Number 33

Editor’s Note: This content is archival.

Nahua Newsletter

February 2002, Number 33

The Nahua Newsletter

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

Alan R. Sandstrom, Editor

With support from the Department of Anthropology

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne


Nahua Newsletter News

Welcome to the 33rd issue of the Nahua Newsletter. In the following pages you will
find news items, announcements, a book review and commentary, and additional
information that will be of interest to scholars and students of the history, language,
and culture of Nahuatl-speaking peoples and other indigenous groups in Mesoamerica. Our
sole mission is to facilitate the flow of information to scholars and students and to
create a greater sense of common purpose in a highly interdisciplinary field in which
the different research literatures do not always interact. To further aid our readers,
we are providing a separately printed list of NN subscribers with affiliations and
addresses. Please use the list to make contacts and to seek help with your own research
interests. Readers will notice that the list contains the world’s foremost recognized
scholars who reside in 15 different countries. We have used the most up-to-date
information but errors are inevitable. Please send corrections to the editor to be
incorporated into our master list.

We get occasional requests for back issues of the NN and it has been our custom to
photocopy and sent them through the mail. The NN constitutes an important archive of
research in Mesoamerica over the years and we are interested in making previous issues
more easily available and perhaps even searchable. To reach that goal, we are in the
process of putting all past issues of the NN on the Web. As readers are already aware,
the more recent issues are on the Web at We have
just completed a project of scanning older issues so that they too can be added as a
permanent archive. This summer we hope to finish final editing of the scanned material
and will begin formatting and adding them to our Web site. Look for future
announcements as the project reaches completion.

Please make use of the NN in your own work. Send information about your interests
and current research and we will publish it. Many people have made valuable contacts
with other students and scholars through the NN and it has become an important source
of news about publications and professional meetings. The NN is mailed free of charge
twice each year and all expenses connected with printing and mailing are offset by
donations. If you would like to contribute to our efforts please send a check or money
order made out to The Nahua Newsletter and we will deposit the money in the NN special
account. All funds are applied to printing and mailing charges and there are absolutely
no administrative costs. We have been self-supporting for over 16 years with only
occasional small grants as sources of outside funding. It is a record to be proud of
and we invite you to join us in reducing the hassle of scholarship and creating a
community of scholars working in one of the most interesting culture areas in the

Please send your news items, calls for cooperation, or commentaries in a digital
format to:

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

News Items

1. Albert Wahrhaftig writes: “Thank you for the mention of Anales de Tepoztlan in NN
32. I am pleased to announce that Anales de Tepoztlan is now open for business at
The site is just beginning and as I find time to work on it and learn more about Web
page design it will look better and better, not that it looks bad now because I use
lots of photographs. Meanwhile, to recapitulate, this site is designed for the exchange
of information among scholars interested in Tepoztecan culture and is also designed to
be a forum in which all citizens of Tepoztlan are invited to participate. I encourage
submission in English, Spanish, or, preferably, both languages. Scholars may send
complete papers and articles, notes on their activities, publication announcements,
photos, or whatever to me at I’ll get them onto the server.
Tepoztecos may send whatever strikes their fancy – family histories, essays, stories,
myths, legends, etc. At present the Spanish pages are more developed than the English.
I translate the Spanish whenever I have spare moments. Among the sections at present,
there is one for scholarly papers, one for anything pertaining to El Tepoztecatl
(legends, those who have performed the role of el Tepozteco in the annual El Reto), the
Portada de Semillas (which is what I am most interested in), and so forth. Log on and

“In the section on El Tepozteco, there is a copy (profusely illustrated) of ‘Talking
Walls: The Iconography of Tepoztecan Resistance,’ which I presented at the 100th Annual
Meeting of the American Anthropology Association on December 2, 2002. My colleague,
Pacho Lane, and I are currently working on a video documentary about El Tepozteco (the
local god, if I may be permitted that oversimplification), his significance as a mentor
for Tepoztecan morality and political action, and about the Portadas de Semillas –
beautiful elaborate mosaics of seeds which are erected annually on the town’s major
feast day. Contributions and suggestions are encouraged. Those interested are also
welcome to inspect my own Web page at
There they will find information about other projects, especially those pertaining to
the highland Totonac area of Puebla and, for those who might find it relevant, syllabi
of the courses I teach including one on ‘Communities in Mexico.’

“Well, enough and possibly too much about me. Happy New Year to all and thanks for
your fine newsletter which I intend to support when I return home from Tepoztlan.” Sent
by Albert Wahrhaftig, Professor of Anthropology, Sonoma State University. Home e-mail

2. We recently received the following announcement:

Grant Funds for Mesoamericanists
The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc.
2002 Annual Grant Competition
Deadline: September 30.

Applications must be received by September 30. Applications received after this date
will not be considered.

Grants are intended to provide assistance for scholarly investigations of ancient
cultures of Mesoamerica (limited to present Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El
Salvador). Applicants may be working in such fields as Anthropology, Archaeology, Art
History, Epigraphy, Ethnohistory, History, Linguistics, or Multi disciplinary Studies
involving combinations of these classifications.

To receive your copy of the current brochure outlining policies, grant categories,
requisite qualifications, and application forms contact: FAMSI, 268 South Sun Coast
Boulevard, Crystal River, Florida 34429-5498, by fax at 352-795-1970 or e-mail at The brochure may be downloaded
from the Web at

Becas Para Los Estudiosos Mesoamericanos
La Fundación para el Avance de Estudios Mesoamericanos, Inc.
Concurso Anual para Becas ~ 2002

Las solicitudes de becas se recibirán hasta el 30 de septiembre en las
oficinas de FAMSI. Solicitudes recibido despues de esta fecha no se pueden

Las becas son para apoyar las investigaciones sobre las culturas
Mesoaméricanas (hoy dia limitadas a México, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras y
El Salvador). Los solicitantes podran presentar un proyecto de investigacion en las
siguentes áreas: Antropología, Arqueología, Historia de Arte,
Epigrafia, Etnohistoria, Etnografia, Historia, Lingüística, o realizar
estudios multidisciplinarios que combinen apropiadamente estas disciplinas.

Para recibir un folleto actualizado con los lineamientos y requistos indispensables
para presentar la solicitud de beca, favor de dirigirse a FAMSI, 268 South Suncoast
Boulevard, Crystal River, Florida 34429-5498 USA / Facsimil: 352 795-1970 / e-mail: / nuestro folleto se puede
conseguir en Internet

FAMSI Web site features include / FAMSI Web site ofrece:

Grantee Reports / Informes de las becas

Linda Schele Archive / Dibujos de Linda Schele

Justin Kerr Maya Vase Archive – Portfolio / Fotografias de Justin Kerr

Bibliografía Mesoamericana / La Bibliografia Mesoamericana

John Montgomery Drawing Archive / Dibujos de John Montgomery

John Pohl Mixtec Codices / Codices de John Pohl

3. Michael Smith sends the following communication: “I have recently published
several articles on Aztec political and economic organization in places that may not be
checked regularly by Nahuatlatos.”

These are:

Smith, Michael E. 2000. “Aztec City-States.” In A Comparative Study of Thirty
City-State Cultures. Edited by Mogens Herman Hansen, pp. 581-95. Copenhagen: The Royal
Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. This book also has articles on Mixtec
city-states (Michael Lind) and Classic Maya city states (Nikolai Grube).
__________. 2001. “The Aztec Empire and the Mesoamerican World System.” In Empires:
Perspectives from Archaeology and History. Edited by Susan E. Alcock, Terence N.
D’Altroy, Kathleen D. Morrison, and Carla M. Sinopoli, pp. 128-54. New York: Cambridge
University Press.

Also in this volume is:

Brumfiel, Elizabeth M. 2001. “Aztec Hearts and Minds: Religion and the State in the
Aztec Empire.” In Empires: Perspectives from Archaeology and History. Edited by Susan
Alcock, Terence D’Altroy, Kathleen Morrison, and Carla Sinopoli, pp. 283-310. New York:
Cambridge University Press.

The following article compares Tenochtitlan, Tula, and Teotihuacan in terms of
archaeological evidence for the existence of empires (concluding that Tula did not rule
an empire, whereas the other two cities did):

Smith, Michael E. and Lisa Montiel. 2001. “The Archaeological Study of Empires and
Imperialism in Prehispanic Central Mexico.” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology

And finally, a fun article on Gary Jennings’ juicy novel, Aztec:

Smith, Michael E. 2001. “The Aztec World of Gary Jennings.” In Novel History:
Historians and Novelists Confront America’s Past (and Each Other). Edited by Mark C.
Carnes, pp. 95-105. New York: Simon and Schuster.

4. William Willard writes that he is undertaking a new project: “I am developing an
edited collection of articles with the working title of ‘Legacy.’ ‘Legacy’ is organized
around the involvement of the U.S. federal government through its policies with the
health of indigenous peoples. ‘Legacy’ begins with the federal smallpox vaccination
policy in 1789 and continues through the present century. A major difference of this
collection and other recent publications is that all indigenous people are considered,
not just federally recognized communities as is more usual. Part of that difference is
that we are seeking articles concerning the health issues of indigenous people from
Central America and Mexico who are living and working in the U.S.”

5. The following several messages were received from the Proyecto Archivo General
Agrario (CIESAS-RAN) at

“Por este medio nos permitimos comunicarles la nueva dirección y
actualización de la página Web del proyecto: Archivos Agrarios
(CIESAS-RAN), la cual se encuentra dentro del servidor del CIESAS en la sección
de proyectos especiales. La dirección es:

“La página, además de contar con todos los boletines publicados
(números del 0 al 13), así como los resúmenes de los libros de la
Colección Agraria que han aparecido hasta el año 2001, también
cuenta con hipervínculos ha algunos sitios de interés, sobre todo de
archivos en México y redes de información. Asimismo, hemos integrado un
resumen de los 52 fondos documentales con que cuenta el Archivo Agrario, esto con el
fin de que los interesados en la temática agraria de México conozcan el
tipo, los periodos y los temas que cubre la documentación. Sin duda esto
último facilitara las futuras consultas de este tipo de material.”

Also this from the Proyecto Archivo General Agrario:

“Por este medio me permito comunicarles de la aparición Boletín del
Archivo General Agrario, julio-septiembre 2001, número 14, publicación
del proyecto Archivos Agrarios (México), coordinado por la Dra. Teresa Rojas


Presentación – Antonio Escobar Ohmstede y Teresa Rojas Rabiela

La historia agraria de los pueblos indígenas en el Archivo General Agrario –
Laura Ruiz

El INAH y su participación en PROCEDE – Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava y
Lucía Gabriela Urquiza Puebla

La fotografía y su aporte histórico-antropológico:
¿Análisis o descripción? – Sergio Luis Contreras

El Contadero: ¿Restituir y dotar por necesidad? – Juan Israel Ahedo

El grupo documental Expropiación de bienes ejidales y comunales – María
del Rayo Campos

“Si a usted le interesaría recibir este boletín, le solicitamos nos
envíe su dirección postal a través de la clave electrónica
del proyecto Archivo Agrario:

Also this message:

“El proyecto Archivos Agrarios (CIESAS-RAN) da a conocer el nuevo título de
la Colección Agraria, la cual es coordinada por la Dra. Teresa Rojas Rabiela:
Antonio Escobar Ohmstede y Teresa Rojas Rabiela, coords. Estructuras y formas agrarias
en México: Del pasado al presente. Colección Agraria. México:
CIESAS-RAN, Universidad de Quintana Roo, 2001. 463 pp.

“La cuestión agraria mexicana ha sido abordada por la historiografía,
la antropología y la sociología a partir de perspectivas teóricas
y metodológicas muy variadas, entre las que figuran el positivismo, el marxismo
y el revisionismo. De esta manera este texto reune una serie de trabajos que abordan y
cuestionan enfoques que han predominado en los diversos estudios contemporáneos.
Así, el libro cobija ensayos desde la época prehispánica hasta la


Introducción – Antonio Escobar Ohmstede y Teresa Rojas Rabiela Calpulli
¿Otra acepción de teccalli? – Hildeberto Martínez

Apuntes para la tenencia patrimonial de la tierra entre los mayas yucatecos y sus
implicaciones en el análisis de la organización social – Pedro Bracamonte
y Sosa

Labores, milpas y memorias: la comunidad agraria en la misión jesuítica
de Sonora, siglo XVIII – Cynthia Radding

Los bienes de comunidad de los pueblos de indios a fines del periodo colonial –
Margarita Menegus Bornemann

The Repartimiento and Indigenous Peoples in The Spanish Empire: New Perspectives and
Old Realities – Robert Patch y Beatriz Cáceres

Las comunidades de indígenas de Ixtlán y Pajacuarán ante la
reforma liberal en el siglo XIX – Brigitte Boehm

La estructura agraria en las Huastecas, 1880-1915 – Antonio Escobar Ohmstede

Economía y comunidad en Papantla: reflexiones sobre “la cuestión de la
tierra” en el siglo XIX – Emilio H. Kourí

La posesión del paraíso: el conflicto por la tierra de Cozumel durante el
Porfiriato – Gabriel A. Macías Z.

Propiedad, propietarios, pueblos indios y reforma agraria en la región
purhépecha, 1915-1940 – Arnulfo Embriz

Dotación de ejidos: ¿agrarismo institucional? El caso del Valle del Mayo,
1922-1939 – Gustavo Lorenzana

Política nacional y organización campesina en Puebla, 1920-1935 –
Guillermo Palacios

La política agraria en México desde la Revolución – Alan

La ganadería bovina en la historia agraria mexicana: Un ensayo – Ernesto

Campesinos y bosques en la historia de Quintana Roo ¿Dónde nos
encontramos? – Natalia Armijo

La globalización neoliberal y la recreación de la diversidad rural:
procesos asociativos en el Occidente mexicano al cierre del siglo – Guadalupe

Siglas y referencias

Bibliografía general

“Para adquirir esta publicación, comunicarse al Departamento de
Difusión y Publicaciones del CIESAS:”

And lastly, this from Leticia Reina:

“El proyecto: ‘Archivo Agrarios’ (CIESAS-RAN) da a conocer la reseña
realizado al trabajo de Regina Olmedo, Catálogo de documentos históricos
del Archivo General Agrario, Vol. 2, México, D.F.: CIESAS-RAN, 2001.
Publicación que se encuentra dentro de la Colección Agraria, la cual es
dirigida por la Dra. Teresa Rojas Rabiela.

Viejos Papeles en Busca de Nuevas Historias

“La historia de los hombres y de los pueblos se ha escrito y reescrito al paso del
tiempo. Antiguamente, debido a que cambiaban los intereses políticos o
personales de la persona que relataba el pasado y desde el siglo pasado, me refiero al
veinte cuando se institucionalizó el quehacer histórico y se
convirtió en una actividad académica, la historia se fue reelaborando
fundamentalmente por dos razones: por un lado, debido al cambio en las modas
teóricas que implicaba diferentes formas de concebir los procesos, y por el otro
a la búsqueda-rescate de nuevas fuentes de información. Esta
última, a partir de la década de 1970 contribuyó con verdaderas
vetas de oro que enriquecieron y fortalecieron la historiografía regional en
todas sus vertientes.

“Afortunadamente, al inicio del siglo XXI siguen apareciendo nuevos filones y que
esperan las preguntas del nuevo siglo. Con esto me refiero a la documentación
histórica que se puso al alcance de los investigadores gracias al esfuerzo
conjunto del Registro Agrario Nacional y del Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios
Superiores de Antropología Social bajo la dirección de la Dra. Teresa
Rojas Rabiela. El proyecto general ha aportado numerosos resultados y de índole
diversa, pero en esta ocasión me quiero referir exclusivamente al
Catálogo de Documentos Históricos del Archivo General Agrario.

“Este catálogo lo elaboró Regina Olmedo Gaxiola y corresponde a la
publicación de los documentos históricos encontrados en una segunda etapa
de trabajo de ordenamiento y clasificación del acervo. El registro que Regina
nos ofrece en este volumen corresponde a los escritos antiguos que estaban integrados a
los expedientes de las acciones agrarias, en sus tres formas de tenencia de la tierra
social que existen en México, o sea en las tres formas de acceso a la tierra
social, es decir: restitución de tierras, dotación de ejidos, y
reconocimiento, confirmación y titulación de bienes comunales.

“El criterio que se utilizó para separar la “documentación
histórica” del resto del expediente agrario de cada pueblo fue el orden
cronológico. El año designado fue 1915, fecha de emisión de la Ley
del 5 de enero y que marcó en cierta forma el momento a partir del cual se
inició el proceso de Reforma Agraria. En él se establecieron los
procedimientos de restitución, dotación y titulación de tierras
aguas y montes de los pueblos, rancherías, congregaciones o comunidades. Ahora
bien, para que el nuevo Estado revolucionario pudiera llevar a cabo este procedimiento,
los pueblos tuvieron que mostrar y demostrar la titulación de sus tierras
durante el periodo colonial, así como la fecha y forma de despojo. Todo lo cual
se convirtió en espléndidos relatos de los pueblos contando la historia
de las reiteradas ventas de diversas porciones de tierras de las comunidades, de las
denuncias y enajenaciones, así como de la recuperación de porciones de
terrenos en distintos momentos y épocas, a veces por la vía legal y a
veces por la vía del conflicto armado y violento. Estas narraciones constituyen
el cúmulo de información que se ordenó y catalogó como
“documentación histórica”.

“¿Y en esta ocasión, qué tipo de papeles se ordenaron e
inventariaron? Este volumen organizado por Regina Olmedo contiene: fundación de
pueblos, mercedes de tierras y órdenes religiosas. También tiene el
registro de los documentos relacionados con las composiciones de tierras, es decir de
los títulos confirmados por Felipe II, así como ventas de tierras,
colindancias y linderos entre pueblos y propietarios privados. Al tiempo que aparecen
los diferentes litigios que tuvieron muchos predios a lo largo del periodo colonial y
del siglo XIX hasta 1915. Esta historia de larga duración en el caso de muchos
pueblos, se debe a los litigios que emprendieron los pueblos tanto en la época
colonial, como en el siglo XIX. A través de todos estos manuscritos podemos
confirmar que los pueblos tienen una cultura legalista y que cuando tomaban las armas
era porque ya habían agotado todas las instancias constitucionales. La prueba es
que en la documentación está la construcción de los consejos
municipales, la presentación de testigos, vistas de ojo, reconocimientos de
linderos y los fallos de las autoridades. Y otras tantas pruebas más como las
capitulaciones, mercedes reales, denuncias y adjudicaciones, testamentos y escrituras
de venta.

“El conjunto de estos manuscritos suma un total de 419 documentos históricos
y cuya distribución geográfica es significativa. Casi el 50% de ellos
corresponden al estado de México; la cuarta parte al estado de Oaxaca y el resto
está distribuido en el centro y sur de Guerrero, Puebla, Tlaxcala e Hidalgo. Es
interesante este reparto a lo largo de la República Mexicana pues por un lado
nos habla de algunas de las regiones con mayor concentración de población
indígena y por el otro, de las entidades federativas con mayor tradición
de lucha agraria. A esto abría que agregar que no sólo se trata de
regiones indígenas con una cultura legalista, sino también de lugares en
donde las políticas liberales generaron su propia paradoja. Esto quiere decir
que los gobiernos locales al tiempo que enajenaban tierras comunales, también
abrieron los canales para que Estado y pueblos tuvieran sus interlocutores y se pudiera
entablar una lucha legal en la defensa-enajenación de las tierras de los

“Por otra parte, y hay que destacarlo, este material no sólo es importante
porque nos permite conocer la historia de la tenencia de la tierra, sino cómo
ésta se fue transformando en el largo plazo y cuál fue la complejidad de
sus cambios, así como de sus permanencias. La abundancia y riqueza diversa de
estos documentos nos permiten reconstruir la cuestión agraria de los pueblos y
regiones de México, no como un procedimiento lineal sino como un proceso
complejo y contradictorio, pleno de contradicciones, contrariedades y enfrentamientos.
La documentación es tan rica, que permite reconstruir los actores sociales:
pueblos y propietarios, por medio de sus argumentos y contra argumentos, versiones
oficiales y versiones de la gente. La mayoría de las veces o por lo menos los
procesos más largos y violentos fueron entre pueblos y particulares, aunque
también los hubo entre pueblos y a veces entre gente de un mismo pueblo.

“Indudablemente, todo ello conforma un valioso acervo de fuentes de primera mano
para el estudio de la historia agraria de nuestro país. Ahora, con este caudal
de material, se nos ofrece la oportunidad para trabajar nuevas historias. Podemos
plantearnos el reconstruir procesos que van más allá de una historia
agraria clásica y de rebasar los típicos estudios sobre tenencia de la
tierra y sus procesos legales de deslindes. Esta documentación nos ofrece el
reto para plantearnos nuevas preguntas, cuyas respuestas están esperando entre
las líneas de estos viejos papeles. Las nuevas interrogantes surgen del
reencuentro de la historia con la antropología, de la etnohistoria y de lo que
los franceses han aportado en el terreno de la historia de las mentalidades, así
como de la variante inglesa en el terreno de la historia cultural.

“Entre líneas encontraremos elementos para el estudio de la ritualidad
agraria, incluso cuando las comunidades están efectuando un proceso legal y de
la territorialidad de los pueblos entendida como la representación
simbólica del espacio (región) en donde viven, producen, se reproducen y
entierran a sus muertos. Estas son tan sólo algunas de tantas posibilidades que
contienen estos viejos papeles, pues las lecturas factibles son muchas. Por ello mismo
le agradecemos a Regina que nos haya hecho este regalo, pues el Catálogo
constituye una luz en una veta de oro, que hoy pone en nuestras manos para que los
estudiosos e interesados en los procesos agrarios reconstruyamos tantas nuevas
historias como nuestra imaginación nos lo permita.”

Please send an e-mail message to for more

6. From Richard Golde: “I am a prisoner working on independent studies relating to
the Aztec calendar system and the translation of the Cantares Mexicanos from Nahuatl to
English. Due to my limited access to study materials my progress is slow. I am asking
for any assistance at all. I can not pay for any help so it must be on a voluntary
basis. I have no access to the Internet and prison regulations forbid me from receiving
used books. I would particularly ask authors of Aztec studies to consider sending me
complimentary copies of their books, which must be sent from the publisher. I consider
myself competent and focused. I am just looking for some help on the rough spots. I
welcome correspondence from all those interested. Thank you.” Sent by Richard Golde,
#D-02443, C.S.P. L.A.C. C-4-244, 44750 60th St. West, Lancaster, CA 93536.

7. Louise Burkhart sends the following information about her new book, Before
Guadalupe: The Virgin Mary in Early Colonial Nahuatl Literature. IMS Monograph, 13.
Albany, N.Y.: Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, University at Albany; distributed by
the University of Texas Press, 2001. 260 pp. $25.00. ISBN 0-942041-21-6 (paper).

From the flyer:

“The introduction of the Virgin Mary to the Nahuas (or Aztecs) of Central Mexico has
often been linked with the origins of the Mexican devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
However, the Guadalupe devotion did not play a major role in indigenous life until
after its foundation legend was published in Spanish in 1648 and in Nahuatl the
following year. How, then, did Nahuas encounter, interpret, and appropriate
Christianity’s principal female figure?

“This anthology of Nahuatl-language texts offers the most in-depth examination to
date of how Marianism was introduced into a Native American linguistic and cultural
context. The texts, which include narratives, sermons, prayers, catechism lessons,
hymns, and chants, date from the 1540s to the 1620s and represent Franciscan,
Augustinian, Dominican, Jesuit, and Nahua authors.

“Far from fomenting some ‘syncretic’ mixing of Mary with native goddess cults or
presenting only rudimentary teachings, Catholic churchmen and Nahua scholars strove to
adapt into Nahuatl a large part of the medieval cult of Mary, with its feast days, the
rosary and other prayer traditions, and popular miracle legends. This was not simply an
expansion of Spanish-Christian hegemony, for Nahuas who mastered the discourses and
practices of Marian devotion controlled potent symbolic capital.

“Nahuatl texts and English translations are presented here in parallel columns,
making the book useful to students of Nahuatl as well as to anyone interested in
Marianism, evangelization, or Mexican religion. Extensive commentary on the texts
traces their European background and illuminates their meanings and uses in the Mexican

“Louise M. Burkhart is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Latin American and
Caribbean Studies and Director of the Institute for Mesoamerican Studies at the
University at Albany, SUNY.”

Order from: University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713 7819. By
phone: 800-252-3206, or fax: 800-687-6046.

8. Keiko Yoneda writes: “Soy investigadora del CIESAS del Golfo, y conocí The
Nahua Newsletter por medio de Maria Teresa Rodríguez de la misma
institución, y me pareció muy interesante el contenido. Abajo escribo una
pequeña presentación de mis estudios:

“Hasta ahora he trabajado sobre el conjunto de documentos pictográficos
producidos en Cuauhtinchan, en el siglo XVI, desde distintas perspectivas, y
abordé los siguentes temas: la cartografía, la historoiografía y
la escritura mesoamericanas. Analicé, asimismo, el contexto histórico en
los cuales se produjeron estos documentos, y las líneas de los mojones anotados
en ellos. Actualmente trabajo sobre la cultura chichimeca y su cosmovisión, con
base en el Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2, como tesis doctoral en Antropología, por
la UNAM. Agradezco su atención a la presente, y le envío un cordial
saludo. Atentamente.” Sent by Keiko Yoneda, CIESAS del Golfo, Av. Encanto, esq. Antonio
Nava, Col. El Mirador, Xalapa, Veracruz 91170 MEXICO.

9. James Maffie, a philosopher with an interest in Mesoamerica, has sent a copy of a
recent article that will be of interest to readers:

Maffie, James. 2002. “Why Care about Nezahualcoyotl?: Veritism and Nahua
Philosophy.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 32(1):71-91.

From the abstract:

“Sixteenth-century Nahua philosophy understands neltiliztli (truth) and
tlamitiliztli (wisdom, knowledge) nonsemantically in terms of a complex notion
consisting of well-rootedness, alethia, authenticity, adeptness, moral righteousness,
beauty, and balancedness. In so doing, it offers compelling a posteriori grounds for
denying what Alvin Goldman calls veritism. Veritism defends the universality of
correspondence (semantic) truth as well as the universal centrality of correspondence
(semantic) truth to epistemology.”

10. Walden Browne writes to alert readers to his book: Sahagún and the
Transition to Modernity. Oklahoma Project for Discourse and Theory, Vol. 20. Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8061-3233-7. 260 pp.

11. Roberto Campos Navarro has sent two books on his research into contemporary folk
medicine in Mexico. One is entitled Nosotros los curanderos: Experiencias de una
curandera tradicional en el México de hoy. México, D.F.: Editorial Patria
Nueva Imagen, 1997. ISBN 968-39-0952-3.

From the back cover:

“Los curanderos de México – tanto los urbanos como los rurales – ocupan un
espacio insustituible en el campo de la cultura médica popular. Forman parte de
nuestras raíces y, por ende, de nuestra identidad como nación.

“Nosotros los curanderos, de Roberto Campos Navarro, es un obra pionera que vuelve
accesible el universo de la medicina tradicional urbana; nos explica cuáles son
las enfermedades que con más frequencia se tratan, como el susto y el empacho,
para después aventurarse en el mundo de las hierbas medicinales y la influencia
de la medicina académica en la curandería, entre otros temas

“Aun en las postrimerías del siglo XX, en plena era tecnológica, se ha
comprobado que la medicina tradicional todavía ocupa un lugar incuestionable
entre las opciones curativas, y no sólo en México sino en el mundo
entero, donde hoy más que nunca los especialistas están volviendo los
ojos hacia los secretos milenarios de nuestros curanderos.”

The second book, edited by Roberto Campos, is entitled El empacho en la medicina
mexicana: Antología (siglos XVI-XX). México. D.F.: Instituto Nacional
Indigenista, Biblioteca de la medicina traditional, 2000. ISBN 970-18 5782-8.

From the Prólogo written by Ruy Pérez Tamayo:

“Este es un libro singular, ya que presenta un extenso estudio histórico,
antropológico, social y geográfico de una enfermedad tradicional, o
popular, conocida como empacho. Se presentan 79 textos relevantes, publicados a partir
del siglo XVI, empezando con el Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis, escrito en
1552, y terminando con observations contemporáneas en distintas partes del
país, entre las que destacan dos del propio autor: una, la descripción
(en primera persona) de ‘Todo lo que usted siempre habia querido saber acerca del
empacho y no se atrevia a preguntar,’ por una curandera de la ciudad de México,
que es un documento drámatico pero, al mismo tiempo, valiosísimo porque
revela el abismo que separa a la medicina tradicional, o popular, de la medicina
científica moderna; el otro, un relato de un caso clinico de empacho (visto en
1987) que da motivo a las únicas consideraciones analíticas de toda la
obra, que son principalmente de antropología social. Además, hay una
lista, impresionante por su longitud y su variedad, de los distintos elementos
utilizados en el tratamiento del empacho, classificados por siglos.”

12. The University of Oklahoma Press announces the 2001 publication of the English
edition of El Pasado Indígena (1996) by Alfredo López Austin and Leonardo
López Luján, translated by Bernard R. Ortiz de Montellano, in their
Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 240. ISBN 0-8061-3214-0 (cloth).

From the book jacket:

“This handsomely illustrated book offers a panoramic view of ancient Mexico,
beginning more than thirty thousand years ago and ending with European occupation in
the sixteenth century. Drawing on archaeological and ethnohistorical sources, the book
is one of the first to offer a unified vision of Mexico’s precolonial past.

“Typical histories of Mexico focus on the prosperity and accomplishments of
Mesoamerica, located in the southern half of Mexico, due to the wealth of records about
the glorious past of this region. Mesoamerica was only one of three cultural superareas
of ancient Mexico, however, all interlinked by complex economic and social

“Tracing the large social transformations that took place from the earliest
hunter-gatherer times to the Postclassic states, the authors describe the ties between
the three superareas of ancient Mexico, which stretched from present day Costa Rica to
what is now the southwestern United States. According to the authors, these superareas
– Mesoamerica, Aridamerica, and Oasisamerica – cannot be viewed as independent
entities. Instead, they must be considered as a whole to understand the complex reality
of Mexico’s past and possible visions of Mexico’s future.”

The work can be ordered by writing to Marketing and Sales, University of Oklahoma
Press, 4100 28th Avenue N.W., Norman, Oklahoma 73069, or on the Web at

Book Reviews

Nicholson, H. B. Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs. Mesoamerican Worlds. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2001. lxi + 360 pp., 1 map, 11 color plates, 10 figures. ISBN 0-8708-1547-4 (cloth). ISBN 0-8708-1554-7 (paper).

This interesting book, which has the rare privilege of being greeted at the outset
as a classic by the editors, David Carrasco and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma – a classic at
least for the happy few who had the honor and the pleasure of reading the author’s
Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard in 1957 – is a comprehensive compilation and appreciation
of most of the sources concerning Quetzalcoatl as Lord of Tollan. An editor’s note is
followed by a foreword written by Gordon Willey, a prologue by Alfredo López
Austin, and a preface and 1957 and 2001 introductions by Nicholson, who dedicates 30
pages to new sources or new editions and translations of sources on Quetzalcoatl. The
book would of course have been much more useful if those data had been incorporated and
taken into account in the text itself.

Duly prepared by these preliminaries, the reader arrives at the heart of the matter:
the “relevant Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl [TQ] material,” i.e., the written or pictorial
sources, retold in a slightly summarized way and preceded by a systematic presentation
of the sources and, if known, their authors. Next follows a summary of the essential
facts and an often very useful commentary on and appreciation of the material.

The sources are divided into ten parts, according to their provenience and
character. Understandably more than half of the text concerns Central Mexican Nahuatl
and non-Nahuatl sources (Parts 1-2). Next come Oaxaca, Chiapas, Highland Guatemala, the
Pipil, Nicaragua, Tabasco-Campeche, and Yucatan (Parts 3-9). Part 10 is dedicated to
archaeological evidence. Then follow 37 pages of “interpretation of the basic data,”
and in Part 12, a short conclusion.

A compilation implies a classification. The sources are classified not only by
region and date but also according to more subjective criteria. For Central Mexican
Nahuatl sources for example, Nicholson differentiates between “earliest accounts,
important supplementary accounts, important fragments, scraps,” but also “late,
probably distorted versions.” These distinctions may or may not be justified and the
criteria are disputable. Obvious Christian influences may still be interesting inasmuch
as they indicate that the Indian or Spanish authors saw relationships, for example,
between TQ and Jesus or one of his apostles. Ixtlilxochitl is completely unreliable
when he situates TQ at the time of Jesus (a detail omitted by Nicholson with good
reason) and still more perhaps when he introduces episodes of Western medieval history
into his writings to show that the Texcocoan royal court was comparable to the French
court. But to reject data as distorted because they differ too much among themselves or
from others, or because they identify Topiltzin with Huemac, appears to result from
preconceived ideas.

One may regret that Nicholson presents summaries, and not complete quotations of the
texts. To summarize is also to make choices and sometimes important details are lost.
At times he quotes passages literally in Spanish, but also in less familiar languages
such as Italian or 16th-century French, which has at least the advantage of avoiding
uncertain translations. For instance, in his 1965 translation of the Histoyre du
Méchique, Garibay translates erroneously “une pallace” by “palacio” instead of
“estera.” Quotations in Indian languages are absent. One may also regret that the
author omits interesting data, such as the mysterious text in which the Tenochca
dynasty “claimed direct descent from him [TQ]” (p. xlvii; see also Nicholson 2000).

Concerning the Codex Vaticanus A or Ríos, Nicholson observes that in the
scene depicting the end of the Fourth Sun, “there is nothingŠ that specifically
links this age with Tollan and the Toltecs” (p. 66). This is a surprising statement
because the image not only conveys the end of an era (and the fall of Tollan is the end
of an era), but also features an old woman distributing sacrificial banners to men, an
obvious reference to an episode in the fall of the Toltecs told in Sahagún’s
third book.

Sometimes the impression is conveyed that the author is less critical toward sources
in Nahuatl than in other languages, in particular Spanish. However, more than anything
else the Quetzalcoatl tale or myth or history certainly requires very careful, critical
scrutiny. Care is required because of post-Conquest reinterpretations and manipulations
by the Aztecs and the missionaries, who both had very good reasons to make a case that
there had been holy men and religious reformers among the Indians who rejected human

The final, interpretative Part 11 is the most disputable. The author reconstructs
what he calls “the basic Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl of Tollan tale” in seven main episodes
which in my view are easily reducible to two parts: TQ’s youth, with his victory over
his uncles who killed his father, his enthronement, and the foundation of Tollan; and a
second part with TQ’s fall and departure. He probably was “a significant religious
innovator who attempted to advance the cult of an old creator/fertility god symbolized
by the feathered serpent” (p. 260). It is a tale, says Nicholson, not myth: “‘Myth’
would clearly be a misnomer, unless one is willing to take an outright Brintonian
stand” (p. 252). And: “It is already evident, from preliminary remarks made in the
commentary sections, that I believe that a certain amount of genuine historicity
probably does adhere to Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl” (p. 255). He mentions in support (p.
258) “the Homeric epics, the Sanskrit Vedas, the Genesis Patriarchal tales, the Chinese
Huang Ti cycle, and the Arthurian romances,” which were still believed by some in the
1950s to be historical. After all, history is the easiest way to get rid of myth. To
quote Nicholson, “the rough outer shell of the marvelous” concealed “the valid
historical pearl.” It is the old classical attitude. Nicholson might say, like Plutarch
in his Life of Theseus, “May I therefore succeed in purifying Fable, making her submit
to reason and take on the semblance of History.” But he would not agree when Plutarch
goes on to write, “But where she obstinately disdains to make herself credible, and
refuses to admit any element of probability, I shall pray for kindly readers, and such
as receive with indulgence the tales of antiquity.” Nicholson omits such passages.
However he also frankly admits that today he would be “somewhat more cautious in
speculating along these lines” (pp. lix-lx).

Nicholson’s belief in “a certain amount of genuine historicity” comes as no surprise
because he excluded from the compilation “the purely supernatural figure, whom I shall
refer to as Ehecatl Quetzalcoatl.” He did concede that the two are “almost inextricably
entwined” and that “ideally, both aspects should be considered jointly.” But the ideal
demanded “a far more extensive investigation” (p. xxvi). So, looking for a man and
excluding the god, he found a man. He thereby continued the work of 16th-century
authors who equally “omitted the fables” (p. 11), for instance in the Juan Cano
Relaciones. But Juan Cano had very good reasons to ask for history, not myth because he
had to defend at court the claims of his wife, Motecuhzoma’s daughter.

One of the main problems with the historical Quetzalcoatl is that he appears both at
the beginning and the end of the Toltecs’ long history. Nicholson prefers the
beginning, others the end, but we have clearly seen in Nicholson’s reconstruction of
the tale that TQ is to be found at both ends of the chain, at the beginning and the end
of the Toltec era.

The data concern both the first and the last part of his life, and the first and
last part of the history of the Toltecs. Let us take a look at the first part of TQ’s
life, points one to three in Nicholson’s ordering. The man and the god are so entwined
that if the god Quetzalcoatl is famous for having descended into the underworld to find
bones from which to create humanity in the tale, the man Quetzalcoatl looks for the
bones of his murdered father, Mixcoatl, exhumes them, and buries them in Mixcoatl’s
Hill (Mixcoatepec). But Mixcoatl, whose bones his son collected, was also regarded as
the source of Mexico’s different nations.

Having buried his father, the man Quetzalcoatl kindles fire and vanquishes his
father’s assassins. He thus creates life, and more precisely creates the sun, as in a
New Fire ceremony on the top of Mixcoatl’s Hill (the hill was equated with the Cerro de
la Estrella where the sun was recreated by new fire every 52 years). His kindling of
fire at Mixcoatepec before killing his uncles reminds us of Huitzilopochtli-Sun
conquering his elder sister and brothers with his fire serpent at Coatepec. It also
reminds us of the myth of the creation of the sun at Teotihuacan by the sacrifice of
Nanahuatl, avatar or son of Quetzalcoatl.

One supernatural figure that Nicholson should have included, even if the name is not
equated with Quetzalcoatl, is the Tarascan deity called Siratatapeci. It cannot be
denied that the youth of this supernatural is quite comparable to that of TQ. In order
to explain horses to the Tarascan ruler, the Mexicas repeated the story of Siratatapeci
whose father attempted to conquer Achurihirepe’s village but was beaten by him in the
ballade and subsequently sacrificed. His son, born some time later, was raised as a
foundling, became a hunter, and an animal revealed to him what happened to his father.
Siratatapeci went to the murderer’s village to avenge his father, which he surely did
but it is not mentioned here because the purpose of the history is to explain what
horses were like. He exhumed the bones, carried them on his back, dropped them to shoot
quails, and his father turned into a deer (one of the names of TQ’s father, Mixcoatl,
was Mixcoatl-Deer, according to Craine and Reindorp 1970:63-65). Nicholson is well
aware that the theme of Quetzalcoatl’s vengeance on his uncles is “frequent in legends
and folktales” (p. 260), and this version should have been taken into account. The
story is also strikingly similar to the Popol Vuh where the twins’ adventures in the
underworld culminated in their jumping into the fire and their transformation into sun
and moon. Half a century ago, Krickeberg had already noticed the similarities between
the Twins’ adventures, Quetzalcoatl’s vengeance on Mixcoatepec, and the Aztec myth of

Placed in a broadened context that includes the Popol Vuh with its very ancient
myths, a context that includes dozens of modern ethnographic versions of the same tale,
the story of Quetzalcoatl appears to be the typical myth of the beginning of a new age
or Sun.

While the tales of the young Quetzalcoatl refer to the birth of a Sun, the myths of
the old Quetzalcoatl (points four to seven in the author’s ordering) placed in a wider
context refer to the end of an era or of a Sun. This wider context includes the myths
of paradise lost, of which Quetzalcoatl and the Toltecs’ transgressions in Tollan are
clearly a variant. When attention was first drawn to the impressive evidence of the
myths of paradise lost, there was scepticism which today has almost disappeared after
investigators, such as Florescano, Castellón Huerta, Olivier, and especially
López Austin, accepted them, the latter making them also a cornerstone of his
interpretation of Aztec cosmovision.

The confrontation of the texts concerning the young and the old Quetzalcoatl in what
Nicholson and other investigators regard as the most reliable sources, yields
fascinating results. The young and the old Quetzalcoatl are diametrically opposed. The
young one is a poor warrior, always on the move, always victorious, never deceived by
his enemies whom he kills and sacrifices. The old one is a priest who has riches, does
not leave his palace, does not sacrifice humans (in the paradisiacal Tollan disease and
death appear only as a result of transgressions) lets himself be deceived by his
enemies, loses, and dies. Quetzalcoatl at the end of Tollan reminds us of Motecuhzoma
at the end of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. He also remained in his city motionless, without
reaction consulting the gods, acting more like a priest than a warrior, always taken at
short notice by his Spanish opponents who were young valiant migrants who remind him of
what the Mexicas were at the beginning of their own history.

As I explained in my own compilation of sources about Quetzalcoatl, what these two
aspects of Quetzalcoatl stand for is the rise and the fall of an empire, an age, a Sun,
the period between, say, 700-1100, during which he seems to have been a major deity. A
somewhat comparable interpretation has recently been proposed by A. López Austin
and L. López Luján (1999) and by William M. Ringle, Tomás
Gallerete Negrón, and George J. Bey III (1998:9), for whom Quetzalcoatl
characterizes a period (or an epoch?). But Nicholson denied himself the possibility of
reaching similar conclusions by his choice of testimonies on Quetzalcoatl the man. He
barred from his collection texts as fundamental as the myth of Teotihuacan or the
important passage in the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus pinturas according to which
Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca alternated as rulers of the Suns or eras. The passage
explains why Quetzalcoatl was driven out of Tollan by Tezcatlipoca, who became the 5th
Sun under the aspect of Huitzilopochtli or the red Tezcatlipoca, and also explains why
the Aztecs feared the end of their Sun and the return of Quetzalcoatl.

In the present state of our sources, the historicity of TQ as main ruler of Tollan
cannot and has not been accepted by the scientific community. It is possible that an
important person named TQ ruled Tollan at a certain time, but with the material now at
hand, nothing can be said about his life. But the value of Nicholson’s book does not
rest on this tentative and cautious interpretations. It is and will remain a very rich,
precise, and useful compilation of sources on a major figure of pre-Hispanic Mexico by
one of the most important scholars in this field.

References Cited

Craine, Eugene R., and Reginald Carl Reindorp, eds. 1970. The Chronicles of
Michoacán. Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 98. Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press.   López Austin, Alfredo, and Leonardo
López Luján. 1999. Mito y realidad de Zuyuá: Serpiente Esplumada y
las transformaciones mesoamericanas del Clásico al Postclásico. Mexico:
El Colegio de México, Fideicomiso Historia de las Américas, Fondo de
Cultura Económica.

Nicholson, H. B. 2000. “The Iconography of the Feathered Serpent in Late Postclassic
Central Mexico.” In Mesoamerica’s Classic Heritage: From Teotihuacan to the Aztecs.
David Carrasco, Lindsay Jones, and Scott Sessions, eds., pp. 145-46. Boulder:
University Press of Colorado.   Ringle, William M., Tomás Gallerete
Negrón, and George J. Bey III. 1998. “The Return of Quetzalcoatl: Evidence for
the Spread of a World Religion during the Epiclassic Period.” Ancient Mesoamerica

Michel Graulich
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section des Sciences Religieuses, Sorbonne, Paris, and Université Libre, Bruxelles


H. B. Nicholson sends the NN the following comments:

Alan Sandstrom has forwarded to me a copy of this review, graciously providing me
with the opportunity to respond to it.

Commencing in the 1970s, Michel Graulich has published many interesting and
provocative papers on Mesoamerican ethnohistory, concentrating on religious/ritual and
calendric aspects, with special attention to myth. In 1982 (reissued in 1987) he
published his most important work, Mythes et rituels du Mexique ancien
préhispanique, a Spanish translation of which appeared in 1990 and an English
version (sans the section on the 18 veintena rituals) in 1997. In 1988, he also
published Quetzalcoatl y el espejísimo de Tollan, reiterating most of his ideas
concerning Mesoamerican myth while focusing particularly on Quetzalcoatl, whom he has
called “the most controversial figure in ancient Mesoamerica.”

Graulich’s studies are characterized by an ambitious attempt to determine the basic
underlying, unifying structure of Mesoamerican myth, invoking in his analyses and
interpretations the “new comparative mythology” of Levi-Strauss, Dumezil, and others.
They constitute a remarkable melange of densely packed information derived from primary
ethnohistorical sources and modern Middle American ethnographic “survivals,” (and even,
occasionally, indigenous South American myths), intertwined with a plethora of
interpretative hypotheses. Some of these agree with the views of earlier scholars, such
as Eduard Seler, but they also frequently strike out in interesting new directions.

In his publications on Mesoamerican myth and ritual – and especially in his 1988
book – Graulich has taken a determinedly “mythicist” approach to Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl
and the Toltecs. He is highly skeptical of any amount of genuine historicity in the
accounts of Tollan and its empire. Rather, conflating the creator/wind deity Ehecatl
Quetzalcoatl (EQ) and the priest/ruler Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl (TQ), he attempted to
explain the “history” of the Toltecs and their most prominent lord in essentially
mythic terms.

This is hardly the appropriate place for a serious analysis and discussion of the
broad array of Graulich’s frequently somewhat controversial views. In this reply to his
review of my book I will limit myself to comments on specific points that he has
raised. Graulich, in effect, deplores the fact that I did not incorporate new data
provided by editions and analyses of the primary sources published since 1957 into the
body of the text. Summarizing these new data in an introduction at least had the
advantage of highlighting the recent progress that has been made in this field –
particularly in providing students with more accurate and accessible editions of the
primary sources and more thorough analyses of them. In any case, I hope I did succeed
in my aim of specifying any significant modifications and corrections of or additions
to the text that have been necessitated by the appearance of these post-1957

Graulich clearly entertains some doubt concerning the validity of my classification
of the primary sources on TQ. Here I was indeed advancing what amounted to a series of
hypotheses. I would not expect any of my fellow students to entirely agree with my
classification. But it did seem to me that some attempt to classify the tangled,
complicated skein of the primary sources that provide so many differing accounts of his
life and career might be helpful when comparing and analyzing them. My tentative
reconstruction of what I called “The Basic Topilztin Quetzalcoatl of Tollan Tale,” in
an attempt to ascertain an approximation of what might have been taught concerning TQ
in the calmecac(s) of the leading Central Mexican polities at the time of the Conquest,
was perhaps the most audacious of my hypotheses – and I certainly regard it as a fair
target for criticism and analysis. Graulich opines that it is regrettable that
“Nicholson presents summaries, and not complete quotations of texts.” My decision to
provide summaries rather than complete texts was necessitated, of course, by practical
considerations of space and length. What is most crucial with regard to these summaries
is the question of their accuracy and completeness, which I strove to attain. How well
I have succeeded, the reader can judge.

Regarding my occasional quotations of passages from the primary sources in Spanish,
French, and Italian, this was done both to convey something of the original linguistic
flavor of these sources and, in some cases, to avoid translational ambiguities. These
three European languages are familiar to most educated persons. On the other hand, I
refrained from quoting passages in the indigenous languages because I felt that they
would be out of place in a book intended for a general readership.

I am not sure I understand Graulich’s reference to “the mysterious text in which the
Tenochca dynasty ‘claimed direct descent from him [TQ].'” Can he be doubting, after the
sources that I cited in support, that Motecuhzoma II was believed to have been the
direct dynastic descendant of TQ, occupying, in effect, a “borrowed throne”? I am
convinced that the case for the existence of this belief at the time of the Conquest,
at least in Mexico Tenochtitlan, is a strong one.

Concerning my supposed failure to recognize that the depiction of the fourth
cosmogonic Era, or Sun, on fol. 7r of the Codex Vaticanus A refers to the fall of
Tollan, I did clearly so state, based on the annotatory text, but at the same time
observed that there is nothing in the illustration that specifically connotes Tollan or
the Toltecs. I agree that the figures carrying the sacrificial banners almost certainly
do constitute a reference to the fall of the Toltec imperial capital.

I do not believe that the sources in Nahuatl are necessarily more reliable than
those in Spanish or other languages. However, they are undeniably of particular value
due to the fact that the information they convey was expressed in the indigenous
communication system. Regarding the reviewer’s remark that the TQ tale “certainly
requires very careful, critical scrutiny,” one of the major purposes of my book was
precisely to emphasize the importance and indispensability of this task – in the face
of so much uncritical use of the sources concerning TQ, especially by popular

As indicated, Graulich has always expressed a strong preference for a mythicist
interpretation of the narratives concerned with TQ, so it is hardly surprising that he
is quite critical of my consideration of the possibility of some degree of historicity
in the basic Tale. It is true, as he recognizes, that I have become increasingly less
optimistic over the years that we will ever be able to “solve” this question in any
definitive fashion. However, I still think it unlikely that all accounts of the Toltecs
and TQ can be explained as pure myth. Certainly the Mesoamericans had developed many of
the tools that facilitated their ability to maintain their histories, e.g., writing
systems, well developed calendrics, and animal skin and paper screenfolds and cotton
sheets on which could be recorded and stored much historical information. By the Late
Postclassic, if not much earlier, there is little doubt that every sizable polity was
systematically recording its history. And the same goes for the maintenance of highly
structured poetic oral narratives that could also convey much valuable historical

In any case, whatever one’s views, undeniably the problem of deciding between
history and myth – in the case of numerous Old World heroes and ancient rulers, some of
whom I cited – can be a formidable one. Graulich implies, in reference to those “which
were still believed by some in the 1950s,” that any recognition of possible elements of
historicity in narratives concerning them has been discarded – and, ergo, that my views
are outdated. I would regard this putative final victory of the mythicists as somewhat
premature. I doubt that all critical scholars would agree, particularly in the cases
of, for example, the Iliad and the biblical Patriarchal, Mosaic, and early Hebrew
Monarchial narratives. Raglan may have won many battles, but I don’t think all – or at
least not yet.

In the case of TQ, it may well be that only further archaeological discoveries can
provide significant new information relevant to the problem of his possible
historicity. With excavations continuing at Tula, perhaps there is some hope –
although, as I have stressed in earlier articles, the difficulties of successfully
meshing archaeological data with traditional histories must always be clearly

Apropos of this problem, Graulich makes the odd statement: “So, looking for a man
and excluding the god [EQ], he found a man.” I, of course, did not “find” a “man.” The
“man” was there when Cortés arrived – in the historical traditions of many of
the indigenous polities. Although in some of the accounts he had been invested with at
least quasi-supernatural status and at death had been converted into a sacred star, TQ
was clearly regarded, in what appear to be the earliest and most reliable accounts, to
have been an essentially human, usually royal figure. Graulich correctly recognizes
that “One of the main problems with the historical (sic!) Quetzalcoatl is that he
appears both at the beginning and the end of the Toltecs’ long history (sic!).” This
has been recognized as a problem from the beginning of serious research on the “Toltec
problem,” concerning which major scholars have often differed (most notably,
Jiménez Moreno vs. Kirchoff).

Graulich, always conflating EQ and TQ, typically explains this seeming contradiction
in terms of solar mythology. I preferred the earlier TQ because most of the “core
group” of primary sources appeared to support this placement I am also faulted for not
including in my discussions and comparisons the “Tarascan deity” called Siratatapeci,
whose tale is recounted in the Relación de Michoacan and which Graulich has
previously discussed. I agree that there are elements in this narrative that resemble
some in the TQ Tale, particularly some that have a widespread folkloristic
distribution. However, I very much doubt that Siratatapeci’s tale constituted a genuine
West Mexican variant of that of TQ. As for the Popol Vuh, I did include this important
source in my comparisons, taking a more conservative stance than Graulich
vis-à-vis the possibility of its narrative displaying some resemblances to the
TQ Tale.

Graulich concludes his review by reiterating, in some detail, his interpretative
hypothesis, developed particularly in his 1987[1982] and 1988 books, that “the story of
Quetzalcoatl appears to be the typical myth of the beginning of a new age or Sun. While
the tales of the young Quetzalcoatl refer to the birth of a Sun, the myths of the old
Quetzalcoatl placed in a wider context refer to the end of an era or Sun. This wider
context includes the myths of paradise lost, of which Quetzalcoatl and the Toltecs’
transgressions in Tollan are clearly a variant.” He appears confident that, after
initial skepticism, his controversial “paradise lost” hypothesis has won the day. He
also suggests that, with the two aspects of Quetzalcoatl standing for “the rise and
fall of an empire, an age, a Sun, the period between, say 700-1100, during which he
seems to have been a major deity,” I denied myself similar conclusions because of my
separation of EQ and TQ.

Both Graulich and I are attempting to better understand and explain, based on only a
battered remnant of a set of traditions that describe the rise and fall of a prominent
priest/ruler of the past who, in most versions, was believed to have ruled for a time
over an imperial capital and then departed – but expected to return to reestablish his
royal dignity. Graulich prefers to interpret these putatively historical traditions as
basically solar myths. I, on the other hand,, while recognizing that many mythic and
folkloristic elements have obviously been incorporated into them, entertain the
possibility that they contain some degree of genuine historicity. To me it seems
unlikely that all historical knowledge of the Early Postclassic, the period ascribed in
the traditions to the Toltecs and their rulers, would have been lost, especially
considering the undoubted strong interest in their history of the Mesoamericans and
their possession of the necessary means to preserve it.

Finally, I agree that, “In the present state of our sources, the historicity of TQ
as the main ruler of Tollan cannot and has not been accepted by the scientific
community.” But it is certainly not implausible. Future archaeological discoveries may,
hopefully, throw further light on the problem. Graulich’s particular mythic
interpretation of the TQ tradition must be regarded as a stimulating hypothesis
deserving of serious consideration. But it is just that, an hypothesis, to be further
tested and carefully examined before being accepted as a definitive solution to a very
challenging set of historical problems. If my book does nothing else, I would hope that
it will stimulate further research and discussion concerning the personage, mythic or
historical, who has been generally agreed to be the most fascinating and enigmatic
figure of ancient America.

H. B. Nicholson
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology
University of California, Los Angeles

Illustrations in this issue

The illustrations in this issue were taken from Alfredo López Austin and
Leonardo López Luján’s Mexico’s Indigenous Past. Translated by Bernard R.
Ortiz de Montellano. Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 240. Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 2001. $39.95 (cloth). ISBN 0-8061 3214-0.

Nahua newsletter subscriber list

This supplement to the February 2002 Nahua Newsletter provides an updated
alphabetical list of the names and addresses of NN subscribers. We have done everything
possible to insure the accuracy of each entry but mistakes are inevitable. If you
detect an error, please drop a note to the editor and the correction will appear in the
next issue. Your help in this matter will be greatly appreciated.

A number of subscribers have written to suggest that we include e-mail addresses in
the directory. Unfortunately we do not have the clerical support to make this
enhancement possible. Readers should be able to locate a colleague’s e-mail address
with ease using a Web search engine such as with the institutional
affiliation or city information provided here for each NN subscriber.

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

About the illustration

The image that appears below was cut by a Nahua ritual specialist from the village
of Teposteco, near Chicontepec in northern Veracruz. It represents simultaneously
tonana tlalticpac, “our mother earth’s surface, “totata tlalticpac, “our father earth’s
surface,” and totiotsij, “our sacred deity.” It is cut from hand made bark paper and
was collected by Lic. Arturo Gómez Martínez, a Nahuatl speaker who has
published widely on Nahua religion. Plant images are cut from the figure’s body and a
phallic-vaginal symbol indicates that the spirit incorporates male and female
characteristics. The headdress may be the open jaws of the earth. In Nahua belief from
this area, the earth is an ambivalent figure that is the source of fertility and life,
and at the same time, a devourer of the dead. A rich and complex religious system is
found in northern Veracruz and the surrounding region among the Nahua, Tepehua, and
Otomi, based on the depiction of key spirit entities in such cut-paper images. Ritual
specialists place the images on elaborate altars and dedicate offerings to them,
including blood.

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