Editor’s Note: This content is archival.
February 2000, Number 29
A Publication of the Indiana University Center for Latin American and Caribbean
With support from the Department of Anthropology
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
- Newsletter News
- News Items
- Book Reviews
- Myths of Ancient Mexico. By Michel Graulich. Translated
by Bernard R. Ortiz de Montellano and Thelma Ortiz de Montellano. Civilization of the
American Indian Series, Vol. 222. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997. Pp.
xii+370. $32.95 (cloth). ISBN 0-8061-2910-7 (cloth). Reviewed by James M.
- Historia cronológica de la noble ciudad de
Tlaxcala. By Juan Buenaventura Zapata y Mendoza. Paleographic transcription,
translation, presentation and notes by Luis Reyes García and Andrea
Martínez Baracs. México, D. F.: Universidad Autónoma de
Tlaxcala, Secretaría de Extensión Universitaria y Difusión
Cultural; Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología
Social, 1995. Pp. 746. ISBN 968-865-033-1. Reviewed by David Robichaux.
- Le grand temple de México: Du mythe à la
réalité – l’histoire des aztèques entre 1325 et 1521. By Daniel
Lévine. Collection Archéologie Américaine. París:
Editions Artcom, 1997. Pp. 137. ISBN 2912741009. Reviewed by José Alcina
- The Frontier Mission and Social Transformation in
Western Honduras: The Order of Our Lady of Mercy, 1525-1773. By Nancy Johnson Black.
Studies in Christian Mission, Vol. 14. New York: E.J. Brill, 1995. Pp. xii+194.
$75.00 (cloth). ISBN 9004102191 (cloth). Reviewed by Richard Bradley.
- Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric
American Southwest. By Christy G. Turner II and Jacqueline A. Turner. Salt Lake City:
University of Utah Press, 1999. Pp 547. $60.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-87480-566-X (cloth).
Reviewed by Robert F. Jeske.
- Beber de tierra generosa. México, D.F.:
Fundación de Investigaciones Sociales (FISAC), 1998. Historia de las bebidas
alcohólicas en México, Vol. 1. Pp. 251; Ciencia de las bebidas
alcohólicas en México, Vol. 2. Pp. 287. ISBN 968-6115-11-0 (both
volumes, cloth); ISBN 968-6115-12-9 (Vol. 1, cloth); ISBN 968-6115-13-7 (Vol. 2,
cloth). Reviewed by Susan Kellogg.
- De Illustere Heren van San Pablo: Lokaal bestuur in
negentiende-eeuws Mexico/Tlaxcala, 1823 1880. By Yvetter Nelen. CNWS Publications
Series. Leiden: University of Leiden, Research School CNWS, 1999. Pp. xvi+346.
Reviewed by Frans J. Schryer.
- Illustrations This Issue
- Directory Update
Welcome to the 29th issue of the Nahua Newsletter, the international publication
dedicated to the culture, language, and history of Nahuatl-speaking and related
peoples. In this issue we have news items, book reviews, and a directory update. We
hope that you will enjoy the newsletter and find it useful in your work. Please use the
Nahua Newsletter to publicize your research interests and current work, or ask for
cooperation from other experts. We count among our readers some of the world’s
authorities on Nahuas and neighboring groups and they constitute an invaluable resource
for researchers and people with a curiosity about Middle America and its peoples. Nahua
Newsletter is published in November and February. Please send information that you wish
to appear in the next issue to the address at the end of this section.
And now for some good news. The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
(CLACS) and the Office of International Programs of Indiana University have each
contributed $250 to the Nahua Newsletter. These generous gifts, combined with the
equally generous contributions of loyal Nahua Newsletter readers, means that we have
enough funds for the next two or three issues. We have never been in such good shape
financially. The director of CLACS, Professor Jeff Gould, and the Dean of International
Programs, Patrick O’Meara, deserve our thanks for supporting Nahua studies.
It was only a matter of time until we entered the electronic age. The Nahua
Newsletter can now be accessed via the World Wide Web at
http://www.ipfw.edu/SOCA/Nahua.htm. At this point, we have the last few issues
available and we will eventually try to post all previous issues. The electronic
version is identical to the hard copy text except that we have not included the
illustrations that accompany each issue. There are copyright problems with digitizing
illustrations, most of which come from recently published books. Many thanks go to
Nahua Newsletter Webmaster Richard Sutter,
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
The Nahua Newsletter is a combination of Athenian democracy and sheer anarchy so we
are always open to suggestions and comments from readers. If you would like to make a
donation to the Nahua Newsletter, please send a check or money order made out to “Nahua
Newsletter” to the address below. We count on donations from readers to cover costs of
printing and mailing the newsletter. We have no consistent institutional support and so
anything that you contribute will be very welcome. The generosity of readers has
supported the Nahua Newsletter for almost fifteen years – a record we can all be proud
of. All money is deposited in a special account and is used only to cover costs of
publication and mailing. There are no administrative costs. Please mail all
correspondence to the following address:
Nahua Newsletter Department of Anthropology
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
2101 Coliseum Blvd. East
Fort Wayne, IN 46805 U.S.A.
If your announcement is more than a few lines long, please send the material on a
3-1/2″ diskette saved in WordPerfect or as an ASCII text file.
1. The Latin American Indian Literatures Association/Asociación de
Literaturas Indígenas Latinoamericanas (LAILA/ALILA), in cooperation with
Fundación Cultural Iberoamericana and the Society of Woman Geographers, is
sponsoring the 15th International Symposium on Latin American Indian Literatures, to be
held June 15-17, 2000, at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Thirty-minute
papers will deal with indigenous literatures in relation to a wide variety of fields,
including anthropology, archaeology, art, astronomy, architecture, bibliography,
codices, history, indigenista literature, applied or sociolinguistics, literary
studies, medicine, religion, etc.
The call-for-papers deadline is March 31. Prepare a 100- to 200-word abstract in
English or Spanish, but presentations should be delivered in English to be accessible
to students and colleagues in other fields. Proposals must be accompanied by a
symposium fee of $100.00, plus current LAILA/ALILA dues of $25.00 ($10.00 for students
and retirees). Send the amount in a single check with the presentation title, abstract,
your name, address, fax and phone numbers, and e-mail address to: Program Chair, Dr.
Luis Arata, Department of Fine Arts, Languages, and Philosophy, Quinnipiac College,
Hamden, Connecticut 06518 / e-mail to Luis.Arata@Quinnipiac.edu / phone 203-281-8658.
Hotel information will be mailed to participants upon receipt of their fees.
Papers presented at LAILA/ALILA symposia may be considered for publication in an
ongoing series of symposia volumes. Dr. Mary H. Preuss can provide more information at
Pennsylvania State McKeesport, 4000 University Drive, McKeesport, PA 15132-7698 /
e-mail to email@example.com / phone 412-675-9466.
2. The Midwest Mesoamericanists will meet this year on March 25th at the University
of Illinois. The hosts will be David Grove and Susan Gillespie. This meeting generally
features about twenty presentations and it is held in an informal atmosphere that lends
itself to real discussion and unhurried social interaction. Papers represent all four
subfields of anthropology in addition to art history, ethnohistory, museology and other
fields but the emphasis is usually on archaeology. The meeting is a great time to get
to know some of the movers in the field of Mesoamerican studies. For information about
the meeting please e-mail David Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Visitors to the Web site hosted by the Foundation for the Advancement of
Mesoamerican Studies (FAMSI) will find three new digital resources available:
(1) The Kerr Archive, a searchable database already containing more than 1,000 of
Justin Kerr’s world-renowned photographic roll-outs of ancient Maya vases.
(2) Bibliografia Mesoamericana, which currently contains about 11,000 references for
study of ancient and contemporary Mesoamerican cultures. This online bibliography, a
joint project of FAMSI and the Library of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of
Archaeology and Anthropology, will soon contain over 50,000 bibliographic entries.
(3) The Linda Schele Drawing Archive will also be available within the next month.
Like the Kerr photographs, Dr. Schele’s drawings can be downloaded for study
Visit the FAMSI Web site at http://www.famsi.org. Select “Research Facility” to find
links to the Kerr Maya Vase Archives, Bibliografia Mesoamericana, and the Linda Schele
Drawing Archive. Questions or comments concerning the Foundation’s research, granting,
or conference facilities may be sent to Dr. Sandra Noble, Director, by e-mail at
email@example.com or fax at 352 795-1970.
4. Loyal NN reader David Szewczyk writes: “Regarding the final sentence of paragraph
one in NN No. 28, you seem to want to emphasize the diversity of your readership but
apparently have academic blinders on. I used to be an ethnohistorian (studied with Jim
Lockhart, was the one who sent him the manuscript copies that became Beyond the
Codices, researched Tlaxcala during its first 100 years of contact with the Spaniards),
but I gave that up 25 years ago to become a rare books librarian and then 15 years ago,
a rare books dealer. This doesn’t mean I have given up my interest in Nahua studies. In
fact, as a dealer it was I who discovered and brought to everyone’s attention the play
that Louise Burkhart turning into a wonderful study (Holy Wednesday).
“And then there is my wife. We were master’s students together at Indiana University
in the late 1960s. She also started out as an ethnohistorian, but since 1975 has been a
Social Security employee (currently a systems support analyst). But she still is
interested in Nahua studies and reads the NN when it arrives. So in the future, don’t
sell the NN short: it has appeal beyond the narrower confines that are academia.”
5. Professor Doctor Hanns J. Prem writes: The Seminar für Völkerkunde of
the University of Bonn is engaged in a long-term program of editing ethnohistorical
sources that are being published in a new series, Fuentes Mesoamericanas (Verlag A.
Saurwein, Am Hennigbach 17, D 85570 Markt Schwaben, Germany). The first volume is Fray
Andrés de Avendao y Loyola, Relación de las dos entradas que hice a la
conversión de los gentiles, ytzáex, y cehuaches, edited by Termis
Vayhinger-Scheer. The second volume contains a new transcription and translation into
Spanish of “Anales de Tlatelolco: Los manuscritos 22 y 22 bis de la Bibliothèque
de France,” by Susanne Klaus. Scheduled publications for 2000 are: “Las Relaciones de
Juan Cano,” and synoptic presentation and analysis of “Relación de la
Genealogía y Origen de los Mexicanos” and the “Historia de los Mexicanos por sus
Pinturas.” Both publications are based on new transcriptions.
6. On a related note, NN also received the following announcement of publication:
Uprooted Christianity: The Preaching of the Christian Doctrine in Mexico Based on
Franciscan Sermons of the 16th Century Written in Nahuatl by Susanne Klaus.
BonnerAmerikanistische, Estudios Americanistas de Bonn/Bonn Americanist Studies BAS 33.
Markt Schwaben: Verlag Anton Saurwein, 1999. Pp. 372. ISBN 3-931419-60-6; for book
orders, see note 4 above.
In her doctoral thesis, Klaus analyzes how Sahagún and Juan Bautista
attempted in Advent and Christmas sermons to make the Christian religion intelligible
to the Nahuas of central Mexico. The work focuses on the content of the sermons and on
language used to “Nahuatize” Christianity. She also deals with the changes in teaching
the doctrine during the 16th century. The Nahuatl sermons are also compared with
Franciscan sermons from Spain. In this way, the author studies the elements that were
used for teaching doctrine to the Nahua population. The analysis of these types of
texts also opens new perspectives for assessing the Franciscans’ work in Mexico.
7. Horacio Cabezas Carcache writes “Me complace comunicarles que la Historia General
de Guatemala, la obra guatemalteca más ambiciosa del siglo XX, con casi cinco
mil páginas ricamente ilustradas, que reúne el aporte original de 156
autores especializados en diversas materias y épocas de la historia nacional,
ahora está disponible en su versión de CD-ROM, al precio de US $150.00,
más gastos de envío.
“Contenido: texto completo de todos los artículos de los seis
volúmenes de la Historia General de Guatemala, ilustraciones y cuadros de todos
los artículos, 40 videos históricos de corta duración, fragmentos
de “Música Histórica de Guatemala,” y línea de tiempo.
Versatilidad: búsqueda global de información con poderosos
hipervínculos para el acceso rápido a pantalla, fácil
procedimiento para la impresión de bloques de texto, artículos completos
o ilustraciones, y fácil procedimiento para copiar electrónicamente texto
e imágenes en un procesador.” For information, write to: Fundación para
la Cultura y el Desarrollo, 9a Calle 2-75, Zona 1, Guatemala, C.A.
8. Brad R. Huber and Alan R. Sandstrom announce that their edited volume
Mesoamerican Healers has been accepted for publication by the University of Texas
Press. Index include:
Introduction by Brad Huber.
Chapter 1: “Curers and their Cures in Colonial New Spain and Guatemala: The Spanish
Component” by Luz María Hernández Sáenz and George Foster.
Chapter 2: “Curanderismo in Mexico and Guatemala: Its Historical Evolution from the
Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century” by Carlos Viesca.
Chapter 3: “Central and North Mexican Shamans” by James W. Dow.
Chapter 4: “A Comparative Analysis of Southern Mexican and Guatemalan Shamans” by Frank
Chapter 5: “Mistresses of Lo Espiritual” by Kaja Finkler.
Chapter 6: “Recruitment, Training, and Practice of Indigenous Midwives from the Mexico
United States Border to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec” by Brad R. Huber and Alan R.
Chapter 7: “Midwives of Southern Mexico and Guatemala” by Sheila Cosminski.
Chapter 8: “Relations Between Government Health Workers and Traditional Midwives of
Guatemala” by Elena Hurtado and Eugenia Sáenz de Tejada. Chapter 9:
“Mesoamerican Bonesetters” by Benjamin D. Paul and Clancy McMahon.
Chapter 10: “Mexican Physicians, Nurses, and Social Workers” by Margaret E.
Chapter 11: “Mesoamerican Healers and Medical Anthropology: Summary and Concluding
Remarks” by Alan R. Sandstrom.
Myths of Ancient Mexico. By Michel Graulich. Translated by Bernard R. Ortiz de Montellano and Thelma Ortiz de Montellano. Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 222. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997. Pp. xii+370. $32.95 (cloth). ISBN 0-8061-2910-7 (cloth).
Michel Graulich’s Myths of Ancient Mexico is a must-read for all Mesoamerican
scholars interested in ancient as well as contemporary Nahua culture. This book is the
first half of the author’s dissertation, which he presented to the Université
Libre de Bruxelles in 1980. The mythic analysis appeared in 1990 as a volume published
in Spanish that Bernard R. Ortiz de Montellano and Thelma Ortiz de Montellano ably
translated into English for the University of Oklahoma Press. Graulich applied the
lessons of Georges Dumézil and Claude Levi-Strauss to identify the ideational
structure in the many narrative fragments by which the ancient Nahua culturally
constructed their universe. Dumézil argued that myths are collective
representations of societal patterns and was a proponent of Claude Levi-Strauss’ brand
of structuralism. Graulich notes that Levi-Strauss “intentionally omitted Mesoamerican
myths from his Mythologiques… ‘because of the way they have been shaped by the
specialists'” (p. 8). Graulich steps in where Levi-Strauss feared to tread and argues
that the myth-making specialists generated their stories as they resolved a gigantic
paradox by making a series of homologous binary oppositions to represent the passage
from one historical era to the next. Each historical era begins when waves of nomadic
newcomers take over the civilizations of sedentary farmers in the Valley of Mexico.
Graulich’s structuralism builds on his earlier work on the calendar in which he
stressed the importance of the metaphor of the day in Aztec thought. The day metaphor
is based on the symbolic equation between time and space in a cyclical rhythm.
According to Graulich’s interpretation of the calendar, the Aztecs equated the cardinal
directions with points in the diurnal cycle so that north = midnight = winter solstice,
south = noon = summer solstice, east = dawn = spring equinox, and west = sunset =
autumnal equinox. To be sure, Graulich’s interpretation of the metaphor of the day
differs from that of other Mesoamerican scholars who reverse the temporal associations
with north and south. However, like other scholars, Graulich shares the view that the
Aztecs contraposed the points in their quadrilateral view of the universe into two
binary sets: east vs. west, and north vs. south.
The binary contrasts appear to justify Graulich’s use of Levi-Strauss’ structuralism
to explain how Aztec myths work. The starting part is the paradox that opposed elements
are united in perfect harmony during the primordial era in Tamoanchan. Graulich applies
his structural interpretation to several key narratives including, but not limited to,
the fall from grace in Tamoanchan, the four eras or suns, the creation of the Fourth
Sun, Quetzalcoatl in Tollan, and the Fifth Sun. Tamoanchan was once a union of
opposites when the primordial couple, Tonacacihuatl and Tonacatecuhtli, lived in
perfect harmony with their children. The perfect state ended when the couple’s
children, particularly the earth goddess (known by many names – Xochiquetzal,
Tlazolteotl, Itzpapolotl), break a prohibition by picking a forbidden flower. The
offending children were banished, creating the breach between the sky above and the
earth/underworld below. The sky and earth are key domains with opposite gender-related
characteristics. The sky is masculine, luminous, celestial, fiery, aerial, and active.
The earth is feminine, nocturnal, terrestrial, lunar, aquatic, and passive. With the
creation of the two domains came plants – particularly corn – and humans who are a
synthesis of elements from earth and sun.
The opposition between masculine and feminine forces plays out in many different
ways. In the mythic account of the four suns, each era corresponds to the four elements
in the universe – earth, water, wind, and fire – that exist in homologous pairs of
binary opposites represented by the formula: earth : air :: water : fire. Graulich
notes that the glyph for fire/water stood for the sacred war that kept the world’s
engine running. Fire is particularly crucial for maintaining the order of the new
universe created after the end of the harmonious union of opposites in Tamoanchan. Fire
maintains the distance between heaven and earth, and the four sky bearers all have some
association with fire: Cuauhtemoc means Falling Eagle representing the setting sun;
Tenexxochitl is Lime or Ash Flower with ash being former fire; Itzcuintli (dog) is
associated with thunderbolts; Itzcoatl is obsidian serpent and also represents the
The important mythic event of the creation of the Fourth Sun introduced a new
dimension that connects the basic gender-based binary contrast to the historical events
in the Valley of Mexico before the arrival of the Spaniards. According to different
versions of this myth, the gods assembled at Teotihuacan during the darkness after the
end of the third era. They built a huge pyre and originally selected the lordly
Tecciztecatl as the most likely candidate to carry the ball of fire into the sky and
become the Fourth Sun. Tecciztecatl, frightened by the horrendous heat, tried four
times and failed, however. The lowly Nanahuatl, the pustulated one who dressed in
humble garb and performed his self-sacrifices with a maguey spine, was up to the task
and carried the fireball into the sky. For Graulich, Nanahuatl is a symbol of the
energetic and disciplined but humble nomads who overran the civilizations of the more
cultured but decadent sedentary farmers in the Valley of Mexico. Nanahuatl emerged from
night and filth and rose to become the sun. Tecciztecatl fell into ashes and darkness
and became the moon. Although the sun and the moon may appear in the same sky, the
Aztecs contraposed their relationship and connected the former with men and the latter
The themes of “newcomer-conqueror-sun and native-agriculturist-moon (or setting
sun)” and the lost paradise converge in the story of Quetzalcoatl in Tollan. In Leyenda
de los Soles, the hero’s father, Mixcoatl, is one of five younger siblings who, with
thorn-tipped spears, defeat their richer older siblings. In the Anales de Cuauhtitlan,
the situation is reversed: Mixcoatl is killed by his brothers, and Quetzalcoatl avenges
his father’s death by slaying and cutting out the hearts of his uncles. In both cases,
the older siblings/uncles represent the natives and the younger siblings/nephews stand
for the newcomers. With age comes a loss of discipline and strength: the young
Quetzalcoatl is vigorous and disciplined, but the old Quetzalcoatl is on the decline.
He is like the feminine moon and is on the side of darkness, the earth, and the rainy
season. It is no coincidence that he lives in a house like that of the rain gods
(tlaloque). When drunk on pulque, Quetzalcoatl calls for his sister, falls from grace,
and leaves the mythical golden-age city of Tollan, marking the end of a harmonious and
peaceful era. Quetzalcoatl as Venus is the planet that precedes the sun and foreshadows
the advent of a new age. The cast of characters is different than in other myths, but
the structural pattern is the same.
Graulich is convinced that the Mexica added the story of the Fifth Sun as they
established their place in Nahua history. He notes that the older sources, including
The Codex Vaticanus, one of the surviving 13 pre-Hispanic manuscripts, mention only
four suns. Those that mention five (they include the Leyenda de los Soles and the
Historia de los mexicanos por sus pinturas) were written during the Colonial period.
Second, the notion of four suns is more widespread geographically, appearing among the
Mayas and the Mixtec. Although the Mexica added an era, they nevertheless produced a
myth of the fifth sun according to the same structural pattern. The Mexica account
begins with the migration from Aztlan-Colhuacan, which is another case of the end of
perfect harmony. As in the myth of the fall from Tamoanchan, a tree breaking marks the
end of harmony. Huitzilopochtli orders the Mexica to separate from the other tribes and
head out on their own. At Coatepec, Huitzilopochtli is the younger brother who defeats
his older siblings, particularly Coyolxauhqui and the Huitznahua. As in the older
myths, the Mexica are vigorous newcomers who conquer the established farming
civilizations in the Valley of Mexico.
Graulich makes a bold effort to demonstrate that the structure he identifies for the
ancient Nahua myths also appears in the narratives told by contemporary Mesoamericans:
the Popolocans, the Chontal, Mazatec, the Cakchiquel, and, of course, the
Quiché. The effort to link the structure of ancient and contemporary
Mesoamerican myths is justified, in my opinion, because so many themes in the ancient
narratives appear in the modern ones. Regrettably the translators failed to include in
their updated bibliography works published after 1980 that describe the continuities as
well as differences between ancient and modern Aztec mythology.
Nevertheless, I think that Graulich’s provocative and fascinating book will stand
the test of time as an important source for future generations of scholars interested
in how ancient as well as contemporary Mesoamericans represent their culture in mythic
form. His interpretation raises several questions that could become programs for future
research. Foremost is whether there is one or several structures. It is one thing to
argue that those who occupy the same social position in Aztec society tell myths
according to the same structural pattern. It is another to contend that everyone,
including contemporary myth makers, use the same structure when they occupy different
positions in a social structure that experienced a great deal of change.
For Graulich, the key binary contrast is based on gender, and a number of scholars
have argued that gender relations changed soon after the Conquest as women became jural
minors in the eyes of the Colonial courts. We also know that the gender images in
Aztecs myths vary according to the position of women in the social structure.
Consequently it is reasonable to conclude that there may be many different structures
with varying degrees of binary contrasts based on gender in ancient and contemporary
Aztec mythology. The Sierra Nahuat, who speak the Zacapoaxtla dialect of general Aztec,
depict more opposition in gender symbolism in their myths when they experience more
landlessness and direct ethnic domination by Spanish speaking Mexicans. Sierra Nahuat
narrators who live in communities under less stress reduce gender polarization in their
variants of the same myths. Other scholars may find further variation in structural
patterns and may question if Levi-Strauss structuralism is really the best way to
approach Aztec mythology.
As many have argued, Aztec religion is based on monism, the notion that reality is
an organic whole, rather than dualism which is a characteristic of European
Christianity. An approach to Aztec mythology that begins with the assumption that the
universe is an organic whole accords with the often noted equation among the life cycle
of humans, the cycle of plants, and cosmic creation. In such an approach, the genders
are not marked by their opposition but by their complementarity, which coincidentally
is one of the ways that some contemporary Nahuas actually talk about the relations
between women and men. The choice of approach has serious implication for understanding
any mythic system. While men occupy center stage as symbols of order in structuralism,
women are central to Aztec monism because of their role in human reproduction.
Historia cronológica de la noble ciudad de Tlaxcala. By Juan Buenaventura Zapata y Mendoza. Paleographic transcription, translation, presentation and notes by Luis Reyes García and Andrea Martínez Baracs. México, D. F.: Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala, Secretaría de Extensión Universitaria y Difusión Cultural; Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, 1995. Pp. 746. ISBN 968-865-033-1.
Luis Reyes, whose first language is Náhuatl, has been prolific in bringing to
light in Spanish translation a number of Náhuatl language documents from the
colonial period. In the present endeavor he is accompanied by Andrea Martínez
Baracs, who recently completed a dissertation in history at the Colegio de
México on the Indian government of Tlaxcala in the eighteenth century. Historia
cronológica de la Noble Ciudad de Tlaxcala is a transcription and translation
into Spanish of a Náhuatl document in the Bibliothèque Nationale of
Paris. Juan Buenaventura Zapata y Mendoza, a pilli and official of the Tlaxcala
cabildo, was its principal author, with the important participation of another
Tlaxcalan, the priest and bachiller Manuel de los Santos y Salazar, who probably added
the dates of the Nahua calendar at the margin. The manuscript consists of anales
divided into years, which constitutes the bulk of the text, and is preceded by a
running text of another literary tradition, “Orígen de la nación
tlaxcalteca.” The two parts of the document cover the long continuum from 1310 through
1692. Reyes and Baracs provide an extremely well-written introduction and the original
Náhuatl is reproduced with the Spanish translation appearing side-by-side on the
opposite page, useful for beginning Spanish-speaking students of Náhuatl.
Reading Historia cronológica brought to mind the discussions at the Viking
Fund Heritage of Conquest Seminar held in the late 1940s. There, Paul Kirchhoff, with
his particular use of culture based on element lists, considered that 90 percent of
pre-Hispanic culture had been destroyed with the Conquest. He was referring mainly to
the elements of high culture such as monumental architecture, religion, astronomy, many
of which are included in his definition of Mesoamerica. In the Historia
cronológica, however, we find the use of pre-Columbian dates, along with
European ones through the end of the chronicle: 1689 is 3 calli, for example. We also
find abundant information on natural phenomenon, including happenings uncommon in the
region today, such as heavy snowfalls, solar and lunar eclipses, earthquakes, eruptions
and copious ash rains of the Popocaté (far more extreme than any volcanic
activity of the 1990s, including the 1999 earthquake in the area). The authors note
frequently that some of these portentous events such as eclipses were followed by
plagues, an idea still widely held in rural Tlaxcala, where it is believed that after
an eclipse, “llueve la enfermedad sobre la tierra.”
One wonders, considering the presence of the pre-Hispanic calendar dates, whether
this keen interest and rigorous documentation of such natural events had parallels in
contemporary Europe, or whether it was a continuation of major elements of
pre-Columbian cosmology in central Mexico for a much longer period than many social and
cultural anthropologists had formerly assumed. In at least one other area in the
Puebla-Tlaxcala valley, Cuautinchan, the pre Hispanic calendar continued into the 1640s
(see Medina Lima 1995), thus suggesting a long continuity of its use following the
Conquest in parts of central Mexico. Given the importance of the calendar in
structuring pre-Hispanic ritual activity, and its association with individual destiny
and other divinatory practices, one must wonder whether such functions did not continue
well into the colonial period in Central Mexico.
Other items of interest in the chronicle are trips to Spain by Tlaxcalan nobles
seeking to confirm and maintain the privileges they obtained as allies of the Spaniards
in the Conquest. Mention is also frequently made of attempts by Tlaxcalans to obtain
exemption from tribute. Some light is shed on local political processes as mestizos are
termed mictlan mestiço (rendered as maldito mestizo, which in English would be
literally “mestizo from hell”) in the Náhuatl text, and the authors, as members
of the “pure” Indian nobility, favor their exclusion from public office. We also learn
of Tlaxcalan settlers massacred by the Chichimecs in the northern marches of
Aridamerica. Descriptions of religious processions in the early seventeenth-century
indicate abundant use of flowers and fireworks, as is the case in rural Tlaxcala
Historia cronológica contributes to the growing body of knowledge of local
processes during the colonial period, which should be taken into account by students of
contemporary Indian peoples of Mexico. This contrasts with the 1920s when Redfield was
preparing to do field research in Tepoztlán. Unable to read contemporary
ethnographies of the area – as none existed – he thus turned to the reading of
16th-century chroniclers who provided partial pictures of Mexican society in the
pre-Hispanic period and at the time of the contact (see Godoy 1978). Much of these
chronicles had been conserved and published by nineteenth-century erudite Mexican
precursors of what we know today as ethnohistory. But for a long time thereafter, the
specific, local processes of contact and acculturation in the colonial period were
largely unknown, although this need was long ago pointed out by Julian Steward (1943).
Steward’s stress on our lack of knowledge of the colonial period was certainly what
spurred Eric Wolf’s doctoral thesis on the colonial Bajío (see Wolf 1955) and
George Foster’s (1960) ethnographic reconnaissance of Spain in the 1950s to learn more
of the origins of the Spanish component on contemporary Mexican culture.
Although the concept of acculturation no longer guides research as it did until a
few decades ago, the larger question of specific processes of cultural change still
looms large and as Ruth Bunzel (1959:v-vii) observed, because of written documents and
the long-term nature of the process, Mesoamerica is an ideal laboratory for such
research. Mesoamericanists who seek deeper explanations of contemporary Indian cultures
must, as Wasserstrom (1983) pointed out, face new ethnohistorical materials and take
them into account in their studies. In this regard, the work of Mexican ethnohistorians
is of major importance, especially the group formed at the Centro de Investigaciones y
Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS, formerly CISINAH), under the
aegis of Ángel Palerm, inspired by Paul Kirchhoff and under the guidance of
Pedro Carrasco, is still bearing abundant fruit. Over twenty years ago, Palerm
(1998:69) expressed his doubts regarding these endeavors, noting their empiricist
bent, although at the same time he recognized their importance in bringing to light
hitherto unknown documents.
Historia cronológica de la Noble Ciudad de Tlaxcala is one of the most recent
results of the long and prolific career of Luis Reyes, one of Mexico’s premier
ethnohistorians who forms part of the CIESAS group. Among his recent projects are two
other publications in co-edition involving CIESAS and the University of Tlaxcala. The
first of these, La Escritura Pictográfica de Tlaxcala, is a catalogue of 64
Tlaxcalan codices, reproduced in black and white with a translation of the Nahuatl
texts into Spanish and a compilation of articles on these codices. More recently
(1998), he published the original and complete text of Muñoz Camargo’s original
text of Historia Antigua de Tlaxcala, long out of print. In the latter, Reyes used the
original manuscript from the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris and the edition
includes an excellent introduction. Reyes has also trained a number of native-Nahuatl
speakers in translating and transcribing Nahuatl documents, many of whom have been
published by CIESAS. He is currently engaged in translating a number of colonial
documents dealing with Tlaxcala located in Tlaxcalan parishes and the
Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris.
This text, along with others of a similar nature published by CIESAS/CISINAH is a
valuable tool for obtaining an intimate view of colonial Mexico. The fact that the
authors here are Nahuas writing in their language in itself gives another slant to our
interpretation of the process of culture contact in Mexico’s colonial period. In that
regard, the book is important for students both of Mexico’s past and contemporary
peoples as it is testimony of a much lengthier process of acculturation than generally
imagined. Students of Mexico should keep their eyes open for other productions by Luis
Reyes and the CIESAS researchers as they continue to make available important documents
revealing the mentalités of Mexico’s indigenous peoples under colonial rule.
Bunzel, Ruth. 1959. Chichicastenango: A Guatemalan Village. Seattle: University of
Foster, George M. 1960. Culture and Conquest: America’s Spanish Heritage. Chicago:
Godoy, Ricardo. 1978. “The Background and Context of Redfield’s Tepoztlán.”
Journal of the Steward Anthropological Society 10(1):47-70.
Medina Lima, Constantino. 1995. Libro de los guardianes y gobernadores de
Cuauhtinchan (1519-1640). México D.F.: CIESAS.
Palerm, Ángel. 1998. Antropología y marxismo. México,
Steward, Julian H. 1943. “Acculturation Studies in Latin America: Some Needs and
Problems.” American Anthropologist 45:198-204.
Wasserstrom, Robert. 1983. Class and Society in Colonial Chiapas. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Wolf, Eric. 1955. The Mexican Bajío in the Eighteenth Century. New Orleans:
Tulane University, Middle American Research Institute.
Le grand temple de México: Du mythe à la réalité – l’histoire des aztèques entre 1325 et 1521. By Daniel Lévine. Collection Archéologie Américaine. París: Editions Artcom, 1997. Pp. 137. ISBN 2912741009.
El descubrimiento y la excavación del Templo Mayor de
México-Tenochtitlan desde 1978 ha provocado una verdadera avalancha de libros,
estudios e informes sobre este singular y extraordinario monumento. El último
que ha llegado a mis manos y, sin duda, uno de los más originales e importantes
es el del brillante investigador francés Daniel Lévine. El libro de
Lévine, lejos de ser una nueva descripción del Templo Mayor o de sus
excavaciones, es una aproximación original y penetrante a la
interpretación de la historia azteca a través de los símbolos
contenidos en las fuentes etnohistóricas y su contrastación con los
hallazgos proporcionados por las excavaciones del Templo. Es así, que este
libro, que es de cortas dimensiones, se ha concebido como un texto dividido en tres
partes o capítulos: (1) Registro de las ideologías; (2) Reescritura de la
historia y la ideología, y (3) Verificación de la historia: Los vestigios
del Templo Mayor. En el primero de esos capítulos Lévine da cuenta de la
pluralidad de culturas y de unidades políticas independientes en el Centro de
México, antes de la unificación imperial azteca, lo que se refleja en la
diversidad de tradiciones historiográficas y cronologías contrapuestas
pero, sobre todo, a través de varios ejemplos, demuestra que la historia mexica
es una historia ideológica y simbólica, más que una historia de
acontecimientos al estilo de la historiografía occidental.
En el segundo capítulo se aborda el tema de la reescritura de la historia
mexica con el fín de inventar una tradición ilustre que borre los muy
humildes orígenes de la tribu azteca; todo lo cual viene a representarse
iconográficamente mediante símbolos que trasmiten una nueva
ideología del pueblo mexica en su fase imperial, la que se halla por igual en
los mitos recogidos en las crónicas y representados en las esculturas y relieves
azteca. Por último, en el capítulo tres se trata de verificar esa
historia interpretada míticamente en la iconografía azteca mediantes los
vestigios descubiertos a través de las excavaciones del Templo Mayor. Es
así, que Lévine pasa revista a la historia del pueblo azteca siguiendo
etapa tras etapa, las siete por las que el Templo Mayor llegó a ser lo que era
al llegar los españoles. Como el proprio Daniel Lévine dice: “Cada
edificio, cada escultura de recinto sagrado es la transcripción en piedra del
discurso ideológico forjado por los mexica, tras su victoria en 1428 sobre
Nos hallamos, pues, ante un pequeño gran libro interpretativo de la historia
azteca, al que, en conjunto, hay que valorar como una de las aportaciones más
importantes de los últimos años al conocimiento y comprensión de
la Civilización de ese pueblo.
The Frontier Mission and Social
Transformation in Western Honduras: The Order of Our Lady of Mercy, 1525-1773. By Nancy
Johnson Black. Studies in Christian Mission, Vol. 14. New York: E.J. Brill, 1995. Pp.
xii+194. $75.00 (cloth). ISBN 9004102191 (cloth).
This is a well-intentioned effort to focus our attention on the fluid and dynamic
nature of the frontier. It is the concept of the frontier as the arena for intergroup
social change that propels this work. The frontier is framed within the parameters of a
give-and-take universe whereby the minority groups are seen not as static receivers of
change from the intruding dominant group, but as active participants in the process of
intergroup exchange. This is a valued endeavor and understandably deserves attention by
anyone interested in processes of social change. The areal focus is western Honduras
among the indigenous Lenca and the Mercedarian missionaries within a time frame of
nearly 250 years.
The book is the result of research that grew out of the Santa Barbara Archaeological
Project which was a five-year study that looked at group interactions and cultural
development from the Late Preclassic through the colonial period (p. 1). Black utilizes
data from the Santa Barbara project, as well as that generated by the succeeding Lenca
Historical and Archaeological Project. Additionally, throughout her subsequent archival
research, Black readily acknowledges the obvious disparity in the bias and content of
relevant documents and is guided by ethnohistoric methodology, i.e., critical
evaluation of sources and an explicit research strategy. As is so common in this area
of research where the extant documents are clearly biased and few if any documents
presenting the indigenous viewpoint are available, the task of piecing together a
processual view of social change is a difficult and arduous task. Black’s focus on the
Mercedarian missions allows her access to a great deal of primary data from the
missionaries’ viewpoint who were both literate and report-oriented. This is such the
case that the book often reads like a “true and accurate history of the Mercedarian
missions” in Central America, particularly the Tenoca region of western Honduras.
The Mercedarians Order, founded in 1218 as a means of ransoming or rescuing captive
Christians from Moslem territory in Africa, was established in the New World in 1526
and focused on bringing salvation to the indigenous populations (pp. 51-52). Earlier,
members of the Order accompanied Columbus on his second voyage and with Cortés
on his conquest of Mexico, as well as with other conquistadores. They spread quickly
throughout Latin America from the Rio Grande River to the southern tip of South
America. The Mercedarian Order followed strict rules and regulations regarding
enrollment and, even though they often faced personnel shortages, indigents were
excluded from entering the Order because they were viewed as of inferior birth. The
Mercedarians held firmly to this tenet and few exceptions were made throughout the
colonial period, even with an often diminished and over-extended staff.
The book raises many interesting questions, both with the content of the data and
with its presentation. For example, after a careful reading of the text I am still
confused over what is a convento (see p. 56), and I believe that a glossary would have
helped clarify such ambiguous terminologies. Monetary values are noted in their Spanish
equivalents, e.g., tostones (p. 79), but a breakdown of the Spanish peso is not
provided. Additionally, non-Spanish language readers are at a considerable disadvantage
since some quotations from Spanish documents are not accompanied with English
translations (see pp. 113, 140, 142, and 152). There is also much confusion over
assignments of Mercedarian personnel within the frontier. On one hand, Black notes that
frontier assignments were meted out as punishment for dereliction of duty (p. 92),
while on the other hand, the priests were encouraged to learn the local indigenous
languages (p. 95) even though the Order often assigned priests fluent in other local
indigenous languages (p. 70). It is interesting to speculate what incentives the
malIndex would have needed to satisfy the local language requirement since they were
presumably already fluent in another indigenous language.
Black reports another contradiction when she highlights the difficult financial
situation encountered by the Order within the frontier. The dispersed indigenous
population and their limited access to cash forced the Order to rely heavily on their
properties to produce income. Some of these properties were noted as haciendas with
slaves and domestics where the initial profits were used to purchase more slaves (p.
109). If this financial component gradually overshadowed the spiritual component,
especially considering the number of priests serving there under punishment, the loss
of integrity in the eyes of the local population would seem to lessen their interest in
Christianity. And considering Black’s repeated emphasis on the poverty of the Order, it
is most difficult to understand how the Order could authorize a school for six students
and two teachers (p. 93) at a time of dwindling resources and personnel. No wonder that
the Order did not flourish in the region and remained on the periphery.
Black’s conversion data for Nicaragua in the early 1500s (more than 80,000 baptized)
in contrast to similar efforts in Guatemala in the early 1600s (less than 20,000
baptized) again reinforces the sociocultural chaos that followed the Conquest as
populations shifted to dispersed settlements and population loss or flight occurred
throughout Central America. The Lenca remained in isolated and remote settlements, but
did have continuous long-term contact with the Mercedarians. It is the extent of this
contact that remains questionable. I agree with Black’s summation that the “remoteness,
unfavorable climate and comparative lack of resources contributed to the perpetuation
of its frontier status” (p. 160).
I believe that this work warrants reading by anyone interested in the southeastern
periphery of Mesoamerica, by those concerned with missionization studies, and/or those
with a focus on theoretical issues, namely frontier theory. It may be somewhat dated
since the most contemporary reference is 1989, but it still presents an in-depth view
of the Mercedarian Order and its operations in western Honduras through time, and that
is the major contribution of the work.
Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest. By Christy G. Turner II and Jacqueline A. Turner. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999. Pp 547. $60.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-87480-566-X (cloth).
The recent debate over cannibalism and violence in prehistory was given a jump-start
by William Arens in 1980 with his book The Man Eating Myth: Anthropology and
Anthropophagy. In that book Arens challenged anthropologists to reexamine depictions of
cannibalism in the ethnographic and ethnohistoric records. Noting that nearly all
descriptions of cannibalism were either second-hand accounts or descriptions by
Europeans with a potential desire to denigrate the humanness of those they were
discussing, Arens dismissed cannibalism as fiction. Primed by the “brotherhood of man,”
feel-good culture of the 1960s and 1970s, many anthropologists had already dismissed or
downplayed evidence of violence and warfare in their own research, and the stereotype
that indigenous cultures were “at one with the earth” and in “harmony with nature”
began to take hold – a view that has popular culture and many professionals still
firmly in its grasp today.
The mainstream pendulum began to swing back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when
a series of archaeological sites provided new and unequivocal evidence for very serious
pre Columbian violence, such as the Crow Creek Massacre (Willey 1990) and Norris Farms
#36 (Milner et al.1991). Enough examples of projectile point injuries, cut marks,
scalping wounds, and club wounds on prehistoric skeletons have been reliably reported
that all but the most ideologically impaired should be persuaded that violence and
warfare in the past was at least as prevalent through most of prehistory as it was in
recorded history (Keeley 1996).
Cannibalism is a special case, however, with deep emotional impact for many people.
It is incumbent upon the investigator to document carefully and fully the evidence for
claiming that prehistoric people undertook such an activity. Past analyses have not
always been that careful; shattered human bones are often characterized as evidence of
cannibalism not only with modern humans, but for Neanderthal and Homo erectus remains,
often with no more evidence than a few shreds of burned or broken bone without a
complete investigation into alternative explanations (Bahn 1992).
Man Corn provides exactly the kind of study necessary to document the occurrence of
cannibalism in the archaeological record. The Turners have produced a carefully
detailed examination of Anasazi sites in the American Southwest that have the potential
to be characterized as evidence for cannibalism. This is not a perfect book, but it
should be the starting point for any discussion of cannibalism. First, the construction
of the book needs to be commented upon. It is well-made and well-illustrated. However,
the table of Index is incomplete. If one wishes to find a specific site, one must go to
a table (on pages 56-57) to find the case number of the site and page through or go to
the Index (not the general Index). It would be much more convenient to have each site
listed in the table of Index.
Chapter 1 is a short introduction to studies of cannibalism in the Southwest and
lays out the Turners’ goal in the book. The first goal is to “define and illustrate the
characteristics of damaged human bones that we believe reflect acts of cannibalism in
the American Southwest.” The second is to explain why cannibalism occurred in the
American Southwest. They also point out some of the censorship, direct and indirect, to
which their study of cannibalism has been subjected over the years. The Turners do not
spend much time justifying or apologizing for their investigation of prehistoric
cannibalism. They dismiss as inconsequential critics such as Arens. Confronted with
growing empirical evidence for cannibalism among prehistoric and early historic
indigenous people, Arens now suggests that we should simply not talk about these things
because there are more important matters demanding our attention. The Turners likewise
reasonably dismiss archaeological critics such as Paul Bahn (1992), who denies
empirical evidence for cannibalism largely a priori grounds.
Chapter 2 concerns the osteological correlates of cannibalism. The Turners examine
taphonomic studies of natural bone assemblage formation, ethnographic studies of animal
processing, cooking techniques, and human mortuary treatment, as well as archaeological
studies of burial sites in the Southwest, to derive a set of criteria for
distinguishing the results of cannibalism from other causes of post-mortem damage to
human bone. They derive a set of six criteria which they then use in the following
chapters to assess claims of cannibalism at individual sites.
Chapter 3, which makes up 75 percent of the book, is a detailed examination of 76
sites in the American Southwest where claims of cannibalism or violent death have been
made. The sheer amount of detail is mind-boggling, as each site’s history, state of
data, and interpretation of results is discussed. Using the criteria discussed in
Chapter 2, the Turners agree that cannibalism is the best explanation for the state of
remains at 38 sites, accounting for 286 individuals. They agree that violent death, but
not necessarily cannibalism, was apparent from the bones at 19 sites. They deny the
evidence for cannibalism or violence at eight sites, and the remainder are equivocal
and require further study.
For the sites where they conclude that cannibalism occurred, Turner and Turner
demonstrate a close correspondence between butchered animal bone assemblages and the
human skeletal remains found at these sites. Like Tim White (1992) did at Mancos, the
Turners show that at these sites the types of bones present, the context of deposition,
the manner of post mortem destruction, and attributes such as cut marks and pot
polishing are essentially identical between deer and antelope bones and human bones.
Since we infer from these kinds of details that animals such as deer and antelope were
used for food, the Turners, like White, infer that the human remains also represent
food. They examine alternative explanations (e.g., natural causes, post-mortem burial
handling), and find these explanations lacking.
Of special interest is the case of Awatovi and Polacca Wash. According to Hopi oral
traditions, Awatovi was the scene of a massacre in 1700, perpetrated by Hopi warriors
from surrounding towns at the request of Awatovi’s kikmongwi (“chief”), Tapolo. Tapolo
felt that witches had taken over the village and were aligning with the Spanish, so he
invited his neighboring warriors to cleanse the town, resulting in the death of most of
the men and old women in the village. An incident at nearby Polacca Wash resulted in
the massacre of many of these captives as they were being taken back to the raiders’
village. The Turners are able to show that the osteological evidence from these sites
fits in very well with Hopi oral tradition. In fact, the Turners are confident that the
bioarchaeological, chronometric, taphonomic, locational, contextual, historic, and oral
traditions provide convergent lines of evidence for their interpretations of these
unique sites, and argue that these sites set the standard for evidence for violence,
although not cannibalism.
Having done an exemplary job of attaining their first goal, the Turners turn to
their second, explaining why cannibalism occurred in the American Southwest. To do
this, they look to Mexico. Chapter 4 is an examination of the evidence for cannibalism
in Mexico. The Turners make it clear that they believe the wide-ranging and very
specific ethnohistorical documentary evidence for Aztec violence and cannibalism. While
admitting that the exact scale and magnitude of such cannibalism may be open to debate,
they take the reasonable position that cannibalism is well attested to among the
Aztecs. As they put it, “Although some scholars maintain reservations… the consensus
view grants the chronicles a core of accuracy despite European ethnocentrism and
A lengthy discussion of ethnohistoric evidence for Aztec cannibalism is not given,
but they do provide some compelling evidence. The specificity of detail in Fray
Sahagún’s General History, combined with other Spanish accounts alone might not
be enough, but pre-Hispanic documentary evidence such as the Borgia Codex, and Nahuatl
word etymology (tlacatlaolli – “man corn”) provide independent lines to bolster the
notion. Moreover, the fact that Spaniards had to reissue laws forbidding cannibalism
(e.g., “comer carne humana, aunque sea de los prisonieros, y muertos en la guerra”) in
1523, 1538, and 1551 strongly suggests that the practice was more than a simple public
relations gambit to dehumanize the native population in the eyes of other Europeans. It
was clearly a persistent problem that Spanish authorities were working hard to
The Turners also point out that the Aztecs were not alone. The Tlaxcalans and people
of Michoacán also practiced similar ritualized cannibalism. More importantly for
the Turners, there is evidence from Durango closer to the Southwest. Early historic
accounts indicate continual warfare and endemic cannibalism among the Tarahumara,
Acaxee, and Ximxime who inhabited Nuevo Leon. Fray Vicente de Santa María also
described similar practices among groups living in Nuevo Santander (modern northeastern
Mexico and southwestern Texas). Most of these accounts make it clear that cannibalism
is strongly associated with warfare and prisoner capture. These lines of evidence
provide the Turners with a simple hypothesis. If cannibalism was occurring in Mexico,
then bioarchaeological remains should yield evidence resulting from butchering
activities (i.e., their six criteria). They test this hypothesis with a combination of
archaeological data reported from other researchers and their own observations of
San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, the Olmec complex in Veracruz, provides good evidence for
cannibalism. Excavating in contexts that date back to 1100-900 B.C., Coe and Diehl
(1980) report that the site yielded quantities of butchered human bone fragments in
refuse deposits with ordinary pottery shreds and similarly butchered animal bones.
Teotihuacan provides ample and early evidence for cannibalism. Richard E. Adams,
excavating in the A.D. 400-600 context, noted that “Maquixco, for example, produced
large quantities of split and splintered human bone fragments in general garbage and
trash heaps” (Adams 1991:221, cited in Turner 1998:422). These human bones were also
associated with figurines of “Xipe Totec, Tlaloc, Quetzalcoatl, and Xiuhtecuhtli, all
of which were to be worshiped a thousand years later by the Aztec” (p. 421). Other
researchers cited by Turner and Turner provide similar discussions of cracked and
broken bones, some with butchering marks, deposited haphazardly in trash pits.
Interestingly, articulated burials are found at Teotihuacan that do not show any
evidence for defleshing.
At Tlatelolco in Mexico City, several lines of evidence indicate that the Spanish
accounts of sacrifice and skull racks were not entirely fiction. Carmen María
Pijoan and others report on 170 skulls whose “precise and orderly arrangement in the
ground indicated they had been on a skull rack” (Pijoan et al.1989, cited in Turner and
Turner 1998:424). Holes had been punched through the sides of the skulls, supporting
the Spanish accounts of the placement of skulls on these racks (tzompantli). Another
set of remains from Tlatelolco, Burial 14, is a mass interment of 153 individuals
associated with the raising of Templo Redondo between A.D. 1400 and 1420. These victims
were buried partially articulated, but with extensive cut marks on the left femurs and
tibia. The majority of the sternal bones were cut in half, a pattern expected from
Sahagún’s description of sacrificial victims: after having their hearts cut out,
the left thigh of the victim was sent to the ruler.
Moving north, the Turners examine disease and trauma evidence culled by Pickering
and Foster (1994), for Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, Durango, Zacatecas, Jalisco,
Sinaloa, and Nayarit. Noting that very little archaeological work has been done in
these regions, the Turners find a few cases where cannibalism (or at least ritual
sacrifice) seems warranted as an explanation for the human remains. At Alta Vista (A.D.
450-1000) in Zacatecas, thirty skulls with holes drilled in the top were likely part of
a ritual display. At La Quemada (A.D. 100-900) a mass interment of 400 cut, burned, and
disarticulated young men, lacking hands and feet, were located on the floor of the Hall
of Columns. Six skull racks were also found at the site (p. 428). In Chihuahua, a cave
deposit of 15 skeletons showed burning, and at least one skull had the foramen magnum
enlarged by cutting.
Taken as a whole, the archaeological evidence reviewed by the Turners for
cannibalism from San Lorenzo, Tula, Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco, Coxcatlan,
and other Mexican ceremonial centers is virtually irrefutable. The documentary evidence
for northern Mexico is less compelling, but does indicate the general patterns of
warfare and ritualistic violence existed in the north. In order to bolster the evidence
for the cannibalism and ritual violence, they then begin a lengthy discussion of
Mexican osteological collections that they personally examined in order to provide a
comparative data base with the Southwestern materials. They first examine the bodies of
two children – one five year old, the other six months old – found at Coxcatlan Cave in
Puebla (Fowler and MacNeish 1972). The five-year-old child’s skull had been cut off,
roasted with the brain still in the skull, then broken open. It was then placed on the
infant’s body, while the infant’s head was buried with the older child’s body. Turner
and Turner think that this ancient incident of ritual cannibalism and interment
suggests that the roots of Mexican sacrifice and cannibalism are very deep.
They then move up in time, examining skeletal collections from Tlatelcomila (ca
700-500 B.C.) in Tetelpan. At this site, 18 humans showed unambiguous evidence of
cannibalism: extensive cutting, hammering, burning, and pot polish. A second site,
Electra, near San Luis Potosí, also meets their criteria for dismemberment and
cooking of individuals. They also looked at materials excavated from Alta Vista in
Zacatecas (discussed above). They note that the site displays good evidence for ritual
sacrifices, but the patterns of breakage and cutting differs from that expected for
Anasazi-style cannibalism. Evidence for roasting and boiling is absent at Alta Vista,
and the dismemberment of the bodies is more like some of the ritual interments farther
south in Mesoamerica (p. 451). The same goes for Tlatalco. There, the skeletal evidence
strongly supports perimortem treatment of bodies consistent with Spanish reports: heart
removed, thigh and appendage removal, and placement of skulls on a tzompantli. The
Turners note, however, that although most of the minimal criteria (saving pot polish)
for cannibalism are present, the context of the finds plus the differences in the type
of breakage (as opposed to quantity) rules out Anasazi-style cannibalism.
They provide a statistical comparison of Mexican and Southwest human data and animal
butchering data. Interestingly, the Mexican materials look similar to both the
Southwest data and the animal butchering data in some respects, but in others are quite
different. Mexican materials for example, show more cutting evidence and less burning.
The Turners ascribe the extra cut marks to use of obsidian blades in Mesoamerica, and
point out that in the codices, human remains are shown being boiled in stew pots,
rather than roasted.
For the Turners, Mexican cannibalism was ritualistic, designed for social control
rather than for calories. It was part of a large cultural entity that spread throughout
Mesoamerica and influenced the Anasazi. The pattern of extreme violence and partial
dismemberment in large, public venues over the course of at least 2,500 years suggests
to them that “one senses a very powerful, dehumanizing sociopolitical and ideological
complex had evolved in central Mexico even before the time of the monumental
constructions at Teotihuacan…. Time and again this complex was overthrown or
collapsed, only to arise again and grow even more powerful. Its icons, ideology, and
sacrificial themes spread throughout the central plateau and into the jungle world of
the Mayas and in the desert of Chichimeca… it takes nearly blind faith in the
effectiveness of geographical distance and the nonreceptivity of provincialism to
believe that this complex and its adherents failed to reach the American Southwest” (p.
Having made a strong case that the skeletal signatures of the Anasazi sites most
resemble butchered animal deposits and, to a lesser degree, Mesoamerican ritual
cannibalism, the Turners attempt finally to explain Anasazi cannibalism. “But why did
cannibalism occur there? Did these episodes represent a local development or an
introduced, exotic behavior? Who were the cannibals? Why did they feed on men, women,
and children?” (p. 459). The Turners present five non-mutually exclusive reasons: (1)
starvation, (2) sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, (3) social control, (4)
ritual human sacrifice, and (5) social pathology.
The Turners dismiss the first two reasons and turn to a combination of the last
three to form their proximate explanation for Anasazi violence. In essence, they
believe that a small group of Mexicans, probably “warrior-cultists dedicated to gods of
the Tezcatlipoca-Xipe Totec complex” (p. 463) headed north after the breaking up of the
Toltec state and set up shop in Chaco Canyon, terrorizing the local population into
submission with the same sort of extreme violence that worked so well in Mesoamerica.
“They entered the San Juan Basin around A.D. 900 and found a suspicious but pliant
population whom they terrorized into reproducing the theocratic lifestyle… heavy
payments of tribute, constructing the Chaco system of great houses and roads, and
providing victims for ceremonial sacrifice… After the abandonment of Chaco, human
sacrifice and cannibalism all but disappeared, suggesting some kind of prehistoric
discontinuity” (p. 463).
The Turners understand that several major issues need to be settled before one can
believe this scenario, to wit: the amount of Mesoamerican influence on the development
of the Chaco Canyon, and the directness of the influence. They use both ethnohistoric
and archaeological evidence to support their claim for direct Mesoamerican control of
Chaco, including changes in building forms, the appearance of Mexican material culture
such as copper bells and macaw feathers, tooth transfigurement, and Hopi oral
tradition, including depictions of the deity of Maasaw, whom they equate with Xipe
The ultimate problem with their explanation is the ambiguity of the evidence. Yes,
there is definitely Mexican influence to be seen in Chaco Canyon and elsewhere in the
Southwest. But direct take-over by a small band of warriors? The Turners suggest that
the Spaniards managed it, so why not Mesoamericans? Yet Ross Hassig (1992) demonstrates
quite convincingly that a scenario such as the one offered by the Turners is extremely
unlikely for simple logistical reasons. I do not find the Turners’ evidence for direct
overlordship by Toltec refugees compelling, although the idea that the Chaco ruling
elite used extreme violence and cannibalism as a means of social control seems very
plausible. It seems to me that the development of certain ideological frameworks within
which violence and cannibalism were seen as forms of social control may have diffused
from Mexico, but were given a local twist. The techniques of cannibalism are different
between central Mexico and the Southwest, suggesting that while Southwestern elites
shared in the cannibalistic mythology of Mexico, they adapted the implementation of
these ideas to local conditions.
A similar argument using game theory as a model has been put forward by Kantner
(1999). Here, he documents that a game theory approach to the archaeological record
indicates that under certain circumstances, elite-sponsored violence would be feasible,
if not expected. He argues that environmental and social conditions in Chaco Canyon
during the 14th century meet the requirements under which we might expect ruling elites
to use selective violence (and even cannibalism) to control local populations. His work
supports the Turners’ assertion that cannibalism was a terroristic, rather than
survival, behavior. However, his work neither supports nor refutes the idea of an elite
group of Toltecans muscling in on Chaco.
The Turners may be wrong in their interpretations of why cannibalism occurred in the
American Southwest, and they may be wrong about the fact that cannibalism even
occurred, but at least they had the intellectual courage to present their data and
their interpretations in such a way that we can all intelligently scrutinize and
critique their work. That is the beauty of this book.
Arens, W. 1980. The Man Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. Oxford: Oxford
Bahn, P. 1992. “Ancestral Cannibalism Gives Us Food for Thought.” New Scientist
Coe, M. D., and R. A. Diehl. 1980. In the Land of the Olmec, Vol. I: The Archaeology
of San Lorenzo. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Fowler, M. L., and R. S. MacNeish. 1972. “Excavations in the Coxcatlan Locality in
the Alluvial Slopes.” In The Prehistory of the Tehuacan Valley, Vol. 5: Excavations and
Reconnaissance, edited by R. S. MacNeish, pp. 219-340. Austin: University of Texas
Hassig, R. 1992. Warfare in Ancient Mesoamerica. New York: Columbia University.
Kantner, J. 1999. “Survival Cannibalism or Sociopolitical Intimidation.” Human
Keeley, L. H. 1996. War Before Civilization. New York: Oxford University Press.
Milner, G. R., E. Anderson, and V. G. Smith. 1991. “Warfare in Late Prehistoric West
Central Illinois.” American Antiquity 56:581-603.
Pickering, R. B., and M. S. Foster. 1994. “A Survey of Prehistoric Disease and
Trauma in Northwest and West Mexico.” Proceedings of the Denver Museum of Natural
White, T. D. 1992. Prehistoric Cannibalism at Mancos 5MTUMR-2346. Princeton:
Princeton University Press.
Willey, P. 1990. Prehistoric Warfare on the Great Plains. New York: Garland
Beber de tierra generosa. México, D.F.: Fundación de Investigaciones Sociales (FISAC), 1998. Historia de las bebidas alcohólicas en México, Vol. 1. Pp. 251; Ciencia
de las bebidas alcohólicas en México, Vol. 2. Pp. 287. ISBN 968-6115-11-0 (both volumes, cloth); ISBN 968-6115-12-9 (Vol. 1, cloth); ISBN 968-6115-13-7 (Vol. 2, cloth).
In the right author’s hands, histories of commodities have proven to be immensely
rewarding because of the many ways they can connect the histories of regional,
national, and/or global political economies with social and cultural patterns and
developments. Anthropologist Sidney Mintz’s book Sweetness and Power, with its
brilliant analysis of how the changing appetites in western Europe that accompanied a
changing political economy led to intensified exploitation of slavery in the Caribbean
provides the perfect example. The multi-author, two-volume set Beber de tierra generosa
offers an unusual, commodity-driven view of Mexican history, one that might, at first
glance, seem narrow. But by focusing on cultural, historical, psychosocial,
biochemical, and visual analyses of the production and uses of alcohol, and in the
skilled hands of the volumes’ contributors, this publication offers a remarkably
If this review pays greater attention to Volume 1 (Historia de las bebidas
alcohólicas en México), it is only because that volume will be of greater
interest to the readers of the Nahua Newsletter. It is also important to note that
these beautifully illustrated books were published by an alcohol industry-funded group,
the Fundación de Investigaciones Sociales, A. C. (or FISAC), yet the scholarship
represented delves fully and impartially into the many facets of alcohol use and abuse
and does not minimize the risks associated with overuse.
Encyclopedic in scope, the first volume describes the history of a wide variety of
alcoholic beverages. Beginning with a well-written, comprehensive essay on pulque by
historian Arturo Soberón Mora, one that explains the Nahua background to pulque
production and then traces changing patterns of production, marketing, and consumption
from the colonial period up to the present day, articles on wine, tequila, mezcal, rum,
and beer follow.
Each beverage really has a separate history because the forms of production, regions
where produced, and relationships to internal and external markets can differ widely.
Teresa Lozano Armendares contributes several articles illustrating the diverse
histories of alcoholic libations. Her piece, “Alquimía del alcohol en la Nueva
España,” introduces a theme to be found elsewhere in Volume 1, that of the
astounding regional and cultural variations in types and amounts of alcohol use both
historically as well as in contemporary Mexico. Laura Rueda’s essay on beer, “El
triunfo de un gusto: La cerveza,” demonstrates clearly the impact of global population
and economic trends on the Mexican beer industry. How ironic it is, as she shows, that
European and North American entrepreneurs helped stimulate the increased production of
and taste for beer in nineteenth-century Mexico. Yet late twentieth-century Mexican
beers (which vary in type and quality) enjoy wide popularity and are considered so
characteristic of Mexico that their advertising conveys a set of images useful for its
tourist industry. International sales of beers like Corona, Dos Equis, Carta Blanca,
and Bohemia in fact help the Mexican beer industry to rank among the top ten in world
beer production (Bird 1999:9G).
The multi-author article “Bebidas de la tradición” then follows and deepens
the volume’s analysis of regional and cultural diversity. This sweeping essay includes
non-alcoholic drinks as well, discusses the nutritional value of many different drinks,
and includes an array of dramatic images of contemporary northern and southern Mexican
indigenous peoples as photographed by Lorenzo Armendáriz and Nacho López.
María Elena Medina Mora’s essay, “Beber en el campo y la ciudad,” examines
alcohol consumption patterns primarily in present-day Mexico, not only pointing to
urban/rural differences but showing very marked gender differences as well.
Paco Ignacio Taibo also treats gender differences, in his case in the visual imaging
of alcohol use in Mexican cinema, as part of a wonderful essay, “Sorbos de
poesía y color,” that closes the first volume. Confirming how important alcohol
has been as a theme in Mexican art, both elite and popular (a notion conveyed as well
by the many paintings, drawings, and photographs reproduced throughout each volume),
Taibo shows that alcohol in films has been depicted, not in realistic terms, but in
extreme and dichotomous ones, as bad or good, as consumed differently by rich vs. poor,
and as a vehicle by which an emerging middle class could gaze upon an illusory image of
“el sueño de todos” (p. 245). That dream he says, consists of the desirable yet
unattainable woman, who expresses the dominant male and heterosexual gaze that
controlled the gendered imaginary of Mexican cinema until relatively recently. Yet this
ineffable filmed woman, as she became depicted in more intimate and openly erotic ways,
somehow served as a bridge between the private, upstairs, more traditional Mexico and
the public, downstairs, increasingly middle-class, modernizing Mexico. But the
transition to the post-modernizing global economy of the 1980s and 1990s remains an
elusive dream, one that, as these decades have often cruelly shown, carries vast
economic, social, and cultural costs.
Less poetic and far more somber in tone, the second volume moves away from the
historical, cultural, and visual analyses of the first volume, and takes up the
biochemical and psychological effects of alcohol on the human body. It includes a
discussion of the impact of alcohol abuse on the pregnant woman and her unborn child,
describing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in great detail in an essay by Rose Isela Ortiz de
Luna, along with articles examining approaches to prevention of alcohol abuse, forms of
treatment, relevant laws, and most interestingly a history of Alcoholics Anonymous in
Mexico by Haydée Rosovsky. She demonstrates how the group (and its philosophy)
fared in its journey south as AA became fragmented and yet still provided the basis for
several fruitful approaches to treatment.
As previously noted, the first volume is likely to be of more interest to the
readers of this publication. Most appropriate for Mesoamerican specialists and advanced
graduate students, its articles will appeal to scholars in a variety of fields and
disciplines including archaeology, ethnohistory, history, and cultural anthropology, as
well as those in areas dealing with the arts and popular culture. Comprehensive and
highly readable, Beber de tierra generosa shows the diversity of Mexico’s history,
cultures, and economies by demonstrating the many influences shaping alcohol’s history,
imagery, and marketing, distribution, and consumption patterns as well as efforts aimed
at preventing or curing alcohol dependency. Celebrating the diversity of Mexican
beverages that complement its cuisines so well, the volumes also spell out the physical
and social costs of this intoxicating source of song and laughter, anger and disorder
Bird, Scott. 1999. “Bird on Beer: Mexican Beers World-Renowned,” Houston Chronicle,
Dining Guide, September 17.
Sahagún, Bernardino de. 1957[1575-80?]. Florentine Codex, General History of
the Things of New Spain, Book 4. Santa Fe, N.M.: University of Utah, School of American
De Illustere Heren van San Pablo: Lokaal bestuur in negentiende-eeuws Mexico/Tlaxcala, 1823 1880. By Yvetter Nelen. CNWS Publications Series. Leiden: University of Leiden, Research School CNWS, 1999. Pp. xvi+346.
This published doctoral dissertation, whose title in English is “The Illustrious
Gentlemen of San Pablo,” deals with the result of three years of investigation of
archival material pertaining to the municipality of San Pablo Apetatitlán, in
the Mexican state Tlaxcala. By focusing on a former republica de indios (a colonial
native administrative division) during a largely misunderstood part of the nineteenth
century, this historical study makes an important contribution to Mexican studies.
Scholars specializing in Latin America will gain insight into such topics as the
process of state formation, the connections between local, regional and national events
and the operation of legal and administrative systems in a rural and small town
context. This study will be of special interest to Nahua specialists because the
majority of the inhabitants of San Pablo during the period under examination spoke
Nahuatl and maintained control over land and other resources despite major legal
reforms and political transformations at the national level.
This historical monograph makes an original contribution by debunking three widely
held misconceptions. First of all, Yvette Nelen shows that the transitional period
between the War of Independence to the Porfiriato (from 1823 to 1880) was not one of
unbridled chaos and lack of direction at the local and regional level. Even at the
height of civil war, foreign interventions, and widespread political unrest, a new form
of governance and political discourse was steadily, if gradually, unfolding at the
local level, even in regions subject to major military battles and banditry. This study
also argues that the Mexican state that emerged after the triumph of Liberal over
Conservative forces did not constitute a whole scale imposition by a single center of
power. Instead, social agents at the local level played an active role in shaping the
expansion and formation of the modern Mexican state, resulting in considerable
continuity of local networks of power, as well as administrative structures and systems
of land tenure dating back to the colonial era. Finally, the author points out that the
simplistic dichotomy of Spanish (or mestizo) versus “Indian” does not do justice to the
complexities of social life in rural Mexico.
The municipality of San Pablo Apetatitlan is a valuable case study because of its
importance as a center for trade, situated on a crossroad. Its head village was home
for a larger number of merchants and artisans than would be the case for most villages
of similar size. Moreover, some of its native sons went on to become relatively
important political figures on the state level. Unlike other parts of central Mexico,
there were no haciendas and two out of five ranchos were communally owned. While
dominated by a largely mestizo local elite, important political posts were also held by
Nahuas who were more prosperous farmers, artisans and merchants. In this regard the
social dynamics of the region under study resemble that of the Mexican faldas (“coastal
foothills” or “lowlands”) more so than other parts of the high plains of Central
The author consulted a variety of archival sources in municipal, state, and national
archives, many of which were not fully catalogued at the time of research. She analyzed
this data collected from primary and archival sources in the light of the existing
literature on Mexico and beyond. The outcome is a book with a sophisticated
introduction, well grounded in current historiography, followed by six chapters that
present a detailed overview of various aspects of public life in San Pablo. The main
body consists of two parts dealing respectively with general themes and three
chronological periods. The former include an overview of the new forms of municipal
administration in an independent Mexico, the personalities and background of local
elected officials, and the family connections among the local political and economic
elite. One of the main themes of the book, reinforced in the title of the conclusion,
is “the chemistry of traditionalism and modernity.”
The advantage of a study conducted by a researcher based in the Netherlands is that
he or she has access to up-to-date work being done on both sides of the Atlantic. The
introduction and conclusion include references to, and commentary on, the work of
scholars with international reputations in the fields of agrarian study, subaltern
studies, rural sociology and social anthropology, as well as that of lesser-known
investigators from both Europe and Mexico. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few
quotations in Spanish and English, the book was written in Dutch – not a very
accessible language. I should also warn investigators who read Dutch and want to
consult this book on specific topics like the French intervention, the role of the
Church, land tenure disputes, or specific historical figures, that there is no
This book is a significant, refreshing contribution to a hitherto neglected
historical period. Nevertheless, scholars looking for new information or theoretical
approaches on ethnic relations or the presence of native people might not be fully
satisfied. The author herself points out that “it is impossible to determine the exact
ethnic background of villagers from the sources” (p. 344), although she is able to
infer which local actors were Nahuas on the basis of surnames or context. She also
assumes, I believe correctly, that the majority of inhabitants of two smaller, largely
agricultural, villages were mainly Indian while the head village was more heterogeneous
in ethnic composition. I further found a reference to a group of Nahua peasants from
one of the smaller villages presenting land documents from the previous century that
were written in Nahuatl. A close reading of a legal dispute relating to this incident
led the author to conclude that one the officials in the main village was probably
knowledgeable of the Nahuatl language, even though another official was not. Several
pages further on, the reader also finds out that these and other local officials held
the usual stereotype of all Indians as poor and ignorant. To counter such stereotypes,
Nelen draws attention to the fact that a minor official with a Nahua surname was
adamant in supporting compulsory (Spanish language) education as one of several
projects representing a new nationalistic, liberal agenda. This example reminded me of
Florencia Mallon’s portrayal of a nationalistic liberal ideology associated with Nahua
political leaders in the Sierra Norte de Puebla around the same time. However, her main
conclusions regarding ethnicity is the now generally accepted criticism against the use
of the simplistic dichotomy of Indian versus non-Indian.
One cannot blame a historian about being cautious in generalizing, or speculating
on, ethnic dynamics on the basis of very limited data. However, the study could have
gone further in “reading between the lines” or interpreting the archival data in the
light of other studies of similar communities, including some written by authors cited
in her bibliography. For instance, she could have gone further in extrapolating on the
information she found on land tenure and ethnicity in the light of similar work done by
other historians who have worked on rural Mexico in the nineteenth century. An example
that comes to mind is Antonio Escobar, whose journal articles dealing with the
strategies used by native communities to preserve their own “communal space” would have
been relevant for such extrapolation. Nelen does cite Guardino’s work on Guerrero to
back up her argument that the majority of the indigenous peasants of San Pablo, like
those of other villages in rural Mexico, maintained control over almost all of their
agricultural land. Such land (the comun) was not officially owned, nor controlled, by
either the new town councils (ayuntamientos) or the Catholic Church. Indeed some of the
records in San Pablo still referred to this separate form of land tenure and its
governance by the term republica de indios well into the nineteenth century. However,
Nelen does not say anything about what implications the legal as well as de facto
status of land ownership has for the preservation of ethnic group boundaries.
Another drawback of this excellent but very specialized case study is that it does
not give us any clues whether or not the contemporary inhabitants of San Pablo still
maintain any Nahua cultural traits today. Today many local and regional historians,
including Yvette Nelen, incorporate the insights of anthropologists. However, while
bringing contemporary ethnography and ethnohistory to bear on archival research, few of
these historians take the time, or have the opportunity, to look at the social
structure or e culture of contemporary descendants of the people whose past lives they
reconstruct. I suspect that no one in the cabecera (“head town”) San Pablo
Apetatitlán today speaks Nahuatl, or identities him or herself as Nahua or even
indígena. But I am curious to know whether or not such ethnic boundaries are
still part of the social structure in the outlying barrios, or what form they might
In any case, it is well worth bringing this book to the attention of both Nahua
specialists and historians interested in more general aspects of nineteenth-century
Mexico. As happens with many Dutch dissertations of high quality, eventually an English
version will appear. Hopefully a Spanish translation will also come out in Mexico. In
the meantime, readers in North America will have to be content with a four-page English
summary included at the end of the book.
The illustrations found throughout this issue were taken from Myths of Ancient
Mexico. By Michel Graulich. Translated by Bernard R. Ortiz de Montellano and Thelma
Ortiz de Montellano. Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 222. Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1997. Pp. xii+370. $32.95 (cloth). ISBN 0-8061-2910-7