Number 22

Editor’s note: This content is archival.

Nahua Newsletter

November 1996, Number 22

The Nahua Newsletter

A Publication of the Indiana University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Alan R. Sandstrom, Editor

With support from the Department of Anthropology

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne


Nahua Newsletter News

Welcome to the November 1996 Nahua Newsletter, a biannual publication dedicated to
scholars and students with an interest in the language, history, and culture of
Nahuatl-speaking peoples. In this issue you will find news items, announcements,
requests for cooperation, book reviews, and a full directory update. Controversy again
strikes the pages of the NN as Michel Graulich expresses his disagreement with points
made in the review of his latest book contributed by Jacqueline de Durand-Forest (NN
#20). We welcome counterpoint so long as such debate addresses substantive issues of
concern to our wider audience. Readers should feel free to add their own perspectives
and we will continue to publish a commentary section in future issues. As a reader, we
hope that you will find the NN informative and a good way to meet new colleagues,
inform others of your activities, request information, and announce your latest
breakthroughs. In short, please use the NN as a medium for getting your name out and
publicizing your research concerns. We have a target audience of over 360 subscribers
in fifteen countries. Simply send a letter to the editor containing the text that you
wish to have published. If your message is longer that a few lines, kindly provide it
on a diskette in WordPerfect 5.1 or saved as an ASCII text file.

We are overwhelmed by both the commendations and the financial support sent by
readers to the NN over the years. Just since the last issue, we have received
contributions ranging from $10 to $100 to underwrite printing and mailing costs of
future issues. In addition, we have been awarded a $500 International Outreach Grant
from the Office of International Programs of Indiana University. Special thanks are due
to Patrick O’Meara, Dean of the Office of International Programs, and to Roxana Ma
Newman, Assistant Dean. David Cox, former Dean of Arts and Science at IPFW, Russell
Salmon, former director of the Indiana University Center for Latin American and
Caribbean Studies, and Jeff Gould, who is current director, all wrote strong letters in
support of our grant application and they deserve our sincere thanks as well.

We now have enough money for the February and November 1997 issues with a little
left over for the following year. Jeff Gould has vowed to seek support for the NN
through grants and other sources. In the meantime, please continue to send whatever you
can. All contributions go to cover printing and mailing – there are absolutely no
administrative costs. All checks should be made out to “Nahua Newsletter.”

Send your donations, suggestions, or items of noteworthy interest to:

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

Our book reviewers have worked overtime since the last issue and as a result we do
not have room to reprint an updated membership directory in the pages of issue #23.
However, because readers have not received a full directory since November 1994, we
decided to print it separately as a supplement to this issue of the NN. The directory
contains the latest addresses of subscribers according our records and we hope that
readers will find it a convenient list for contacting colleagues. In the future, we
will try to print an updated membership list at least every other year. Of course,
interim changes and new subscribers will be listed in every issue.

News Items

(1) I regret to inform readers of the NN of the death of Arthur J. O. Anderson. The
following obituary is based on the text appearing in the Anthropology Newsletter Vol.
37, No. 6, September 1996, and on information taken from The Work of Bernardino de
Sahagún, Pioneer Ethnographer of Sixteenth-Century Aztec Mexico, edited by J.
Jorge Klor de Alva, H.B. Nicholson, and Eloise Quiñones Keber (Studies on
Culture and Society, Vol. 2. Albany: Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, the University
at Albany, State University of New York, 1988).

Arthur James Outram Anderson, 88, retired professor of anthropology at San Diego
State University (SDSU), died of pneumonia on June 3, 1996, in San Diego, California.
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, Anderson graduated from
San Diego State in 1930, received his M.A. from Claremont in 1931 and his Ph.D. in
anthropology from Southern California in 1940. He taught at Occidental College, Eastern
New Mexico, and SDSU, among other schools, and served as director of the Roosevelt
County Museum in New Mexico and curator of history and director of publications at the
Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe.

Anderson is best known for his 32-year collaborative work with Charles E. Dibble
(Utah) in translating and editing the Nahuatl text in Bernardino de Sahagún’s
monumental sixteenth-century work the Florentine Codex: General History of the Things
of New Spain (1950-1982). He also edited and translated a number of other works,
including The War of Conquest (with Charles Dibble), Beyond the Codices: The Nahua View
of Colonial Mexico (with Frances Berdan and James Lockhart), The Tlaxcalan Actas, Rules
of the Aztec Language, and Reglas de la lengua mexicana con un vocabulario.

Anderson was a Fellow of the John Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Fellow of the
School of American Research and Honorary Curator of Latin American Ethnography,
Commander of the Order of the Aztec Eagle, and Knight Commander of the Order of Isabel
la Católica. He was also a loyal reader of the NN and wrote to say how much he
enjoyed the publication. He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Christine.

(2) Meeting announcement: Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) Bilingual
Multicultural Education Program and Navajo Language Program are pleased to announce the
4th Annual Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium. The meeting theme is “Sharing
Effective Language Renewal Practices,” and the meeting will be held at the DuBois
Conference Center, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, on May 2-3, 1997. The
Symposium is designed, through panels, workshops, and papers, to allow preschool, K-12,
college, and university American Indian language educators and activists to share ideas
and materials for teaching American Indian languages. The results of the conference
will be shared with a wider audience through a monograph.

About the Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium series:

Despite tribal language policies and the 1990 Native American Languages Act passed
by Congress and signed by then-President Bush, fewer and fewer children are speaking
Native American languages. While the legal right to maintain tribal languages has been
obtained, the effective right has yet to be achieved. More needs to be done to
disseminate effective native language teaching methods and materials. For example, Dr.
Richard Littlebear, participant in all three previous symposia and one of this year’s
keynote speakers, notes that the ability to speak an Indian language is often
incorrectly seen as all that is needed to teach that language in schools.

The first symposium, held November 16-18, 1994, at NAU, featured some of the leading
figures in the field of minority language preservation. The second symposium at NAU,
May 4-6, 1995, also included many tribal educators from throughout Arizona. The third
symposium held in Anchorage, Alaska, February 5-6, 1996, brought together mostly
Alaskan Native educators.

Goals of the fourth symposium:

a. To bring together American Indian language educators and activists to share ideas
and experiences on how to effectively teach American Indian languages in and out of the
classroom. b. To provide a forum for the exchange of scholarly research on the teaching
of American Indian languages. c. To disseminate, though a monograph, recent research
and thinking on the best practices to promote, preserve, and protect American Indian

Registration and Other Information:

The registration fee is $100 prior to April 1, 1997 ($125 after April 1, 1997), and
includes reception, luncheon, banquet and shuttle to AmeriSuites. Our cancellation
policy states that requests for cancellations must be in writing and postmarked before
April 11, 1997. A $25 processing fee will be deducted from refunds. Each participant is
responsible for making his or her own motel reservations. We recommend making
reservations early. For further information or questions, contact Dr. Jon Reyhner,
Center for Excellence in Education, Northern Arizona University, Box 5774, Flagstaff,
AZ 86011; e-mail to or call 520-523-0580.

(3) Louise M. Burkhart writes to say that she has a new book, Holy Wednesday: A
Nahua Drama From Early Colonial Mexico published by the University of Pennsylvania
Press, 1996 (Pp. xii+314, cloth $42.95, ISBN 0-8122-3342-5, paper $18.95, ISBN
0-8122-1576-1). Following is a description of the book released by the Press.

“About seventy years after the conquest of Mexico, a native scholar recast a Spanish
Holy Week play in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Like its extant Spanish model,
the Nahuatl text dramatizes Christ’s departure from Mary on the Wednesday before his
crucifixion. But the Nahuatl version is a far different play from its European model —
a nativist document written by a master of oral-poetic style, a much-expanded work that
subtly revises the message of Christ’s Passion to fit his own aesthetic sensibility and
his interpretations of Christian teachings.

“Identified only in 1986, the Nahuatl Holy Week play is the earliest known dramatic
script in any Native American language. In Holy Wednesday, Louise Burkhart presents
side-by-side English translations of the Nahuatl play and its Spanish source. An
accompanying commentary analyzes the differences between the two versions to reveal how
the native author altered the Spanish text to fit his own aesthetic sensibility and the
broader discursive universe of the Nahua church. A richly detailed introduction places
both works and their creators within the cultural and political contexts of late
sixteenth century Mexico and Spain.

“The most in-depth analysis of a Nahua-Christian text ever published, Burkhart’s
Holy Wednesday explores both the art of translation and the process of evangelization
under Spanish rule. It offers an unparalleled opportunity to witness, as if from
within, an early moment of colonialization and cultural appropriation.”

(4) Helen Salmon of Zed Books (7 Cynthia Street, London, N1 9JF; in the U.S.,
Humanities Press International, 165 First Avenue, Atlantic Highlands, NJ 07716) has
written to announce the publication of A Land Without Gods: Process Theory,
Maldevelopment, and the Mexican Nahuas by Jacques M. Chevalier and Daniel Buckles. Zed
Books, 1996 (Pp. x+374, cloth $69.95, ISBN 1-85649-325-3, paper $29.95, ISBN
1-85649-326-1). The press release states: “The book develops a multi-disciplinary
approach to anthropology, one that emphasizes the orderly process of social history but
also the variable, conflictual and contradictory nature of economy, polity, and
culture. This process-oriented framework is applied to a comprehensive study of Gulf
Nahuas of southern Veracruz, custodians of one of the last remaining areas of tropical
rainforest in Mexico. The impact of state power and the cattle and oil industries on
native economics and ecology are explored with a view to understanding broader
processes of underdevelopment and state power, including the destruction of tropical
rainforest and the impoverishment of native farmers and their land.” The book will be
reviewed by James M. Taggart in an upcoming NN issue.

(5) Mary Ritchie Key writes to report on her recent activities: “As you know, I have
been working on a language computer database for a long time. Unbelievable
interruptions have caused delays, but I am happy with the results. I enclose a memo
about the Gothic disk that I sent out in December. It works!” From the memo sent to
board members of the Intercontinental Dictionary Series (IDS), Mary states: “The end of
the year 1995 was a special time for IDS. I think it is a watershed for the use of the
software for the IDS HyperCard linguistic project, based on C.D. Buck’s synonym
dictionary…. So far, up until now, all the IDS disks, which go into the pool for
distribution to other researchers around the world, were made by me or under my
direction. The Gothic disk was made at the University of Texas by W. P. Lehmann using
IDS software and the SoftManual for contributors. The Gothic material is perfectly
compatible and works smoothly with the accumulated-accumulating database.”

“The program is based on Hypercard, which permits one to do matchings between
documents. Once we get a good sample in the database it will be wonderful and
surprising to ask questions of the research materials. It would be great to have the
various Nahuat/Nahuatl dialects on the Hypercard. We could get printouts with any of
the vocabulary merged to our liking. We live in a global economy; we are also making
our project a global linguistic exchange.”

Mary also sent along a copy of an article entitled “Universales del lenguaje
cognitivo,” published in a special issue (Homenaje a Felix Morales Pettorino) of Nueva
Revista del Pacifico (Universidad de Playa Ancha de Ciencias de la Educación
Facultad de Humanidades, Valparaíso, Chile) Nos. 38-39:229-33, 1993-1994 (ISSN

(6) Timothy D. Murphy sends the following brief note about his current activities:
“My research is focused on a community on the faldas of La Malintzi in the state of
Puebla (but only inches from Tlaxcala). Key topics include ceremonial cycles, myth, and
legend, and the last 200 years or so of local history (data gleaned from church and
civil archives). The ethnohistorical research will be expedited I hope now that I have
a fancy new computer so I can tinker with the piles of demographic data that I have
collected. If someone has a program for this sort of exercise, I would be happy to hear
from them.” See the directory for Tim’s current address.

(7) Barry D. Sell reports that he is taking up a research fellowship in the
Department of History at the University of Calgary for the 1996-97 academic year. He
continues work on Molina’s 1552 ordinances (with Asunción Lavrin of Arizona
State University and Larissa Taylor of Colby College), Alva’s 1634 confessional manual
(with John Frederick Schwaller and Lu Ann Homza of William and Mary), and a 1738
handwritten copy by a Nahua of Vetancurt’s published Via crucis of 1680 (with John
Frederick Schwaller). He is also engaged in a number of other individual and
collaborative projects.

(8) The 95th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association will be held
from Wednesday, November 20, to Sunday, November 24, 1996, at the San Francisco Hilton
in San Francisco, California. Unfortunately, as always seems the case, some sessions
are scheduled concurrently. Listed here are a number of symposia that should be of
particular interest to NN readers:

“Mexican and Chicano Family, Marriage and Gender in a Changing World.” Organizers:
James M. Taggart and Alan R. Sandstrom. Papers: David L. Robichaux, Danièle
Dehouve, Helga Baitenmann, Alan R. Sandstrom and James M. Taggart, Eileen Mulhare,
Matthew C. Gutmann, Miguel Díaz-Barriga (Thursday morning, Nov. 21). “The Social
Impact of Religious Change in Latin America.” Chair: Mirtha N. Quintanales. Papers:
Mirtha N. Quintanales, Francisco Ferrandiz, Peter M. Wogan, Patricia C. Musante, Mary
O. O’Connor, Robert Laughlin (Thursday afternoon, Nov. 21). “Opening Up the House: A
Dialogue across the Discipline.” Organizers: Rosemary A. Joyce, Susan Gillespie.
Papers: Rosemary A. Joyce, Roger C. Green, Patrick V. Kirch, Pia-Kristina Anderson,
Roxana Waterson, Susan D. Gillespie, John Monaghan, Adrienne J. Lazazzera, Ruth E.
Tringham, Ian Kujit. Discussants: Susan McKinnon, Alan R. Sandstrom, Clark E.
Cunningham (Friday morning, Nov. 22). “Metaphor in Mesoamerican Language and
Symbolism.” Organizer/Chair: Andrea Stone. Papers: Nicholas A. Hopkins, T.J. Knab, Jill
L. Furst, Sharisse D. McCafferty and Geoffrey G. McCafferty, Dorie Reents-Budet, Mark
B. King, Byron E. Hamman, John Monaghan, Dana Leibsohn, Susan Milbrath, Andrea Stone.
Discussants: Gary H. Gossen, Geoffrey G. McCafferty (Friday morning, Nov. 22). “Social
Change in Mexico: New Case Studies from Acolhuacan.” Organizers: Guadalupe Montes De
Oca, Miriam Bertan Vila. Papers: Guadalupe Montes De Oca, Jose Gonzales, Miriam Bertan
Vila, Michael C. Ennis-McMillan, Martha Mondragon Discussant: Roberto Melville (Friday
morning, Nov. 22). “New Voices and Recovering Memories: Mesoamerica at the End of the
20th Century.” Organizer: Chris Chiappari. Papers: Manuel Fernández, Edward F.
Fischer, Norma Natalia Carrillo, Chris Chiappari. Discussant: Robert H. Lavenda (Sunday
morning, Nov. 24).

Book Reviews

El Códice de Xicotepec: Estudio e interpretación. Facsimil del Códice con un estudio e interpretación del Dr. Guy Stresser-Péan, ayudado por Claude Stresser-Péan, y la prefacio de Charles H. Dibble. México. D.F.: Gobierno del Estado de Puebla, Centro Francés de Estudios Mexicanos y Centroaméricanos, Fondo de Cultura Económica. Pp. 209+facsim. reproduction. (paper, Spanish ed.) ISBN 968-16-4761-0. (Also published in French.)

Uno de los aspectos más importantes de este códice es que acaba de ser
descubierto, ya que por mucho tiempo fué celosamente guardado por la communidad
de Cuaxicala, pensando que se trataba de registros de los origenes de sus tierras o de
la propiedad de estas, sin embargo resultó un importante documento
histórico de las región de Xicotepec, la que era gobernada por los
acolhuas de Texcoco. A través de este documento se llena una laguna acerca de
las acciones bélicas que llevó a cabo Netzahualcoyotl de 1438 a 1443 las
cuales no aparecen en ninguna otra fuente.

El códice lleva el nombre de Xicotepec, porque la mayor parte de las acciones
ilustradas tienen lugar en este lugar que es representado por el glifo de un cerro con
una avispa en el interior y la cabeza de un anciano en la parte superior. La cabeza del
anciano se explica porque el sitio es llamado en totonaca Kakolmi, lugar de viejos. Lo
que implica que el glifo toponímico es bilingüe.

Xicotepec está situado a mas de 130 kms de Texcoco y se encontra en la ruta
comercial que iba a Tulancingo, Huauchinango, Xicotepec, Papantla, y Tuxpan. La
mayoría de sus habitantes eran totonacas, pero estaba gobernado por una
élite de nahuas-acolhuas de Texcoco. Aparentemente este lugar había sido
ocupado por acolhuas desde antes del reinado de Netzahualcoyotl, pero con la conquista
tepaneca de Atzcapotzalco y la muerte del padre de Netzahualcoyotl, se perdieron los
territorios, que según muestra el códice, tras la derrota de los
tepanecas, se reconquisto Xicotepec.

El códice está hecho con una tira de cuero de la que no se sabe si es
venado o bovino, de 6.3 cm de largo por 18 a 19 cm de ancho, la cara interna es la que
está pintada, aunque tienen una parte (de aproximadamente la mitad del formato)
que está sin pintura dando la impresión que se reservaba para continuar
la historia. El fragmento pintado está dividido en 24 secciones más o
menos iguales, divididas por líneas rojas verticales. Cada sección tiene
fechas calendáricas en la parte superior, pictografías y algunas glosas
en caracteres latinos, en lengua nahuatl, que parecen haber sido añadidas
posteriormente y que generalmente no tienen nada que ver con lo que está
mostrando el códice.

El documento abarca 102 años de historia acolhua de Texcoco relacionado con
la sierra de Puebla, hacía la costa, específicamente de Xicotepec. Se
inicia en 1431 cuando se efectuó la victoria sobre los tepanecas y se
creó la triple alianza de Texcoco, Tenochtitlan, y Tacuba.

El estudio de Stresser-Péan conjuga profundos conocimientos del ámbito
geográfico y de la etnografía del lugar que él conoce con
profundidad. La publicación es producto de más de dos años de
estudios del códice revisando en forma exhaustiva todas las fuentes escritas
incluyendo otros códices, así como los textos de historia colonial como
el de Bernardo García Martínez “Los pueblos de la Sierra, el espacio
entre los indios del norte de Puebla hasta 1700,” al que hace una referencia especial
en la tercera parte, cuando fue publicado el códice.

También hace un meticuloso análisis de la vestimenta, por ejemplo de
lost tocados, los cuales revelan los diferentes orígenes étnicos de los
portadores, o de la indumentaria para la guerra, los xoxocollis o los enahuatl. Las
armas diferentes para los acolhuas y los huaxtecos y hace notar un tipo do
aculturación entre totonacas y nahuas, por ejemplo en el uso del huipil y del

El libro está dividido en tres partes: (1) datos para la lectura del
códice; (2) las 25 secciones del códice Xicotepec; (3) dónde,
cuándo y en qué condiciones fue pintado el códice de Xicotepec. En
la primera parte aporta el marco referencial etnográfico, con el vocabulario
glífico e iconográfico para entrarse en el vocabulario glífico
descripción del calendario. De las personas y lugares, de la jerarquía
social, de la indumentaria y de las armas defensivas y ofensivas.

Hace una explicación del funcionamiento de los calendários
indígenas: el tonalpolhualli y el xiuhmolpilli, y aclara que en Xicotepec se
tenían los 4 portadores usados por los mexicas: acatl, tecpatl, calli, y
tochtli; dato importante al ser este códice un relato histórico,
razón por la que desde la sección 3 hasta la final 24, hay una serie
continua de 102 fechas anuales.

La forma de los 4 glifos portadores de años que indican las fechas en el
códice Xicotepec tiene una forma más realista que la de los
códices precortesianos sobre todo en el caso de los glifos acatl (caña) y
tochtli (conejo) mientras que tecpatl y calli se apegan más a las
representaciones de otros códices.

Después analiza uno a uno el resto de los glifos de los días que en
general tienden a tener más influencia española. Incluye un
análisis de la correlación cronológica tomando como base dos o
tres acontecimientos claves como la muerte de Ahuizotl y la subida al trono y la muerte
de Moctezuma. Aunque hay un poco de discrepancia con ciertas fechas, considera que en
conjunto corresponden al sistema cronológico habitual de la mayoría de
los anales del antiguo México Azteca.

Hace notar la ausencia de nombres gentilicios hereditarios (en el códice y en
la actualidad) y a pesar de que las fuentes para los pueblos del Altiplano
señalen la costumbre de poner a los niños un nombre calendárico y
un sobrenombre, en el códice, son más frecuentes los sobrenombres
(aparecen 50). En cuanto al los nombres de las ciudades señala que entre los 18
toponímicos que aparecen en el códice hay ocho que se representan
acompañados del glifo cerro y el resto aparecen solos, otros van
acompañados con el locativo de unos dientes que significan el sufijo tlan.
Después habla de las representaciones arquitectónicas de las casas, de un
pueblo fortificado, de templos, de una piramide con un temalacatl – que más bien
nos parece un momoztli – de las representaciones de los árboles, plantas, y
ríos, de personas, de animales, de la jerarquía social, expresada a
través del tipo de asiento utilizado.

En la segunda sección del libro proporciona la descripción y el
análisis de las 25 secciones o páginas del códice. En esta parte,
que es la más larga y la más detallada, va relatando paralelamente los
sucesos que ocurrían en el altiplano en las fechas que indican los cuadretes de
la parte superior de cada sección, sucesos que no sólo afectaron la vida
de Xicotepec por ser un lugar gobernado por miembros de la triple alianza sino todas
las regiones de mesoamérica. Después describe los personajes y los glifos
que se encuentran en cada sección y la glosa en nahuatl en caracteres latinos,
cuando la hay y por último presenta una conclusión.

En las tres primeras secciones aparecen primero, siete personajes sentados en
icpallis, lo que señala su alta jerarquía; menciona veinte personajes de
menor tamaño sentados en el suelo o en esteras más pequeñas, y en
una tercera hoja en donde aparece la primera fecha: 4 acatl (143l), hay otros diez
personajes sentados que parecen formar parte de tres consejos de 7, 20, y 10
integrantes, empieza un desfile de sacerdotes vestidos con xicollis
(túnica-chaleco) llevando báculos con caras de animales. Los sacerdotes
pasan por Tenayuca, Coatepec, Cuauhtitlan, Contla y un lugar no identificado. Por el
camino mueren varias personas, que puden identificarse con los personajes importantes
que aparecieron en las primeras páginas y que estan representados con “bultos de
muertos” pero en forma horizontal y no como los representaban los indígenas.

En la sección 9 aparece por primera vez el glifo de Xicotepec, cuando
Netzahualcoyotl, que ya ha tomado el poder, va con su hijo Cipactli a este lugar.
Cipactli está representado en tamaño más pequeño que su
padre y aparentemente permanece ahí como gobernante. Stresser-Péan supone
que Cipactli toma el lugar de Quetzapantzin que es citado por Ixtlilxochitl y el cual
aparece en el Códice Quinatzin. En la misma lámina está otro
personaje acolhua importante: 7-pedernal acompañado de sus dos hijos Ollin y
Pájaro Negro que en la siguiente lámina vuelven a aparecer tomando parte
activa en una escena de guerra contra los huaxtecos, que no son representados desnudos
como los describen las fuentes, pero sí con la nariz deformada por una gran
nariguera, Netzahualcoyotl y Cipactli se encuentran en una esquina de la lámina
más bien observando la batalla. Stresser-Péan hace una detallada
descripción de las armas y la indumentaria de acolhuas y huaxtecos.

Cipactli aparece como gobernante, en las siguientes páginas que corresponden
a los años 1445 a 1478 acompañado o enfrentandose con diferentes
peronajes vestidos al estilo acolhua, uno de ellos lleva un anahuatl o pectoral
circular de concha y esta acompañado por una mujer con huipil a los que
Stresser-Péan identifica como totonacos. La misma pareja aparece en varias
escenas. Stresser-Péan suguiere que se está representando una posible
rebelión de grupo local y hace notar que de acuerdo a la cronología
acababa de pasar la gran hambruna en el Altiplano y la Alianza Tripartita lanza una
gran guerra contra la huaxteca, lo que por otra parte, no aparece representado en el

Desde la sección 14 hay un cambio de mano en la manufactura de los dibujos,
se nota más descuido. En las sección 15 que es en la última en que
aparece Cipactli hay 6 personajes en posición de guerra que son los mismos que
se ven en la sección anterior, los tocados ya son al estilo de los guerreros
mexicas y no como se habían dibujado antes con una banda en la cabeza
Stresser-Péan explica esta escena como el levantamiento que hubo en Tuxpan y su
posterior sometimiento por el tlatoani tenochca Axayacatl.

En la siguiente sección aparece el sucesor de Cipactli, que es un personaje
llamado 5-serpiente. Se representan guerreros mexicas que Stresser-Péan
interpreta como el paso del ejército mexica por Xicotepec. En varias de las
escenas siguientes aparecen los guerreros mexicas, hasta la sección 18
correspondiente a los años 1492 a 1497, cuando ya había muerto
Netzahualcoyotl y gobernanda en Texcoco Netzahualpilli y en Tenochtitlan Ahuizotl. Se
puede ver a estos dos soberanos además de figuras muy borradas que parecen ser
señores locales de Xicotepec las que Stresser-Péan piensa que forman
parte del nuevo gobierno cuando este lugar dejó de pertenecer al reino de
Texcoco y pasó a formar parte de la confederación azteca.

En la sección 19 aparecen cuatro personajes principales sentados en sus
icpallis que se identifican como los tlatoanis hay además siete menores, tres de
los cuales son mujeres y cuatro más los tlatoanis de Texcoco y de Tenochtitlan y
el cacique de Xicotepec, uno de lost cuales tiene una cuerda sobre la cabeza. Esta
escena es interpretada por Stresser-Péan como la ejecución de
Huexotzincatl, hijo de Netzahualpilli según relatan varias fuentes por haberle
faltado a una de las concubinas de su padre. Aparentamente, Coatl viene como testigo de
la ejecución.

En la sección 20 aparecen Moctezuma y Netzahualpilli frente a unos glifos que
Stresser-Péan interpreta como la celebración, del “atamiento de
años” en el año 2-caña (1507), en el fin del ciclo de 52
años, en el cual se celebró un sacrificio gladiatorio, todo esto
estaría representado por un haz de cañas un templo con un temalacatl y
las figuras de un águila y un jaguar muy estilizadas, lo cual de acuerdo a
Stresser-Péan se debe a que el códice fué escrito después
de la conquista por lo que los símbolos relacionados con un ritual religioso
prehispánico no podían ser muy explícitos.

Las secciones siguientes tratan de relaciones entre los tlatoanis de Texcoco y
Tenochtitlan y el cacique Coatl de Xicotepec. En una de ellas se presenta el casamiento
de una hija de Moctezuma con este cacique. Netzahualpilli muere en 1515 y
Stresser-Péan hace notar la gran influencia que está jerciendo la triple
alianza sobre Xicotepec y cómo a pesar de que en estos años ocurrieron
luchas dinásticas en Texcoco así como la llegada de los españoles
a Tenochtitlan y las respectivas batallas que se entablaron con estos hasta la
caída de la ciudad, nada de ello esta representado en el códice,
inclusive en la sección 23 que cubre el periodo de 1522 a 1527 cuando ya
habían vencido los españoles, aparece el mismo señor Coatl de
Xicotepec con su esposa Xóchitl hija de Moctezuma y frente a ellos dos
personajes, uno de los cuales tiene el glifo de Tenochtitlan y en medio hay una
pirámide templo, con un ave de características peculiares posada sobre su
techo. En la última sección, la 24, que termina en el año 1533
está representado el bulto de muerto sentado pero no a la manera
indígena, de Coatl el señor de Xicotepec frente al cual están
nueve dignatarios indígenas, todos con el pelo cortado a la manera europea, y un
español (posiblemente el primer corregidor de Xicotepec) en su silla europea.
Arriba del “bulto de muerto” se encuentra el posible sucesor de Coatl y en la parte
superior la figura de Dios padre entre nubes, seguaramente copiado de un grabado de la

En la tercera sección dice dónde, cuándo y en que condiciones
fue pintado el códice. Stresser-Péan piensa que de acuerdo a las
características del códice éste “pertenece claramente a la escuela
pictográfica de Texcoco tal como esta ha sido definida por Robertson…” y que
es un “producto regional tardío y evolucionado” (p. 163) de ésta, que tal
vez fue mandado a hacer en Xicotepec, entre 1564 y 1572, posiblemente por el cacique
Miguel de Aguila que pudo haber sido a su vez descendiente del señor Coatl y del
mismo Netzahualcoyotl.

El descubrimiento de este códice, así como su posterior cuidadoso
estudio e interpretacion por los esposos Stresser-Péan, son un verdadero aporte
a la historia de los acolhuas de 1431 a 1533, para los especialistas del tema les
aportan nuevos datos y a los no especialistas, pero interesados en los códices y
en la historia y la etnografía de acolhuas, totonacas, y huaxtecas, los lleva
paso a paso a una increíble fuente de conocimientos no sólo a
través del texto del libro, sino a través de la multitud de ilustraciones
de Francois Bagol.

Por otra parte, la edición de las tres instituciones participantes tanto del
facsimilar del códice como de la interpretación es magnífica.

Yolotl González Torres
Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia

Masks of the Spirit: Image and Metaphor in Mesoamerica. By Peter T. Markman and Roberta H. Markman. Introduction by
Joseph Campbell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989 [1994 printing]. Pp. xxi+254. $30.00 (paper). ISBN 0-520-08654-6.

I probably should not have agreed to write this review. As a materialist, a social
art historian, and a Mesoamericanist who specializes in the relation of Mexica art and
religion to politics, I am, a priori, unsympathetic to studies that approach
Mesoamerican artifacts as mere manifestations or “expressions” of that vague entity
called “spirituality.” That said, let me preview what follows by saying that although I
found a large part of this book every bit as appalling as I had expected the entire
book to be, I was impressed by the research and thoughtfulness evident toward its end.
Despite the idealist assumptions and simplistic analyses that structure the text, and
the often woefully inadequate scholarship reflected in its first two sections, the
relatively brief third and final section of Masks of the Spirit – which appears to have
been included largely to validate the main thesis of the preceding sections – for me,
at least, made the book worth reading.

Part I of the book follows an enthusiastic “Introduction” by Joseph Campbell, to
whom the book is dedicated and whose own series of books on mythology collectively
titled “The Masks of God” has enjoyed wide popular appeal. To judge by the Markmans’
acknowledgments, they both are, at least “in spirit,” former students of Campbell.
Roberta Markman now teaches Comparative Literature at California State University, Long
Beach, while Peter Markman is Professor of English and Mythology at Fullerton College.
Despite the Markmans’ mutual base in literary studies, however, their intellectual
heroes (e.g., Edmund Leach, Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz, Claude Lévi-Strauss,
Mircea Eliade and the controversial Jamake Highwater) operate primarily in the
disciplines of comparative religion and structural and symbolic anthropology. The
mutual commitment of these authors not only to the notion of “The Primitive,” but also
to invisible mental constructs such as myth, symbolism, and religious belief, as
opposed to socio-historical reconstruction and explanation, tells you much about the
authors’ interests and, to my mind at least, explains the book’s limitations.

The principal thesis of Masks of the Spirit is that the Mesoamerican mask was – and
in the work of some modern Mexican artists still is – the “central metaphor” for an
understanding of reality that differs substantially from that of the typical Westerner.
For Mesoamericans, that reality is primarily spiritual rather than material. Masks
“reflect” (p. xix) and thus reveal this invisible, intangible reality, which the
Markmans, following some of their forbears, call the “unitary life-force” (p. xxi).
Masks can do this because, in Mesoamerica, “the worlds of nature and spirit, of man and
the gods were one” (p. xix).

Studies of “primitive” spirituality have always had a wide appeal. Today, in this
period of New Age hankering for something more than televised commercials can offer,
they can be especially attractive. I have no doubt that this accounts in large part for
the fact that Masks of the Spirit currently sits on the shelves of most bookstores in
this country. Then, too, the book’s underlying assumption as articulated by Campbell
(p. xiv) – that we all share common psychological structures and life experiences – is
a comfort in this age of increasing social diversity and conflict. It is precisely
because the book’s popularity provides it the opportunity to shape so many peoples’
understanding of the Mesoamerican past and the role art played within it that a
critical examination of some of its principal arguments is imperative.

Part I, titled “The Metaphor of the Mask in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica,” consists of
three chapters, the last of which, like the last chapter of Part II, is simply a brief
general summary in the form of a “Coda.” The first chapter, called “The Mask as the
God,” posits that what have been, since the time of the Spanish conquest, perceived as
“deities” by Europeans, were in fact aspects or “momentary manifestations” of the
“life-force.” Each of these manifestations had its own mask, which the life-force “put
on” and “took off” according to the particular life process (e.g., rain, agricultural
fertility) invoked at the time (p. 3). This is certainly a viable, if not widely
accepted, characterization of Mesoamerican religion. However, the suggestion that
Mesoamerican religion was never pantheistic, but rather animistic, was first made by
the Danish linguist Arild Hvidtfeldt, whose study became available in English in 1958;
it was subsequently elaborated upon in the work of the art historian Richard Townsend.
(Unless cited at the end of this review, all references can be found in the Markmans’
bibliography.) Townsend, using Mesoamerican visual imagery to support Hvidtfeldt’s
essentially linguistic argument, argued that what we have perceived as “gods” in a
Nahua “pantheon” were in fact merely metaphorical names and titles applied to various
personified aspects of the natural world. Although both Hvidtfeldt and Townsend’s
important studies are listed in the Markmans’ bibliography and cited elsewhere in the
book in conjunction with other, comparatively minor points, neither scholar is
mentioned in relation to the authors’ argument that there were no true deities in

The problem of inadequate documentation, so evident in this instance, unfortunately
reappears throughout this book. The Markmans, for example, emphasize the
interchangeability and overlapping of the physical signs of these various aspects of
the life force, and thus their potential to be creatively selected and rearranged to
form a variety of combinations on masks. Implicit here is the possibility of
essentially inscribing onto the masker’s body, in a grammatical manner roughly
analogous to writing, the identity or “name” of virtually any aspect of the life force;
indeed the Markmans speak of “reading” a “god’s” identity in its mask (p. 7). Townsend,
however, made the same point in his 1979 monograph and I had earlier explored the
phenomenon in my published doctoral dissertation (Klein 1976). The book is not listed
in the Markman’s bibliography, but my two articles that derive from it are. Like
Townsend’s study, neither is cited in the text in relation to the Markmans’ assertion
of the interchangeability of features in Mesoamerican masks.

According to the Markmans, there are two kinds of masks: primary and secondary.
Despite their rejection of the notion of a Mesoamerican “pantheon,” the Markmans
throughout their book refer to the more predictable, “primary” clusters of traits as
“gods.” Secondary masks, in contrast, because they are often unique and temporary
reflections of the life-force, present unique combinations of traits that do not
correspond to any of the entities that we know by the names of “deities” (pp.
13,63-64). Like the primary masks, however, they are manifestations or “unfoldings” of
the universal life-force and thus “of the spirit.” This explanation of Mesoamerican
masks sporting unusual combinations of “deity” features is very different from my own,
as laid out in a 1984 article. In that article, I contend that many of the hybrid
figures that we have traditionally identified as deities in Mexica art actually
represent historical persons, specifically distinguished Mexica officials, wearing
masks and costumes emblematic of their ethnicity, social rank, occupation, and
affiliation with a particular religious cult. The Markmans neither list my article nor
engage my argument that the identities “written” on the faces and bodies of certain
anomalous masked figures in Mexica art were primarily social and political.

The Markmans refer to “primary” masks by the Nahuatl names of Mexica (Aztec)
deities, regardless of the time and place in which these masks appeared. Thus, in sharp
opposition to current scholarly wisdom on this matter, and in a move that harks back to
the 1970s, the Markmans use the Nahuatl name of the “primary” Mexica rain “god” Tlaloc
to refer to what they see as the principal primary mask of Classic period Teotihuacan.
Indeed, they insist that many of what Western scholars have perceived as a plethora of
unrelated deities in Mesoamerica are in fact only variants of the primary mask of
Tlaloc. Most of Chapter 1 is therefore devoted to a case for identifying the most
prominent and seemingly important Mesoamerican masks throughout time and space as
representations or aspects of Tlaloc.

Following Miguel Covarrubias’ 1957 diagram of the “evolution” of the principal
Mesoamerican rain deities through time, the Markmans trace the roots of all masks in
this category back to the Middle and Late Preclassic period Gulf Coast Olmecs. What
links them together is a face dominated by jaguar features. Or so say the Markmans, who
sometimes invoke, as here, vague references to “most other” Mesoamericanists who, they
claim, share their opinion (pp. 13,15). But although they state that “most other
scholars who have studied Olmec art, would… agree that the particular ‘god’
associated with rain is a were-jaguar,” they acknowledge at least five well
credentialed scholars who have argued for a different animal (pp. 13,15,209 n.43). The
evident willingness here to indulge in sleight-of-hand reshufflings of the evidence and
to ignore or reject recent scholarship in favor of older, less complex interpretations,
is unfortunately characteristic of the authors’ methodology.

For example, in order to claim all images of a tusked, bespectacled, being as
versions of a single rain and fertility deity (i.e., Tlaloc), the Markmans only briefly
consider, only to summarily reject, Esther Pasztory’s years of laborious iconographic
detective work at Teotihuacan (pp. 34-40). Pasztory argued that in Teotihuacan art
there are at least two different beings with large teeth and goggled eyes reminiscent
of the Mexica Tlaloc, only one of which was a rain god. The other was a “god” of
darkness, the night sun, and warfare who, as Clara Millon (1973) long ago showed, in
contrast to the first “Tlaloc,” appears outside the city at sites as far away as the
Maya Petén. The Markmans make no mention of this complication nor, for that
matter, any of Millon’s observations (pp. 60-61). Nor do they give serious thought to
the widely accepted identification of the main icon in the patio murals at Tepantitla,
Teotihuacan, as a goddess unrelated to Tlaloc. By the time the Markmans stopped
researching their book (the latest date of publication in their bibliography is 1987),
Pasztory, George Kubler, Peter Furst (1974) and Karl Taube (1983) had all separately
argued that this figure is female (a thesis that has subsequently received substantial
additional support). Bypassing all of these authors (Taube’s study is not cited), the
Markmans go back to Alfonso Caso’s 1938 argument that the Tepantitla icon is Tlaloc.
They also invoke the mystic musings of Laurette Séjourne, whose own
idiosyncratic mid-century notion of a Teotihuacan “cult of the spirit” has long been
regarded as highly suspect by Teotihuacan specialists. The Markmans, in fact, fail to
take into account even those scholarly studies that might support their arguments. Why,
for example, do they not refer to my own lengthy article titled “Who Was Tlaloc?,” in
which I presented considerable evidence that supports the Markmans’ claim that Tlaloc
was closely associated with the calendar and time (Klein 1980)? To completely ignore
(or not know about) an in-depth study of the very god they are analyzing was, it seems
to me, unfortunate.

Chapter 2 of Masks of the Spirit, which is titled “Masks in Ritual: Metaphor in
Motion,” takes the position that it was the ritual performance of the masked “god”
impersonator that activated the powers in the mask and enabled its wearer to “become”
the god. In this capacity, the masked actor became the mediator between this world and
the world of the spirit, ensuring that inner truth, the “spirit,’ would emerge (p. 67).
Much is made here of Turner’s concept of liminality and Campbell’s notion of a
“universal human desire” to be transformed into the god (p. 67). The purported meaning
of Hopi kachina masks is also invoked (pp. 68-69). I have a lot of trouble with such an
explanation of the “function” of masks, however, since many important questions are
never asked here. For example, who exactly was entitled to wear these masks, and when
exactly did they wear them? How did they acquire them and what became of the masks when
their owners died? What were masks made of and who made them? At what cost? Who ended
up with the most costly and prestigious masks – and how and why? What effects did these
ritual maskings have on the social fabric – who benefitted materially from masked
performances and who did not? And what exactly do the masks look like, what kinds of
forms predominate and how were these types distributed across class, ethnic and gender

To answer these questions would require puncturing some serious holes in the
Markmans’ “holistic” approach. The Markmans make no distinctions between the roles that
masks played in early times as opposed to the immediately pre-Conquest period, or in
centralized imperial states in contrast to rural towns and villages. Even for the
largest cities, moreover, they make no distinction between the meaning and function of
masks among commoners as opposed to those of the masks owned and used by the elite.
Instead, in line with their outdated notion that Mesoamerica was a single cultural unit
with a single mythological tradition (p. 9), they refer again and again to “the
Mesoamerican mind” (e.g., p. 30). I certainly think that it is fair to make some
generalizations about the belief structure of much of Mesoamerica, but I find it naive
at best to assume that there were no fundamental differences in the thinking and world
view of different language groups and social classes and, within these, political

I made an attempt some time ago to pose the above questions in regard to the Mexica,
the peoples for whom we have the most and best information (Klein 1986). The Markhams
do not cite that article. From my research, I drew several conclusions that are at odds
with the Markhams’. At the ideological level, I found no evidence that individuals who
donned masks believed themselves – or were believed – to “turn into” the personage
represented in the mask. To begin with, most of the extant Mexica masks – like the vast
majority of Mesoamerican masks that have come down to us – have entirely human
features. There is no reason to think that they represent a deity at all. The Markhams
barely address this problem (pp. 90-91). Secondly, colonial texts never report that
people believed that masked impersonators “were” the god. Rather, the sources are quite
consistent in stating that individuals were regarded as the “likeness,” “image” or
“representative” of the deity. As Hvidtfeldt pointed out, the very word that Nahuatl
speakers used to refer to masked deity impersonators was derived from ixiptlati, which
means “to serve in place of one,” “to represent someone.”

I also question the Markhams’ claim that Mesoamericans believed that it was the
masker, motivated by the “inner spirit,” who animated the mask (Klein 1986). My culling
of the sources suggested instead that, among the Mexica nobility, at least, it was
thought that the mask animated – that is, empowered – the wearer. For one thing, Mexica
myth states that masks were among the clothing and insignia that the gods left behind
for humans when they retreated from the earth following the Creation. The implication
here is that deity masks, at least, were understood to retain the godly powers of the
departed. Secondly, Mexica masks were powerful entities in their own right; they did
not have to be worn to work their magic. One Mexica myth tells of a mask that moaned
while hanging on a wall and many masks were attached to inanimate objects: bundles of
reeds, ceramic braziers, bundled human thigh bones, wooden armatures or bundled
corpses. Why would anyone attach to a dead person a mask that required the deceased to
“animate” it? Since we know that the Mexica placed deity masks over the faces of ailing
monarchs, we have to assume, rather, that it was the mask that was believed to have the
power to protect and revive the ruler. This is why the Mexica covered the faces of
pregnant women and small children with masks during dangerous times of the year. As the
sixteenth century writer Bernardino de Sahagún states explicitly, the masks were
believed to protect the vulnerable at these times.

Because masks were perceived as inherently powerful, Mexica emperors occasionally
presented them to a worthy associate, as Motecuhzoma II did for a particularly capable
Mexica warrior during his peoples’ final, desperate attempt to ward off the intruding
Spaniards (Klein 1986). The stated hope was that the costume would help the young man
to defeat these new enemies – that is, the ruler hoped that the mask would empower the
warrior. The Markmans do not mention this reported incident, but they do write at
length about what they perceive as the meaning and purpose of the costume, which was
normally worn with a full body suit (including a face mask) of human skin that had been
removed from a sacrificed war prisoner. Numerous costumes of this kind were worn during
the annual month festival called Tlacaxipehualiztli (“The flaying of men”), when
victorious Mexica warriors presented to the state human “tribute” in the form of
prestigious captives to be sacrificed. The supernatural patron of that festival was a
god known as Xipe Totec, whose name probably means “Our lord the flayer,” rather than
“Our lord the flayed one,” as the Markmans and others suggest, since the “god” appears
in art wearing a human skin (pp. 80-82,116-17). To explain this most curious of masks,
the Markmans turn back to the German scholar Eduard Seler, who at the beginning of the
century argued that the Mexica flaying rite, like Xipe Totec himself, was a metaphor
for the moment when the “living seed” of earth’s vegetation (especially corn) “bursts”
from its covering, providing the earth with a “new skin” (p. 81). However, as Johanna
Broda (1970) demonstrated over two decades ago, there is not a single sixteenth century
document that states that Xipe Totec was an agricultural deity or that the flaying rite
in any way symbolized – or ultimately affected – the growth of vegetation.

The Markmans, significantly, do not list or cite Broda’s seminal article, nor do
they mention those aspects of the ceremony that Broda shows were central to its
meaning. For example, they neglect to mention not only that Motecuhzoma II himself
donned a flayed skin Xipe costume at the climax of Tlacaxipehualiztli, but that he wore
one into battle, as well. In fact, as the story of Motecuhzoma II’s gift of a Xipe
costume to one of his best warriors indicates, the costume was a form of battle dress,
and Xipe Totec was a “god” of war. Broda’s study emphasizes that the principal function
of Tlacaxipehualiztli was to honor and reward deserving warriors for their service to
the state and to present to the emperor tribute from vanquished polities.
Tlacaxipehualiztli, then, was dedicated to the military infrastructure that supported
the political economy of the Mexica ruling class (Klein 1986). To ignore the evidence
for this in favor of an agricultural interpretation for which there is next to no
documentary support is to repudiate sound scholarship in favor of pure hocus pocus.

In fact, in order to maintain their thesis that the Xipe mask was metaphoric of
agricultural fertility, the Markmans have had to ignore its most obvious implications.
For if the flayed skin of one’s war prisoner was not the ultimate trophy, then nothing
was! Numerically speaking, masks made from the flayed faces and severed skulls of
defeated captives vastly outnumbered all other kinds of Mesoamerican masks – yet the
Markmans never mention this. The Spanish conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo
says that “leather” masks made of human facial skin were worn on festive occasions,
presumably in the course of victory celebrations. Similarly, masks made from the skulls
of slain enemies and enlivened with stone and shell eyes and tongues were found in the
foundation offerings of the Mexica’s main temple. So ancient and widespread was this
practice of taking trophy heads that it is reasonable to conclude that the practice of
masking may have originated on the field of battle (Klein 1986). This possibility,
needless to say, is never entertained by the Markmans, who instead attribute
Mesoamerican masks to a universal human desire to reveal the “inner spirit.”

Thus the Markmans’ claim that the principal motives and function of Mesoamerican
masking were spiritual, rather than material, is erroneous; it confuses ideology – that
is, what (some) people said or (may have) believed – with people’s actual behavior and
its effects (Klein 1986). The ideology of masks that empowered people “masked,” and so
legitimated economic and political inequity, which was the real base of power in
Mesoamerican history. We can see this among the Mexica, where masks were ranked in
terms of material value and prestige, with the most valuable and prestigious masks –
i.e., the most powerful masks – kept in the hands of the wealthy elite and controlled
by them. In such a system, masks functioned principally to help their owners to
maintain their social position and power – that is, to preserve the status quo. The
Markmans’ continual emphasis on what they perceive as the spiritual transformation of
the individual wearing a mask obscures what people really did with masks and what
happened to those people as a consequence of using them.

In Part II of Masks of the Spirit, the Markmans explain in detail some of their
fundamental assumptions about the working of Mesoamerican religion and the notion of
cosmic order that is “reflected” in the metaphor of the mask. Why the material in this
part of the book was placed after, rather than before, the section on pre-Columbian
masks is unclear to me, since it would have helped to clarify some of the authors’
arguments in Part I. In any event, for the most part it breaks no new ground, largely
presenting – in a highly readable, clearly articulated manner – certain well-known
hypothetical models of the Mesoamerican cosmos. Chapter 4, “The Shamanistic Inner
Vision,” depends heavily on a paradigm developed in the 1940s by Mircea Eliade (who
knew next to nothing about native America) and has been antiquated by recent discovery
of a Maya glyph signifying “animal co-essence” that has forced a rethinking of Maya
religion in general. The next chapter, “The Temporal Order,” again stumbles over the
meaning of Xipe Totec and the flaying rites of Tlacaxipehualizatli (pp. 116 17), while
Chapter 6, “The Spatial Order,” makes no mention of, and is at loggerheads with, some
of the most important ethnographic and epigraphic studies on the subject (e.g.,
Watanabe 1983). It is followed by Chapter 7 on “The Mathematical Order” and Chapter 8
on “The Life Force: Source of All Order.”

My biggest reservations regarding Part II, however, concern Chapter 9,
“Transformation: Manifesting the Life-Force,” which deals in depth with the Markmans’
discussion of blood sacrifice. To support their claim that bloodletting in Mesoamerica
was simply a means of incarnating the life-force, the Markmans have had to ignore the
sociopolitical implications of Mexica myths that recount the earliest instances of
autosacrifice. I have explored this dimension of Mexica autosacrifice in a lengthy
article which, although listed in the Markman’s bibliography, is nowhere cited in the
text. In that article I tried to show that Mexica autosacrificial rites had multiple,
class-specific meanings that served to normalize, indeed sacralize, the exploitative
class structure of Mexica imperial society. The Markmans engage in the same kind of
romantic scripting in their explanation of human sacrifice. Accepting uncritically the
Spaniards’ insistence that there were “endless numbers of sacrificial rituals” of
various kinds, they idealistically characterize human sacrifice as the “freeing” of the
victim’s spirit (pp. 45,146). They also ignore Betty Ann Brown’s 1984 argument that the
annual Mexica rite of sacrificing and flaying a high-born woman during the month
festival of Ochpaniztli reenacted an important episode in the Mexicas’ early military
history. This is an important model for understanding sacrificial practices that would
firmly place the meaning and function of sacrificial rites in an historical and
political context.

Ironically, it is the brief third and final part of Masks of the Spirit, which deals
with “The Metaphor of the Mask after the Conquest,” that strikes me as the most soundly
researched and reasoned. This section of the book exists to demonstrate the Markmans’
thesis that the metaphorical nature of the Mesoamerican mask has changed little since
the Spanish conquest. To make the point, the Markhams begin with Chapter 11,
“Syncretism: The Structural Effect of the Conquest,” by analyzing the ways in which
Mesoamericans adapted Roman Catholicism to their own religious convictions by
presenting what was but a facade of devotion to the new doctrine. By taking up such
matters as the overlapping meanings of the cross in both pre- and post-Conquest
Mesoamerica, the Markhams show – quite convincingly, in my opinion – the resilience and
resistance over time to annihilation of native understandings of the relation between
man, nature, and the supernatural.

Chapters 12 and 13 present case studies of the survival and syncretic
transformations of such ideas. The argument is easier to follow and more convincing in
“The Pre-Columbian Survivals: The Masks of the Tigre,” than in “The Syncretic
Compromise: The Yaqui and Mayo Pascola.” The former focuses on the evolution of the
Mexican Danza del Tigre from a (no later than) seventeenth-century dance, in which
dancers costumed as “tigres” (jaguars) mimed the capture and sacrifice of a “warrior,”
to a set of modern-day rural performances (p. 167). The Markmans are quite successful,
I think, in revealing the pre Hispanic roots of these performances, in particular the
presence of the venerable indigenous notion of the inseparability of matter and spirit.
When they turn to the masks worn in the Tigre dances, however, their need to tie them
to the past leads to preposterous conclusions. It is their contention that the large
wooden, or cloth and wood, Tigre mask of today “generally displays the features of the
pre-Columbian, jaguar-derived rain god masks,” with its emphasis on “round” eyes,
fangs, a “pug” nose, and a large mouth and tongue (p. 167). Tlaloc’s nose was never
“pug,” however, and his tongue was, unlike the Tigre’s, bifid. His eyes, moreover, were
ringed rather than simply round, and his dentition was completely different from that
of the masks illustrated here. Thus, the Markhams end up being far more successful at
demonstrating a continuity of indigenous thought than they are in proving a continuity
of artistic form. The fallacy of assuming that the one is necessarily evidence of the
other was, in any event, long ago exposed by Erwin Panofsky (1960) and George Kubler
(1977), and no art historian today takes them seriously.

Finally, in the last chapter of the book, the Markmans present fairly compelling
evidence that two twentieth-century Mexican artists – Rufino Tamayo and Francisco
Toledo – by virtue of their Zapotec heritage and upbringing, have internalized
indigenous notions of the mask as a metaphor for the materialization of spirit (p.
208). If these final chapters – like the choice of a painting by Toledo, rather than of
a pre-Columbian mask, for the cover – seem a bit out of sync with the bulk of the text
and its title, at least they close the book with a series of more tenable
interpretations of Mesoamerican masks than tend to proliferate throughout its first 150

At the beginning of their “Prologue,” the Markmans cite Thomas Mann’s The
Confessions of Felix Krull, in which Krull has to ask himself: “Which is better, to see
the world small or to see it big” (p. xix)? Like Krull, they claim to have chosen to
“see the world as big.” They mean by this to see the Mesoamerican universe as a single
entity in which nature, man and spirit formed one system. And this is precisely what
they do. What is sacrificed in the sometimes torturous, often poorly researched and
documented, and hence unsubstantiated course of their argument, however, is any
understanding of how the reality of everyday life on earth bears upon the way people
thought about, represented and shaped the material and social world in which they
lived. There are, in fact, no people behind the Markmans’ masks, only passive vessels
of the “life-force.” If this is what is meant by “seeing the world as big,” then I
prefer to stand with those who “see it small.” That “big” world is devoid of human
actors and so serves to “mask” history and the social life of man. My “small” world is
crowded with people, sweaty, eventful, often turbulent, always complicated, and – for
me, at least – far more real.

References Cited

Broda de Casas, Johanna. 1970. “Tlacaxipehualiztli: A Reconstruction of an Aztec
Calendar Festival from 16th-Century Sources.” Revista Española de
Antropología Americana 5:197-273. Brown, Betty Ann. 1984. “Ochpaniztli in
Historical Perspective.” In Ritual Human Sacrifice in Mesoamerica, edited by Elizabeth
H. Boone, pp. 195-210. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks. Furst, Peter. 1974.
“Morning-Glory and Mother Goddess at Tepantitla, Teotihuacan: Iconography and Analogy
in Pre-Columbian Art.” In Mesoamerican Archaeology: New Approaches, edited by Norman
Hammond, pp. 187-215. London: Duckworth. Klein, Cecelia F. 1976. The Face of the Earth:
Frontality in Two-dimensional Meso-american Art. Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine
Arts series. New York: Garland Publishing Co., 1976. __________. 1980. “Who Was
Tlaloc?” Journal of Latin American Lore 6(2):155-204. __________. 1984. “Dioses de la
lluvia o sacerdotes del fuego?: Un estudio socio-politico de algunas representaciones
mexica-aztecas del dios Tlaloc. Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl 17:33-50. __________. 1986.
“Masking Empire: The Material Effects of Masks in Aztec Mexico.” Art History
9(2):135-67. Kubler, George. 1977. “Renascence and Disjunction in the Art of
Mesoamerica.” In Ornament, Via III: Journal of the Graduate School of Fine Arts,
University of Pennsylvania, edited by Stephen Kieran, pp. 31-41. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania. Millon, Clara. 1973. “Painting, Writing, and Polity in
Teotihuacan, Mexico.” American Antiquity 38(3):294-314. Panofsky, Erwin. 1960.
Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art. Stockholm: Almquist and Wicksell.

Taube, Karl A. 1983. “The Teotihuacan Spider Woman.” Journal of Latin American Lore
9(2):107-89. Watanabe, John M. 1983. “In the World of the Sun: A Cognitive Model of
Mayan Cosmology.” Man 18(4):710-28.

Cecelia F. Klein
University of California, Los Angeles

Life and Labor in Ancient Mexico: The Brief and Summary Relation of the Lords of New Spain. By Alonso de Zorita. Translated with an introduction by Benjamin Keen. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. Pp. xviii+328. $14.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8061-2679-5.

Benjamin Keen’s translation of Alonso de Zorita’s relación was first
published by Rutgers University Press in 1963. This new edition is very welcome, not
because it breaks new ground but because it makes an important colonial Mexican text
available in an affordable English translation that can be used in courses. Very few
such books are available, as anyone who has put together a course on colonial history
or ethnology is well aware. On the undergraduate level, the book would work well
alongside Miguel León-Portilla’s The Broken Spears (1992) as documentation of
the longer-term effects of the Spanish conquest on indigenous peoples. It would also
complement Bartolomé de las Casas’ The Devastation of the Indies (1992) as a
later and more moderate example of Spanish humanism exercised in defense of indigenous
people. I am currently (Fall 1996) using it in a graduate course on colonial and
contemporary Nahua ethnology.

This edition reprints Keen’s original introduction to the work, some aspects of
which are outdated. However, Keen has added a new preface reviewing some more recent
scholarship (though only up to 1990), particularly on the debates over the nature of
the calpulli. Zorita is a major source for the traditional view of the calpulli as a
corporate kinship group with ownership rights to communal property.

Alonso de Zorita was born in 1512, educated at the University of Salamanca, and then
practiced law in Granada for several years. Ín 1547 he was appointed oidor, or
judge, in the Audiencia, or supreme court, of Santo Domingo. Following a disastrous
official inspection tour in mainland South America, during which he witnessed various
atrocities committed against indigenous people, he was transferred in 1553 to the
Audiencia of Guatemala to help enforce the New Laws limiting the privileges of
encomenderos. He was then assigned to the Audiencia of Mexico, on which he served from
1556 to 1566. Apparently incorruptible and deeply concerned about the welfare of the
indigenous people, he was not popular among the colonists. In 1566 he retired to
Granada, poorer than when he left, and wrote a number of treatises based on his
experiences and material he collected in New Spain. He died about 1585. Zorita is the
subject of a substantial biography by Ralph H. Vigil (1987).

Zorita wrote his “Brief and Summary Relation of the Lords of New Spain” as a belated
response to a 1553 royal cédula sent to the Audiencias inquiring into
pre-Conquest and current tribute customs and payment capacities. Having been in
transition between his Guatemalan and Mexican posts when the original inquiry came, and
then being occupied with his official duties in Mexico, he had not had an opportunity
to frame his own response to the questionnaire until he returned to Spain. The account
is addressed to Philip II. It was submitted to the Council of the Indies and probably
never actually reached the king, but Keen suggests (p. 54) that it may have influenced
Philip III’s 1601 attempt to revise the repartimiento system of obligatory and
oppressive labor drafts.

The Relación is highly derivative, as its author freely acknowledges.
Although it is the most significant sixteenth-century ethnographic text prepared by a
Spaniard who was not a priest, it does rely heavily on missionary ethnography. Zorita’s
principal sources were the works of the Franciscans Andrés de Olmos, Motolinia
(Toribio de Benavente), and Francisco de las Navas (Baudot 1995 discusses these
connections). He also consulted with Nahua informants, particularly the
Franciscan-educated Don Pablo Nazareo. Since some of these original sources are lost,
Zorita’s work does contain information not found elsewhere. He also comments frequently
on his own observations and experiences, mainly in central Mexico but also from his
other travels.

Zorita’s work shares several general features with the writings of the Franciscan
chroniclers (including also Gerónimo de Mendieta): a tremendous sympathy for the
native people cast in paternalistic terms; a view of the native character as timid,
weak, and easily victimized; nostalgia for a pre-Conquest culture represented as highly
civilized and lacking only the Christian faith; a “world-turned-upside-down” view of
the disastrous impact of colonialism on native culture; disgust with the greed and
cruelty of his fellow Spaniards; pointed critiques of specific colonial policies. As
Keen notes (pp. 69-70), such polemics were necessary if the writer was to have any hope
of influencing royal policies, given the Crown’s desire for wealth, the power of the
colonists, and the persuasions of anti-native scholars and jurists.

Much of the account deals with tribute, how it was assigned and collected in pre
Conquest times, what was the contemporary practice, what ought to be done to reform
current problems. His positions, briefly stated, are as follows: in pre-Conquest times
tribute obligations were light, consisting mainly of local produce and communal labor
on designated fields, which did not disrupt the people’s lifestyle; at present they are
extremely unjust in the amounts demanded, the use of head counts to determine payment
levels, the type of tribute required (cash), and the activities people must pursue in
order to make the payments, such that the tribute system is responsible for the
demographic collapse of the native population; tribute requirements should be lowered
and cash tribute eliminated or at least much reduced, tribute should be based on an
assessment of each community’s resources and capacity to pay, and it should be once
again paid in local produce produced on communal fields set aside for the purpose.

Zorita works into his account discussions of various other topics, including some
that are tangential to the questions in the original cédula. One of his
particular concerns is the status of the indigenous nobility. He presents much data on
the traditional rights and duties of the lords and their rules of succession. With the
transition from hereditary rulers to elected town councils, the “natural lords” of many
communities had been displaced by new power holders, often mere commoners and often
corrupt, and the traditional dynastic rulers had become impoverished. Hoping to effect
a partial return to the stable hierarchy with the wise and benevolent lords that he
ascribes to pre-Conquest times, he recommends that the traditional dynasties be

In the complicated politics of the “Indian question” in mid-century Mexico, Zorita’s
positions come close to those of the Franciscans, among whom he was highly respected.
Essentially conservative, with great faith in the good intentions of the Spanish crown
and great respect for pre-Conquest native custom, he seeks to correct abuses in the
colonial governing system without ever questioning its underlying legitimacy. Zorita
admired the radical Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas, and even proposed to lead
a peaceful expedition to missionize the Chichimeca, modeled after Las Casas’s work in
Verapaz. However, in his recommendations to the King he follows the Franciscan
positions of supporting the institution of encomienda in principle (Las Casas opposed
it), opposing repartimiento, and limiting the Spanish presence in the colony.
Encomenderos should be obliged to make due with only the tribute needed for a “decent”
lifestyle, but they are necessary in order to secure and protect the territory.
Repartimiento should be replaced with a levy of workers who could hire themselves out
to Spanish employers as free laborers at market wages. Spaniards without gainful
employment in the colony should be sent back to Spain, and further immigration

Zorita’s relación makes a useful case study of the hazards of interpreting
colonial ethnographic and historical accounts. How do we evaluate his “Golden Age”
construction of pre Conquest culture, based on information that came to him second- and
third-hand, and which he employs to make policy arguments? A New Yorker review quoted
on the back cover describes the text as one of the “great works of social conscience.”
It is as such, more than as a source of data for archaeologists or ethnohistorians,
that the work continues to merit attention. In an effort to get away from the view of
the Nahuas as passive victims either thoroughly destroyed or thoroughly transformed by
colonialism, much recent scholarship focuses on survival, adaptation, and accommodation
(e.g., Cline 1986, Haskett 1991, Lockhart 1992, my own work). But now that Nahua
resourcefulness and ethnic survival have been well documented, Zorita’s powerful
account may actually be a useful reminder that being Nahua in mid sixteenth-century
Mexico meant, for many, a life of extreme hardship. And now that the Nahuas’ own
documents have become the most sought-after sources on colonial conditions, we may
usefully be reminded of those few Spaniards who did their sincere best to speak on
behalf of the colonized.

References Cited

Baudot, Georges. 1995. Utopia and History in Mexico: The First Chroniclers of
Mexican Civilization, 1520-1569, translated by Bernard R. Ortiz de Montellano and
Thelma Ortiz de Montellano. Niwot, Colorado: University Press of Colorado. Cline, S. L.
1986. Colonial Culhuacan, 1580-1600: A Social History of an Aztec Town. Albuquerque:
University of New Mexico Press. Haskett, Robert. 1991. Indigenous Rulers: An
Ethnohistory of Town Government in Colonial Cuernavaca. Albuquerque: University of New
Mexico Press. Las Casas, Bartolomé de. 1992. The Devastation of the Indies: A
Brief Account, translated by Herman Briffault; edited by Bill M. Donovan. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press.

León-Portilla, Miguel. 1992. The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the
Conquest of Mexico. Boston: Beacon Press. Lockhart, James. 1992. The Nahuas after the
Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth
through Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. Vigil, Ralph
H. 1987. Alonso de Zorita: Royal Judge and Christian Humanist, 1512-1585. Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press.

Louise M. Burkhart
University at Albany, State University of New York

Mexico and the Spanish Conquest. By Ross Hassig. London and New York: Longman, 1994. Pp. ix+206. 12 maps. $75.95 (cloth). ISBN 0-582-06828-2. $26.95 (paper). ISBN 0-582 06829-0.

The past years have witnessed several new studies of the conquest of Mexico, notably
the one under review and that of Hugh Thomas (Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés and
the Fall of Old Mexico. London: Hutchinson, 1993). The Thomas volume, as opposed to the
book by Hassig, is more complete, serious, documented, and founded on texts rather than
mere impressions. Hassig’s merit lies principally in some interesting observations he
makes and on the details he provides on the weapons the Spaniards used or may have
used, and on their effectiveness. The remainder of his book is rather disputable,
sketchy, subjective, and sometimes simply erroneous.

From page 1 the reader is struck by the author’s limited knowledge of the sources
available. He omits first-hand accounts by Spanish participants such as Vázquez
de Tapia, the anonymous conquerors compiled by Oviedo, and legal testimonies. He
ascribes the Indian versions to several decades after the Conquest, which is not always
true (the Anales de Tlateloloco are dated 1528). He also places too much confidence in
Bernal Díaz, in spite of some flashes of insight where he notes or rectifies
errors (pp. 110,138). In a general way, one is struck by the almost avowed absence of
historical criticism, in particular where Indian sources are concerned. This explains
why Hassig “sees no convincing basis for choice in many cases other than general
preference for one author over another” (p. 1), and why he “does not give Spanish
accounts priority over Indian” accounts (p. 4). Yet he knows perfectly well that unlike
the Indian sources, many Spanish accounts come from eyewitnesses. They are written much
closer to the events than the Indian sources and are less prone to mythicization. He
also knows that our main source, Cortés’ letters, is relatively reliable because
Cortés knew that every one of his moves would be controlled, scrutinized, and
criticized, which indeed was the case. In addition, the legal testimonies are

When presenting a number of explanations for the fall of the Aztec empire, Hassig
omits an important and classic one, namely the rebellion of the states subject to the
Aztec empire. To my knowledge, this explanation was provided for the first time in a
1534 testimony by an eyewitness, Martín Vázquez (Documentos cortesianos
II, edited by José Luis Martínez. México: UNAM, Fondo de Cultura
Económica, 1991; p. 335).

Chapter 1 is interesting in its description of the Spanish background and especially
military developments. Chapter 2 examines the opposing side, from the Olmecs on, with
an able discussion of Aztec warfare. The author rightly stresses (p. 22) that the Aztec
expansion was not caused by religious beliefs. But one may wonder if they really had
the choice between a territorial and a hegemonic empire – were there models for the
former? The next chapters are dedicated to the Conquest proper and are followed by two
interesting chapters on the aftermath and the consequences of the Conquest. The
conclusions, on the other hand, are very questionable and in any case not substantiated
in the body of the work.

The relation of Córdoba’s first contact with the Mayas and of the battle of
Cape Cotoche (“Gran Cairo”) in 1517 (p. 36) typifies Hassig’s manner of reconstructing
events. He writes of them as they should have occurred, i.e., according to contemporary
prejudices, which he shares: “Since the two sides held conflicting attitudes about what
actions were permissible, this first Spanish/Mesoamerican contact was almost guaranteed
to provoke a clash…. The Spaniards were probably received in peace until they seized,
or appeared to be seizing, Maya property without permission, initiating the eventual
clash” (pp. 36-37). However, our only source on the subject, Bernal Díaz, does
not mention anything like “appearing to seize property.” What is more, this battle
probably never happened – it took place only in Díaz’ imagination. Díaz
is the only one to mention the battle, 40 years after it supposedly took place, while
all the other more reliable sources much closer to the event (not mentioned by Hassig)
described a peaceful reception. Díaz invents a battle to show that from the very
first contact, the Indians were the aggressors. During approximately the same epoch,
Las Casas imagines another “first battle” in which the Spaniards were the aggressors.
And when they narrate their first contact with Cortés, at San Juan de
Ulúa, the Aztecs pretend that from the very start Cortés put Montezuma’s
ambassadors in chains. In these cases, each side obviously distorts the facts in
accordance with its prejudices.

When describing Maya weapons in that supposed battle, Hassig evokes “swords,” which
these Maya probably never used. Even Bernal Díaz does not mention swords being
used at Cape Cotoche, and when he later mentions their use in the battle of
Champotón, he projects observations from the Aztecs onto the Mayas. Gonzalo
Fernández de Oviedo’s description of Maya weapons is more reliable (Historia
general y natural de las Indias. 5 vols. Madrid: Ed. Atlas, 1959; Book Chap. 11,
2:126-27). Later, following Bernal Díaz again, Hassig asserts (p. 48) that the
fictitious Cotoche attack was led by Guerrero, a Spaniard lost in a shipwreck in 1511
who managed to become a Maya war lord in Chetumal, more than 300 km south of Cotoche as
the crow flies. One wonders how Guerrero could have been informed in far-off Chetumal
of the coming of the Spaniards in order for him to arrive in time to lead a foreign
army into battle 24 hours after the first contact between the Mayas and the

Concerning Cortés’ expedition, overreliance on Díaz results in other
mistakes, some minor, others more disturbing. At Tizapancingo, Cortés had to
fight an Aztec garrison that attacked his Cempoaltec allies. Hassig following
Díaz writes (p. 60) that when the Spaniards arrived, the Aztecs were gone, thus
contradicting other accounts and legal testimony. More important, he takes seriously
Díaz’s story of how Cortés risked his life and his small army in order to
destroy the idols of his Cempoaltec allies. One of the aims of that risky affair would
have been to “cement his alliances in Mexico” (p. 61). Actually the outcome was rather
different. Hassig explains, again following Díaz, that “only seizing and
threatening to kill their leaders kept the Totonacs from attacking the Spaniards over
this affront.” But this dramatic and improbable event is mentioned solely by
Díaz, who projects into the past something that happened later in Mexico and
that resulted in an ultimatum directed by Montezuma to Cortés to leave Mexico
(Oviedo 1959 4:224-55). Like Cortés himself, Díaz prefers to omit this
incident that seems to have been one of the major causes of Mexico’s uprising against
the Spaniards and their rout in May 1520. But in order to conserve the memory of the
heroic deed, he displaces it to Cempoala.

Hassig examines the reasons why Montezuma did not attack the invaders while they
were still on the coast (p. 77). One argument he invokes is that “only during the dry
season following the harvest were large numbers of men available… when there were
adequate food supplies… and roads were passable.” For him, the war season was “from
early December to late April” (p. 23). However, this seasonal aspect must not have been
as compelling as Hassig imagines, for in September, the Tlaxcaltecs were in a position
to send tens of thousands of warriors against the Spaniards. In May 1520, eight to
10,000 nobles (figure cited by Hassig, p. 91) spent day after day dancing in the main
Temple square of Mexico before being killed by a few tens of Spaniards. During the same
month and in June, the Mexicas besieged the Spaniards in the city and killed hundreds
of them. Last but not least, Hassig says that during the final siege of Mexico from May
to August, Cortés’ Indian allies would muster 200,000 men to help defeat the
city and supply the besiegers. They did this at the same time they were suffering
millions of deaths from smallpox. It is clear then that the rainy season cannot have
been the true reason for Montezuma’s apparent “passivity” (apparent, for he had good
reasons for having the attacks done by those others he secretly instigated). The main
motive Hassig does not detect is that Montezuma, understanding that the Spaniards would
be very hard to defeat, wanted to safeguard his city and his throne. In Aztec politics,
a city that did not fight or offer a minimal resistance to a conquering state (that is,
a state that wanted to impose tribute) kept its ruler and its autonomy so long as it
paid the imposed tribute. Hassig admits this (p. 100), but does not apply it to the
present case. This also explains why, at Tlaxcala, Montezuma offered to pay tribute to
the Spaniards provided they returned home, but Hassig (p. 74) does not believe this
interpretation to be true.

After having overcome the Tlaxcaltecs and having made an alliance with them, the
Spaniards marched to Cholula where, according to Spanish and some Indian accounts,
Montezuma and the Cholultecs planned to exterminate or capture the invaders. Hassig’s
interpretation of the event is a monument of subjectivity and prejudice. The Spanish
version, he opines, “does not ring true.” Cortés had “no sound logistical
reason” to go to Cholula, there was nothing like an Aztec ambush, and the massacre was
“probably a deliberate act by Cortés to destroy Cholollan which he intended as a
warning to other hostile cities” (pp. 78-79). At least Hassig admits that Cholula was
hostile. In fact, a critical analysis of the sources shows clearly that Cholula was a
trap prepared by Montezuma who by now understood very well that in open-field battle
the Spaniards were almost invincible. He wanted to stop them but preferred the job be
done by others in order to be able to claim his innocence if things went wrong. It was
sound politics and could have worked. As for why Cortés went to Cholula, there
is an obvious reason: he did so because Montezuma invited him to the holy city of

It is impossible to enumerate here all the arguments that prove the reality of the
ambush. (For more details on this and other critical issues, see Graulich, Montezuma ou
l’apogee et la chute de l’empire azteque, Paris: Fayard, 1994.) But the best evidence
is that the Aztec ruler had Cortés and his garrison at Vera Cruz attacked
simultaneously. Unfortunately, Hassig (p. 87), relying once more on Díaz,
situates the Vera Cruz event later, when the Spaniards were in Mexico. But Díaz
makes a mistake because he interprets erroneously his main source, Gómara, who
in turn follows Cortés’ unambiguous statement (1963:60-61) that news of the Vera
Cruz affair reached him before leaving Cholula.

After his failure at Cholula, Montezuma had no other alternative than to receive the
Spaniards in Mexico and try to exterminate them there. Hassig admits this possibility
(p. 86). The Spaniards entered the city and after a few days seized Montezuma as a
hostage. During several months, Cortés and Montezuma ruled together over a
empire “stronger than ever” as Cortés put it, to please his prisoner. Then a
crucial event occurred. But the event was overlooked by Hassig because he ignores the
important testimony of the anonymous conquerors compiled by Oviedo. Everything went
wrong when an overconfident Cortés destroyed idols in a pyramid in the Templo
Mayor (on this episode, there are two testimonies of A. de Tapia). Montezuma summoned
Cortés and ordered the conquistadores to leave the city, claiming that he could
not guarantee their safety any more. Cortés accepted, but expecting
reinforcements, he tried to gain time. Meanwhile, the Aztecs mobilized secretly. Then
came Narváez. Cortés marched to the coast to oppose him, leaving Alvarado
with a small garrison in Mexico. The Aztecs now had a splendid opportunity to attain
their goals: they could either wait for the Spaniards to kill each other and finish off
the survivors when they returned to Mexico City; or first destroy the garrison in
Mexico, liberating Montezuma, and then annihilating the survivors of the battle between
Cortés and Narváez. That the Aztecs overlooked those possibilities would
have been inconceivable, but for reasons hidden in mystery, Hassig (p. 91) considers it
“almost certainly untrue” that the Aztecs planned to attack the Spaniards.

When Alvarado became aware of what was about to happen, he tried to imitate
Cortés at Cholula and brutally nip the rebellion in the bud. Hence the massacre
of the month Toxcatl, immediately followed by an energetic reaction of armed and
obviously well-prepared Mexicas. Hassig supposes that the Aztecs did not destroy
Alvarado’s men “as a result of the Aztec’s disarray following the loss of so many
leaders (up to 10,000), a mourning period following their funerals, the continued
imprisonment of Moteuczoma, and their uncertainty over unseating a reigning king.” He
also feels that after the massacre, “[Moteuczoma’s] support vanished virtually
overnight.” In fact, the Aztecs suspended their attack because Montezuma ordered them
to do so, bullied by Alvarado who put his dagger at his chest (Doc. cortesianos
1:174,185-86,208). The event proves that the sovereign’s prestige and authority were
still intact. They would remain so until his death, in spite of later Aztec allegations
to the contrary.

Hassig states that when Cortés came back from his victorious expedition
against Narváez, he “probably felt that he could rectify the situation with
Moteuczoma’s help.” Actually, reinforced by the soldiers of his previous opponent, he
made the mistake of feeling strong enough to reject and insult Montezuma. Montezuma
informed his people that they should not take him into account any longer, and the war
started again as soon as the Spaniards were back in their quarters (Doc. cortesianos
1:208; 2:34-35). Following days of hopeless struggle, Cortés was forced to call
upon Montezuma again. But no sooner had the king appeared to address his people than he
was struck by projectiles and fell. He died from his wounds a few days later. Hassig
lends credit to some Aztec sources in claiming that Montezuma was killed by the
Spaniards. He feels it “plausible… and probable” since “there was little to be gained
by keeping Moteuczoma alive and much to be gained if he died.” In effect, “the Aztecs
deeply disapproved of his actions and had repudiated his leadership” (p. 94).

But, first, we have seen that Montezuma’s authority had been sufficient to save
Alvarado and his garrison. Second, the most reliable Spanish sources, including the
testimonies of men openly hostile to Cortés, agree more or less on the facts,
namely, the ruler was hit the very moment he came out and probably before being
recognized by the besieging Aztecs. Third, during subsequent enquiries against
Cortés, even his worst enemies never charged him with the murder. Fourth, the
pro-Mexica accounts provide three different and irreconcilable versions of the way
Montezuma had been killed, one of them clearly inspired by historical reminiscences.
Fifth, many aspects of the Aztec myths of the Conquest indicate that the Mexica could
never accept the responsibility of having “killed the father.” Last but not least, the
Spaniards did not kill Montezuma because he was still respected and therefore useful to
them. The accounts of his being insulted by his subjects are late and contradict the
eyewitness reports.

After a short but well-done description of the siege and fall of Mexico
Tenochtitlan, Hassig, reflecting on the causes of the fall of the Aztec empire, decides
in favor of the old theory of the Indian rebellion. It is of course undeniable that
without the help of tens of thousands of allies who supplied food and served as porters
or warriors, the Conquest would have been more difficult. But it is exaggerated to
claim (p. 146) that “what made the conquest possible was not the Spaniards’ military
might, which was always modest, but the assistance of tens and even hundreds of
thousands of Indian allies,” that the war was “overwhelmingly fought by Indians” (p.
149), that “victories were typically won by large numbers of allied troops who could
exploit these breaches” opened by Spanish arms, and that “the clash was centered on
issues internal to Mesoamerica” (p. 146). Hassig’s own descriptions of the battles do
not substantiate these claims. Clearly, the Spaniards’ military might was overwhelming.
In their battle against tens of thousands of Maya at Centla, they stood alone and won.
They had very little Cempoaltec help in their struggle against the Tlaxcaltecs, who
counted among Mesoamerica’s best soldiers, and it was only after vanquishing them day
after day that they won their support. Only then did the Tlaxcaltecs choose the winning
side. The war against Tlaxcala had nothing to do with an “issue internal to
Mesoamerica.” The number of the allies inside Mexico-Tenochtitlan when the Spaniards
were besieged and managed to escape was also necessarily limited. Only during the siege
of the capital were their auxiliaries very numerous. Most of these allies were always
ready to choose the winning side, which makes an unconvincing case for a “clash
centered on issues internal to Mesoamerica.” And the role of the allies was really
auxiliary. The causeways leading to the city were too narrow to permit the advance of
other than spearheads. Most of the numerous Indian warriors were reduced to protecting
the flanks and the rear of the Spanish spearheads. Nor does the “rebellion” explanation
account for other colonial conquests by small numbers of Europeans, notably in

According to the author (p. 38), the main Spanish advantage in weaponry would have
been the crossbows, harquebuses, and cannons. I think the swords, against which the
Indians were defenseless (while the Spaniards had good protection against Indian
weapons), were decisive. At the great battle of Otumba, after the Noche Triste, the
Spaniards had lost their firearms and most of their crossbows, yet they won. At Tepeaca
also they fought without cannons or harquebuses and had only six crossbows, and yet won
with no deaths (pp. 97,104).

Astonishingly, Hassig considers it more likely “that the Indians understood how the
Spaniards could be exploited than that Cortés saw how he could use the Indians
in a political system he clearly did not understand.” In his opinion, the Indians were
“the primary manipulators of Conquest events” (pp. 3,146-47). But Hassig forgets,
first, that Cortés had Indian advisers of different origins who informed him
about Aztecs politics. Second, most of the Spaniards’ allies were forced into choosing
the winning side. And third, that the main “manipulator,” Montezuma, was always
outmanipulated by his opponents. Examples include Cholula, when taken prisoner, and the
events during Toxcatl.

One has also to regret several inaccuracies in Hassig’s book. Among the sources he
mentions (p. 1) is the Anonymous Conqueror, who apparently never set foot in Mexico.
That Teotihuacan was a theocracy remains to be proven and the explanation presented for
its fall is mere speculation (pp. 17-18). Cortés never sank his ships (p. 62)
‹ he ran them aground. It is not true that after the Conquest, Tenochtitlan was
renamed Mexico City. Mexico, as much as Tenochtitlan, was a pre-Columbian name for the
city of the Mexica. And I am not sure either that the “perimeter of Tenochtitlan
offered at least 24 km of shoreline” (p. 130). To conclude, Mexico and the Spanish
Conquest may be of some interest for those wishing primarily to know more about
16th-century Aztec and especially Spanish weaponry and tactics.

Michel Graulich
Université Libre de Bruxelles

Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru. By Florence E. Mallon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Pp. xxiv+472. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-520 09504-3. $19.00 (paper). ISBN 0-520-09505-1.

This rich and complex book analyzes local, regional, and national events in 19th
century Mexico and Peru in order to understand their divergent paths in the early 20th
century and the different nation-states which have emerged. After an introductory
chapter that provides the theoretical and historical context, the book is divided into
three parts. Part One (Chapters 2-4) focuses on the Sierra de Puebla. Part Two
(Chapters 5-7) extends the ideas and concepts developed in the analysis of Puebla to
Morelos and the Peruvian regions of the Mantaro Valley and Cajamarca. Part Three
(Chapters 8-10) compares Mexico and Peru.

Mallon begins her analysis in Chapter 2 by showing how eastern and western liberals
in the Sierra de Puebla pursued different kinds of liberalism which were built on
different relations with popular culture. Chapter 3 examines the community base of
popular liberalism in Puebla. In this chapter, she presents a dynamic view of the
complexities of gender, patriarchy, and democracy and shows how indigenous ideas of
reciprocity and communalism altered urban notions of individualism. While peasant
democracy challenged urban individualism, however, she argues that patriarchy was not
challenged. Women’s labor was important in the liberal struggle but it remained
invisible and women received none of the rewards of liberalism. In Chapter 4,
“Alternative Nationalisms,” Mallon describes alternative (popular and regional) liberal
discourses that emerged around land (with collective rather than individual interests
prevailing) and political participation (with expectations of entitlement because of
their contribution to the Liberal Revolution). In the next two chapters, on Morelos and
Junin, Mallon shows how popular liberal discourses again diverged from national ones.
In Chapter 7, the author examines the limiting case of Cajamarca where no alternative
nationalisms emerged. She argues that in the Cajamarca region, unlike the others, no
communal tradition existed on which to build an alternative discourse.

In Part 3, Mallon compares Mexican and Peruvian state building. Chapter 8 focuses on
how political leaders in both states excluded their more radical allies in order to
centralize power. In doing so, they built state structures on violence and repression.
But in Mexico, the author argues, a coalition with regional counter-hegemonic movements
led to the Revolution of 1910 whereas Peru, with no such coalitions, saw further
fragmentation and repression.

This ambitious and very successful book describes and analyzes nationalism from
below. In doing so it questions orthodox top-down approaches to nation-state formation
and provides a new kind of political history which incorporates the “submerged and
unsubmerged discourses” that shaped Mexico’s hegemonic and Peru’s divided 20th century
nation-states. Throughout the book Mallon addresses important issues of gender, class,
race, and ethnicity. Throughout the book also there is a welcome tension between
generalizing and particularizing. Although influenced by postmodernism, Mallon suggests
that, “While recognizing the need for a more flexible and gentle attitude, we must also
realize that refusing to find broader patterns can be as deadly as insisting that all
variations fit into one” (p. 244). Similarly, while the author recognizes the
importance of local discourse, history, and action, unlike some postmodernist analysis,
she relies on the concepts of hegemony and counter-hegemony and focuses on unequal
power relations in a three-tiered process involving struggle at local, regional, and
national levels. Consequently, the power of the consolidated state, whether it is
hegemonic power, as in the Mexican state, or the lack of hegemonic power, as in the
case of Peru, is evident throughout her analysis. At the same time, she refuses to see
only a contestation between “the popular” and more dominant forms of politics and
discourse. Contestation she argues occurs within popular culture as well.

It is her recognition of this complexity involving conflict and coalition in popular
politics and culture and her commitment to placing this complexity at the forefront of
the analysis that makes this book especially valuable for anthropologists. Not only
does she provide much needed historical material but her multilayered approach is a
model for anthropologists who like Mallon wish to begin, but not end, at the local

Frances A. Rothstein
Towson State University

Cuatro nobles titulados en contienda por la tierra. By Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán. Mexico, D.F.: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social, 1995. Pp. 256. ISBn 968-496-283-5.

It is always exciting to read a new work by Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, one of
Mexico’s foremost scholars, whose wide breadth of interests in the social sciences is
expertly woven throughout his work. The present collection of four essays, all
previously published separately in Mexican journals from 1987 to 1992, is no exception.
The essays focus on land issues affecting indigenous communities within central
Veracruz, particularly the Valley of Orizaba and nearby Zongolica, and cover the period
from post-Conquest to Independence. The area under investigation was one of two
principal routes connecting the port of Veracruz to Mexico City, the other being via
Jalapa. The region became important to the Spaniards, both nobles and those of lesser
status, for grazing animals and growing sugarcane. These and other local industries
eventually met strong economic and social competition through the introduction of
tobacco in the mid-1700s, which in turn bolstered indigenous claims to surrounding

In the introduction, Aguirre Beltrán notes his long-term interest in agrarian
issues and he sees these essays as an extension of his work, begun more than fifty
years earlier, on the relationship between land and society. He also explains how
students at the University of Veracruz conducted research in the area for their theses
or dissertations, amassing a large database for the area. Thus the project has provided
younger scholars with the vehicle to become degreed professionals while at the same
time complementing the interest of the publisher, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios
Superiores en Antropologia Social (CIESAS).

The four essays that comprise this work all involve the loss of indigenous lands to
titled Spanish nobles. Each essay highlights a specific privileged title initially
granted by the Crown for a price. It then focuses on subsequent owners, for example
Conde del Valle de Orizaba, and their families who acquired the title through
inheritance, marriage, or purchase. Each essay can be read as a separate unit since it
is a republication of a journal article. Aguirre Beltrán’s only effort to tie
the essays together is through their placement in the text, with the most extensively
researched essay presented last, even though it was the first published. Each essay
explodes with an abundance of historical data as Aguirre Beltrán’s well-trained
ethnohistorical eye focuses on numerous archival materials in order to present an
accurate depiction of the who, how, what, and why of the events described.

The first essay, “Nobles criollos, negros esclavos e indios de repartimiento” (pp.
21-65), traces the title of “Conde de Orizaba” from lands acquired in the Valley of
Orizaba for a sugar company by the First Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza. His
son sold the land in 1569 that eventually ended up in the hands of Rodigio de Vivero,
who became the First Conde de Orizaba in 1627. The body of the essay pieces together
the holders of the title until it was abolished in 1826, along with all other titles.
This essay focuses on the Spanish hierarchy in the New World and how families of
influence were able to advance and to maintain their positions through time. Much of
their success revolved around nepotism, intermarriage, and personal influences at Court
and with New World administrators. A title was a significant honor. It entailed not
only prestige for its bearer, but it also signified both economic and political power.
The title was an assurance of land and labor that guaranteed an annual income and
acceptance among the Valley’s elite. Aguirre Beltrán’s first essay traces the
title of Conde de Orizaba from its first through its ninth and final holder to its
dissolution by the Congreso de la Unión. It is an insightful and well-researched
account of the holders of the title from the post Conquest period to Independence.

The second essay, “Los marqueses de la Colina y el tabaco” (pp. 69-135), examines
the relationship between the nobility and the tobacco industry. The second title of
nobility for Orizaba, Marques del Valle de la Colina, was given by Charles II to Diego
Madrazo Escalera Rueda de Velasco in 1690. It was given based on the merits of his
parents who served under Philip IV. Their son became a prominent resident in Orizaba
with numerous business interests throughout the region and the country. He even thought
to ensure his proper place in the afterlife by sponsoring the formation of a local
convent. Ultimately there were seven successive Marqueses de la Colina who were
entitled to numerous lands, ranchos, haciendas, and various businesses.

By the latter part of the eighteenth century, tobacco was recognized by the Crown as
a major source of income. The crop was introduced into the Orizaba region by
José Galvez in 1765. Galvez signed contracts in Orizaba and neighboring
Córdoba that gave these areas exclusive rights to grow tobacco in New Spain.
Galvez’ purpose was to control the quality and the commercialization of tobacco by
concentrating it in a single region. This worked well initially as the privileged
growers conformed to the Crown’s restrictions for regulated growth in return for a
guaranteed price. However, clandestine growers soon began to operate in the region,
particularly in and around the indigenous lands of Zongolica, even though Zongolica was
included in the 1767 contract. Tobacco growers both legal and illegal, became a
dominant force in the region and were prime movers in the change from a feudal to a
capitalist economy. The growing of tobacco involved planting, weeding, cutting, and
drying, tasks that required growers to have experienced and dependable workers
available. The result was the creation of a class of wage laborers. Working the tobacco
fields enabled local indigenous communities to accumulate hard currency that they could
use to acquire ancestral lands. The regulation of tobacco changed after Independence as
successive governments vacillated in their policies regarding tobacco production. But
before firm plans could be implemented, coffee superseded tobacco as the most lucrative
cash crop in the nation.

The third essay, Las proezas del Marqués y la Marquesa de la Sierra Nevada”
(pp. 139-80), focuses on the third title (Marqués de la Sierra Nevada) granted
by the Crown in 1708. The first holder of the title, Domingo Ruiz de Tagle, a military
man of noted heritage and high ambition, acquired the title after the death of his
second wife. Her cousin was Diego Madrazo Escalera, Marqués del Valle de la
Colina. The Sierra Nevada encompassed lands within the folds of the volcano of Orizaba,
called Citlaltepetl by the indigenous inhabitants. Records for the area that included
the Marquesses de la Sierra Nevada are rich in detail permitting Aguirre Beltrán
to list the names of slaves and equipment on hand, names of individuals and debts they
owed, and other inventories of socioeconomic interest. The importance of the network of
business associations within New Spain should not be underestimated. Records of one
Captain Juan González de Olmedo, a local resident, reveal his widespread
dealings throughout the region, even extending to Guatemala and Oaxaca.

Aguirre Beltrán documents the machinations for acquiring and maintaining the
title of Marqués de la Sierra Nevada suggesting, for example, that the mother of
the second marquesa persuaded her daughter to join a convent so she could retain the
title. Thus the wife of the first marqués became the third marquesa, who held
the title for more than forty years. The lands acquired by the Sierra Nevada elite were
often hotly contested both by titled nobles and by local indigenous communities. The
latter engaged in litigation as a means of reacquiring ancestral lands lost by earlier
flight or through the system of concentrating Indians into towns. This essay highlights
the regimented nature of early Colonial society operating under strict Crown policies
and contrasts it with the more dynamic later Colonial period where social forces were
more varied and complex.

The final essay, “Los Marqueses de Selva Nevada versus Zongolica en lucha por la
tierra” (pp. 183-246), was written in 1987 and was the first of the four published.
However, it is rightfully presented last in the collection as it is the most in-depth
review and analysis of conflicting socioeconomic and sociopolitical forces colliding in
the region. The fourth and final title in the region was granted by Carlos III in 1774
to a married couple. They acquired some of the lands vacated by the expulsion of the
Jesuits from New Spain in 1767. However, local Nahuas, particularly from Zongolica,
also laid claim to some of the same lands. Aguirre Beltrán presents a
well-documented account of the dispute over the lands between the marquesa and the
Zongolica community revealing the extent to which the indigenous people were willing to
engage in litigation. Documents were presented to the Real Audiencia that supported
Zongolica’s claims to the lands based on their support and loyalty during the Conquest.
Their final document of 1609 was determined to be false and the marquesa countered with
the contention that the community of Zongolica was legally entitled to only 600 varas
of land and any land being used beyond those limits entitled her to collect rent. The
dispute raged for years and was fueled by legal and illegal tobacco growers in the
region who supported the indigenes as a strategy for preserving their own financial
interests in the region. The community of Zongolica continued petitioning the courts
for a favorable decision, especially after presenting an authentic document from 1617
that granted them land rights.

Aguirre Beltrán points out that after independence the new government
discouraged large land holdings and the possessors of the lands were convinced to sell
them to Zongolica. The lands eventually went from communal lands to individual owners.
This essay clearly demonstrates that indigenous communities did avail themselves of the
Spanish legal system and that it was a viable means to arrest the process of land loss.
It also demonstrates that in some cases they actually were able to reclaim lost lands.
While indigenous communities were at an obvious disadvantage within the Spanish legal
system, the support of special-interest groups (e.g., tobacco growers) could and did
help finance their litigation while providing advice on procedural matters.

I would recommend this work to anyone interested in Mexican ethnohistory,
particularly because it is an insightful regional study of a part of Mexico that has
much to add to our understanding of the Colonial period. This, and the anticipated
publication of the students’ work, will enhance our knowledge of the region. The essays
would have been much easier to follow if maps, totally lacking in the text, were
included. Another limitation is that access to this collection of essays will be
difficult considering that only 1,000 copies were printed in Spanish.

Richard Bradley
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Mexican Earth. By Todd Downing. Illustrations by Howard Willard. Forward by Wolfgang Hochbruck. 2nd ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996. Pp. xiii+366. $16.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8061-2788-0.

John Rollin Ridge, under the pseudonym “Yellow Bird,” published in 1854 in San
Francisco, California, his Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta (University of
Oklahoma, second edition 1955), considered to be the first study dealing with a Mexican
topic written by a Native American. Critics have speculated as to why Ridge, of
Cherokee descent, selected the life of a Mexican so-called “bandido” to write about. In
the “Publisher’s Preface” it is stated that “[h]is own experiences would seem to have
well fitted him to portray in living colors the fearful scenes which are described in
this book (p. 2). More recently, Remi Nadeu in his book The Real Joaquin Murieta
(Crest, 1974) says that Ridge “had ample reason to be attracted by a subject such as a
Mexican bandit in American California. He was the son and grandson of chiefs who had
signed the agreement calling for the Trail of Tears relocation of the Cherokees from
Georgia to Indian Territory in 1836. He had seen his father assassinated” (p. 116).

Other active American writers, some of them not identified as to ethnic origin, have
been attracted to Mexican subjects and Mexico itself. But it is Todd Downing (1902
1974) who is perhaps the most distinguished among them. He published four mystery
novels – Vultures in the Sky (1935), Murder in the Tropics (1935), The Last Trumpet:
Murder in a Mexican Bullring (1937), and Night over Mexico (1937) – in which the main
interest focuses on the plot and not on Mexican culture. At the same time he was
writing his novels, Downing decided to dedicate a book to the country’s culture,
people, history, myths, and traditions. This book, The Mexican Earth, was written
between 1934 and 1939, and published in 1940 in New York by Doubleday-Doran, the same
editorial house that had published his four novels.

What can a reader learn about Mexico in a book published when the nation had
nineteen million inhabitants, less than Mexico City has today? For most books, probably
not much but the same cannot be said about Downing’s work. It contains the keen
observations of a witness to the history of Mexico when the country was on the verge of
a great change. We gain insight into the period when Mexico turned to the right with
the election of Avila Camacho in 1940, the coming of World War II, the establishment of
the bracero program, and the beginning of the industrialization of the country. Mexico
in Downing’s book is the Mexico of Lázaro Cárdenas, a postrevolutionary
period encompassing two great events in its history – the distribution of land to the
campesinos, and the expropriation of the oil companies in 1937. In addition, his
tracing of Mexico’s historical development from the earliest periods to the 1930s gives
the book depth and permanent value.

The Mexican Earth, reedited with a Foreword by Wolfgang Hochbruck, is a collection
of twenty-two essays dealing with all aspects of Mexican culture, but especially its
history, from the pre-Aztec period to the 1930s. Emphasis is also placed on its myths
and legends, the people and their traditions, and fiestas and religious ceremonies.
Observations are by a sympathetic visitor able to see certain aspects of Mexican life
and culture not observed by the everyday tourist, or even by some Mexicans themselves.
An example of the latter is the presence of racial prejudice in a country supposedly
lacking this particular vice.

In the introductory first chapter, appropriately titled “Cactus, Orchids, Maguey,”
Downing relates his experiences during a trip to Mexico by automobile. He was with a
group traveling from Laredo to Mexico City by the old Pan American Highway along the
Gulf of Mexico. They also took side trips to Saltillo and other points of interest. The
following chapters are dedicated to the pre-Hispanic civilizations, the Conquest and
its aftermath, the Virgin of Guadalupe, the new society, silver mining, Poinsett, Los
Bandidos de Río Frío and other nineteenth-century novels, Santa Ana’s
misdeeds, Maximilian and Carlotta, the Porfiriato, the Revolution, Obregón’s
presidency, the Maximato, popular religious cults, the Cárdenas period, and the
ancient culture of Oaxaca.

All of this is narrated not from the perspective of a strict historiographer but
rather from that of the essayist and even the novelist, in the manner of Waldo Frank or
D. H. Lawrence, whose books he quotes. His discourse is not historical in that he is
constantly making references to the present circumstance. Also, his knowledge of the
history of Native Americans, and his American (non-European) point of view give
originality to his interpretation of the native cultures of Mexico. When speaking about
the Aztec “king” (the tlatoani) he observes: “To call these rulers kings and their
successors emperors is to give an erroneous idea of the Aztec state. Even Prescott was
overly impressed by the pageantry surrounding the last Moctezuma and failed to remember
that beneath the gold and silver and quetzal feathers this was an American ruler and
these American institutions whose background was not the minarets of Baghdad but the
cornfields which had produced as well the Muskogean Confederacy and the League of the
Iroquois” (p. 42).

Some chapter titles are metaphorical. “The Highway of the Roses” (Chapter 3) refers
to the pilgrimage of the Aztecs from Aztlán to Tenochtitlán guided by
their god Huitzilopochtli. Of interest to contemporary Chicano historians is Dowling’s
reference to the location of Aztlán. He says, “Aztlán has been located in
Canada, California, up and down the Rockies. While it is too nebulous a place ever to
be identified with certainty, there is reason to believe that the Aztecs crossed the
Colorado and Gila rivers and the deserts of Chihuahua to Culiacán” (p. 36).
Other metaphorical titles are “Feathered Serpent,” “Blood on the Sun,” “Fiesta of the
Flowers,” and “Rosaries and Rifles.” In the chapters dedicated to the Conquest, his
interest, unlike most historians, focuses on Pedro de Alvarado rather than
Cortés. “Certainly the most debonair of the conquistadores, one of the most
wantonly cruel was Pedro de Alvarado” (p. 83). Why this interest in Alvarado? Perhaps
the following sentence, which shows Downing’s perceptive interpretation of history,
explains it. Speaking about Lázaro Cárdenas’ decree expropriating the oil
fields, he says, “More than petroleum rights were at issue here. President
Cárdenas was defying a ghostly parade of foreigners that reached straight back
to Pedro de Alvarado” (p. 85).

As a novelist, Dowling’s discourse in The Mexican Earth is characterized by
narrative elements bordering on fiction. He makes frequent use of anecdotes, myths,
legends, and dialogues as found in novels. Yet, this tendency does not contaminate the
historical text, as the author is careful to separate these two elements. In order to
demonstrate how Americans along the border believe “those tall twisted stories that
sprout along the Rio Grande” (p. 2), he tells an anecdote about the gun fight between
policemen and federal officers fighting and killing each other over the right to
inspect a tourist’s car. The incident, heard in Laredo, had taken place in Ciudad
Juárez. The anecdote about General Barrios illustrates prevalent ideas about the
bravery of Mexicans facing death. General Barrios, a Pancho Villa former Dorado, just
before facing the firing squad requests that he be allowed to buy a sombrero and a
paliacate (red bandanna). Meanwhile, he smoked a cigar without letting its ashes fall.
This anecdote was first told by Martín Luis Guzmán in his book The Eagle
and the Serpent (1928), although in that work the man to be executed is not Barrios but
David Berlanga.

An excellent example of how Downing can separate fact from fiction can be seen at
the beginning of Chapter 2. He opens with a satirical demystification of the many
aficionado archaeologists that he found in Mexico, disguised as tourist guides, clerks,
and even employees of the National Museum. These would-be archaeologists spout theories
about the Egyptian origin of the pyramids, the Greek origin of the Náhuatl
language, the myth of Atlantis, the Chinese having crossed the Pacific in junks blown
by the wind, and many other apocryphal tales. Then he says, “One can laugh all this
off. What is just as ludicrous, yet not to be laughed off, is the discovery of Nordics
bearing swastikas in Mexican prehistory” (p. 19).

Not less important in his style are the descriptions of the Mexican landscape.
Speaking about how the highway begins to climb after Tamazunchale, he writes: “In
fifty-five miles it climbs 5,100 feet, through mountains whose green cloaks –
successively sweet gums, oaks, evergreens – are all patched by the dark soil of milpas,
terraced fields of Indian corn. A dip into the valley which holds gleaming white
Jacala, a rise to an altitude of 8,000 feet, and the pavement sinks through gashes in
volcanic rock retaining the color of fire to the old land of the Otomies” (p. 14).

Some of Downing’s observations about Mexico are prophetic. In Monterrey he foresaw
the industrialization of the country, but warned about the influence of popular
American culture, which he feared would replace traditional Mexican values. No wonder
the National Library of Mexico considered his book one of the best published in English
about Mexico. Since then, very few have been published that surpass it, in spite of the
added information about the country that has been accumulated in the last decades. This
second edition has been enhanced by the “Foreword” of the historian Wolfgang Hochbruck,
a bibliography of the books on Mexico quoted by Downing compiled by Kerstin Holzgrabe
and containing not only historical and anthropological items, but also literary works
by Mexican authors, which indicates that the author was well-acquainted with Mexican
literature. The principal authors of the period – Alfonso Reyes, Mariano Azuela,
Martín Luis Guzmán, Amado Nervo – are quoted, as well as several from the
nineteenth century, like Altamirano, Fernández de Lizardi and Manuel Payno,
whose novels are analyzed. The Mexican Earth, without question, is a book that can
still illuminate some obscure points in Mexican history, especially some related to the
presence of ancient cultures and civilizations. It is also a work that will help the
reader to better understand contemporary Mexico.

Luis Leal
University of California, Santa Barbara

The Doubtful Strait = El estrecho dudoso. By Ernesto Cardenal. Translated by John Lyons. Introduction and glossary by Tamara R. Williams. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Pp. xxxiii+189. $31.25 (cloth). ISBN 0-253-31318-X. $14.95 (paper). ISBN 0 253-20903-X.

The genesis of El estrecho dudoso is due to the urging by Thomas Merton that Ernesto
Cardenal become more familiar with the roots of American reality, and to the direct
suggestion by José Coronel Urtecho that Cardenal write a historical poem about
Nicaragua. This was in 1961; the poem was published in its current form in 1966 (later
reprintings by varied publishers were in 1971, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, and in 1993).
The present edition is the first time the poem appears in English, and “Moreover, for
the first time in its publishing history, the Spanish text of El estrecho dudoso –
edited by translator John Lyons in collaboration with Cardenal – appears entirely in
accordance with the poet’s wishes” (p. xii).

The translation of this long poem is impeccable. With extraordinary versatility John
Lyons recreates the uniqueness of the multiple voices, the textual echoes, the poetics
of polarization which characterize the poem. The essences of allegory, sarcasm, irony,
and parody depend on the language of these “voices” of the past with which Ernesto
Cardenal attempts to revise our perception of history. Lyons, in his translation,
captures the verbal magic of the original, much like José Gamarra approaches it
visually in his painting Cinq siècles après (1986), which is on the cover
of this book (lamentably in black and white and not in full color).

Also to be lauded is the excellent introduction by Tamara R. Williams. It is a
synthesis of and adds to the three previous articles she had published on El estrecho
dudoso. Williams explains that the poem is a Christian contrast epic in which the poet
explores God’s presence: “As for Cardenal’s providential reading of history, it is
likely that the election of Pope John XXIII… was of particular significance. Pope
John’s appeal to Catholics to recognize the value and insights of non-Christian faiths,
his summons to Christians to recognize their social and political responsibilities, and
his call to reconciliation among those whom history had divided challenged all
religious communities at the time to renew their commitment to action and to
reconciliation with the poor and the oppressed” (p. xii).

As Williams points out, the most remarkable feature is the incorporation into the
poem of unaltered documents and histories dealing with Central America. These include
Columbus’ “Diario de navegación,” Bartolomé de las Casa’s Historia de las
Indias, Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s Historia de la conquista de la Nueva
España, Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmán’s Recordación
Florida, Francisco López de Gómara’s Historia general de las Indias,
Pedro Mártir de Anglería’s Décadas del Orbe Novo, Gonzalo
Fernández de Oviedo’s Historia general y natural de las Indias, Antonio
Remesal’s Historia General de las Indias y particular de la gobernación de
Chiapas y Guatemala and Fernando de Ixtlilxochitl’s “Relación
Décimotercera.” Cardenal also includes letters, royal decrees, and legal
proceedings from Colección de documentos inéditos de Indias and from
Documentos para la historia de Nicaragua (Colección Somoza). The single
indigenous document included is from the Mayan book of prophecies of Chilam Balam (in
Canto 17). “What results is the absence of an authorial point of view, with the text
replaced instead by diverse perspectives, each registered in a distinct voice and
style. These perspectives converge, intersect, and oppose one another, producing a text
with a distinctive polyphonic quality” (p. xiv).

However, the historical dimension is used as a coordinate or symbol of the present;
the Central American is condemned to live this history and this violence. He knows no
other language; it is the legacy of the Conquest. The discovery, in its poetic essence,
is language itself. Cardenal’s major discovery from his reading the poetry of Ezra
Pound is that “en la poesía cabe todo” (“everything fits within poetry”). Robert
Pring-Mill has commented that if the theme of search is false, then the discovery is in
the language and the poem is a documentary redemption of reality. Within this context
today’s reader is obliged to interact.

The Doubtful Strait is a book-length narrative poem which deals with the early
European incursions in Central America. It begins with Christopher Columbus’ fourth
voyage and his discovery in 1502 of Tierra Firme near the contemporary Cape of
Honduras. The poem comes to an apocalyptic finale with the destruction of old
León, Nicaragua, by the nearby volcano, Momotombo, in 1609.

There is one underlying theme – the power of the word, language, above all the
written word. So Cardenal returns to the original documents. We also perceive two
thematic currents: the search, in its two manifestations: (1) the heroic search for
social justice, and (2) the vain search for the watery straight, sought by foreigners
and false. This lost sense of space creates terror, and we are left with the
ever-present tone of apocalypse. From both the Biblical structure of the poem and the
indigenous mythic concept of catastrophe the reader is left wondering if there is
liberation from the tremendous doubt. How do we realize ourselves without testifying to
the past?

Of particular interest to the readers of this review is Cardenal’s inclusion of the
indigenous Mesoamerican. As Williams points out, we witness the “Indian” and the
interrelationship between conquered and conqueror through the lenses of irony, satire,
and parody as expressed and juxtaposed in the original documents. Columbus writes to
the Castillian monarchs of the indigenous peoples in their paradisiacal state of
freedom. Cardenal juxtaposes that with the explorations in Tierra Firme of Diego de
Nicuesa and Alonso de Hojeda as a penetration into Hell. Later in the Gulf of
Urubá (Darién), Panquiaco, nude, berates the Spaniards for their

Pedro de Alvarado, given the mythic name Tonatiuh, tears through the land like a
bolt of lightning in his expedition of Conquest (1523-24) in Guatemala. In the great
battle of Quetzaltenango he kills Tecún-Umán, foreshadowed by the Spanish
dogs devouring a quetzal. Alvarado then burns the two great chiefs of the Quiché
and pursues the Cakchiquels. We learn that as far south as El Salvador the star Venus
was worshipped as Quetzalcóatl.

Gil González, from Darién, reaches the caciques Nicoya and Nicaragua.
The latter quickly converts to Christianity with a large following. It is surprising
that Nahua culture penetrated as far south as the southern sector of present Nicaragua,
defining language and many other cultural traits.

We follow Bernal Díaz del Castillo in that part of the “true history” we
often don’t get to read, on the expedition of Hernán Cortés to Honduras.
Cortés had already sent south Francisco de las Casas, but suspecting his loyalty
went after him to the Hibueras (Honduras). Not trusting the recently conquered
chieftains of Anáhuac, Cortés took along with him Cuauhtémoc (the
last of the Aztec emperors), Coanococh (king of Texcoco), Tetlepanquetzal (from
Tlacopan), and Oquici (from Azcapotzalco). The expedition is a nightmare; Cuauhtemoc’s
feet had already been burned. Through swamp after swamp, “in 20 leagues they made 50
bridges,” the guides became lost, Spaniards and Indians ate the dead, yet
“Cortés doesn’t mention this in the Cartas de Relación” (p. 41). And for
Cortés in Acalán, a most bountiful land always lay ahead – there they
would rest. All along the way the people received the prisoners as kings, even so far
from Tenochtitlan. Cortés hanged the leaders of Anáhuac in Ueyemollan
from a pochote tree, suspecting them of a conspiracy, and “Bernal Díaz was sad
because he was a friend of Cuauhtémoc” (p. 49).

After the uprising of Lempira we of read the great prophesies of the Book of Chilam
Balam. The greatest oppression is the reign of Pedcarias Dávila and his commerce
in Indians and Africans to provide slaves for the Peruvian silver mines. The saviors
are Bartolomé de las Casas, Bishop of Darién, and Antonio de Valdivieso,
Bishop of Nicaragua. As Williams states in the Glossary, the latter “protected the
indigenous peoples and denounced Spanish cruelty and atrocities. His denunciations
succeeded in having the governor of Nicaragua, Rodrigo de Contreras, stripped of his
titles and possessions. Rodrigo de Contreras’ son Hernando took revenge on Valdivieso
by stabbing him to death in 1549” (p. 189).

Russell Salmon
Indiana University


The following comments have been received from Michel Graulich (Université Libre de Bruxelles):

First of all, I would like to thank the Nahua Newsletter for having published a
review of my book Montezuma ou l’apogee et la chute de l’empire azteque (NN #20,
November 1995). Unfortunately, I think I have to react to the truncated and even
erroneous image of my book that is presented to the American reader.

Seven paragraphs are dedicated to the review. Four of them concern an aspect of
Montezuma’s reforms, which correspond to one chapter out of fifteen. And even on this
matter the reviewer, Jacqueline de Durand-Forest, presents an incorrect report. I never
say that Montezuma “se opuso a la ascensión social de los pochteca”; on the
contrary, I say there is no proof of that. Neither do I say that Montezuma’s interest
in the nobility comes from his supposed desire for absolute monarchy. I explain that he
wanted to create a real, integrated empire, not one based solely on brutal force, and
that therefore he sought educated people who could be found only in the calmecac, the
school of the nobles. I also say that attracting the nobles to his court was a means of
controlling them.

In the first paragraph, the reviewer mentions Val-Julian’s thesis, which has no
relation whatsoever to my subject since it deals with Montezuma’s legacy in subsequent
centuries. The sixth paragraph concerns the “cierta parcialidad” of the Crónica
X. One of the results of my research is the finding that the Spanish sources are much
more reliable than the Aztec ones. The latter interpret the dramatic events of the
Conquest in the usual mythical terms viewing them, for example, as the end of an era or
Sun, and to present Montezuma as the one responsible for the catastrophe. I also show
repeatedly that the much-appreciated Bernal Díaz del Castillo is an unreliable
copyist and liar.

Jacqueline does not dedicate one word to my analysis of Aztec wars, politics,
flowery war, art, omens, conflict with Texcoco, etc. Nor does she report on the second
half of the book, covering the Conquest up until the death of Montezuma, which contains
a completely new interpretation of the events surrounding the Aztec defeat. I am afraid
that Jacqueline (really a good friend of mine, and I am sorry to have to react this
way) did not read the book at the time she was asked to review it.

Please allow me to highlight a few of the findings on the Conquest that I derived
from my research:

(1) Everything in Aztec thought and everything Montezuma knew of the newcomers (who
arrived in America in 1492 and whose presence the Aztecs were aware of) rightly
convinced Montezuma that the end of his empire was coming.

(2) Quetzalcoatl’s return was never “announced” but instead Aztec mythology
conceived the history of the world as a succession of five ages or “suns,” ruled
alternately by the antagonistic deities Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl. Thus, the
Tezcatlipoca-worshipping Aztecs, who had wrested power from their predecessors, the
Quetzalcoatl-worshipping Toltecs, thought that a new world order was to be looked for.
(3) The struggle of poor, valiant newcomers against rich, decadent autochthons
is fundamental in Aztec thought. The history of the Toltecs is the history of a small
group of brave nomadic newcomers who overcome wealthy autochthons and build an empire.
In the end, the Toltecs become acculturated, lose their strength, grow wealthy and
effeminate and therefore decline and fall. The same is true for the Mexica-Aztecs. They
present themselves as a small group of poor but fierce nomads who settle in a promised
land and manage to overcome the prosperous indigenous populations. But they become
acculturated and lose their strength. Aztec myths tell this very explicitly (see
Chapter 8 on the omens). When Cortés arrives, the Aztecs have become the rich
and prosperous inhabitants, and they are confronted by a small group of newcomers
(again, poor and valiant) arriving from the direction of the rising sun and bound for a
promised land, Mexico. One can imagine the impression this made on Montezuma. He
understands that the Spaniards are like the Aztecs a few centuries ago, that his age is
over, and that a new one will soon begin.   This is a completely new explanation
and it allowed me to understand why, in his strategy to stop the Spaniards, Montezuma
resorted to mythical tricks used by the autochthonous peoples some centuries ago to
stop the Aztec Mexicans from claiming their promised land. My further findings show

(4)Although knowing he has few chances, Montezuma does everything he can to stop the
invaders. He struggles on the side of Tezcatlipoca against Quetzalcoatl, he occupies
Maya territory in order to be ready to react swiftly, and he probably incites the Mayas
to attack Cortés as he does with the Tlaxcaltecans.

(5) I present convincing evidence that Montezuma really wanted to destroy the
Spaniards trapped in Cholula and, later, in Mexico.

(6) I can also prove that he was killed by the Aztecs and not by the Spaniards.

(7) I found the reason why he did not oppose the Spaniards directly, or did so only
when he had no other choice. In ancient Mexico, if a city submitted without resistance
to the Aztec empire, it paid tribute but kept its ruler and its autonomy. Montezuma
thought the same would be true with the Spaniards and believed that if he did not
resist openly, he would keep his throne and his autonomy.

This is a new interpretation, solidly founded on facts and texts. There are many
additional examples of new interpretations that I present in the book. For example, the
chapter on the omens of the fall of the Aztec empire has been published in three
scientific papers, including one in Mexico.

To conclude about the Conquest, it used to be studied by specialists of the Colonial
period who did not know Aztec religion well. Here, for the first time, the Conquest is
interpreted with an understanding of Aztec thought and myth. As you see, the image
presented to the American reader in the review of my book has little to do with what it
is really about.

Response from Jacqueline de Durand-Forest (Directeur de Recherches au Centre National de Recherches Scientifique):

Although I have no interest in writing a new “diatribe du Docteur Akakya” I will try
very reluctantly to respond to Michel Graulich’s criticisms. First of all, an author
should always keep in mind that his readers may react differently from how he or she
expects them to. They will respond according to their own experience, interests, and
approach to the subject matter. To begin with, why is it incongruous for me to mention
Professor Carmen Val Julian’s study “Les postérités de Montezuma” since
it is an excellent Ph.D. dissertation, written in French and appearing before Michel’s
book was published? It is obvious that before studying Montezuma’s legacy (expressed
for example, in European operas and dramas inspired by Montezuma), Val Julian, though
it was not her principal aim, began by presenting a careful study of Montezuma himself.
As a member of Val Julian’s examining board, I can attest that she did present such a

As Ortega y Gasset used to say, “Yo soy yo y mis circunstancias.” In Val Julian’s
study, Montezuma’s so-called circumstances were briefly reviewed. As I have written in
my review, Michel’s book covers the topic in greater detail, which I thought was rather
complimentary of Michel’s work.

Concerning my remarks on the attitude of Montezuma towards the pochteca, I was
referring to something I pointed out in a previous study of my own, “Los artesanos
Mexicas” (Revista Mexicana de Estudios Antropológicos Tomo 30, Mexico, 1984-88),
although I admit this reference was not clearly stated. I was referring to a
well-established fact that Michel Graulich rejected without giving any proof to the
contrary. To quote him, “Il n’y a pas grand chose pour appuyer cette these. On s’appuie
sur un seul petit passage cité plus haut” (ref. 26 Cf. 2, the reader is left to
find out that the passage is on page 68). The interesting fact is that the author of
the passage was none other than Sahagún (Historia General 1956, tome 3, livre 9,
chap. 2, pp. 18-19). Equally important, Sahagún’s second field work was in
Tlatelolco, where he collected information from the pochtecas themselves, since a group
of them was actually living in Tlatelolco. Therefore, I see no reason why we should
challenge the friar’s assertion on that matter. When Michel writes (p. 114) that
“L’opulence des marchands portait ombrage aux guerriers. Ceux-ci risquaient
régulièrement leur vie pour obtenir du prestige,” he is correct. But when
he adds “et trouvaient que leurs rivaux obtenaient plus qu’eux à moindre
risque,” I disagree somewhat, since he does not make any distinction among the various
categories of pochtecas. He seems to forget the essential and dangerous role played by
the naualoztomeca, who acted both as vanguards and spies, and whose death in enemy
areas was a “casus belli” for the Triple Alliance (e.g., in Ahuilizapan and in
Cuetlaxtlan during Montezuma’s reign, see Tezozomoc, Crónica Mexicana, 1944,
Chapter 34).

As for Montezuma’s inclination to establish an absolute monarchy, I admit that
Michel did not explicitly use the expression “absolute monarchy” but he did gave many
examples of the institution in his discussion. Although I must confess the phrase was
used out of its proper seventeenth-century French context, I nevertheless claim that
Montezuma’s policy was not unlike that of Louis the XIVth. Indeed, as Michel insisted,
Montezuma probably attracted nobles to his court as a strategy to control them

In addition, I do not understand why the author criticizes my speaking of the bias
in Crónica X, since he himself writes that the Crónica is unreliable (pp.
275,281). In his important Ph.D. dissertation on Texcoco-Acolhuacan, Patrick Lesbre
showed that the Crónica X was as biased in favor of the Aztecs as Ixtlilxochitl
was to the Texcocoans.

I strongly deny Michel’s accusation that I had not entirely read his book. I read it
nearly twice through, as I usually do for any review I write. The book is a very rich
one, full of ideas and interpretations, and it would have been impossible for me to
discuss each of them in detail.

As far as the military conquest of New Spain is concerned, which I must confess does
not interest me as much as the spiritual one, Michel Graulich certainly did a good job.
He analyzed each step of the Conquest very carefully. However, since other historians
have written excellent accounts as well (e.g., the 1995 Histoire de la conquête
du Mexique by Bernard Grumberg), I do not regard this part of Michel’s book as the most
original. Incidentally, I would like to add that in spite of Michel’s efforts to
minimize Alvarado’s responsibility for the Toxcatl slaughter, in other circumstances
Alvarado gave ample proof of his brutality and lack of shrewdness. On that point and
others, I would rather trust the “vision de los vencidos.”

In addition, I disagree with Michel Graulich in the matter of Montezuma’s death. The
fact that Cortés was not held responsible for Montezuma’s death during his trial
speaks indeed for his innocence. On the other hand, the statement that Cortés
had no interest in killing the emperor is an argument, not evidence. I wonder why the
Aztec sources (written in Nahuatl) either say nothing about Montezuma’s death, or
accuse the Spaniards. As Michel pointed out very well, the Aztecs were extremely
disappointed with the behavior of their tlatoani in confronting the Spaniards. They did
not trust him any longer. However, should they have been responsible for his death,
which would have been a relief for them, they would logically have been proud of the
fact. I do not understand why they would have concealed it so carefully. It seems
likely that Montezuma’s death occurred a few days after he was injured while addressing
his people. The Aztecs knew they had hurt the tlatoani, but they could not have known
that they were responsible for his subsequent death. In my view, that is probably the
reason why some of them charged the Spaniards with it. Thus, I cannot agree with
Michel’s statement that concerning the Conquest, the Spanish sources as a whole are
more reliable than the native ones. It depends on the source.

I do not intend to discuss the chapter dedicated to Aztec religion and mythology,
because some years ago, I reviewed a paper by Michel on that matter in Current
Anthropology. More recently, I also reviewed in Journal de la Société des
Américanistes his important work entitled Mythes et rituels du Mexique ancien
(Bruxelles, 1987). I shall mention only two points in particular that interest me. The
first concerns Montezuma’s readjustment of the solar calendar. This change involved a
shift of the New Fire Celebration, from 1 tochtli, during the month ochpaniztli, to 2
acatl, during the month panquetzaliztli (1 tochtli is the date of the birth of the
Earth and Evening Star, 2 acatl is the date of Huitzilopochtli’s birth on the Coatepec,
as well as the lightning of the New Fire by Tezcatlipoca). Thus, this shift implied the
dominance of Huitzilopochtli-Tezcatlipoca and of the Sun over the Evening Star. As
Michel shows very well, in the absence of intercalation, a cycle of the Ventenas
(months of twenty days) shifts itself one day every four years, so that the ritual year
seemed to provoke magically the seasonal events through the rites.

The second important point concerns sacred kingship. Without being a god himself,
the king was the ixiptla (the image, the representative) of the gods. When he was
elected as a tlatoani, he was imbued with a part of their divine nature. His
participation in some religious feasts, such as Atlcahualo-Cuahuitlehua, Ochpaniztli,
or Tlacaixipeualiztle was not fortuitous and had symbolical connotations.

To sum up, “je persiste et signe.” Michel’s study of the Montezuma’s reforms is
among the major contributions of his book, as well as his successful attempt to
rehabilitate the tlatoani unduly fallen into disrepute. In any event, the brevity of my
review, which was neither critical nor unpleasant, provided Michel Graulich with the
opportunity to point out in seven paragraphs his main ideas much better than I or
anyone else could have done.

And a final response from Michel Graulich:

Concerning the “well-established fact that Montezuma opposed the pochteca,” it would
be worthwhile to quote passages from none other than Sahagún: “In the same way
he [Motecuhzoma II] continued the customs, followed the way, honored well the calling
of the merchants, the vanguard merchants. He especially honored the principal
merchants, the disguised merchants, those who bathed slaves…. He set them right by
his side, even like the noblemen, the rulers” (Florentine Codex 9:23). And to continue:
“Montezuma, as hath been told, especially esteemed the old merchants, the disguised
merchants, those who ceremonially bathed slaves, the slave dealers. He made them like
his sons. But when now they corrupted their way of life, when they no longer were of
good heart, then he was as if saddened. Then the chieftains, in envy falsely, with
imagined deeds, condemned the disguised merchants, in order to slay the innocent, so
that by means of [their gods] the shorn ones, the Otomí warriors, the war
leaders, might be sustained” (Florentine Codex 9:32). These passages prove that
Montezuma esteemed the merchants, as long as they behaved well, nothing else.
Chimalpahin in his 7th Relación (1965:228) states that in 1504, during the reign
of Montezuma, there was great development of Mexica trade in the whole of
Anáhuac. The Codex Aubin says the same. Further on, Jacqueline mentions the
dangerous role of the vanguard merchants, but in any event even those merchants risked
their lives less than the warriors.

I did not mean to criticize Jacqueline’s statement concerning bias in the
Crónica X. I was astonished that given the phrase “cierta parcialidad” (“some
partiality”), she did not seem to have noticed throughout my book that I show the
continuous bias of that source, notably against Montezuma. In contrast to Jacqueline, I
maintain that the section of my book on the Conquest is by far the most original of the
entire work. As for Montezuma’s death, the point is not that Cortés was not held
responsible, but that nobody in his army, even his worst enemies and the witnesses
against him, ever accused him of having killed Montezuma. Further on, Jacqueline proves
again that she did not closely read that part of the book by saying, “that the Aztec
sources (written in Nahuatl) do not say anything about Montezuma’s death, or accuse the
Spaniards.” I wonder which Aztec sources accuse the Spaniards? Regarding the Aztec
sources written in Spanish, some accuse the Mexicas. Furthermore, I do not “point out
that the Aztecs were extremely disappointed with their tlatoani’s behavior” nor that
“they did not trust him any more.” On the contrary, I show that this is legend.

Illustrations this issue

The very fine drawings that illustrate this issue and the directory supplement are
taken from Guy Stresser Péan’s El códice de Xicotepec: Estudio e
interpretación. México, D.F.: Gobierno del Estado de Puebla, Centro
Francés de Estudios Mexicanos y Centroamericanos, Fondo de Cultura
Económica, 1995. ISBN 968-16-4761-0 (in Spanish).

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