Editor’s note: This content is archival.
November 1998, Number 26
A Publication of the Indiana University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
With support from the Department of Anthropology
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
- Newsletter News
- News Items
- Book Reviews
- Codex Telleriano-Remensis: Ritual, Divination, and
History in a Pictorial Aztec Manuscript. By Eloise Quiñones Keber. Foreword by
Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie; illustrations by Michel Besson. Austin: University of Texas
Press, 1995. Reviewed by Doris Heyden.
- Utopia and History in Mexico: The First Chronicles of
Mexican Civilization (1520-1569). By Georges Baudot; translated by Bernard R. Ortiz
de Montellano and Thelma Ortiz de Montellano. Niwot, Colo.: University Press of
Colorado, 1995. Reviewed by John F. Schwaller.
- Wandering Peoples: Colonialism, Ethnic Spaces, and
Ecological Frontiers in Northwestern Mexico, 1700-1850. By Cynthia Radding. Durham:
Duke University Press, 1997. Reviewed by Christopher S. Beekman.
- Chilies to Chocolate: Food the Americas Gave the World.
Edited by Nelson Foster and Linda S. Cordell. Tucson: University of Arizona Press,
1992. Reviewed by Susan Toby Evans.
- Primeros memoriales. By Fray Bernardino de
Sahagún; facsimile edition photographed by Ferdinand Anders. Civilization of
the American Indian Series, Vol. 200, Part 1. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Reviewed by Frances Karttunen.
Primeros memoriales. By Fray Bernardino de
Sahagún; paleography of Nahuatl text and English translation by Thelma D.
Sullivan; completed and revised, with additions, by H.B. Nicholson, et al.
Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 200, Part 2. Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press. Reviewed by Frances Karttunen.
- At the Desert’s Green Edge: An Ethnobotany of the Gila
River Pima. By Amadeo M. Rea. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997. Reviewed by
Lawrence A. Kuznar.
- Illustrations in this Issue
- Directory Update
Nahua Newsletter News
Welcome to the Nahua Newsletter, your user-friendly, biannual information link to
others with a passion for the culture, history, and language of Nahuatl-speaking
peoples. Your editor has just returned from a year of ethnographic field research among
Nahuas of northern Veracruz, and the NN will resume its normal November and February
publishing schedule. In this issue we have a number of news items, book reviews, and a
directory update. Please send word of your activities so that the world-wide community
of colleagues who share your interests will know what you are doing. It pays to
advertise, and the NN is the ideal forum for making important contacts.
Of the many occurrences in the field last year, I would like briefly to recount one
that stands out as an example of the vitality of contemporary Nahua culture. Due to the
El Niño phenomenon, the Gulf Coast region of Mexico was hit with bizarre
weather, including severe drought. The Nahuas of the Huasteca veracruzana region, where
my wife and son and I were living, responded with a series of ritual appeals for rain.
One such appeal involved a pilgrimage to a remote sacred mountain called Postectitla,
near the Nahua center of Chicontepec, Veracruz. Preparations for the pilgrimage began
months in advance, while the ritual occasion itself lasted six days.
People from neighboring villages began arriving days ahead of time to help in the
preparations, which included the cutting of tens of thousands of sacred paper figures
representing significant spirit entities. For four days following preparations, ritual
leaders constructed altars within and outside of a village shrine, and at a nearby
spring. At each altar, paper figures were laid out as part of a complex array of sacred
adornments. Amid swirling clouds of copal incense smoke, the ritual specialists chanted
to the spirits and dedicated their offerings. At the center of each offering were the
two sacred walking sticks believed by the Nahuas to be carried by thunder spirits as
they transport water from the Gulf to caves in the mountains. Many chickens and turkeys
were killed and their blood methodically spread on the paper figures.
The music, chanting, dancing, and dedication of offerings continued day and night
for four days. At dawn on the fifth day, about 50 participants packed carrying baskets
and, along with your editor, began the more than nine-hour walk to Postectitla. The
temperature soared above 110 degrees F. as we struggled under our burdens along trails
that passed through the heart of Nahua country. We reached the Nahuatl-speaking town of
Ichcacuatitla that evening, dehydrated and exhausted. After a brief rest, the pilgrims
began an all-night offering at a permanent shrine at the base of the sacred hill.
Postectitla is the basaltic core of an extinct volcano rising 2,000 feet vertically
above the surrounding country and the small town at its base. Up to this point, the
ritual was more than an anthropologist could ask for, but the real surprise awaited our
arrival at the summit of this forbidding mountain.
Early in the morning we began the harrowing ascent, carrying 24 chickens and
turkeys, and baskets loaded with offerings. We were led by a ritual specialist carrying
one of the sacred walking sticks, and followed by another carrying the second. A third
of the way up, the participants constructed an altar and covered the paper figures with
chicken and turkey blood as women danced and the ritual specialists chanted. Near the
end, they imprisoned a living chicken in the cliff face as an offering to the mountain.
Two thirds of the way to the summit, we stopped and everyone helped to construct
another altar and again anointed paper figures with animal blood. Delegations were sent
to two caves further up the mountain, one the home of thunder and the other the
dwelling place of the female water spirit. More offerings were dedicated and the
exhausted participants then made for the summit.
Half an hour later we emerged from the trees into the open and crawled our way to
the craggy top. The temperature was searing as the villagers constructed the final
three altars. One was dedicated to the mountain and another to the cross, and the
ritual specialists killed more chickens and turkeys for offerings. This time, however,
no blood was spread on the paper figures arrayed on the altar. Instead, the bodies were
flung over the edge of the mountain. The final altar was a circular platform mounted on
a pole about ten feet from the ground. Offerings were laid on the platform and paper
streamers were led away from the circular altar in all directions, like spokes from a
wheel. After more than 25 years of research on the Nahuas of this region, I was
privileged to witness my first direct offering to the solar disk, representing the
creator deity who, in Nahua thought, animates the cosmos. It was a thrilling conclusion
to an eventful year. The rainy season was delayed this year due to El Niño but
as we descended Postectitla, we heard a loud thunderclap that our fellow pilgrims
interpreted as a sign that the offering did some good and that relief from the drought
was on the way. Safely back in Indiana, it is hard to believe that all of this took
place just a few months ago.
Following several months of serious reverse culture shock, we are back operating as
normal. I am busy organizing field data in preparation for publication and readjusting
to the academic routine. I hope that everyone enjoys this issue of the NN and that you
will use the publication as a forum to inform us about your own research interests.
The most severe problem facing the NN at the moment is that its budget has been
depleted. We are currently running on empty, so if you plan to contribute to the cause,
now is the time to do it. Loyal readers have kept the NN going for over 12 years and
several of you have come through with contributions in the last few months. It is only
because of such generosity that we have been able to produce the current issue. Please
mail checks to the address below, and you will receive a letter acknowledging your
contribution. All money goes to offset printing and mailing expenses – there are
absolutely no administrative costs. I hope to hear from you soon.
Please mail announcements and contributions to the following address:Alan R. Sandstrom Editor, The Nahua Newsletter Anthropology Department Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne 2101 Coliseum Blvd. East Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805
1. Our colleagues and loyal NN readers, Dr. Ursula Dyckerhoff and Prof. Dr. Hanns J.
Prem of Germany, write of disturbing developments for those of us who work in Mexico.
Apparently, elements in the Mexican government are beginning to demand that foreign
researchers obtain an FM-3 visa in order to work in the country. These visas can be
difficult to obtain in a timely fashion and the result of this policy may well be to
discourage foreign researchers from entering the country. The crackdown may be related
to the situation in the Chiapas and it could have a chilling effect on any type of
scholarly work that has political repercussions. Until now, most researchers have
entered Mexico with a tourist card, which is relatively easy to obtain. Alfredo
López-Austín forwarded the following resolution regarding this change in
Mexican governmental policy:
“Los antropólogos reunidos en la ciudad de San Luís Potosí
durante la XXV Mesa Redonda de la Sociedad Mexicana de Antropología protestamos
en contra de las medidas vejatorias y el aumento de trabas y requisitos que en los
últimos meses han sufrido por parte de autoridades de migración y
consulados mexicanos nuestros colegas y estudiantes extranjeros que se encuentran en
México ó que pretenden venir al país en viajes de estudio,
investigación ó participación académica.
“Consideramos que estos actos gubernamentales:
a.Entorpecen el libre ejercicio de la ciencia.
b.Son particularmente injustos frente a muchos profesionales que han contribuido
notablemente al saber antropológico mexicano.
c.Dificultan la formación de nuevos cuadros, tanto nacionales como
d.Atentan con acciones xenofóbicas contra las concepciones de dignidad humana
que guian a la antropología contemporanea.
e.Exponen a nuestros colegas y estudiantes mexicanos a reciprocidades vejatorias en
“Consideramos, además, que el intento gubernamental de ocultar ante ojos
extranjeros las violaciones de derechos humanos en territorios indígenas es una
acción torpe e indigna que rebaja a México en el concierto de las
naciones. San Luís Potosí, S.L.P., México, 17 de julio de
As we receive news, we will keep readers posted about developments in this important
change in government policy.
2. Eloise Quiñones Keber, professor of art history at the City University of
New York, received a 1998-1999 Guggenheim Fellowship to work on a project entitled “The
Reinvention of Aztec Art.” She will also be chairing a session with the same title at
the February 1999 meeting of the College Art Association in Los Angeles. Speakers and
topics include H.B. Nicholson (UCLA) on the creating of Aztec stone deity images,
Catherine DiCesare (University of New Mexico) on Mexican Indians and Christian
kingship, Khristaan D. Villela (College of Santa Fe) on Bustamante and the Aztecs in
independent Mexico, Barbara Mundy (Fordham University) on fakes and the reinvention of
Aztec art, and Lise Patt (Graduate Center, City University of New York, and The
Institute of Cultural Inquiry) on the Aztec Manifesto.
3. Eloise Quiñones Keber also sends news about a new database on Nahua
researchers – the Tlacuilco Project: “The Project goal is to set up an Internet site
that would gather all relevant bibliographical information on as many scholars as
possible in the field of Aztec/Nahua studies. The site is conceived as a repository of
references of current research in the field, where researchers and other aficionados
will be able to check the state of current publishing in the field. Bibliographical
data sent by each scholar will be set up in an individual Web page. A simple search
instrument by alphabetical order of names will allow a rapid access to each page.
Further along, a more comprehensive search instrument would allow searching on specific
terms or themes (i.e., publications on Tezcatlipoca, instead of merely publications by
a particular author).
“What is required is for you to transmit your current bibliographical data, under
the following conditions concerning format:
a.Please cite according to the Chicago Manual of Style or Turabian format. The
appearance of the data on the Web page may not reflect exactly the Chicago style
because the original document will be translated into html format fit for publication
on the Internet, but details are being worked out for presenting a standard
b.Send your information using Word for Windows (any version up to and including
Word97) or any other DOS-based program (even though it seems that Word for Macintosh
can be converted to Word for Windows). Send files either on diskette or preferably by
e-mail (see addresses below).
c.Please include the following information: Your name, current affiliation, and
e-mail address (if you want it listed), along with a list of your publications
including books (authored or edited, alone or in collaboration), chapters in collective
works or encyclopedias, articles, reviews. Give full bibliographic information on
coauthors, publishers, and pagination. At this time, I am planning to list only
published works (even if o.p.), but no in-press or forthcoming work.
“This work is being done as a service to the field and is a totally unfunded,
unsponsored, one-man band, so please be patient – work will be done one author at a
time. Send diskettes to: Michel Besson, 600 W. 115th Street Apt. 42, New York, N.Y.
10025, or e-mail files to: email@example.com. The Web address of the Project is:
4. John Bierhorst writes that his Nahuatl-English Dictionary and Concordance to the
Cantares Mexicanos (1985) has been reprinted by Stanford University Press, without
correcting errata. Future printings will be corrected. In the meantime, anyone who
would like the errata sheet may write to: John Bierhorst, P.O. Box 10, West Shokan, NY
5. Stafford Poole sends the following announcement: “The Story of Guadalupe: Luis
Laso de la Vega’s Huei tlamahuicoltica of 1649 edited and translated by Luisa Sousa,
Stafford Poole, C.M., and James Lockhart has been accepted for joint publication by the
UCLA Latin American Center and Stanford University Press. Laso de la Vega was the vicar
of the shrine of Guadalupe and published the first Nahuatl account of the apparitions
of the Virgin Mary to the neophyte Juan Diego. This is the first translation of the
entire work into English and the first into any language since that of Primo Feliciano
Velázquez in 1926. The introduction and notes contain extensive linguistic
commentaries and analyses.”
6. The NN has received this communique from Terry Stocker: “In 1994, I went to
Korea. I wanted to live in Asia to broaden my perspective on the possibilities of
pre-Columbian contacts between the Old and New Worlds. I chose Korea for several
reasons. First, they use a lunar calendar and all Koreans tell their birthday in the
lunar calendar before the solar calendar. Of interest is the name of the lunar-rabbit
deity, Tokki (Tochtli in Nahuatl). This similarity probably existed at the time of
splitting at the Bering Strait.
“My second concern was the utilization of seaweed in maritime diets. About 50
species of seaweed are still used in rural Korea. Until recently, all newborn Koreans
were blessed with a bowl of dried rice and a stack of dried seaweed at the parents’
door. After giving birth, women are still served mainly seaweed soup for six weeks.
Archaeologically, seaweed consumption is almost impossible to detect. What is of
interest for pre-Columbian contacts is that seaweed is easily obtained throughout the
oceans. Chinese illustrations dating to 300 B.C. show junks out in the open ocean
harvesting kelp with nothing more than a log pole. When I was first introduced to the
problem of pre-Columbian contacts, survival was the major hurdle. However, anyone
crossing the ocean could have survived on seaweed alone. What is of interest is that
seaweed is also a source of fresh water. I hope to finish my ethnography on Korean
culture change by 1999. When I went to Korea in 1994 there were no pizza parlors in my
rural city, Naju, of 30,000. When I left in 1997, there were 17! I saw the old Korea.
Seaweed consumption is rapidly decreasing.
“I could go on at length about facts strengthening pre-Columbian ties, but the main
one, for me, was the bottomless jawed crocodilian in China. Some examples could be
placed side-by-side with Mesoamerican examples and there would be no difference. Until
living in Asia, I never believed in dragons. Now I do. In other words, there is no
biological foundation for crocodilians in Korea, but the dragon exists. Unlike Europe,
the Asian dragon is benevolent, maybe explaining why it is found in public art
throughout Asia. In the not too-recent past, Koreans believed each village to be
guarded by a tiger spirit residing in a nearby hill.
“Now that Asian scholars are alerted to the problem of the origins of New World
civilizations, we will hopefully be getting more information from their side of the
world. Because of my Asian sojourn, I have fallen behind in my Mesoamerican
publications. I hope that by 2000 my two-volume work on the Mesoamerican augury table
(260 day count) will be published. How I discovered that the 260 count was an augury
table and not a calendar, and how to read the entire table will be elaborated upon in A
Walk Through An Aztec Dream. To begin to understand the 260 day count, one should
realize that the title in the Florentine Codex is “The Soothsayers,” not “The
Calendar.” I have published one piece about this in Epigraphic Society Occasional
Publications Vol. 22 (1993), and there is another in press. The essence of the
published article is that at least two scribes are responsible for plates 103 and 104
in The Soothsayers. The styles are completely different. What is not to be disputed is
that 12 Rain on the last line of place 103 is a mistake. It should be 12 Water. What
will be new with this published note is that the only complete cycle (1 Jaguar)
depicted in plates 2-5 ends with another error. Instead of 12 Death it should be 13
Death. The calendrical use of the 260 day count is only of use when tied into the solar
calendar. From what I can tell, the calendrical use of the 260 day count is
7. Norbert Francis sends the following announcement about his recent book Malintzin:
Bilingüismo y alfabetización en la Sierra de Tlaxcala, 1997. Pp. 508. ISBN
9978-04-333-0. The work includes 29 graphics and maps, and children’s writing samples
in Spanish and Nahuatl. The book can be ordered from Ediciones Abya-Yala, Avenida 12 de
Octubre 14-30 y Wilson, Casilla 17-12-719, Quito, Ecuador, firstname.lastname@example.org. The
price is $29.00 U.S. including shipping. For more information write to
“Malintzin, Cortes’ bilingual interpreter (in the modern Náhuatl of Central
Mexico, Malintzin=beloved, girlfriend, bride) embodied the first attempts at
intercultural communication between Europe and America. Today, Malinche, a now inactive
volcano, is the highest point in the Tlaxcalan highlands and stands vigil over the
indigenous communities that have precariously struggled to maintain their ancestral
language. In Malintzin, the author reports on an extensive study of language and
literacy development in one of the Sierra’s few remaining bilingual towns where
Náhuatl is still spoken by most children.
“The table of Index includes:
Chapter 1, The Research Questions: Democracy and Vernacular Languages, the Limits of
Chapter 2, Vygotsky and the Debate on Orality and Writing: The Oral Antecedents of
Chapter 3, Bilingualism and Cognitive Development, Language, and Thought, Models of
Second Language Acquisition and Teaching.
Chapter 4, The Social Context of Biliteracy: Diglossia and Language Conflict,
Vernacular Literacy and the Development of Academic Discourse, a Sociolinguistic
Profile of the Indigenous Communities.
Chapter 5, Assessment Issues and Schema Theory, Integrative Evaluation of Language and
Literacy in Spanish and Náhuatl.
Chapter 6, Field Work Notebook and Survey of Classroom-based Assessment, Bilingual
Applications of Miscue Analysis, Cloze, the Language Dominance Interview.
Chapter 7, Findings: Oral Narrative, Reading Comprehension, Written Expression, Child
Chapter 8, Discussion: the Transactional Model, the Oral/Written Interface, Transfer
and Interference, Discourse Competence, and Metalinguistic Awareness, Child and Parent
Perceptions of Diglossia and Language Loss.
Chapter 9, A Model for Bilingual Education, Biliteracy Development, and Indigenous
Norbert Francis also sends along three articles that may be of interest to readers:
“Mezquital, Malintzi y Misión de Chichimecas: La Consciencia del lenguaje en el
desarrollo de la alfabetización bilingue.” Revista Latinoamericana de lectura y
vida 19(2):21-30 (June 1998); “Language Maintenance and Vernacular Literacy: An
Interamerican Perspective.” Journal of Navajo Education 14(1-2):34-44 (Fall/Winter
1997); and “Bilingual Children’s Reflections on Writing and Diglossia.” International
Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 1(1):18 46 (1998).
8. Douglas Bradley has published Life, Death and Duality: A Handbook of the Rev.
Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C. Collection of Ritual Ballgame Sculpture in the Snite Museum of
Art Bulletin, Vol. 1, 1997, published by the University of Notre Dame. The handbook
contains black and white photos of ball game-related stone sculptures and ceramic
figures, drawings, and time and culture chart, and a references-cited section. For more
information write to: Douglas E. Bradley, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre
Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556.
9. Anna Casas, Secretary General of the Association of Friends of the Museo
Barbier-Mueller de Arte Precolombino of Barcelona has sent a copy of the first edition
of the association’s annual news bulletin entitled Precolombart. Each article appears
in English and French and the bulletin is illustrated with black and white photographs
The table of Index for this first issue includes:
“Female Figures, the Earth and Nature’s Renewal” by Richard F. Townsend.
“Stone Sculpture and Pre-Columbian Cultural Evolution in the Central
Highlands-Atlantic Watershed of Costa Rica” by Michael J. Snarkis.
“Ceramic Figures: A Significant Feature of the Marajó Island Culture
(Pará, Brazil)” by Conceicao G. Correa.
“The Aztecs – Children of the Sun” by Anne-Marie Vion.
There is also a forward by Anna Casas Gilberga and a section on the Museum’s
activities. For more information please write to: Anna Casas, C/Montcada, 12-14, 08003
Barcelona, Spain. The fax number is 932-683-938 and the e-mail is
Codex Telleriano-Remensis: Ritual, Divination, and History in a Pictorial Aztec Manuscript. By Eloise Quiñones Keber. Foreword by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie; illustrations by Michel Besson. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995. Illustrations, figures, tables, maps, photographs, appendices, bibliography, Index. Pp. 365. $75.00 (cloth). ISBN-0-292-76901-6.
The history and culture of ancient Mexico are revealed to a large extent in
historical chronicles and in pictorial codices. During many long years, information
from these sources, so valuable to the historian, so interesting for the layman, had
been unknown because innumerable documents, both written and pictorial, lay dormant in
archives. Added to this long sleep was the unfortunate period early in the sixteenth
century when the European conquerors considered that the codices, painted by tlacuilos
or indigenous scribes, were work of the devil and therefore had to be destroyed.
Furthermore, the material on which the codices were painted – animal skin or bark paper
– is easily destroyed by unfriendly weather conditions or simply by ignorance in their
preservation. The written chronicles of the colonial period also were ignored until
scholars took them out of seclusion and presented them to the world. Fortunately the
world became interested in these treatises created in words or pictures, so the
production of both continued, many in the sixteenth century or soon thereafter.
In the nineteenth or early-twentieth century, historians such as Eduard Seler, Zelia
Nuttall, Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, José Fernando Ramírez, and Manuel
Orozco y Berra became interested in the wonderful world of painted images from ancient
Mexico. These were followed by early and mid-twentieth century scholars such as Alfonso
Caso, Wigberto Jiménez Moreno, and Robert Barlow, to name a few. Written
histories (Sahagún, Duran, Motolinia, etc.) proliferated and fortunately
continue to appear, while the pictorial codices came into their own. Many studies and
facsimiles were and are still produced in Mexico, the United States, and Europe.
In this universe of painted manuscripts an extraordinary volume has recently
appeared ‹ a study of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis by Eloise Quiñones
Keber. This primary source for the study of Aztec history and ritual is one of the few
surviving codices from this culture and presents to the reader a treasury of
information about the people of Mesoamerica. This high-quality facsimile edition
focuses especially on the Aztecs prior to and after the Conquest. But above all,
congratulations go to Quiñones Keber, whose excellent work and years of
dedication and research has been recognized by the granting of the Ralph Waldo Emerson
Award, given to Eloise in 1996 for her “outstanding contribution to humanistic
learning.” The University of Texas Press is also to be congratulated for this superior
production, as is the Getty Foundation, which has made the fine volume available to
scholars, libraries, and art lovers.
The Telleriano-Remensis receives its name from one of its owners, Charles Maurice Le
Tellier, and the city of Reims, of which he was archbishop and duke. Today the
manuscript on Italian paper is housed in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. Because
of its age (1553-1563) and its fragile material, the document was carefully kept away
from visitors. In 1990, however, the Bibliotheque made a microfilm of this valuable
source so students could study it. And now the full color facsimile of the original
codex has come alive in this 1995 edition.
The manuscript is divided into three parts and presents pictures of the Aztec gods,
the tlatoani who ruled these people, activities such as hunting or war, the natural
environment, some everyday scenes, and other subjects. Each folio carries a gloss and
the date of the events depicted. The first part contains seven folios on the veintena,
the twenty-day calendrical and ritual periods. There were eighteen of these periods
plus five extra days in the prehispanic year. The second part of the codex is the
tonalamatl or divinatory almanac, with its 260 days of thirteen trecenas in this
calendrical cycle. These are presented in seventeen folios. In the third part,
twenty-six folios tell the story of the Aztecs from the twelfth to the mid-sixteenth
The first thing one sees on opening the book is the facsimile done on fine quality
paper. An introduction by Quiñones Keber follows, called “Tradition and
Transformation.” The author explains what pictorial codices are and relates the history
of the Telleriano-Remensis. The physical description of the manuscript is given, along
with its form and content. Its provenience follows and we are introduced to its
creators: the tlacuilos (Eloise sees three, whom she calls “hands,” as of course they
were), and the annotators or commentators, whose gloss accompanied the images when they
were painted. An important part of this section is a comparison of the
Telleriano-Remensis with the Vaticanus-A codex thoroughly studied by Eloise, who here
introduces Pedro de Ríos, the compiler of the Vaticanus-A. In 1898, Del Paso y
Troncoso mentioned that Ríos also intervened in the Telleriano-Remensis as one
of the “hands.”
A detailed description of the annual ritual calendar is seen here (folios 8r to
24r), with an explanation of the Mesoamerican calendrical system. Quiñones Keber
notes an important aspect of the Telleriano-Remensis, namely that it concentrates
primarily on the people themselves, not only on kings and conquests.
The tonalamatl is analyzed in the second part. The author makes this division of the
calendar clear and understandable – no easy task. A table explains how to read the
tonalamatl, which is the calendrical document, and compares this with other codices,
including the Vaticanus A, the Borbonicus, the Tonalamatl de Aubin, the Borgia, and the
The third part consists of a discussion of historical annals, with emphasis on Aztec
history and the way it is presented in the Telleriano-Remensis. Here we see the Aztec
migration from Aztlan or Chicomoztoc to the Basin of Mexico, with Huitzilopochtli,
patron deity, as leader, and glyphs of the places the migrants passed on the way
(folios 25r to 28v). In the next seven folios, the Aztecs are seen dressed in animal
skins and carrying bows and arrows, indicating their Chichimec origin. The Aztec
tlatoanis from Acamapichtli to Motecuzoma the Second are presented next. Natural
disasters are seen at the same time as the rulers are shown.
The natural disasters interested me because they are still present in modern Mexico.
Nine earthquakes are represented from 1460 to 1521, portrayed by the ollin symbol,
similar to the Saint Andrews cross or an “x.” There was a devastating snow storm in
1447 and a plague of rats in 1506 (folios 32r and 41v). An eclipse of the sun is
represented here, and a probable volcanic eruption. Today there is so much tectonic
activity in Mexico that this phenomenon attracts attention, especially as it is
represented in history. Popocatepetl, which has been spitting and fuming in recent
years, is considered a young volcano, since it is only 135,000 years old. In 1519,
there was a serious eruption and volcanic activity was present up to 1527, much as it
is today. Its eruptions and gas fumes, as well as those of its sister and older
volcano, Iztaccihuatl, have been both a menace and a friend, since they are always
present. Therefore it surprised me somewhat that more attention was not given to these
fuming mountains and their menace to surrounding areas in the Telleriano-Remensis. This
led to the question: Could the makers of the Telleriano-Remensis have originated in
another region in the Altiplano? If this had been the case, however, some indication of
it would have been seen in the document.
Aztec conquests are represented not by battle scenes but by two military opponents
facing each other. The story of the Aztecs in prehispanic times continues up to the
arrival of the Spaniards, who are portrayed on horses or seated on European armchairs.
Religious men are here also, from the year 1541 (folios 44r and 46r), although a
bishop, identified by his footprints, is dated arriving in 1532. Folio 46r shows the
result of a great plague in 1544-1545 by the presence of cadavers wrapped in cloth.
The appendices to this volume are very useful and include a translation of the
sixteenth century annotations, tables that include the meaning of each veintena (for
example, Panquetzaliztli, “Raising of the Banners”), the twenty day signs of the
ancient calendar represented in pictures and words, and the figures of the gods. These
fine drawings were done by Michel Besson.
More little gems that fully explain the meaning of this codex are the comparison in
a table of the glyphs of sites on the migration with those represented in other
codices: the Azcatitlan, Boturini, Aubin, Mexicanus, and Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca.
The tlatoanis of Mexico, Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco, and Tezcoco are portrayed with the
dates of their reigns and the toponyms of their cities. Events in the
Telleriano-Remensis in still another table are depicted with European dates. Notes,
bibliography, and Index provide valuable information for readers of this outstanding
volume. The work will open doors to an exiting world of history, art, and ritual for
specialists and others who are meeting Mesoamerica and the Aztecs for the first time.
Eloise Quiñones Keber is to be congratulated for having given us this
significant and now readily available source.
Utopia and History in Mexico: The First Chronicles of Mexican Civilization (1520-1569). By Georges Baudot; translated by Bernard R. Ortiz de Montellano and Thelma Ortiz de Montellano. Niwot, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 1995. Pp. xix+566. $49.95 (cloth). ISBN 0-87081 401-X.
This impressive volume is a translation of the original French work Utopie et
histoire au Mexique (1977). Furthermore, it seems that this is an English translation
of a Spanish translation of the French original. As a result of this rather interesting
publication history, the comments here will be divided into two parts – one part on the
mechanics of the work and its publication history, the other on the substance of the
As a scholar I have serious reservations about a work that has been translated
twice. Anyone who has worked with materials in a foreign language appreciates the
tremendous risk one runs in making translations. In this instance, it is entirely
conceivable that many misunderstandings could have entered into the final English
language text. On the positive side, readers familiar with the translations of Bernardo
R. and Thelma Ortiz de Montellano will be assuaged by the general high quality that
they manifest in their work. But also frustrating is an occasional lack of attention to
detail on the part of the editors. For example, there is no consistency in the spelling
of the surname of Fr. Jacobo de Tastera, also Testera. While the former appears more
frequently in the book, the latter is the more common form.
The second concern is also one that falls into the realm of “it might have been.” In
the scholarly world, twenty years can either be irrelevant or critical. As it turns
out, the field of early colonial studies has been dramatically revolutionized in the
period between 1977 and 1995. While Baudot obviously revisited his text after 1977, the
changes have been light. Several works appear in the bibliography, but are not
necessarily referenced at the appropriate point in the text. Other works are totally
absent. Publications of relevant material, such as Maxwell and Hanson’s edition of the
Olmos manuscript in the Tulane collection, are also absent. Although at various points
in the work Baudot refers to the “ethnographic” work of Alonso de Zorita, the biography
of that jurist by Ralph H. Vigil (University of Oklahoma Press, 1987), is absent both
from the notes and bibliography. Similarly, although Louise Burkhart’s work The
Slippery Earth, appears in the bibliography, it is absent from the notes when Baudot
discusses the problems of translation of doctrine from Spanish to Nahuatl (p. 99).
Given these reservations, one is forced to look to the material itself and evaluate
the benefit of the work. In this regard the work is most valuable indeed. Although the
points made by Baudot are now twenty years old, they had not been easily available to
scholars writing in English who were unable to gain access to the French original.
Baudot offers a critically important hypothesis about the development of the Franciscan
“ethnographers” and their eventual decline in the 1570s. His arguments are cogent and
strong. His command of the literature, especially of the primary sources upon which he
builds his arguments, is second to none.
Baudot’s work consists of nine chapters and a conclusion, arranged in a generally
chronological fashion. It is not, however, strictly chronological. When Baudot
discusses relationships among the works of various friars the thread of argument moves
forward and backward. The first chapter is a general overview of the historiography of
the Conquest and settlement of New Spain up until 1568. This chapter focuses on reports
of laymen and crown officials, and serves as a general background for Baudot’s
arguments. The second chapter turns to the efforts of the Franciscans in Mexico during
the “spiritual conquest.” This history is necessary because most of Baudot’s arguments
and documents come from the Franciscan Order. In the third chapter, Baudot outlines the
life and career of Fr. Andrés de Olmos, whom he presents as the founder of the
Franciscan ethnographic tradition. The subsequent chapter follows in this path by
detailing the ethnographic production of Olmos, reconstructing his opera from known
sources and conjecturing about other sources long considered anonymous or doubtful.
Chapter Five discusses the life of Fr. Toribio de Benavente, Motolinía, while
Chapter Six considers his ethnographic production. With this solid background, Baudot
then considers the authorship of the Relación de Michoacán. This curious
document resembles several produced at the behest of Olmos, but has until now lacked a
clearly identified author. Baudot ascribes the work to Fr. Martín de
Coruña and places it within the ethnographic tradition initiated by Olmos. Next,
Baudot considers the career and ethnographic production of Fr. Francisco de las Navas,
the last of the ethnographers to be studied. Navas began his work as a companion to
Olmos, later was a collaborator with Sahagún, and went on to produce several
important items himself. In the last chapter Baudot discusses the confiscation of the
ethnographic production in the 1570s, when Sahagún and others were forced to
discontinue their work.
Baudot’s work is masterful. He draw upon the extant ethnographic sources and
analyzes them with great care and insight. He has clearly reconstructed the
interrelationships among the various Franciscans, and the few laypersons who
collaborated with them. He has analyzed with clarity the royal order to cease
investigation into the native past. His conclusion is that this same royal policy both
harmed the imperial structure by denying it information necessary to rule better its
subjects, and also has caused later generations of scholars to misunderstand the early
missionaries. Baudot has sought to correct this oversight. Again, none of this should
be novel to readers who are familiar either with this work in French or with Baudot’s
numerous articles that provide the grist for the book.
In summary, scholars in the English-speaking world should be pleased that his
important work is finally available in English. There are, however, some reservations.
The translation was not brought about in a manner to best guarantee faithfulness to the
original text. The publisher might have taken this opportunity to allow Prof. Baudot to
bring his work up to date. But beyond this, it is an important work that anyone must
read who is interested in the spiritual conquest or the ethnography of pre-Columbian
Wandering Peoples: Colonialism, Ethnic Spaces, and Ecological Frontiers in Northwestern Mexico, 1700-1850. By Cynthia Radding. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997. Pp. xx+404. $59.95 (cloth); $19.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8223-1907-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-8223-899-7 (paper).
This book looks at the late Colonial to early National period in central and
northern Sonora through southern Arizona, a physically difficult area caught between
the better known Spanish colonies in the American Southwest and Mesoamerica. The
indigenous inhabitants of the region were mostly Uto-Aztecan speakers, and Radding
focuses on the Opata, Pima, and Eudeve, although the Yaqui, Seri, Tarahumara, and the
Athabaskan Apache all play a role. The author is a member of the Department of History
at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and she follows her earlier volume
Entre el Desierto y la Sierra in presenting an ethnohistorical and anthropological
perspective, eschewing the traditional approach of the historian. Anthropologists and
ethnohistorians will be the primary audience for this book, and there is much to
recommend it to researchers from beyond Mesoamerica and the American Southwest for its
coverage of the relationship between peasants and a colonial empire.
Radding’s goal, she states in the Introduction, is to give voice to the subaltern
peoples of the region and to show how their acts of resistance affected and altered the
Spanish colonial project. I have doubts about whether these goals were convincingly
fulfilled, but Radding’s book is undoubtedly a success as a data-rich anthropological
analysis of important socioeconomic transformations in an understudied region. This
author knows her stuff, and has an intimate knowledge of the region and its historical
record. Her appreciation of the variation in interests among Spanish and Indian groups
cannot be done justice in this brief review.
The initial chapter, “Introduction: The Social Ecology of the Sonoran Frontier,”
lays the groundwork. Radding summarizes much of the material from later chapters, but
most prominently focuses on a discussion of the social ecology theoretical orientation
that she follows throughout the book. She defines “social ecology” as an approach based
in the ecological relations that guide the “political implications of resource
allocation,” and determines how people “ascribe cultural values to their claims to land
and labor.” Obviously these relationships are not determined by environment, since the
Spaniards did not adopt a Sonoran lifestyle after their arrival. Nevertheless, native
peoples had very different concepts of land use and mobility that would directly clash
with the Spanish agenda, and this is really the core of the book. Another concept
Radding discusses is that of “ethnic space,” arguing that the Indian-land relationship
provided a sense of identity that transcended any kind of political or economic unit.
Because the book is heavily concerned with peasant class formation, she gives a working
definition of this term that takes into account the variability within the category,
composed primarily of Indians (on the bottom) and non-Indian vecinos on the top.
Finally, Radding notes that she is following a model of “ethnogenesis,” i.e., rather
than evaluating native strategies by how many pre-Columbian traits survive over time,
she instead examines how Indians defended a shifting and dynamic ethnicity.
The remainder of the book is divided into three parts. The first section, “Los
Sonoras and the Iberian Invasion of Northwestern Mexico,” is devoted to a discussion of
native history both before and after the Conquest, in particular describing land-use
patterns and how these would collide with Spanish concepts of the same. Chapters in
this book are not neatly compartmentalized, and readers must expect to find detailed
discussions of a topic long before the chapter devoted strictly to that issue.
Chapter 1, “Ethnic Frontiers in the Sonoran Desert,” gives a good introduction to
the region, sketching the basic geographic, ethnic, and linguistic landscape. Radding
pays particular attention to the difficulties imposed by the climate and the unstable
nature of agricultural production, and how these forced a dispersed settlement pattern.
Her discussion of the pre Columbian archaeology is quite good and manages to relate
material culture to life ways more effectively than many archaeologists do. She focuses
especially on the Trincheras and Rio Sonora traditions, ranked societies fueled by
extensive long-distance trade contacts but without rigid social stratification.
This is followed by a more traditional historical narrative of the Spanish conquest
of this region, and of the failed attempts at imposing an encomienda system like that
which had worked so well in central Mexico. Spanish colonial exploitation of Sonora
differed primarily because of the lack of large-scale polities that could be easily
tapped into, and due to the degree of nomadism practiced by northern groups. The lack
of incentive for colonists to move into this area, at least until the discovery of
silver mines, meant that Spanish control was also much slower to develop. The Crown was
accordingly forced to rely on religious missionization for a Spanish presence,
primarily embodied in the Jesuit order. The establishment of missions and the
reducción of scattered Indian settlements into larger villages was a hardship,
but still an improvement over the earlier, violent encounters between Spaniards and
Indians in the 16th and 17th centuries. The main focus of Radding’s book begins at this
point, circa 1700, when mining and stock raising were bringing in increasing numbers of
Spaniards, and the Bourbon reforms leading to an increased colonial presence were about
I might note parenthetically that a more extensive treatment of the 16th and 17th
centuries would have greatly altered the tone of the book. This period of nearly 200
years after the arrival of Spaniards on mainland America is bound to have had
pronounced effects on the Native American populations of Sonora. Disease swept through
western Mexico ahead of the Spanish advance (see the Relación de
Michoacán for a description of the effects of disease on the Tarascan political
and social system) and Sonora probably suffered a similar devastation long before
Europeans ever showed up in the area. Radding notes that when the peoples of Sonora
attempted to defend and hold onto their culture against the Spanish encroachment, it
was already as much colonial as pre-Columbian. But she might have noted that the
probable passage of disease through the region before the Spaniards ever got there
would have helped to tear down much of the pre-Columbian political and economic order.
Disease by no means wiped out native culture, but a more extensive discussion of this
disastrous period would probably have made Radding’s examples of native resistance look
rather late and ineffectual.
Chapter 2, “Amerindian Economy in Sonora,” is a detailed and interesting exegesis on
native subsistence methods, and Radding’s discussion virtually puts the reader into the
shoes of a native Sonoran. A critical feature of agriculture in Sonora was its
instability thanks to the variable rainfall. Too little rain resulted in a minimal
crop, but too much washed away valuable soil. The resulting native pattern of feast or
famine depending on the current food supply would seriously interfere with the goals of
the Spanish colonial system.
Chapter 3, “Native Livelihood and Colonial Economy,” describes this collision by
blending of quantitative data and individual portraits. The mission system was oriented
towards production of a limited number of staple crops to supply the nearby presidios
and mining camps, and struggled to impose this system on the Indian populations, who
had adapted to the Sonoran environment by adopting a dispersed settlement pattern and a
reliance on a wide array of resources. Sonorans were increasingly reluctant to plant
the communal mission lands and many protested by breaking off from the mission to
reestablish the small hamlets of the past. The expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767 left
other Spanish colonists free to ensnare the Indians in debt servitude, even as Bourbon
reforms continued to break up communal lands into private holdings.
Part II, “The Intimate Sphere of Ethnicity: Household and Community,” is divided
into two chapters. Chapter 4, “Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Formation in Sonora,”
delves into vital statistics for the region. Radding examines the series of birth and
death rates, and documents the fragmentation of Indian households due to labor
migration and disease. Indian households responded by becoming considerably more
flexible; they accepted new members who had lost their own families, and temporary
sexual unions formed while males were away at mining camps. These impermanent family
structures clashed with Spanish, particularly missionary, ideals, and were yet another
source of ethnic conflict. As in the previous chapter, Radding uses historical data on
individuals or families to liven up the quantitative statistics and give the reader a
better feel for the era.
Chapter 5, “‘Gypseys’ and Villagers: Shifting Communities and Changing Ethnic
Identities in Highland Sonora,” concentrates on the fragmentation of community that
supplied the concept of “wandering peoples” to the title. The migration of Indians away
from the missions undermined the communal land system, the invasion of the region by
cattle herds led to increased erosion and destruction of agricultural land, and men
joining the military for long campaigns against the Apaches left many of their towns
starved for labor.
Part III, “Rival Proprietors and Changing Forms of Land Tenure,” has two chapters.
Chapter 6, “Land and the Indian Común,” follows the causes and effects of
increasing privatization of land. Radding makes good use of her knowledge of legal
procedures of the time and of individual case studies, to show exactly how the invading
vecinos were slowly gaining control of land and water rights. The advance of Bourbon
reforms brought increasingly formal procedures of land ownership for which the Indians
were unprepared. The land grabs that followed continued to chip away at communal land
holdings until little was left, and the incentive even to retain Indian identity
Chapter 7, “Peasants, Hacendados, and Merchants: The Cultural Differentiation of
Sonoran Society,” discusses many of the themes of previous chapters (primarily land
ownership) as illustrated by individual cases from the community of Pitic and the
valley of Horcasitas. The chapter concludes with the final dismantling of communal and
mission lands under the nascent Mexican government, provoked by the needs of a growing
non-Indian population in the far northwest.
Part IV is titled “Ethnogenesis and Resistant Adaptation,” and pulls together many
of the earlier threads. Chapter 8, “Cultural Endurance and Accommodation to Spanish
Rule,” and Chapter 9, “Patterns of Mobilization,” are both devoted to discussions of
resistance among the Sonoran Indians and how it was manifested. Resistance, Radding
argues, was mainly acted out through migration (voting with one’s feet) and actual
armed rebellion, which appears to have occurred rather frequently in retaliation for
ill treatment and in frustration over the inability to defend their holdings in other
ways. Other forms of resistance that Radding discusses appear less effective, e.g.,
Indians joined the Spanish military in order to gain some personal advantages, but
their absence cost their communities dearly in terms of labor and defense.
The final chapter, “Conclusions: Contested Space,” provides a much-needed summary,
drawing together the many threads of this volume. The pre-contact Sonoran Indians had
adopted a dispersed settlement pattern and broad-based subsistence strategy in order to
deal with a low productivity and risky agricultural regime. The Spaniards forced them
in the 17th century into a concentrated mission-centered pattern and insisted that they
cultivate a few staple products (maize, wheat) to feed the wider colonial market.
Ironically, the slow decline and breakup of the mission system was opposed by the
Indians, thanks to the identification of the mission with communal land ownership.
Radding concludes with an argument for the continued use of the social ecology
approach, and notes that the time is ripe for more comparative analyses incorporating
densely peopled areas with sedentary populations.
Primary data in this book are not overwhelming, but there are plenty of maps, charts
listing the holdings of various missions, data on agricultural production and sales,
etc. The author is clearly in command of the literature for this area, and has a very
realistic sense of how the flexibility of stated ethnicity, the incompleteness of
records, and the biases of one chronicler or another can affect interpretation of
seemingly clear-cut quantitative data. I came away from this book impressed with
Radding’s scholarship and her identification of important factors and
My reservations and doubts relate to larger questions. Two of the primary objectives
of this book were to give voice to the peasants, presumably Indian peasants, of Sonoran
society, and to examine their strategies of resistance to the Colonial agenda. I am not
sure that this first goal was fulfilled. The Opata, Pima, and Eudeve peoples are hard
to tease out from the statistics and Spanish historical records. Although I applaud the
use of individual and family histories to flesh out the broader historical patterns
found in the documents, there is little Indian presence in these portraits, which
better illustrate Spanish and vecino motives. Indians are usually being talked about by
others, rather than speaking for themselves. When they do speak out, it is their
community leaders who are doing the talking, and it is hard to know how representative
these views were of the village as a whole.
Radding’s second goal is of very broad relevance to ethnographic and ethnohistorical
research, and is the source of my primary reservations. What constitutes resistance as
opposed to accommodation? Although Radding begins to address this thorny theoretical
question, she veers off into a discussion of armed rebellion and migrations as
manifestations of this behavior. These may be plausible examples, but what about the
statement that the blending of native and Catholic religious beliefs constitutes
resistance? Indian beliefs appear to have been so thoroughly expunged that there is no
discussion of them in this book beyond a vague reference to shamanism. Of course,
Catholicism is a good example of shamanism too (a holy man who goes to the land of the
dead to heal others and returns from messages from the other side), and I’m not sure
how much of those “native” contributions really are that. I am not saying that only
those acts that are ultimately successful need to be considered resistance – they are
all ultimately transitory – but surely more time is needed on this question. Resistance
sounds great and it is a means of empowering the dead and making it appear that they
were not run over without a fight, but it’s not always a very accurate characterization
of past events.
More questions abound. What are people resisting against? Who is resisting –
Indians? Not exactly, since there was only occasional cooperation between different
groups. And shouldn’t we describe the recalcitrant behavior of the vecinos towards the
missionaries, or local Spanish officials against each other, as resistance? Or does one
have to be “ethnic” (Spaniards have no ethnicity, of course, since they are the
establishment) for acts to be considered resistance? Is resistance occurring at the
level of the village community? Sometimes yes, when attempting to defend the integrity
of their communal land, but these protests were mostly voiced by native leaders whose
motives were often not so altruistic towards their own constituents. Besides, choices
of resistance versus cooperation more often led to intra-village conflict, not
solidarity. Rather, Radding describes a social environment in which individuals
resisted, and attempted to improve their lot even at the expense of their own
communities. Victories are typically small and personal. Radding eventually concludes
that native Sonorans followed a path that wound between accommodation and resistance.
But isn’t this what everyone does every day? What individual or group doesn’t toe that
line between retaining our independence or giving it up to gain something else? Is this
a meaningful observation?
I am more optimistic about the approach of social ecology as an integrated analysis
of humans and the significance they ascribe to their subsistence relationships. Rather
than just focusing on how these ideologies are formed, however, we must also study why
they are retained in the face of overwhelming changes. The subsistence pattern to which
the native Sonorans kept returning was quite logical for the environment in which they
lived. But what about the Spaniards? Why did they continue to try to impose production
for a colonial market on a population so incapable of maintaining it, and in the face
of declining populations and continuing rebellions?
I can recommend this volume as a detailed and savvy analysis of the Late
ColonialEarly National period of this corner of Mexico, and I believe I learned
quite a bit about the interaction between Spanish colonialism and peasants. My
disagreements revolve around Radding’s optimistic portrayal of native Sonorans as
perhaps more organized and effective at interfering with the Spanish agenda than I can
Chilies to Chocolate: Food the Americas Gave the World. Edited by Nelson Foster and Linda S. Cordell. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992. Pp. xvii+191. $14.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8165 1324-4.
Like music and science, food speaks a universal language. Experiencing a savory,
fragrant, and satisfying meal made from exotic ingredients, diners want more, and
awakened appetites have provoked endless cultural upheavals to keep those flavors
coming. Today many people have global palates; in the United States, foreign dishes are
available in restaurants even in small towns, and exotic ingredients are widely sold in
supermarkets. In turn, people in distant corners of the world know and like foods
utterly foreign to local biotic and cultural patterns.
Dissemination of foods has been an impetus for cultural interchange since trading
began, and in the Age of Discovery (or Age of European Intrusion), the practice
accelerated. Now, crops of the Old and New Worlds share the world’s menus. The New
World definitely holds its own in the interchange, and Foster and Cordell’s volume
details some of the most important – and sabroso – exports. The book presents papers
from an unusual symposium in that great culinary capital, San Francisco. The program
included tastings as well as ideas and information; this is an admirable approach
because, like a picture, a taste is worth at least 1,000 words. The papers focus on how
New World foods became globally adopted, and why some foods failed to capture Old World
attention. Thus there is a strong emphasis on food in history, along with some
discussions of agronomy, food chemistry, and nutrition.
The first chapter, by Alan Davidson, reviews the general circumstances of
dissemination of New World crops. Davidson uses histories of ecological change and
dispersal (such as Alfred Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange) and more food-specific
regional studies (Joop Witteveen’s study of the adoption of the potato in the
Netherlands) to explore why rapid adoption in some places was mirrored by disinterest
elsewhere. He concludes that adoption of food is difficult to predict, because it is
affected by idiosyncratic cultural particulars. For example, Crosby had theorized that
the potato was adopted in Ireland not only because of its nutritional benefits but
because the maturing crop was safe underground, not subject to destruction as war raged
over the landscape.
Daniel K. Early’s chapter on amaranth recounts a modern success story. This leafy
grain is higher in protein than wheat, rice, or maize, and its leaves are as
nutritionally rich as spinach. Rediscovered in a deliberate search for underutilized
food crops, amaranth was made a special project of the Rodale Foundation. It is now
commercially available as breakfast cereal, crackers, etc. Amaranth’s lack of
distribution may have derived in part from sixteenth-century Spanish reaction against
its ritual use; the Aztecs bound the seeds together by honey or other sticky liquid and
formed representations of deities and mountains. Seeing such shapes of reddish amaranth
seed, the Spaniards assumed that the Aztecs were using human blood as binder, and given
other Aztec practices, one can hardly be affronted by this assumption on their
A similar reaction may have predisposed Spaniards to ignore quinoa, a mainstay of
Inca life and another leafy-grain nutritional powerhouse, as John F. McCamant notes in
his chapter. After potatoes, quinoa was the most important Andean food, able to grow at
elevations up to 13,000 feet. Certain of quinoa’s features made its value less apparent
to Europeans. The seeds have a bitter coat of saponin (the Incas made soap from it),
and lacked the gluten necessary to make yeasted bread, a European dietary mainstay.
Some strains are so carefully attuned to their native regime of day length and
temperature cycles that they will not produce seeds in other environments. McCamant
recounts the rather bizarre story of recent efforts to get quinoa accepted and grown
outside the Andes. Without government backing or the interest of powerful supporters
like Rodale, investment in production is difficult. In the case of quinoa, three
dynamic Americans worked for years and traveled extensively toward this end. In spite
of one of them meeting a violent death in this effort, they succeeded to the extent
that quinoa, like amaranth, is now widely available.
Potatoes, fundamentally important to Andean cultures, have long been a mainstay of
European and North American diets, but until a few years ago our choices were limited
to baking or boiling varieties. We now know that beyond this dependable duo there lies
a rainbow of “non mainstream” potatoes, the subject of Noel Vietmeyer’s essay. He notes
that “the Incas cultivated almost as many species of plants as the farmers of all of
Asia… to produce abundant food for fifteen million or more subjects” (p. 95). In the
European adoption of a few types of potato, at least five species were left behind, as
were some other root crops similar to carrots and other vegetables.
Walton C. Galinat’s chapter on maize points out that Europeans first saw maize
fields only four days after arriving in the New World. Maize has become a culinary
stalwart in many regions due to its remarkable productivity and degree of
domesticability. This latter property has also presented an impediment to maize-origin
research, resulting in the “lack of a stable base stock amenable to experimentation”
(p. 56). Beans are another dietary staple with an active tendency toward hybridization,
and Lawrence Kaplan and Lucille N. Kaplan present studies of bean genetic diversity,
and efforts to determine the extent of range of variability (if any) among cultivated
On a recent stay in Honduras I fell right into the vanilla-flavored tourist trap
that Patricia Rain exposes in her essay. What a bargain my big bottle of “vanilla” was,
and how smug I felt at having acquired it at the ancestral source. Or at least close to
the source. Rain describes how ancient Totonacs of the Gulf Coast of Mexico are
credited with developing the method of curing beans, which is essentially the same
today. Totonacs learned the habits of the tropical vine and how to induce production of
pods. Aztecs got vanilla in tribute from Totonacs, and in turn the Spaniards also
demanded vanilla in tribute, and it was adopted in Europe as a flavoring agent,
particularly for chocolate. It was the favorite flavoring of Elizabeth I of England,
and so treasured in France that they established plantings on their tropical island
holdings, i.e., Madagascar, but with little success. The Totonacs continued to control
the world supply until the mid-nineteenth century, when secure propagation techniques
were established. Rain warns against mking the facile assumption that “vanilla”
flavoring purchased in America’s tropical lowlands is natural, and sure enough, upon
reading the fine print on the bottle’s label, I learned that my “authentic” vanilla was
born in a chemical plant.
Vanilla’s cultivational reticence led to the development of artificial impostors,
but chili peppers wrought their global flavor revolution naturally. Indigenous to South
America, they spread to Mesoamerican and the Caribbean, and then to the rest of the
world, lending “bite” to the cuisines of China, Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. Jean
Andrews notes that “The breadth of the chili peppers’ dispersion in Africa resulted in
part from a Portuguese policy intended to prevent unity among slaves and thus to reduce
the likelihood of rebellion. This policy, which prohibited plantations from having
large concentration of slaves from a single geographic area, stimulated a far-reaching
search for new sources of slaves, and where the slave traders went, chili peppers
evidently soon followed” (p. 86). In fact, chilis were relatively unknown in North
America (except for the Southwest and Florida) until they were spread by African slave
Chocolate’s history of use is more complex. In fact as John West points out,
Columbus first brought it to Europe but had no idea of how to serve it. Only when
Cortés returned home did Spanish nobles share the favorite drink of the Aztec
court, where Cortés and his men had shared so many cups of the frothy beverage
with their royal Aztec hosts. West’s article is richer in chocolate history and lore
than chemical analysis, and offers fascinating vignettes about chocolate’s value as an
expeditionary food as well as an aphrodisiac.
Gary Paul Nabhan’s Epilogue moves from the specifics of the foods we have come to
call our own to the complexity of the local ecosystems from which they came. He writes:
“though it is useful to profile single American crops and their culinary uses, it is
crucial to keep in mind that each arose in a multidimensional ecological and cultural
context” (p. 148). Native American farmers did not simply broadcast seed, they
practiced finely-honed methods of plant cultivation. In Mexico, temporal cultivation
involves plunging the digging stick into the soil until a damp level is found, and then
inserting the seed, thus insuring that the seed will germinate, even in the marginal,
cold and arid conditions of the Central Highlands. One can be certain that a farmer so
careful with each seed will preserve those that do best, and thus, as Nabhan writes,
become “experts at single-plant selection” a technique which “favors locally
specialized ecotypes, farmer specific flavor and color variants, and culture-specific
ceremonial strains of crops” (pp. 149-50). Industrialization, the urbanization and
proletarianization of native farmers, the Green Revolution and the Gene Revolution have
placed inexorable pressure for abandonment of the old, personal, complex ways of
And yet, some hope exists for saving, or perhaps salvaging the genetic variety of
these food crops, and the life ways of family farming. Among educated and influential
people exists a strong interest in pure, whole food, and in helping indigenous peoples
maintain their traditional livelihoods if they so choose. This may amount to shouting
into a hurricane, but some efforts along these lines have been effective:
organically-grown crops are gaining an increasing share of the U.S. food market, and
the foods favored by the trend-setting restaurants and markets of the San Francisco Bay
area, for example, are grown on small farms. Meanwhile, back in the real world, strong
pressures continue toward mass-production of food, absorption of small businesses into
large corporations, and abandonment of extended family enterprises for wage-paying
jobs. At this writing, the forests of Indonesia are being burned by palm-oil plantation
owners, creating a subcontinental smog that is devastating the economy, for example by
reducing sunlight to a level below that required to grow basic subsistence crops. Like
other acts of ecocide, this deliberate razing of the landscape reveals how fragile are
the family farms and their crops in the face of the casually destructive greed of
Primeros memoriales. By Fray Bernardino de Sahagún; facsimile edition photographed by Ferdinand Anders.
Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 200, Part 1. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press; Madrid: in cooperation with the Patrimonio Nacional and the Real
Academia de la Historia, Madrid, 1993. Pp. 176. $170.00 (paper). ISBN 0-8061-1688-9.
Primeros memoriales. By Fray Bernardino de Sahagún; paleography of Nahuatl text and English translation by Thelma D. Sullivan; completed and revised, with
additions, by H.B. Nicholson, et al. Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 200, Part 2. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997. Pp. xv+334. $75.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-8061-2909-3.
I think it would be fair to characterize the Primeros memoriales as a pilot project
for the compilation of the Florentine Codex. Bernardino de Sahagún’s methodology
for eliciting information from informants was devised and tried in Tepepolco. From
there came the first of the data sets to be employed in the later “siftings” whereby
Sahagún and his Nahua assistants located and sought to clarify their informants’
inconsistencies and omissions. Part of the material to be found in the Primeros
memoriales made its way into the Florentine Codex in more or less revised form, as
indicated in the extensive annotation of the Sullivan volume. Much of it remains unique
to the Primeros memoriales, and that which is only to be found in the early Tepepolco
compilation is of special interest to scholars.
Although there is narrative in the Primeros memoriales (notably the fragmentary
story of a woman who dies before her time and visits Mictlan), much of the content
consists of lists and detailed captions for paintings. One of the most delightful for
readers is a menu of foods and beverages available to the elite, among them such
enticing dishes as dark tortillas with sliced hot green chilis, fruit tamales with
stewed turkey hen, and red-hot chilied tadpoles, perhaps accompanied by chocolate with
wild honey or magnolia blossoms. The bill of fare for the macehualtin by comparison
seems dry, with most of its protein derived from insects and worms, but fish roe
tamales sound tasty (Sullivan 1997:202-203).
On the subject of food, there is also a description of a tamale festival at which
part of the entertainment was the swallowing of live snakes and frogs by dancers known
as Mazatecs. It is stated that at the conclusion of the feast, which took place only
once every eight years, old men and women wept to think they might not live long enough
to take part in it again.
Elsewhere in the Primeros memoriales are lists of names appropriate only to males
and only to females (pp. 253-55). One finds that the men’s name list leans heavily to
animal names (rabbit, deer, lizard, jaguar, eagle, hummingbird, etc.), while the much
shorter female list has, in addition to birth-order names (first-born, younger,
youngest), plant and flower names (magnolia, maize tassel, calliandra). Unexpectedly,
the generic “flower” appears on the men’s name list in two variant spellings (xochitl
and xuchitl) and also on the woman’s list without an absolutive suffix (xochi).
Perhaps the most amusing lists of all are of bad names (pp. 210-12, 216-17) and
quarrelsome insults (pp. 295-98). Here we learn that the Nahuah took out their
exasperation by calling each other imbeciles, boors, and blockheads (“You are a bad
piece of wood”) as well as coining some turns of phrase we might be tempted to adopt
(“[You are] a miserable hole in the nape of the neck”). Ideally, the elite strove to
bury criticism in admonitions, while the commoners went at each other with bare
knuckles, making scurrilous references to sexual behavior and excrement. Not
surprisingly, the Primeros memoriales states that the object of such a public attack
sometimes had no line of defense but could only listen and weep.
Descriptions of ceremonies, processional standards, and costumes are illustrated
with detailed multicolored paintings. The feast of the eating of water tamales
mentioned above has a full-page illustration showing, among many things, one Mazatec
dancer about to swallow a snake, and two others with snake tails hanging from their
mouths. When one reads the texts accompanying illustrations, one sees that the text
sometimes describes a detail not visible in the painting. This is true for the apparel
of deities, for instance. In the description of the water-tamale feast, the live snakes
are shown but the live frogs (perhaps less of a challenge to the Mazatecs) are
The native artist who contributed to the Primeros memoriales incorporated fewer
indigenous conventional representations into their paintings than did the artist of the
Florentine Codex, but one can find hill and water “glyphs,” footprints to indicate
travel, many speech scrolls, and a complete set of calendrical day signs with numbers.
Elaborate headdresses and processional standards are shown mounted on poles planted in
bases that resemble flower pots.
In studying the song lyrics incorporated in the Cantares mexicanos and the Romances
de los señores de la Nueva Espana, James Lockhart and I found a pervasive
pattern of eight-verse songs arranged in four verse-pairs, each pair sharing a common
coda of vocables such as ohuaya and huiya. The famous twenty sacred hymns of the
Primeros memoriales do not show such pervasive four-ness, but it is notable that most
of them consist of even numbers of verses, and there is considerable evidence of paired
vocable codae as well, honoring the Mesoamerican principle of duality.
Sullivan’s paleography presents the content of the Primeros memoriales as it appears
on the page. It is a very polished product of meticulous research, and few errors have
been introduced in the printing. The first I noticed was on p. 125, where
“teiztaltiaia” should read “teizcaltiaia.” A second follows on p. 132, “onetleneviloc”
for “onetlaneviloc.” Most of the typographical errors I came across were, however, in
the footnotes, where there are instances of missing cedillas and some spacing problems
as well as extraneous, missing, or wrong letters in English as well as Nahuatl.
In the English translation and notes, Nahuatl place names and personal names are
regularized but not entirely consistently. For instance, there are many instances of
initial “yy” for “y” in the Primeros memoriales. These cannot all be resolved into
third-person possessive prefixes or reductions of the particle “yn,” as for example
“yyequachtli” (“tobacco pouch”) and “yyetecumatl” (“tobacco vessel”) on p. 117. In the
notes, the former is referred to as “yiequachtli” and is derived from “Yietl (yetl)”
(“tobacco”). Because there is no “ie” diphthong in Nahuatl, this is a poor way to
resolve the issue. According to R. Richard Andrews, it is iyetl.
Likewise, the deity associated with merchants appears in the Primeros memoriales as
“yyacatecutli,” “yyacatecutlj,” and “yyacatecuhtli.” In three English headings, the
form is consistently “Yacatecuhtli.” In running text in the English translation, the
name appears as “Yiacatecuhtli” (p. 58). In four footnotes the name appears in the
following ways: “Yiacatecuhtli or Yacatecuhtli,” “Yiacatecuhtli (Yacatecuhtli),” and
“Yacatecuhtli” (twice). The Index heading is “Yacatecuhtli (Yiacatecuhtli).” It would
have been more user-friendly to resolve everything in the headings, English
translation, and Index consistently as “Yacatecuhtli.”
The word for “lord” (freestanding and compounded ) has been consistently regularized
to “tecuhtli” in accordance with longstanding convention. But in the Primeros
memoriales itself, the spelling “tecutli” dominates other spellings by a ratio of about
seven to two. The spelling I prefer (and this preference is shared with other
grammarians of Nahuatl) of “teuctli” with the syllable final inversion of the digraph
“cu” to “uc” runs in last place in the Primeros memoriales itself with just three
The “tecuhtli” spelling convention leads readers to think that this culturally
supremely important word is trisyllabic, that it contains the vowel “u,” and that it
has a stem-final “saltillo” (glottal stop), none of which is the case. The spelling
pronunciation [tekutli] is unfortunately pervasive among scholars (as opposed to
speakers) of Nahuatl. Sullivan herself believed the orthographic “h” represented a
glottal stop, as can be see in her 1976 Compendio de la gramática náhuatl
(p. 19), where she offers “tecu’tli” as an example of a word containing a stem-final
saltillo. I find it regrettable that this edition of the Primeros memoriales
perpetuates the misunderstanding.
A translation produced by Sullivan and then scrutinized by Anderson and Dibble is
impervious to criticism, for surely these three scholars knew the Sahaguntine corpus as
few of us could hope to, and they had vast resources to call upon when making decisions
about specific instances. However, in the song sung at the tamale feast mentioned
above, where participants wore bird costumes and imitate birds in their dances, the
only way we can hope to take “quechol” as a singing, nectar-sipping roseate spoonbill
is as part of a hilarious burlesque; no actual spoonbill has ever done such things.
The footnote annotation is not so reliable as the English translation. As presented,
we cannot sort out Sullivan’s notes from those of the editors. In general, they are
distinctly backwards looking to Eduard Seler and Angel María Garibay (the latter
a powerfully influential figure in Sullivan’s formations as Nahuatl scholar), rather
than forward-looking to Nahuatl scholarships since the 1950s. The retrospective is
valuable, but the notes tend to dictionary-look-up analysis uninformed by the rules of
Nahuatl morphology. One old chestnut is the glossing of “Tonacacihuatl” as “Lady of our
sustenance” (p. 140, n. 16). The English translation itself consistently and correctly
translates “tonaca-” as “sustenance,” derived from the verb stem tona-, but the note
falls into the old habit of identifying “to” with the possessive prefix “our.” The
indisputably correct analysis is to be found already in Horacio Carochi’s 1645 grammar
In another note, there is a nonsensical etymology for “Chantico” (p. 112, n. 94).
The locative suffix -co does not attach to nouns with the ligature -ti, and the noun
chantli refers to “home” not “house.” The translation of “Tezcacoac Ayopechtli” (p.
110, n. 87) as a personal name “Mirror-Snake Tortoise Bench” is, to be charitable,
questionable. The derivation of xocotl from xiuh-ocotl (p. 60) is unlikely, and
“toxcauia” has no huaqui or huatza in it to supply a sense of drying up (p. 58, n. 13).
Appeals to archaism and the use of “ligatures” to explain away problems of
morphological analysis are too frequent in the notes.
There is some terminology in the notes the reasons for which I do not understand.
Why is octli referred to as “the fermented saccharine exudate of the maguey”? Does this
say more than “octli” or “pulque” or “fermented maguey sap”? Why the repeated use of
the longer adjective form “gentilitial” where others use “gentile”? And is an
“asterism” different from a constellation?
Book design has created some problems with locating things and matching the material
in the Sullivan volume to the facsimile. For one thing, pp. 38-54 in the Sullivan
volume have no page numbers printed on them. The Index refers to items in tables on
these pages, but finding them is hard work.
The sacred hymns, which appear written solid in verses in the facsimile, have been
broken into lines after the practice of Garibay. There is no evidence for these line
breaks in the original, and the imposition of lines in the Sullivan volume is the
single departure from true paleography of the Primeros memoriales.
The Primeros memoriales exists in two pieces and is, moreover, fragmentary. Some
pages have been lost. Eloise Quiñones Keber explains and illustrates the
gatherings of the Palace manuscript and the Academy manuscript in her introductory
essay to the Sullivan volume. But as it happens, the order decided upon for the
Sullivan volume is slightly different from the order of the photographic facsimile. In
the facsimile, folios 72r-80v are inserted between 68v and 69r. In the Sullivan volume,
folio 72r follows part of folio 69r, which resumes after folio 80r. (Folio 80v is
blank, so it contributes nothing to the Sullivan volume.)
I think users of the Primeros memoriales need to know about these concerns. The most
important thing to know about the Primeros memoriales, however, is that it is now
available in facsimile, paleography, and translation. The facsimile is colorful and
fascinating to look at. The Sullivan volume makes it supremely useful. Although four
years have separated the publication of these volumes, libraries need to be reminded
that the volumes are needed, and they are needed together.
At the Desert’s Green Edge: An Ethnobotany of the Gila River Pima. By Amadeo M. Rea. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8165-1540-9.
Amadeo Rea’s At the Desert’s Green Edge stands as a major work in ethnobotany, of
interest to southwestern and Mesoamerican anthropologists as well as to ethnobotanists
in general. Mesoamericanists will find in this volume information relevant to the
reconstruction of pre Columbian environments, the indigenous classification of nature
among Uto-Aztecan speakers, and an historical account of the Spanish (and later Anglo)
colonization and transformation of a people. Rea has combined the anthropological
tradition of avocational devotion, professional scientific rigor, and respect for
anthropological subjects that represents the best of traditional ethnography. As such,
his work is a breath of fresh air in today’s contentious, socially constructed, and
often empirically void anthropology.
This work is an ethnobotany of the Gila River Pima, or Akimel O’odham as they call
themselves. Rea draws on 35 years of research with the Akimel O’odham. His approach is
to utilize memory culture of eight elder Pima along with the recollections of other
Pima to construct the most complete ethnobotany possible. He strives to unite the emic
views of the Pima with the etic views of botanists and anthropologists. In order to
accomplish this, he presents his data in extensive appendices according to Pima
classifications of plants. Rea’s use of Pima categories to organize his ethnobotany
helps to accomplish another of his goals, that of providing an ethnobotany that would
preserve the knowledge of Pima elders for future generations of Pima.
Rea’s basic ethnobotanical data stand on their own, but there are a number of
methodological and theoretical issues he also treats in this volume that make the
particulars of Pima ethnobotany of general importance to anthropologists and
Methodologically, Rea draws from the work of ethnoscientists such as Brent Berlin
and Cecil Brown. He contributes to the general finding of ethnoscientists that, when
naming species and genera, folk taxonomies and Linnean taxonomies tend to be in
agreement, indicating that people from varied cultural perspectives nonetheless are
perceiving the same objective reality (p. 84). My one criticism of the book is that, in
his treatment of methodology, he does not address the pioneering work of Harold Conklin
or the rigorous methodological work of Oswald Werner. Nonetheless, any ethnobotanist
would benefit from a reading of Rea’s work. Rea also presents important information
regarding historical changes in the lexicon of Pima plant categories that adds further
linguistic relevance to his work.
Rea’s reconstruction of Pima culture history and the ecological history of the
American southwest and northern Mexico is another empirical and theoretical
contribution of the book. Rea’s culture history of the Pima combines a regard for the
basic scientific (and as yet inconclusive) evidence, along with a respect for
indigenous myths as oral histories. Rea links the Pima solidly with other Uto-Aztecan
speakers to the south, and therefore other Mesoamerican people. He also notes the
cultural ecological implications of the recent arrival (ca. 350 years ago) of the Pima
in the upper Sonoran desert of southern Arizona.
Rea provides a thorough, if not stark, ecological history of the Gila and Salt river
watersheds in which he details the systematic destruction of this environment in
especially the past 100 years. Rea purposively drew his data from older informants who
would have remembered early 20th century ecological conditions, before the effects of
river diversion, drought, mining, lumbering, and herding were fully felt in the Gila
drainage. Rea details how and when the natural environment of the Gila was destroyed,
as well as why, and so provides policy implications for modern land management in arid
Rea also addresses the dietary and health effects of the transformation of the Gila
watershed and Pima culture/economy, and he spells out exactly how these changes have
led to the incredibly high incidence of diabetes in this and other indigenous
populations formerly pursuing a gathering-hunting-horticultural way of life in arid
Rea’s book has much to recommend it for the ethnobotanist, linguist, historical
ecologist, archaeologist, and Mesoamericanist. The solid empirical information
presented on the environment and on Pima perspectives on the environment destine this
book to be a true volume of record to which scholars will refer for decades to come.
Additionally relevant for Mesoamericanists, especially archaeologists, is the mixed
gathering-hunting-horticultural economy that Rea reconstructs for the early Pima, which
may provide a reasonable analog for the alleged early wanderings of the Aztecs in
northern Mexico. With all due inferential precautions, Rea may provide a useful tool
for unraveling the economic origins of some of Mesoamerica’s most celebrated
Illustrations this issue
The illustrations throughout the pages of this issue of the Nahua Newsletter come
from Aztec Imperial Strategies. By Frances F. Berdan, Richard E. Blanton, Elizabeth
Hill Boone, Mary G. Hodge, Michael E. Smith, and Emily Umberger. Washington, D.C.:
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1996. Pp. viii+392. $60.00 (cloth).