turn further shaped behavior and societal structures.
“Based on a wide array of local-level Spanish and Nahuatl documentation and an
intensive analysis of seventy-three lawsuits over property involving Indians resident
in Tenochtitlán/Mexico City that were heard by the Real Audiencia between 1536
and 1700, this work clearly shows that legal documentation offers important clues to
underlying cultural assumptions, attitudes, and perceptions. While most colonial
“Aztec” studies have focused on macro-level structural changes, this book brings a
highly empirical focus on everyday life.
“Although the work reflects contemporary and theoretical developments in social and
literary theory, it also brings a unique ethnographic and textual approach to the
subject. This clearly written, even-handed treatment of the late pre-Hispanic and early
colonial periods will be of interest to students of colonialism, law, gender, and
social theory as well as to historical and anthropological specialists in pre-Hispanic
and colonial Mesoamerica.”
(9) Carlos Garma Navarro writes that he and Robert Shadow have edited a recently
published volume entitled Las peregrinaciones religiosas: Una aproximación
(Serie Iztapalapa: Texto y Contexto, México, D.F.: Universidad Autónoma
Metropolitana Unidad Iztapalapa, División de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades,
1994). The following write-up describes the collection: “En este libro el lector
podrá encontrar referencias a varios puntos importantes en la descripción
y análisis de las peregrinaciones y procesiones desde la perspectiva de la
antropología. Los ensayos aquí reunidos se refieren a la práctica
cultural en localidades diversas, desde los santuarios importantes como el Tepeyac y
Chalma, hasta centros religiosos regionales menos conocidos y estudiados. Los estudios
abarcan aspectos diferentes del fenómeno de la peregrinación, tales como
la participación femenina, la posición social de los integrantes, la
relación con el ritual y el espacio simbólico, entre otros. Esta obra
colectiva intenta mantener viva la discusión sobre una manifestación de
creencias que continúa teniendo relevancia en las vivencias de numerosas
personas en el país y que requiere de mayor atención de parte de los
investigadores de las ciencias sociales.”
(10) Bernard Ortiz de Montellano announces the publication of two works that he and
his mother Thelma have translated from Spanish into English: Life and Death in the
Templo Mayor by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, and Mexico and Utopia by Georges Baudot. Both
works were published in 1995 by the University Press of Colorado.
(11) Jacqueline de Durand-Forest writes to announce publication of Mille ans de
civilisation mèsoaméricaine in two volumes: Des Mayas aux Azteques: Danse
avec les dieux and La quete du cinquième soleil: Homage à Jacques
Soustelle. The volumes are edited by Jacqueline de Durand Forest and Georges Baudot and
published in Paris by Editions L’Harmattan (1995).
(12) Charles W. Johnson writes: “I would like to introduce you to a series of essays
that I am publishing on an independent basis. In Earth/matriX, I shall be offering
essays on the findings of my research regarding science in ancient art work.
“Although the series begins with essays on the reckoning systems and related art
work of ancient Mesoamerica, other essays will be treating the giant drawings of Nazca,
Peru, and the pyramids of Giza. Comparative studies will follow on the pyramids of
Teotihuacán and Palenque. The purpose of these studies is to understand the
astronomy, geometry, and mathematics of the designs and patterns within ancient art.”
Following is a listing of the first thirteen numbers:
No. 1, The Integer (20) Calendar Reckoning and Astronomical Tables: Ancient Mexico,
No. 2, The Aztec Calendar: The Pointer, 1995. 15pp.
No. 3, The Aztec Calendar: Patterns within the Day-Glyph Ring, 1995. 19pp.
No. 4, The Aztec Calendar: Spatial Divisions, 1995. 20pp.
No. 5, The Aztec Calendar: Spatial Divisions of the 365c, 584c, and 780c Calendar
Rounds, 1995. 8pp.
No. 6, Squaring The Circle: Methods of Calculation, 1995. 25pp.
No. 7, Encuentro entre Teotihuacán y Tenochtitlán: un análisis del
concepto de movimiento en la piedra del sol y las pirámides de
Teotihuacán, 1995. 50pp.
No. 8, The 260c Calendar: A Possible Origin, 1995. 18pp.
No. 9, The Temple of Quetzalcoatl: A 64/66 Count, 1995. 18pp.
No. 10, The Aztec Calendar:The Inner Rings — A Possible Method of Calculation, 1995.
No. 11, Cosmic Time: The 260c Calendar, 1995. 10pp.
No. 12, Numbers in Ancient Mesoamerica: Duplatio and Mediatio, 1995. 16pp.
No. 13, The Aztec Calendar: The Ring of Flames, 1995. 12pp.
Copies of these essays may be ordered from: Earth/MatriX, P.O. Box 231126, New
Orleans, LA 70123-1126. Essays are $5.00 each, plus $1.50 shipping and handling.
(13) Notice received about grants: “The Foundation for the Advancement of
Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. was formed in 1993 to foster increased understanding of
ancient Mesoamerican cultures. The foundation aims to assist and promote scholars who
might otherwise be unable to complete their programs of research and synthesis by
hosting an annual grant competition.
“The foundation grants are awarded to the most well-qualified scholars regardless of
degree level. However preference is for non-academic professionals, recent graduates,
and degree candidates who are currently involved in fully-developed programs of study
and/or research. Other qualifications being equal, preference is given to candidates
who have not had extensive prior opportunities for grant-supported research of ancient
Mesoamerican cultures and to candidates whose projects have the most likelihood of
achieving new understandings and/or wide institutional and geographic interest.
“Send inquiries to: Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc.,
268 South Suncoast Boulevard, Crystal River, Florida 34429 / E-mail: email@example.com
/ Fax: (904) 795-1970.”
(14) Mesoamerican manuscripts solicited: “The Institute for Mesoamerican Studies
solicits book manuscripts on all aspects of Mesoamerican studies, including
archaeology, ethnology, ethnohistory, linguistics, epigraphy, art history, and
historical anthropology. We publish two series. The first is IMS Monographs —
large-format books (8.5″ x 11”) that present new findings and research results. We aim
to publish high-quality specialized studies that may be difficult to publish through
traditional commercial or university presses. Two IMS Monographs are currently in
production: a reprinting (with new preface) of Phoneticism in Maya Hieroglyphic
Writing, edited by John Justeson and Lyle Campbell, and Hach Winik: The Lacandon Mayas
of Southern Mexico, an ethnography by Didier Boremanse. The second series is Studies in
Culture and Society, books with a broader analytical, integrative, or interpretive
focus. Economies and Polities in the Aztec Realm, edited by Mary Hodge and Michael
Smith, was recently published in this series, and we are now producing On Discourse and
Practice in the New World, a two-volume set edited by Gary Gossen. All IMS books are
published in paperback editions and are distributed by the University of Texas
“For a style guide or more information contact: Editor, Institute for Mesoamerican
Studies, Social Science 263, State University at Albany (SUNY), Albany, NY 12222 / Tel:
(518) 442 4722 / Fax: (518) 442-5710. We ask authors to submit a prospectus before
(15) Can anyone supply the Nahua Newsletter editor with the current address of
Richard Haly, formerly at the Department of Religious Studies, University of
California, Santa Barbara? Thanks.
(16) Listed below are the latest used and out-of-print books offered by Quabbin
Books, P.O. Box 14, New Salem, MA 01355. All new customers and all customers living
outside of the United States must send payment (check or money order) with the order.
Money will be refunded for any titles no longer available. All books are unmarked and
in good to excellent condition unless otherwise noted. Any book may be returned for any
reason for full refund (postage excepted).
ANNIS, SHELDON. God and Production in a Guatemalan Town. Univ. of Texas Pr., 1987.
196 pp., 36 illus. 16.00
BOURGOIS, PHILIPPE I. Ethnicity at Work: Divided Labor on a Central American Banana
Plantation. Johns Hopkins Univ. Pr., 1989. 311 pp. (o.p.) 17.00
BURKHOLDER, MARK & LYMAN JOHNSON. Colonial Latin America. Oxford Univ. Pr.,
1990. 360 pp. 16.00
BURNS, ALLAN F. Maya in Exile: Guatemalans in Florida. Temple Univ. Pr., 1993. 208
pp. (paperbound) 11.00
COLBY, BENJAMIN, and PIERRE VAN DEN BERGHE. Ixil Country: A Plural Society in
Highland Guatemala. Univ. of Calif. Pr., 1969. 218 pp. 16.50
EDMONSON, MUNRO. The Book of the Year: Middle American Calendrical Systems. Univ. of
Utah Pr., 1988. 313 pp. (library copy) 18.50
FOSTER, GEORGE M. Empire’s Children: The People of Tzintzuntzan. Smithsonian Inst.,
1948. 296 pp., 16 plates. (paperbound) 14.00
FOSTER, GEORGE M. A Primitive Mexican Economy [Popoluca of Veracruz]. Univ. of
Washington Pr., 1966 (orig. ed. 1942). 115 pp. 15.50
HANKE, LEWIS. The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America. Univ. of
Penn. Pr., 1949. 217 pp. 16.50
HARVEY, H. R., ed. Land and Politics in the Valley of Mexico: A Two Thousand-Year
Perspective. Univ. of New Mexico Pr., 1991. 325 pp., 15 illus. (ip 35.00) 16.50
HASKETT, ROBERT. Indigenous Rulers: An Ethnohistory of Town Government in Colonial
Cuernavaca. Univ. of New Mexico Pr., 1991. 294 pp. 17.00
JOSEPH, GILBERT M. Rediscovering the Past at Mexico’s Periphery: Essays on the
History of Modern Yucatan. Univ. of Alabama Pr., 1986. 203 pp., 120 photos (i.p. 30.00)
LOPEZ AUSTIN, ALFREDO. The Myths of the Opossum: Pathways of Mesoamerican Mythology.
448 pp., 16 illus. (i.p. 39.95) 17.50
LOVELAND, CHRISTINE A., and FRANKLIN O. LOVELAND, eds. Sex Roles and Social Change
in Native Lower Central American Societies. Univ. of Illinois Pr., 1982. 185 pp.
MADSEN, WILLIAM. The Virgin’s Children: Life in an Aztec Village Today.
Greenwood Pr., 1960, repr. 1969. 248 pp., num. illus. (ip 48.50) 17.00
McBRYDE, FELIX W. Cultural and Historical Geography of Southwest Guatemala.
Smithsonian Inst., 1945. 184 pp., 25 maps, 47 plates (paperbound). Underlining on two
pp. of introduction by J. Julian Steward. 13.50
NADER, LAURA. Harmony Ideology: Justice and Control in a Zapotec Mountain Village.
343 pp., 12 pp. of photos, maps (i.p. 45.00) 19.00
REED, NELSON. The Caste War of Yucatan. Stanford Univ. Pr., 1964. 14.00
SPICER, EDWARD H. Potam: A Yaqui Village in Sonora. AAA Memoir 77, 1954. 220 pp., 4
plates (paperbound) 14.00
STOLL, DAVID. Between Two Armies: In the Ixil Towns of Guatemala. Columbia Univ.
Pr., 1993. 383 pp. (paperbound) 14.00
TAX, SOL, ed. Indian Tribes of Aboriginal America: Selected Papers of the XXIXth
Congress of Americanists. Cooper Square, 1967 (orig. ed. 1952) 410 pp. (o.p.) 19.00
WOLF, ERIC. Sons of the Shaking Earth: The People of Mexico and Guatemala. Univ. of
Chicago Pr., 1959. 303 pp. (o.p. cloth) 15.00
America’s First Cuisines. By Sophie D. Coe. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. Pp. x+276. $35.00 (cloth) ISBN 0-292-71155-7. $14.95 (paper) ISBN 0-292-71159-X.
The late Sophie Coe’s America’s First Cuisines provides tantalizing snapshots of
Native American cuisine and culture, especially at the first intersection with the
Europeans. This volume can be both sublime and sublimely frustrating, but it must not
be missed by anyone professing a serious interest in America’s cuisines for scientific
or gustatory reasons.
Coe sets as the goal of her book “to describe the complex and highly developed
culinary traditions of the New World” (p. 8) in order to celebrate their contribution
to the food of the contemporary world. In this effort she divides her discussion into
two sections. The first part catalogs New World foodstuffs, distinguishing staples and
produce. The second, more fascinating section discusses the three culturally distinct
cuisines of the Aztec, the Maya, and the Inca, offering detailed descriptions of
culinary practices and events as well as pointing out some of the pitfalls that plague
the enterprise of reconstructive research.
The author spends some time initially defining basic but critical concepts that make
this work accessible both to the academic and the lay reader. These concepts include,
for example, domestication — especially as it applies to plants. It is amusing to note
that a primary function of domestication is to denude plants of their natural defenses
that permit survival in the wild, extirpating bristles, hair, thorns, shells, and just
plain bad taste. Coe’s personal observations regarding the driving force of taste as
opposed to simple nourishment are difficult to dispute as we enjoy account after
account of culinary events. She defines the Maillard effect as the process of
“roasting, baking, or frying produced a browning caused by turning the starches into
sugars…. [making] flavors more complicated, more interesting, and in every way
superior to the original raw material” (p. 7). (Who among us has not savored the rich
flavors and aromas of caramelization, from succulent browning onions to the
hyper-processed toasted marshmallow?) Food treatment is categorized into four basic
approaches: cooking, grinding, soaking, and fermentation, all of which are examined in
detail in sections that follow.
After laying essential groundwork, the reader is invited to review a
New-World-product hit parade, starting with (of course) that culinary workhorse, maize.
Central to this discussion is the fundamental necessity of a carbohydrate staple
(“bread”) for survival. Whether this commodity equates to the European concept of bread
made of wheat, or rice as a staple for Asian cultures, the availability of corn in the
Americas meant that the population was fed and secure. The provision of sustenance
created an environment where the staple grain was revered, ritually handled, and
guarded. Coe’s examples are wonderful here: the Aztec woman who breathes on the maize
before putting it in the pot so it will not fear the fire; the European practice of
kissing a piece of bread that has fallen on the floor “to expiate the carelessness of
dropping it” (p. 10). These intimate customs add a rich dimension to the concept of the
staff of life.
In this first section Coe discusses extensively the process of “nixtamalization,” or
the cooking of corn in lime water to increase its nutritional value as well as to
preserve it for future use. It is difficult to imagine how the development of this
complex process actually occurred. The author does however, relish the thought of
European interlopers suffering at the hands of protein-deficiency diseases because they
did not partake in nixtamalized products. This politically correct attitude permeates
Coe’s work, which is punctuated with railings aimed at certain groups of contemporary
researchers as well as at the ethnocentric European invaders. The author clearly
delineates her own views and prejudices, and perhaps this approach liberates readers by
eliminating their need to worry about hidden biases.
As the review of New World products continues it is easy to get bogged down in the
nomenclature of beans and squashes and their endless varieties. So it is a pleasure to
read about the introduction to Europe of the pineapple — a novelty of court life that
quickly became one of the first status symbols of the conquest, adapted into royal
gardens and architecture. Another curiosity is the queer avocado, one of the rare
fruits that contains a large amount of oil (as do olives and coconut). The avocado,
cultivated by about 5,000 B.C., was eaten by the Aztecs as ahuaca-mulli, a sauce mixed
with tomato and onion identical to modern guacamole. For those of us who recall that
guacamole is a very recent addition to the cuisine of the United States, the
preservation of this dish for millennia is remarkable.
The brief section on chocolate is irresistible as one observes that all the methods
of food treatment — grinding, cooking, fermentation, and soaking, not to mention
frothing — are applied to this foodstuff despite the fact that it is not nutritionally
important. Again the concept of taste asserts itself as a force in culinary selection
and food is observed being used ritualistically. Significantly, chocolate represents
the first introduction of a stimulant beverage in Europe; coffee and tea were not
popularized in Europe until the middle of the 17th century.
The final three-quarters of the book are devoted to an exposition of the known
evidence and documentation of the culinary practices of the Aztecs, the Maya, and the
Inca. This fascinating treatment begins with the Aztecs, about whom the greatest amount
of information exists. Coe enjoys building a profile of her informants that gives us
insight into the times. For instance, we hear about the paranoia of one the royals of
Spain with regard to the extensive research of friar Bernardino de Sahagún, an
early and very invaluable ethnographer of the Aztecs: “while it is understood that
friar Bernardino did this with the best intentions, and hoped that his work would be
useful, it is my opinion that this book should not be printed or circulated in any
manner” (pp. 66-67).
As luck would have it, however, the work of Sahagún and other careful
observers survived and provide a vivid picture of Aztecan society. Early descriptions
of an Aztec banquet and two other banquets typical of the merchant class set the tone,
documenting complex etiquette as well as extensive preparation of interesting and
expensive dishes. One sophisticated aspect of Aztec culture revealed here is people’s
prudence in food and drink. Eating and drinking were meant to be done slowly,
thoughtfully, and without excess. Fermented beverages were strictly controlled and used
ritualistically. The good table manners of the Aztecs clearly made an impression on the
Europeans, as revealed in the observation that “You are not to put a large amount in
your mouth; you are not to swallow it unchewed…. [a]nd when you are about to eat, you
are to wash your hands” (p. 82). The modest quantity of food consumed by the average
Aztec adult and especially the lack of fat in the diet were a surprise to the
Europeans. The Aztecs were disgusted by the fatty foods favored by the Europeans with
their meat-laden diet. Instead, they valued an extensive range of spices and
flavorings, especially chili and salt. In fact, the primary characteristic of ritual
Aztec fasting is to give up these two condiments.
Coe richly describes the Aztec larder, cooking techniques, and menus, weaving into
her discussion key historical influences on Aztec society and its culinary outgrowth.
She then turns her attention to the Maya culture and finally to the Incas of Peru,
delivering for each region colorful commentary and enriching insight. The flaws that
exist in this book are mainly technical — a lack of consistent source documentation
and a painfully underdeveloped Index — and they unfortunately reduce the usefulness of
the work. However, these problems do not argue against a strong recommendation for
America’s First Cuisines. Appropriate for any interested reader as well as for the
academic consumer, this volume presents a wealth of excellent information and is a
Montezuma ou l’apogée et la chute de l’empire aztèque. By Michel Graulich. Paris: Fayard, 1994. Pp. ix+520. ISBN 2213593035.
Podriamos creer que después de la publicación de diversos estudios
relativos a Montezuma y de la tesis doctoral de Carmen Val-Julian, Les
postérités de Moctezuma, este personaje no nos guardaba ningun secreto.
Pero Michel Graulich nos muestra lo contrario subrayando los puntos de su
acción, de su historia que son en su favor.
Este soberano se diferenció de los otros por las reformas que llevó a
cabo en diferentes dominios como el calendario o la política. Primeramente,
reemplazó los dignitarios y los funcionarios de las diversas provincias del
imperio nombrados por su predecesor Ahuitzotl. Además quisó rodearse de
los hijos de los grandes señores de México y de las otras ciudades para
ocuparse de su educación y asi conseguir su absoluta lealdad. Hasta los
principes de las provincias llegaron a ser sus “secuestrados,” puesto que estaban
obligados de residir en México algunos meses al año y cuando volvian eran
reemplezados por un hermano o un hijo.
En el campo de la política exterior, Montezuma tendió hacia la
uniformización, la consolidación de los territorios adquiridos, y la
reducción de los territorios todavía independientes. Bajo su reino, los
tributos aumentaron. Por otra parte, las Leyes suntuarias acentuaron las diferencias
sociales. Se opusó a la ascensión social de los pochteca, a pesar de su
papel indispensable en la economía y en la expansión azteca.
Además, las sanciones penales fueron reforzdas. En una palabra, Montezuma se
hubiera encaminado hacia la monarquia absoluta, lo que explicaría su
predilección por los nobles.
Otro reproche, todavía más grave que se le hacé es su orgullo
al punto de considerarse como un dios. Sin duda alguna, el rey azteca era ciertamente
la imagen viviente (ixiptla) de los dioses, recibió una parcela de divinidad al
ser eligido soberano, aún sin que la realeza sea divina.
Sin embargo, como lo muestra M. Graulich, nada nos indica que Montezuma
buscará su propia divinidad. El orgullo desmesurado que se le acordaron los
azteca les permitió, una vez vencidos por los españoles explicar el
desmoronamiento de su universo.
Esta voluntad de ver en Montezuma el responsable del fin de una era, confiere a
algunas fuentes, como la Cronica X, cierta parcialidad, en el relato de la conquista.
Primero este texto combina los datos de la llegada de Grijalva con los de la llegada
posterior de Cortés. En segundo lugar, quiere mostrar que una vez pasada la
alerta, Montezuma volvió a su orgullo desmesurado, para finalmente caer en una
angustia, un miedo paralizante que le condujó a su perdida y a la de su
En este ensayo, M. Graulich trata de reabilitar Montezuma y testimonia de la
voluntad de instruir su injusto proceso en una perspectiva moderna. El traduce en
terminos contemporaneos el conflicto entre Montezuma y Cortés, la
oposición entre una civilización particular y la concepción
universalista, uniformante de los españoles, portadora de destrucción, a
The History of the Indies of New Spain. By Fray Diego Durán. Translated, annotated, and with an introduction by Doris Heyden. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. Pp. vii+642. $49.95 (cloth). ISBN 0-8061-2649-3.
Fray Diego Durán, was a “…child of two worlds” (p. xxvii), an immigrant
Spaniard who, although claiming Spain’s Seville as his birthplace, was raised from
early childhood in New Spain’s Texcoco and Mexico City. He lived in the most opportune
and perhaps most confusing of worlds possible, that point of the 16th century at which
Indians who had been born in pre Conquest times still existed side by side with those
who had facilitated their downfall, a period in which conflicting memories vied for
recognition, stretching the boundaries of competing realities. As manuals to aid the
inexperienced Dominican clergy with their efforts at converting New Spain’s pagans,
Durán’s History, Book of the Gods and Rites, and Ancient Calendar intended to
bridge those two worlds in practical and accessible ways; he wanted both to inform and
entertain his readers with good stories (p. xxviii).
But as a scholar, Fray Durán managed to do far more than that — he also
provided the 20th-century researcher with some of the richest repositories of
information on pre-Conquest Mexico available today. These treasure troves, as with the
times from which they come, present confusing challenges to the reader, for within
their pages, those two strange and often incommensurate worlds continue to clash at the
very same moments Durán attempts to bridge them. Such contexts come clear in
this new translation of his History, thereby effectively raising for contemporary
scholars the ever-present questions about the nature of Durán’s influence on
their research. But before dealing with any larger issues of what challenging treasures
his History yields, this particular edition deserves careful consideration.
In a most excellent manner, Doris Heyden’s translation of this massive work helps
bridge the centuries between Durán and today’s reader. It is a major
contribution from one of the field’s best. Heyden has spent a lifetime in love with the
documents of ancient Mexico and, with this present effort, her affection has given
birth to fine results. It is well-crafted, professional, and surely as easy to read as
Durán originally intended it to be. It does succeed at both informing its
readers and entertaining them with good stories, and it will be useful and interesting
to specialists and novices alike. I have already tested portions with my own beginning
students and found them to work very well with the completely uninitiated. In fact, if
a less-expensive paperback version were available, it could become a classroom textbook
on a par with the now often-used Conquest of New Spain by the 16th-century Spanish
soldier, Bernal Díaz del Castillo (translated by J. M. Cohen, Penguin Books,
A translation of the History was not only needed but overdue, for no previous
edition could adequately fill both the needs of an English-speaking novice and
Spanish-competent professional. As the first truly complete English translation in
print, this edition of the History fills a gaping hole left by earlier ones, including
the one Heyden herself did in 1964 (The Aztecs: The History of the Indies of New Spain,
New York: Orion Press) with Fernando Horcasitas who, sadly, died before this new
translation could even begin. An English translation not only renders the work
accessible to those whose Spanish skills are either non-existent or weak, but also
means that bilingual scholars now can consult and compare two competent translations,
Heyden’s and that of Angel María Garibay K. (Historia de las Indias de Nueva
España e Islas de Tierra Firme, 2 vols., México: Porrúa, 1984).
Such comparisons can prove highly useful when one lacks easy access to the original,
which is housed in Spain in the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid.
Other earlier editions of the History simply do not rise to the standards of these
two editions. José Fernando Ramírez’ edited copy, made upon discovery of
the original manuscript in the 19th century, while complete, is in Spanish and is full
of inaccuracies (Historia de las Indias de Nueva España e Islas de Tierra Firme,
2 vols., Editora Nacional, 1951). And, while the Spanish is not a difficulty for
English-readers in the earlier edition by Heyden and Horcasitas it nevertheless
contains some of the most serious problems. Unfortunately, it was submitted to poor
editorial decisions. Because it was targeted for that often amorphously conceived
“general” audience, it was abridged drastically; whole chapters were left out and
paragraphs dropped from most of the remaining ones. And for reasons not clear,
illustrations that had nothing to do with the original manuscript were used instead of
Durán’s delightful drawings. These unfortunate decisions meant that not even lay
audiences benefitted very much. It is a mistake to underestimate one’s readers.
Durán’s original work, after all, was intended for the equivalent of a
16th-century lay audience; surely today’s untrained readers are no less intelligent or
serious. Because of the abridgments, specialists may have found it undesirable even to
assign the work to their English-speaking students (I know I did), for it was less than
representative of Durán’s true efforts, missing important details and even
sometimes giving false impressions. The present translation not only is unabridged and
includes the proper illustrations (although it is really too bad they are not in
color), it also shows a marked improvement in its accuracy when compared to that
earlier one; in this effort, Heyden radically reworked the 1964 translation.
The 1994 History contains, in addition to Heyden’s translation from the original
manuscript, a substantive preface and introduction written by her, an appendix
including the introduction from the 1964 edition written by Ignacio Bernal, a
chronological list of Mexica kings, and a glossary of Spanish and Nahuatl terms. Her
preface and introduction extend Bernal’s information on both Durán and the
manuscript itself. With characteristic thoroughness, she even gives her readers the
exact numbers and details needed to find both this manuscript in Madrid and the
Ramírez copy housed in the Archivo Histórico of the Biblioteca Nacional
de Antropología e Historia in Mexico City. This new version also includes a
useful map of the Valley of Mexico (p. 2) not found in the 1964 edition. It would have
been even more useful if a map of the whole area had been included so that one could
follow the progress of the Mexica expansion and the Spanish conquest as they unfold in
Heyden worked according to some very sound principles that help maintain accuracy
without detracting from readability. First, she recognized that it was absolutely
necessary to work from the original manuscript and not just because this avoids
inaccuracies embedded in earlier editions. A translation of, for example, Garibay’s
edition (which is quite decent) would have meant moving from 16th-century Spanish, to
modern Spanish, to English, a risky task indeed. Second, Heyden maintained the
literalness of the passages as much as possible, in spite of the manuscript’s
antiquated Spanish, occasional awkwardness, lack of punctuation, variant spellings of
well-known place-names, and the seeming redundancy of Durán’s style. Third, she
brackets any additions included to facilitate comprehension and uses footnotes to gloss
other passages that otherwise might be unclear. Finally, she also notes where and why
she differs substantially from Garibay’s translation. Such tactics are important for
both retaining the authenticity of the text and allowing readers (both novices and
specialists) to come to their own conclusions. Her footnotes provide just the right
amount of information for beginners to grasp what is going on as well as just enough to
pique a specialist’s interest. Heyden’s long years teaching and studying ancient Mexico
really come through in these notes.
The decision to give the work the fabricated title, The History of the Indies of New
Spain, was a good one. As Bernal points out (p. 567), the lengthy and cumbersome title,
Historia de las Indias de Nueva España e islas de la tierra firme, used by both
Ramírez and Garibay was a misquoted inscription found as the title of the first
chapter and probably was placed there by a copyist. Moreover, it is not even consistent
with the document’s content. Where, indeed, are either the islands (probably the
Antilles) or “tierra firme” (the mainland that later became the Audiencia of Panama)?
However, I do agree with Miguel Leon-Portilla’s advice that the 1994 version should
have replaced the 1964 edition’s use of the term “Aztec” with “Mexica,” something
Heyden chose not to do (p. xxxv). After discussing the history behind the names,
“Azteca” and “Mecitin” (Garibay, p. 28), Durán consistently uses “Mexicanos”
throughout. Although retaining “Aztecs” keeps the 1994 edition consistent with Heyden’s
and Horcasitas’ translation of The Book of the Gods and Rites and The Ancient Calendar
(University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), it seems more important to remain consistent with
the original manuscript.
It is to Heyden’s credit that she recognized the continuing value of Bernal’s
introduction to the 1964 edition choosing, therefore, to retain it in this new one (pp.
565-77). This appendix provides a considerable amount of useful information on the
manuscript, the life of Durán, and the kinds of research tactics and resources
he may have used to write his History. No less importantly, Bernal makes an interesting
argument supporting Robert Barlow’s hypothesis that Durán drew heavily from a
now-lost document dubbed, Cronica X (pp. 571-72). However, I have a few small problems
with the “Chronology of Aztec Kings” (p. 579). Although this list is more accurate than
the genealogical chart included in the 1964 edition (p. 368), the dates in one or two
instances do not jive with Durán’s text. Acamapichtli, for example, is said to
have died in 1404 (p. 57), not 1396, and Durán discusses a second possible date
not given in the chart, 1445, for the death of Motecuhzoma I. (p. 121). The dating of
Mexica rulers’ lives (not to mention their genealogical ties) is some of the most
difficult information to secure. Various sources give competing data and even
Durán sometimes admits his own confusion. Unlike that in the 1964 edition, this
chart does not claim to be based on Durán’s text. But given the difficulties
with these materials, it would have been helpful if Heyden’s sources had been listed,
especially if she was going beyond the History for her data, not only for accuracy’s
sake, but also to let the beginner know how insecure so much of this is. I found no
major problems with the glossary though (pp. 581-93); like Heyden’s footnotes, it
provides just enough to give the beginner some extra information and just enough extra
to enhance the professional’s knowledge a bit. Again Heyden’s lifetime of work shines
The housing under one literary roof of Heyden’s good translation and the additional
information on the manuscript, Durán, and his context helps raise some of the
larger issues concerning the nature of his considerable (and proper) influence on
contemporary scholars. Like his era, Durán was a complicated mix; he praised the
indigenous folk with whom he grew up while also criticizing much in their culture. He
at once sympathized with and despised the Mexica and their pre-Conquest history. Both
Heyden and Bernal note this Janus-like attitude. Bernal goes some distance toward
explaining it by placing Durán within the Renaissance period; the Mexica, as did
Greece’s and Rome’s ancient pagans, made great art and performed wonderful deeds, but
were mistaken in their religion. As a teacher and cleric, Durán had a duty to
uproot the bad while showing the good (p. 577). But as someone living between two
worlds, this hybrid friar also struggled in his own judgment of what was diabolical and
what was honorable.
Such struggles often result in passages that may confuse present readers, for
inconsistencies and misunderstandings are sometimes promoted. A few small examples
might serve as clarification. Many now accept that Durán greatly exaggerated the
number of sacrificial deaths occurring at the coronation of Ahuitzotl and this revision
of Durán seems supported by the very few human remains found in the caches of
the Templo Mayor which lie in contrast to both Durán’s rather gory accounts and
the very bountiful remains of the huge variety of animals, birds, and fish found there
instead (Leonard López Luján, The Offerings of the Templo Mayor of
Tenochtitlan, trans. by Bernard Ortiz de Montellano and Thelma Ortiz de Montellano.
University of Colorado Press, 1994). Likewise, it is difficult to reconcile the massive
gift-giving exchanges and huge cremations Durán says occurred at royal funerals
with the slim physical evidence at the Templo Mayor (López Luján, p. 225,
238). But more subtle inconsistencies exist beyond those that appear as the result of
comparing competing resources.
More difficult are those times when Durán himself is struggling to
understand, for then either his reporting sometimes becomes inconsistent or he seems to
misconstrue what he has seen or heard. For example, perhaps because he came from a
culture whose rulers were oftentimes equated with the sun, Durán emphasizes
throughout the singular importance of the seemingly all-powerful solar-war deity,
Huitzilopochtli, and his close affinity with Mexica kings. Yet when King Axayacatl
dies, a life-like wooden image was made of him that was dressed in the clothing of not
one, but four different deities (p. 294). If one believes the extreme influence of
Durán’s Huitzilopochtli, as with Alfonso Caso and his “people of the sun,” one
will understand the ruler as led by a singularly powerful, almost European deity. But
if one pays closer attention to small details, one may come to understand
Huitzilopochtli as important but not singular and the ruler as embodied with multiple
powers, something more in keeping not only with other resources but with many current
and past Native American concepts concerning multiple souls.
This is not a book, therefore, to be read naively, taking all that is said at face
value. Although he was a tremendous collector of information and had access to those
who had lived in the past and through the Conquest, Durán was no ethnographer in
the simple sense that Heyden suggests he was (p. xxviii); unless, of course, one takes
as cautious a view of modern ethnography as one should take of Durán. And,
perhaps this is the correct way to understand both this ancient friar and today’s field
researchers. First, there are layers upon layers of interpretation embedded within it.
In the History, one finds the stories of a people whose own sense of history included
the conscious rewriting of events to bring them into accord with their particular
calendrically coordinated cosmos; a people who took the position of our group first,
our group best. Moreover, these stories were recorded in multiple ways and by multiple
peoples. It makes a difference if an elder, a youngster, a commoner, an elite, friend,
or enemy is reporting, depicting or performing the tale. Although we may make educated
guesses, Durán never really tells us what his resources are. And his own
16th-century Spanish interests sometimes subtly and sometimes not-so subtly color his
explanations with the rectitude of the Conquest and Christian grace.
Second, even though Durán was proficient in Nahuatl and mimicked that speech
very well in his rendition of formal state addresses, his writing style nevertheless
eliminates almost all of the original Nahuatl, which might have been used to side-step
some of the Spanish influence. Gone from Durán’s tale are the rich, polysemic
metaphoric images, which can enrich and layer a reader’s understanding. Instead we have
a tale told in a style suitable for a European audience; one, therefore, that often
appears more transparent than it is. Durán has simplified his story for the
benefit of his untutored readers.
While Durán certainly was “accurate” and “thorough” (p. xxi), he was so
according to the standards of his own era and his informants were so according to the
differing standards of theirs. This does not devalue the work, however, making it
somehow less central to Mesoamerican studies; to see it that way would be a grievous
mistake. Durán may not have captured his informants with a tape recorder or
video cam, but neither do today’s ethnographers capture their informants with complete
clarity. And if “natives” told Durán what he wanted to hear, such as the old man
from Cholula who told an origin story very like the Bible’s Tower of Babel (pp. 8-9),
so too do today’s “natives” reformulate their tales to fit what they think the
ethnographer might want (or deserves). In both cases, the context of the text needs to
be considered and alternative resources consulted; in both, a healthy dose of suspicion
should govern one’s studies.
In spite of its obvious and not so obvious problems, Duran’s works remain one of the
most centrally important resources on the ancient Mexicans, complemented more than
rivalled only by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún’s Florentine Codex. A competent,
complete English translation of Durán’s History has been long in coming. I, for
one, am very glad it finally has arrived. Doris Heyden has made a tremendous number of
contributions in her productive life. One needs only think of her seminal article on
the mythic and religious import of the cave under Teotihuacan’s Pyramid of the Sun (“An
Interpretation of the Cave Underneath the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan,” American
Antiquity 40, no. 16 (April, 1975), pp. 131-47) or her extensive work on the flora of
ancient Mesoamerica that has been appearing in recent years. Moreover, she has been a
caretaker, guide, and mentor for countless young scholars and a friend and often
common-sensible prod for those who are more experienced. This volume means that both
her good teaching and her valuable common-sense can become accessible to even more who
are interested in those strange folk, the ancient Mexicans.
Between Worlds: Interpreters, Guides, and Survivors. By Frances Karttunen. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. Pp. xiv+364. $24.95 (cloth) ISBN 0-8135-2030-4.
Frances Karttunen has produced a fascinating study of the liminal world of native
interpreters, guides, and informants through a number of short biographies. Most of her
subjects lived in the New World. Dona Marina, La Malinche, Cortés’ guide and
interpreter, was pivotal in the conquest of Mexico. The plight of the Maya caught in
the struggle between the encomenderos and the regular friars is exemplified by Gaspar
Antonio Chi, the ruler of Mani and the interpreter general of Yucatán. Guaman
Poma de Ayala, a frustrated civil servant chronicles the destruction of Inca culture.
Doña Luz Jímenez, who became a life model for many radical artists of the
1920s like Diego Rivera and Jean Charlot, provided an Indian view of the Mexican
Revolution. She also was used as an informant on Nahuatl by Robert Barlow and Fernando
Horcasitas. María Sabina, Mazatec healer and Gordon Wasson’s informant, opened
the floodgates of the intense interest in the 1960s in hallucinogens and suffered the
pilgrimages of the curious as a consequence.
Karttunen also chronicles the experiences of Sacajawea (the guide for the Lewis and
Clark expedition), Sarah Winnemucca (who worked to improve the lives of Native
Americans), Charles Eastman (physician to the Sioux), and Larin Paraske (an
encyclopedic keeper of Karelian folk songs). The book finishes with brief descriptions
of a variety of informants ranging from Eva, a South African Khoikhoi to Laurinda
Andrade, a language teacher from the Azores.
The characters in the book are extraordinary people, uncommonly intelligent,
multilingual, artistic, and tragic. Most were engaged in a bare bones struggle for
survival, and lived in poverty. The women were particularly vulnerable to
marginalization. Some, like Marina, were essentially enslaved and used as means to an
end; others, like Paraske were considered “national treasures” and as ends in
themselves, but poverty and neglect were their common lot. Because of their work and
their behavior the “people between worlds” were shunned and feared by their native
society, and denied integration and rejected by the dominant society. Even Gaspar Chi
and Poma de Ayala, who obtained niches as civil servants not open to the women, felt
the frustration of the waste of their talents.
Karttunen has written a very readable book combining biography, history, and
ethnography. It is an important study and analysis of the dynamics of encounters
between cultures, and of the lonely and difficult path that those who bridged two
worlds tread. Karttunen is a terrific storyteller. I found the book hard to put
In NN #18, James Dow wrote a review of Making the World Safe for Existence:
Celebration of the Saints among the Sierra Nahuat of Chignautla, Mexico by Doren Slade
that was critiqued by Hugo Nutini and Slade in NN #19. The following is Dow’s reply to
“Science and Anthropology: A Response to Slade and Nutini”
I was quite surprised to find myself excoriated both by Doren Slade (1995) and Hugo
Nutini (1995) for my review of Slade’s book Making the World Safe for Existence (Dow
1994). I didn’t realize that as Nutini states, “book reviews should not be the medium
through which intellectual disagreement is expressed” (Nutini 1995:14). In fact most of
the review was taken up with a description of the Index of the book. I probably erred
in the last two of the 16 paragraphs of the review where I discussed problems of
scientific epistemology in anthropology. I realized that this was becoming a hot topic
and I thought it might interest readers, but I did not realize that it was so hot as to
cause flaming retorts. Rather than exacerbate these arguments I would like to apologize
to Slade and Nutini for not trying harder to show more courtesy in my review of the
book. The review was not courteous and clearly unsympathetic but I hope that it was not
grossly unfair. I certainly never thought or wished to imply, as Slade states, that she
be “banished from the realm of anthropology” (Slade 1995:9). On the contrary, I welcome
her contributions. I urge people to read the book.
I feel particularly apologetic because I know how much work it takes to write a
book. I have been in the same place as Slade reading reviews of my books. I agree with
Nutini that strenuous efforts at consideration, courtesy, kindness, and generosity are
probably necessary to keep anthropology a pleasant field in which to work. I am sorry
that I didn’t work harder in that regard. We will be truly working in the Elysian
Fields when we can read reviews of our own works with joy and the hopeful expectation
of receiving new insights.
In addition to the problems of tone and style, Nutini raises some issues concerning
the scientific method in cultural anthropology. It seems to me that I should respond to
them because I have been accused of advocating a “bygone conception of science” (Nutini
1995:12). The topic of science in anthropology is currently on the minds of many
anthropologists as evidenced by the editorial call for commentaries on the subject in
the April 1995 Anthropology Newsletter. I would like to open my response to Nutini with
an anthropological view of science. In this case we might call it the anthropology of
anthropology. Perhaps we can call this post deconstructionism, which may be equated
with anti-deconstructionism or “constructionism.” It is important to describe what
science is because many social scientists — philosophers as well — criticize it
without understanding it well enough (Roscoe 1995).
Anthropologically speaking, science is just one form of knowledge developed by human
cultures. Many other forms of knowledge have served, and are serving, cultures very
well as cultural mechanisms insuring the viability of our species. The special value of
science to people in a culture is what sets it apart from other forms of cultural
knowledge. It is valued in anthropology partly as an historical heritage. Therefore,
one reason for hanging on to the scientific method is simply to maintain the status of
being social scientists. However, as creative explorers in the realms of the intellect,
anthropologists need much more than that. Anthropology is more than an outgrowth of one
cultural tradition — it is an exploration of many cultural traditions. Therefore
anthropology needs more logical and philosophical reasons to value scientific
Science has some peculiar epistemological tenets that reveal the value that it has
to the culture and people that create it. Scientific knowledge is empirical,
replicable, and objective. Empiricality means that scientific knowledge gives human
beings an understanding of a world outside the individual. Its replicability and
objectivity mean that it does not change with the observer or over time and so can be
shared. What this adds up to is cultural knowledge of non individual worlds that can
accumulate and become part of a cultural system. We all know as anthropologists that
culture is a system of thought, including knowledge, that is shared by a group. The
scientific part of this cultural knowledge is an accumulative, sharable, and,
therefore, extremely valuable type of cultural knowledge.
Many of the problems with science as a method in cultural anthropology come from a
false desire to make scientific knowledge purely objective or purely authentic. Because
anthropologists use language to record their observations, perfect objectivity is not
possible. Language contains within it countless unverified assumptions. Yet, relative
objectivity is a valid and extremely useful goal even if perfect objectivity can never
be achieved. This might be said of the natural sciences as well, although the
imprecision and variability in their observations have sources other than language.
The pursuit of authentic knowledge about a people is a dangerous enterprise in
anthropology because authenticity requires validation by the group of people being
investigated. Validation of authenticity is a political process that overrides criteria
of objectivity and empirical verification. Thus the search for authentic knowledge in
anthropology eventually leads away from science. An important part of science is its
theory building, which condenses and communicates its knowledge. I agree with Hempel’s
and Nagel’s suggestions that the social sciences should be creative in the way that
they build theory and form hypotheses.
Much of the post-modern criticism of science hinges on a critique of the proposition
that science leads to a better society. Like many others, I reject the positivistic
notion that science always produces a better society. Yet the benefits of science to
culture seem to outweigh its costs. Technology created by science is an obvious overall
benefit, but there are other numerous benefits. For example, the social sciences have
revealed problems of poverty, overpopulation, etc. It is clear that science makes
culture a better adaptive mechanism. The overall impact of science on people’s lives is
generally positive. Thus anthropologists should value scientific epistemology because
it contributes reliable, accumulative, objective, and useful knowledge in many cultural
Ethnography, the description of culture, can be carried out within the realm of
science. The ethnographic hermeneutic description of culture as a system of meanings is
often thought to contrast with a “positivistic” science. Actually it has little to do
with the knowledge-building aspects of science. Science is a method of developing
knowledge and applies primarily to the theory-building aspect of cultural anthropology.
Nutini writes that “Science is concerned exclusively with process (method) and not with
substance” (Nutini 1995:12). Scientific knowledge about cultural knowledge is possible.
It begins when one formulates a theory about cultural knowledge. The cultural knowledge
should be empirically and objectively formulated as much as possible. For example if
two or more compilers of the same cultural knowledge agree on what it is, then the
ethnographic data has greater objectivity. The reflexivity notion of describing the
process of gathering and formulating cultural knowledge is also a step toward greater
objectivity. A scientific approach can be taken without requiring that ethnographic
descriptions be “uninterested” or “value-free.”
Nutini states that I am wedded to a bygone conception of science like Boas, a
prisoner of empirical facts. This is not true; however, I see contact with an external
reality, whether it be an observation of behavior or an effort to record cultural
knowledge, as one of the foundations of scientific cultural anthropology. I maintain
that empiricism is a key method in contemporary science that is fundamental to the
practice of anthropology. I suggest that one read what is published in anthropology,
even the most flagrant post-modernist critiques, and one will find an effort to
maintain contact with an observed reality.
What I lamented in Slade’s book was her relegation of the hard-won empirical
observations — the ethnography — to a small place beside her theories of the
formation of sacred values. Ethnographic observations and theories should be given at
least equal weight. If a scientific methodology is pursued, theory cannot exist without
observations. Let me put it this way: An ethnographic observation made for one purpose
and even within a different interpretive framework may still be used to support or
reject another theory, but a theory without observations to support it can be used for
nothing. It does not add to scientific anthropological knowledge.
Nutini sees Boas as constrained by empiricism. I see no evidence that Boas was
operating within a physical-science model that demanded operationalization and
verification. Boas should be placed in the context of his times, during which the
opportunities to observe uncontacted cultures were rapidly disappearing. He was
interested in developing a richness in his empirical observations that could be used
for the development of theories about culture. Boas worked with his theories, the
diffusionist ideas of the times, ideas about body motion, ideas about the impact of
culture on behavior and biology, etc. If anyone is a prisoner of ethnographic facts it
is the followers of Clifford Geertz, a symbolic interpretationist who came much later
than Boas (Geertz 1973). Geertz’ thick description leads to the endless accumulation of
emic data without a method of theoretical synthesis (Lett 1987). Thus the symbolists
are greater prisoners of empirical facts than Boas ever was.
Relating observations to theories is the important work of any science. The methods
vary from science to science and within anthropology as well. Nutini wrongfully accuses
me of wanting anthropologists to remain at the level of observation. What he does not
see was that I was criticizing — not “castigating” — Slade for the way that she went
about relating observations to theories. For example, what do you get by calling a
behavior “sacralizing interdependence” rather than “ceremonial redistribution?” One
thing you loose is a connection to lots of other literature that has talked about
ceremonial redistribution in cultures very similar to the one that Slade has studied.
Thus you loose connections to wider observations that you could use to build a more
general theory of Mesoamerican religious systems. Science in anthropology is not
building your own metalanguage into which you translate your ethnographic observations.
Translating one set of observations from a more universal and simpler language into a
more complex metalanguage leaves you still a prisoner of the same empirical facts.
Theory (if it is just a restatement of ethnographic facts in a new metalanguage,
without an ability to synthesize and incorporate facts recorded by other people or
facts that may be gathered in the future and without creating elegant and simplifying
concepts) is not scientific theory but a way of imprisoning one’s self in one’s own
empirical data without having to admit it.
This practice can be part of the academic game. If one can invent the metalanguage
that other people use, perhaps out of the human sense of kindness previously mentioned,
then one achieves status in the game of intellectual competition. It is simply a
feature of academic culture that controls us, perhaps according to Boasian theory. A
little anthropology of anthropology might help us deal with these imprisoning aspects
of academic culture.
I am not a rank empiricist, but I do not think that repackaging observations in a
newly invented analytic language is the standard procedure of modern science. Moving
between verifiable observations, emic recordings, etc., and more synthetic knowledge is
the difficult work of science. Metalanguages have a place and a purpose, but they have
to be carefully constructed to be of use. You just can’t throw out another metalanguage
and have it work in the cultural process of science. You can call it “science” but it
won’t create the knowledge that has the cultural features of science.
Dow, James W. 1994. Review of Making the World Safe for Existence: Celebration of
the Saints among the Sierra Nahuat of Chingnautla, Mexico, by Doren Slade. Nahua
Newsletter No. 18:9 12.
Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.
Lett, James. 1987. The Human Experience: A Critical Introduction to Anthropological
Theory. Boulder: Westview Press.
Nutini, Hugo. 1995. Commentary. Nahua Newsletter No. 19:12-14.
Roscoe, Paul B. 1995. “The Perils of ‘Positivism’ in Cultural Anthropology.”
American Anthropologist 97(3):492-504.
Slade, Doren. 1992. Making the World Safe for Existence: Celebration of the Saints
among the Sierra Nahuat of Chignautla, Mexico. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
__________. 1995. Commentary. Nahua Newsletter No. 19:9-11.
Illustrations this issue
The fine illustrations appearing in this issue were taken from Women & Alcohol
in a Highland Maya Town: Water of Hope, Water of Sorrow. By Christine Eber. Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1995. $40.00 (cloth) ISBN 0-292-72089-0. $18.95 (paper) ISBN