Number 35

Editor’s Note: This content is archival.

Nahua Newsletter

February 2003, Number 35

The Nahua Newsletter

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

Alan R. Sandstrom, Editor

With support from the Department of Anthropology

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne


Nahua Newsletter News

Welcome to the 35th issue of the Nahua Newsletter. The Nahua Newsletter is published
in the fall and spring each year to help readers keep abreast of developments in the
study of indigenous Mesoamerican peoples. In the pages that follow, you will find news
items, book reviews, directory updates, and a personal commentary by Esther Pasztory on
Aztec art and the lure of Aztec violence for modern scholars. The Nahua Newsletter is
dedicated to professionals, students, and anyone with an interest in indigenous
Mesoamerica with particular emphasis on the culture, history, and language of
Nahuatl-speaking peoples. Our only mission is to be of service to our readers by acting
as a communications link among people scattered all over the world who have similar
research agendas and concerns.

Interest in the Nahua Newsletter continues to grow. With this issue we have reached
the milestone of 400 subscribers in 15 different countries. The NN is sent to
individuals but also, as an added service, to some of the great research libraries in
the world. It is also posted and made accessible via the Web at, and who
knows how many people may actually be consulting the Nahua Newsletter? Our project of
mounting all past issues on the Web continues. We are in the process of editing the
scanned older issues and with luck you may consult the earliest published issues within
a month or so.

As most of you already know, the Nahua Newsletter is self-sustaining in that over
the past 17 and a half years, with the exception of a few small grants received,
subscriber donations have fully covered the costs of printing and mailing. If you wish
to join the list of generous benefactors who support our publication, please send
checks made out to Nahua Newsletter to the address printed below. Any donation is
welcome and all money is used to cover costs of printing and mailing. There are
absolutely no administrative costs. Speaking of contributions to the success of the
Nahua Newsletter, we would like to take this opportunity to thank Donna Rhodes,
secretary of the Department of Anthropology at IPFW, for her help in preparing the
newsletter for mailing.

If you have any news or wish to communicate with people of similar interests, please
send items to the address below. If the text is more than a line or two, please send it
on a diskette saved in either WordPerfect or some standard word processing software.
You can also send it via e-mail to Sending your communication in
electronic format saves work and insures the accuracy of your message. Feel free to ask
questions of other readers, advertise your own work or interests, make announcements to
readers, offer critiques of publications or the comments of others, express your
concerns, give us your opinions, or make a general nuisance of yourself. It is all
grist for the Nahua Newsletter.

Here, for example, is a challenge to ethnohistorians and others concerned with the
history of Mesoamerica. Several recent publications with a postmodern slant have
asserted that the work of the 16th-century cleric Bernardino de Sahagún presents
a thoroughly distorted or completely false picture of Aztec social life and customs
(see book review below). Some authors speak of the “violence” that Sahagún has
done to his subjects in his monumental General History of the Things of New Spain. The
basic idea is that Sahagún and his fellow chroniclers were absolutely unable to
extricate themselves from their own 16th-century cultural understandings and the
imperialist project of which they were a part, and thus their writings are about Spain
and Europe and not at all about the Aztecs and other indigenous groups at the time. Any
opinions on this topic? Did Sahagún commit violence against the Aztecs? Please
forward your views and I will be glad to print them in the next issue. Please send your
thoughts on this issue, financial support, or other news items and announcements

Alan R. Sandstrom
Editor, 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. Keiko Yoneda, of the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en
Antropología Social (CIESAS) ­ Golfo, writes to let readers know of three
recent Spanish publications that will be of interest. They all appear in the Journal of
Intercultural Studies, a publication of Kansai University of Foreign Studies in Japan.
The first is “Reflexiones sobre la cultura chichimeca = Reflections on Chichimeca
Culture.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 26(1999):225-239.

Abstract: “The object of the research is to analyze the pre-Hispanic Chichimecas’
cosmovision as revealed in the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan no. 2 (MC2), a pictorial document
produced in Cuauhtinchan, Puebla, in the 16th century. To recognize the Chichimecas’
cultural elements painted on MC2, I examined the archaeological research about the
culture of the groups who lived in north Mexico as well as the relevant ethnohistorical
documents and compared this information to the picture writing appearing on the ancient
map. In this article I concentrate on the use of fire among the Chichimecs both as a
form of technology necessary for survival and as an element of cosmovision.”

Second, is the article entitled, “Reflexiones sobre la organización
socio-política y a religión de los chichimecas (siglo XII) = Reflections
on the Socio-Political and Religious Organization of the Chichimecas (12th Century).”
Journal of Intercultural Studies 27(2000):184-193.

Abstract: “The research is on indigenous Chichimec cosmovision based on the Mapa de
Cuauhtinchan no. 2 (MC2), a pictographic document produced in Cuauhtinchan, Puebla in
the 16th century. The map documents the Chichimec migration from Chicomoztoc (Seven
Caves) and their settlement near the Amozoc-Tepeaca mountains. During this period many
ethnic groups were in contact and there was an exchange of cultural elements such as
subsistence technology and religion. In this article, I focus on the socio-political
organization and religion of the Chichimecs during the period of migration in the 12th

The third article appears in the same journal and is entitled “La migración
chichimeca y su cosmovisión (siglo XII): Un estudio acerca de ehecatl, el dios
del viento = The Chichimeca Migration and their Cosmovision in the 12th Century: A
Study of Ehecatl, the God of Wind.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 28 (2001

Abstract: “The object of this research is to analyze pre-Hispanic Chichimec
cosmovision as found in the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan no. 2 (MC2), a 16th-century pictorial
document of Cuauhtinchan, Puebla. The history covered is from the 12th to the 15th
century. Recent information from ethnography allows for the analysis of Ehecatl, the
God of Wind, found in MC2. The Chichimec migration from Chicomoztoc (Seven Caves) to
Cholollan (present-day Cholula) is described as well as the Chichimec defeat of an
ethnic group called Xochimilca Ayapanca in the 12th century.”

2. María Teresa Rodríguez López writes to make readers aware of
a book that she and Andrés Hasler Hangert have published entitled Los Nahuas de
Zongolica. México, D.F.: Instituto Nacional Indigenista, 2000. ISBN

From the back cover: “En este volumen, María Teresa Rodríguez y
Andrés Hasler presentan una síntesis etnográfica basada en su
experiencia de investigacion entre nahuas de la Sierra de Zongolica, cubriendo los
siguientes aspectos: ciclo de vida, salud y enfermedad, demografía,
organización social, migración, historia y lenguaje.”

3. The University of Utah Press has forwarded a copy of a new book that will be of
interest to readers. It is entitled The Postclassic Mesoamerican World. Michael E.
Smith and Frances F. Berdan, eds. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2003. ISBN
0-87480-734-4. Following is the table of Index

Part 1: An Ancient World System

1. “Postclassic Mesoamerica,” by Michael E. Smith and Frances F. Berdan.

2. “Conceptualizing Macroregional Interaction: World-Systems Theory and the
Archaeological Record,” by Susan Kepecs and Philip Kohl.

3. “Spatial Structure of the Mesoamerican World System,” by Michael E. Smith and
Frances F. Berdan.

Part 2: Polities

4. “Small Polities in Postclassic Mesoamerica,” by Michael E. Smith.

5. “Political Organization in Yucatan and Belize,” by Susan Kepecs and Marilyn A.

6. “Highland Maya Polities,” by Geoffrey E. Braswell.

7. “The Polities of Xoconochco,” by Janine Gasco.

8. “West Mexico beyond the Tarascan Frontier,” by Helen Perlstein Pollard.

9. “Aztec City-States in the Basin of Mexico and Morelos,” by Michael E. Smith.

10. “Creation Stories, Hero Cults, and Alliance Building: Confederacies of Central and
Southern Mexico,” by John M. D. Pohl.

11. “The Aztec Empire,” by Frances F. Berdan and Michael E. Smith.

12. “Borders in the Eastern Aztec Empire,” by Frances F. Berdan.

13. “The Tarascan Empire,” by Helen Perlstein Pollard.

14. “The Aztec/Tarascan Border,” by Helen Perlstein Pollard and Michael E. Smith.

Part 3: Economic Networks

15. “The Economy of Postclassic Mesoamerica,” by Frances F. Berdan.

16. “An International Economy,” by Frances E Berdan, Marilyn A. Masson, Janine Gasco,
and Michael E. Smith.

17. “International Trade Centers,” by Janine Gasco and Frances F. Berdan.

18. “Key Commodities,” by Michael E. Smith.

19. “Salt Sources and Production,” by Susan Kepecs.

20. “Obsidian Exchange Spheres,” by Geoffrey E. Braswell.

21. “Metal Production,” by Dorothy Hosler.

22. “Ritual Ideology and Commerce in the Southern Mexican Highlands,” by John M. D.

Part 4: Information Networks

23. “Information Networks in Postclassic Mesoamerica,” by Michael E. Smith.

24. “Postclassic International Styles and Symbol Sets,” by Elizabeth H. Boone and
Michael E. Smith.

25. “The Late Postclassic Symbol Set in the Maya Area,” by Marilyn A. Masson.

26. “Ritual and Iconographic Variability in Mixteca-Puebla Polychrome Pottery,” by John
M. D. Pohl.

27. “A Web of Understanding: Pictorial Codices and the Shared Intellectual Culture of
Late Postclassic Mesoamerica,” by Elizabeth H. Boone.

Part 5: Regional Case Studies

28. “Themes in World-System Regions,” by Frances E Berdan.

29. “Development of a Tarascan Core: The Lake Patzcuaro Basin,” by Helen Perlstein

30. “The Evolution of a Core Zone: The Basin of Mexico,” by Frances F. Berdan and
Michael E. Smith.

31. “Royal Marriage and Confederacy Building among the Eastern Nahuas, Mixtecs, and
Zapotecs,” by John M. D. Pohl.

32. “Economic Change in Morelos Households,” by Michael E. Smith.

33. “Chikinchel,” by Susan M. Kepecs.

34. “Economic Patterns in Northern Belize,” by Marilyn A. Masson.

35. “Soconusco,” by Janine Gasco.

36. “K’iche’an Origins, Symbolic Emulation, and Ethnogenesis in the Maya Highlands,
A.D. 1450-1524,” by Geoffrey E. Braswell.

Part 6: Synthesis and Comparisons

37. “Different Hemispheres, Different Worlds,” by Philip L. Kohl and Evgenij N.

38. “A Perspective on Late Postclassic Mesoamerica,” by Frances F. Berdan, Susan
Kepecs, and Michael E. Smith.

4. The NN received following message from Mexico: “Estimados (as) colegas y amigos.
Por este medio nos permitimos informarles de la aparición de el Boletín
del Archivo Histórico del Agua núm. 20 (año 7, enero-abril, 2002),
el cual contó con el apoyo de la Comisión Nacional del Agua, Archivo
Histórico del Agua. Colegio Mexiquense, Colegio de Michoacán, y CIESAS, y
que fue coordinado por el Dr. Luis Aboites.



“Entre el Porfiriato y un gobierno posrevolucionario: La fábrica de Metepec
(Puebla) frente al gobierno federal, 1900-1919,” por Rocío Castañeda

“Reconstrucción histórica de los sistemas hidráulicos de Texcoco,
siglo XIX,” por Diana Birrichaga Gardida.

“Conflictos por el agua entre la hacienda Nogueras y las comunidades indígenas
de Comala, Colima, 1912-1940,” por Pablo Serrano Álvarez.

“Fin de un sueño: Notas sobre la extinción de la Secretaría de
Recursos Hidráulicos,” por Luis Aboites Aguilar.

“San Miguel Xaltocan: La hacienda durante el periodo revolucionario,” por Ivett
Verónica García Arenas.

“El Archivo de Aguas Nacionales: Memoria de la transferencia de un acervo documental,”
por Víctor Hugo Escalante Razo.

Notas del pasado: El agua en la prensa.

Noticias del agua..

“Mayores informes en torno al Boletín y al Archivo Histórico del Agua,
comunicarse al teléfono 55217362 o al correo electrónico: Si usted ha recibido
regularmente el Boletín pronto lo tendrá en sus manos, sino le
solicitaríamos no los comunicara, así como su posible interés en
recibir este y los siguientes números.”

5. Here is another message from Mexico that will be of interest to readers:
“Estimadas (os) colegas. Por este medio nos permitimos comunicarles la reciente
aparición del Boletín del Archivo Histórico del Agua, núm.
21 (año 7, mayo-agosto 2002), el cual fue coeditado por la Comisión
Nacional del Agua , AHA, El Colegio Mexiquense, El Colegio de Michoacán, y
CIESAS. En esta ocasión esta publicación cuenta con los siguientes
trabajos y secciones.


“El agua y la producción en el espacio social caraqueño, siglos
XVI-XVIII,” por Mario Sanoja Obediente r Iraida Vargas-Arenas.

“Cambios históricos en el aprovechamiento del agua en la Ciénega de
Chapala,” por Brigitte Boehm Schoendube.

“Empoderamiento, agua y saneamiento rural en el Perú: La contratación por
la comunidad,” por Oscar Castillo.

“Protección del agua y seguridad: El Instituto Nacional de Seguridad
Hidrológica,” por José Arturo Yañez Romero.

Reseña: Jacinta Palerm Viqueira en torno al libro de Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, To
Defend our Water with the Blood of our Veins: The Struggle for Resources in Colonial

En torno al AHA: Sistema de consulta del Archivo Histórico del Agua
(SIDECO-AHA), por Nora Duana Calette.

Notas del pasado: El agua en la prensa.

Noticias del agua.

Nuevas adquisiciones de la Biblioteca del AHA.

“Si a usted le interesa recibir este Boletín, y no ha recibido los
anteriores, puede solicitarlo por este medio al Archivo Histórico del Agua;”

6. And here is another communication from Mexico about a new publication: Los ejes
de la disputa: Movimientos sociales y actores colectivos en América Latina,
siglo XIX. Antonio Escobar Ohmstede y Romana Falcón, eds. Madrid: AHILA;
Iberoamericana; Vervuert, 2002. 270 pp.

“Este libro constituye un esfuerzo colectivo por analizar las variadas formas en que
los grupos desheredados y mayoritarios de las ciudades y campo de América Latina
incidieron en el devenir histórico de estos países. Estudia su impacto en
las movilizaciones populares y en los procesos que fueron dando forma a los Estados
nacionales modernos desde el Río Bravo a la Patagonia. La obra retoma parte de
la reflexión que ha surgido en las últimas décadas en la historia,
la antropología y sociología latinoamericanistas que atañe a las
variadas acciones de los actores sociales y que van desde las resistencias hasta las
insurgencias populares.”


“Los ejes de la disputa. Introducción,” por Antonio Escobar Ohmstede y Romana

“La otra rebelión: un perfil social de la insurgencia popular en México,
1810-1815,” por Eric van Young.

“Montoneras, la comuna de Chalaco y la revolución de Piérola: la sierra
piurana entre el clientelismo y la sociedad civil, 1868-1895,” por Nils Jacobsen y
Alejandro Díez Hurtado.

“La esclavitud, el movimiento obrero y el colonialismo en Cuba, 1850-1890,” por Joan
Casanovas Codina.

“Luchas por la autonomía. La resistencia campesina al capitalismo en la
República Dominicana, 1870-1924,” por Michiel Baud.

“El oro y la guerra en el desierto de Sonora: los enfrentamientos o’odham-mexicano de
1840,” por Cynthia Radding.

“Patrones de dominio: Estado contra itinerantes en la frontera norte de México,
1864-1876,” por Romana Falcón.

“Mapuche, colonos nacionales y colonos extranjeros en la Araucanía: Conflictos y
movilizaciones en el siglo XIX,” por Jorge Pinto Rodríguez.


7. Here is a final announcement from Mexico regarding another recent publication:
“Recientemente la Colección Agraria, coordinada por la Dra. Teresa Rojas
Rabiela, ha publicado un nuevo texto: Memoria agraria mexicana en imágenes:
cuatro ensayos. I. Gutiérrez, M. R. Gudiño, J. I. Romero, y S.Luis
Contreras, eds. México, D.F.: CIESAS; RAN, 2002.

“A raíz de los trabajos efectuados por el CIESAS en el Archivo General
Agrario, gracias al convenio celebrado con el Registro Agrario Nacional de 1997 hasta
2001, encaminados a catalogar la documentación, publicar índices y
catálogos de sus fondos e investigar en los mismos, se conoció la
existencia de un filón de información desconocido, constituido por miles
de fotografías integradas en diversos expedientes agrarios de
restitución, dotación y ampliación de ejidos.

“La propuesta de plasmar una muestra de esas miles de fotos que componen el acervo
del AGA, se plasma ahora en este libro. En los capítulos que lo componen se
recogen las reflexiones y análisis hechos por sus cuatro autores sobre la
fotografía en general y sobre algunas fotografías de ese acervo en
particular.” Contacto:

8. María Rodríguez-Shadow sends notice of the following

III Mesa de Estudios de Género, Primera Reunion Internacional

“La Condición de las Mujeres y las Relaciones de Género en
Mesoamérica Prehispánica,”

Abril 28-30, 2003 (entrada libre)

Sede: Auditorio del Centro Cultural Isidro Fabela, Plaza de San Jacinto # 5, Col.
San Ángel, Delegación Coyoacán, 01000, México, D. F. / tel.
01(55) 5616-2058 / 01(55) 5616-0797.

Lunes 28 de abril

10:00 a.m., Declaración de inauguración, Mtra. Gloria Artís,
Coordinadora Nacional de Investigación INAH.

10:20 ­ 10:40, María Rodríguez-Shadow, DEAS, INAH. “Las pesquisas
en torno al género en Mesoamérica.”

10:40 ­11:00, Dra. Elizabeth Brumfiel, Albion College. “El papel de la
arqueología en los estudios feministas y de género.”

Area maya / Moderadora: Mtra. María Elena Lopes

11:20 ­ 11:40, Dra. Amelia Trevelyan, Principia College. “Architecture of the
Feminine: Uxmal, Yucatan.”

11:40 ­12:00, Dr. Antonio Benavides, INAH, Campeche. “Relevancia de la mujer
maya precolombina.”

12:00 ­13:00, Presentacion Del Libro. Ancient Maya Gender Identity and
Relations. Lowell Gustafson y Amelia Trevelyan, eds. Westport, Conn.: Bergin &
Garvey, 2002. Comentaristas: Mtra. Carmen Lechuga, DEA, INAH, Dr. Antonio Benavides,
INAH, Campeche, Dra. Rosemary A. Joyce, University of California Berkeley.

16:00-16:20, Dra. Sara Beatriz Guardia, CEMHAL, Perú. “La mujer en las
culturas del antiguo Perú.”

16:20 ­ 16:40, Mtra. Marina Anguiano, DEAS, INAH. “Peinados y tocados femeninos:
Epocas prehispánica y actual.”

16:40 ­ 17:00, Dra. María Elena Bernal, UAE Morelos. “El ordenamiento del
espacio terrestre: tarea fundamental de la Diosa Madre de Palenque.”

17:00 ­ 17:20, Dr. Ernesto González, ENAH. “Estado y sociedad: estudio de
género en el Valle de Oaxaca.”

17:20 ­17:40, Dr. Lowell Gustafson, Villanova University. “Gender, Lineage, and

Martes 29 de abril: Area nahua

10:00 ­10:20, Dra. Silvia Garza, INAH, Morelos. “Señora 3 Mono.”

10:20 ­10:40, Lic. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, University of Calgary. “Urning Ones
Gender: An Engendered Approach to Zapotec Funerary Urns.”

10:40 ­ 11:00, Dr. Geoffrey y Sharisse McCafferty, Calgary University. “El
genero como proceso: Evidencias en los restos mortuarios postclásicos de

11:20 ­ 11:40, Dra. Walburga Wiesheu, ENAH. “Jerarquía de género y
organización de la producción en los estados prehispánicos.”

11:40 ­12:00, Mtra. Noemí Castillo, DEA, INAH. “Presencia femenina en las
exploraciones de la zona arqueológica de Tehuacan, Puebla.”

12:00 ­12:20, Dra. Beatriz Barba, DEAS, INAH. “Figuras femeninas del

12:20 ­ 12:40, Mtra. Vladimira Palma, CIESAS, Mtro. Miguel Guevara, ENAH. “El
papel de la mujer en el pago de tributo en la triple alianza.”

12:40 ­13:00, Dra. Sharisse y Geoffrey McCafferty Calgary University.
“Guerreras: El papel de las mujeres en la guerra prehispánica.”

16:00 ­ 16:20, Dra. Cecelia Klein, UCLA. “A New Interpretation of the Coatlicue

16:20 ­ 17:20, Presentacion del libro, Gender in Pre-Hispanic America. Cecelia
F. Klein and Jeffrey Quilter, eds. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library
and Collections, 2001. Comentaristas: Dra. Antonella Fagetti, ICSI, BUAP; Mtra. Sara
Molinari, DEAS, INAH.

17:20 ­17:40, Dr. Nicolas Balutet, Université Lorraine. “¿Eran los
nahuas misóginos?”

Miercoles 30 de abril / Moderadora: Mtra. Sara Molinari

10:00 ­ 10:20, Dra. Antonella Fagetti, ICSyH, BUAP. “El peine y la muerte:
Rituales funerarios en un pueblo nahua.”

10:20 ­10:40, Mtro. José Manuel Chavez, UNAM. “Las dos últimas
lunas de El Chorro, Belice: Mujeres mayas descendientes de desplazados por la Guerra de
Castas de Yucatán.”

10:40 ­ 11:00, Kerry Hull, Texas University. “Así hablan los
ángeles: La estructura poética en el lenguaje de los curanderos

11:30 ­ 12:00, Mtro. Eduardo Merlo, INAH, Puebla. “Las diosas
prehispánicas y las santas católicas en el siglo XVI.”

Informes: María J. Rodríguez-Shadow,

Georgina Gilbón,

Tel. y fax: 01(222) 229 2814

Book Reviews

Bernardino de Sahagún, First Anthropologist. By Miguel León-Portilla. Translation by Mauricio J. Mixco. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. Pp. 324. $29.95 (cloth). ISBN 0806133643. (Originally published as Bernardino de Sahagún: Pionero de la Antropología. México, D.F.: UNAM; Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1999.)

Sahagún and the Transition to Modernity. By Walden Browne. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000. Pp. 260. $34.95 (cloth). ISBN 0806132337.

The Franciscan missionary effort in 16th-century Mexico produced not only converts
but also a generation of talented friar-scholars. Their accounts of Nahua language and
culture continue to interest researchers today. One of the most gifted in the cohort,
and certainly the most prolific, was Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590). His
numerous works include the 12-volume, bilingual (Nahuatl/Spanish), illustrated Historia
general de las cosas de la Nueva España (or General History of the Things of New
Spain), also known as the Florentine Codex (hereinafter referred to as HG).

Two recent books address the complex question of where Sahagún “fits” in the
intellectual history of anthropology. The authors approach the issue from markedly
different perspectives. Not surprisingly, the answers they reach are poles apart.

Probably no one today is better versed in the Sahagún canon and secondary
literature than Miguel León-Portilla, author of First Anthropologist. As he
states in the Introduction, “…for more than forty years, I have dedicated much time
to his works. Among other things, I have translated into Spanish some of the texts he
collected in Nahuatl” (p. 24). Leon-Portilla’s early career is closely associated with
Fr. Angel María Garibay Kintana (1892-1967). Garibay prepared the 1956 Editorial
Porrúa edition of the HG while supervising Leon-Portilla’s doctoral thesis on
late pre-Conquest Nahua philosophy (“La filosofía náhuatl estudiada en
sus fuentes,” UNAM, 1956). Together the two co-founded the journal Estudios de Cultura
Náhuatl in 1959.

In First Anthropologist León-Portilla brings us close to the life and times
of his subject. The chapters follow Sahagún chronologically through the major
stages of his career: Chapter 1 (1499-1529), from his birth in the Kingdom of
León, Spain, through university studies at Salamanca and ordination into the
priesthood; Chapter 2 (1529-1540), initial service as a missionary in Mexico and
teacher at the College of Santa Cruz, Tlatelolco, Valley of Mexico; Chapter 3
(1540-1558), missionary work in Huejotzingo, Puebla (1540-1545), and research in
Tlatelolco on Nahuatl rhetoric and Nahua accounts of the Spanish Conquest; Chapter 4
(1558-1561), systematic collection of Nahua testimonies in Tepulco, Hidalgo, concerning
“divine,” “human,” and “natural things,” conducted with the help of trilingual Nahuas
conversant in Spanish and Latin; Chapter 5 (1561-1575), return to the College of Santa
Cruz, intensive work on various writing projects, and a five-year hiatus (1570-1575)
while the Franciscan Provincial Superior withheld his manuscripts and funding; Chapter
6 (1575-1580), completion of the HG and surrender of an earlier, Nahuatl-only version
to civil authorities by royal order; and Chapter 7 (1580-1590), submission of the HG to
the Franciscan Commissioner General, Sahagún’s role in a political dispute
within the order, and his death on February 5, 1590.

Leon-Portilla offers more than a comprehensive biography. Interspersed with the
narrative are the author’s detailed responses to “modern critiques” of Sahagún
as a scholar (p. 25). At issue is whether the HG and other key works, e.g., the
“Coloquios” (“Colloquies”) and “Arte Adivinatorio” (“Art of Divination”), are accurate
reports of Nahua beliefs and experiences. In short, did Sahagún’s methods,
attitude and output meet “modern” standards for objective research?

Leon-Portilla’s answer is a firm “yes.” Throughout the first seven chapters he
underscores Sahagún’s data gathering methods: exclusive use of Nahuatl in the
research; recruiting the eldest, most knowledgeable community members to serve as a
panel of experts; interviewing the panel using a formal questionnaire; incorporating
indigenous methods of transmitting knowledge, i.e., dialogues with, and speeches
delivered by, the elders; letting the panelists interject comments or discuss unrelated
topics; using trilingual scribes to write down the panelists’ responses; and reviewing
the interview transcripts with the original panelists and other well-informed elders
(e.g., pp. 3-4, 142-145, 162, 259-262). As evidence that Sahagún overcame his
cultural prejudices when studying the Nahuas, Leon-Portilla periodically quotes
passages where the friar expresses his admiration for pre-Conquest Nahua governance,
child rearing, rhetoric, and so on (e.g., pp. 24, 97, 118, 263-264). Moreover, in his
writings Sahagún took care to indicate when he was speaking for himself (e.g.,
his “Prologues”) and when he was reporting indigenous testimonies (p. 21). On whether
Sahagún fabricated or misinterpreted data, Leon-Portilla quotes the friar

“In this book it shall be seen very clearly that what has been affirmed by some
skeptics, that all of what is written down in these books, before the present one and
after it, are fictions and lies: they speak driven by passion and mendacity because
what is written in this book, no one is capable of inventing, nor could any living man
fabricate the language it contains. And all the knowledgeable Indians, if asked, would
affirm that the language is their ancestors’ own and works that they composed” (p. 117,
excerpted from HG, I, 305-306).

Apparently León-Portilla was the first to call Sahagún the “Father of
Anthropology in the New World,” beginning in 1962 (per a source cited in Browne, p.
57). In the book’s conclusion (Chapter 8), the author presents three reasons why this
title is appropriate: (1) Sahagún’s rigorous research methodology (pp. 259-262),
which earlier León-Portilla calls the “precursor of modern anthropological field
technique” (p. 3); (2) Sahagún’s sustained interest in studying the
Náhuatl language, which led others to follow his example (pp. 262-263); and (3)
Sahagún’s “‘indigenist’ (pro-native)” stance, apparent in his positive remarks
about Nahua culture and his negative remarks about the consequences of Spanish rule
(pp. 263-265). Note that in 1966 the University of Salamanca debuted a commemorative
plaque identifying Sahagún as the “Father of Anthropology in the New World,”
among other honorific titles (see seventh photo following p. 49). In that same year an
organization associated with the university published a book by Leon-Portilla entitled:
Significado de la obra de fray Bernardino de Sahagún. Alumno de Salamanca, padre
de la antropología en el Nuevo Mundo (Significance of the Work of Friar
Bernardino de Sahagún. Alumnus of Salamanca, Father of Anthropology in the New
World) (p. 307).

The author of Transition, Walden Browne, is a relative newcomer to Sahagún
studies. His training is in Spanish and comparative literature, the field in which he
earned a Ph.D. at Stanford University in 1995. He conducted the research for the book
in 1992-1993 during a year-long Fulbright fellowship in Madrid. Transition is a revised
version of his doctoral dissertation, but it incorporates material from three papers he
published before and after the thesis (1994 and 1996; see p. xii). Browne is a
polymath. He holds an M.D. from the University of Arizona College of Medicine (2002),
and previously served as a volunteer health care worker in Ecuador (1983), the
Dominican Republic (1984), and Panama (1985). At present he is a Second-Year Resident
in pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of California, San

Browne covers some of the same territory as León-Portilla, but for a
different purpose. Part One (Chapters 1-2) explores what other writers would call the
myths surrounding Sahagún’s life and work. Chapter 1 offers alternative
interpretations of the friar’s career to “force critics to reconsider their views on
Sahagún” (p. 8). For example, virtually nothing is known about the
Sahagún prior to his arrival in Mexico other than his birthplace, the university
he attended and the monastery he joined. Biographers have endeavored to fill the gaps
via speculation (p. 26). There is no authenticated portrait of Sahagún produced
during his lifetime. The oft-seen painting of him is a posthumous work owned by the
Museo Nacional de Historia in Mexico City (pp. 20, but see p. 216, f.3). The idea that
Sahagún was a persecuted but undaunted rescuer of Mexico’s cultural heritage
dates to the 19th century. Creole nationalists, eager to demonstrate that Mexicans had
always opposed Spanish oppression, sought to cast the friar as an early patriot (pp.
36-52). Meanwhile, the 1577 order from Philip II mandating the confiscation of the HG
may not have aimed at harassing Sahagún or suppressing his findings. Another
possible explanation is that the Crown wanted all policy-related research under the
control of the royal bureaucracy (pp. 26-36). There is even room for doubt on how
accurately Sahagún’s contemporaries reported his final illness and death. The
sequence of events and the friar’s remarks to his companions bear a suspicious
resemblance to folk tales about the death of St. Francis of Assisi, the order’s founder
(p. 4-6).

Chapter 2 asks whether Sahagún qualifies as an anthropologist, a humanist, or
a medievalist. Browne is adamant that Sahagún has no connections to modern
anthropology: “…the stubborn idea that Sahagún was an anthropologist obstructs
an understanding of the ways in which he was a man of his own time and could not have
been the inventor of an academic discipline that emerged in the nineteenth century in a
context quite alien from his world” (p. 8; see also p. 71). Or more simply,
“…Sahagún is not like modern-day individuals because his (socially
constructed) knowledge of the reality [sic?] belonged to a different time and place”
(p. 6).

Sahagún is often called a “Renaissance humanist.” The author says there is
scholarly confusion over how to define this term, first used in the 19th century (pp.
74-80). All too often it is mistaken for being humane, that is, compassionate toward
others; but “humanism” is not associated with “any single, discernible system of ethics
or philosophy” (p. 76). A more defensible definition, historically, is an admiration
for, and imitation of, models drawn from Classical (European) antiquity (p. 76). Browne
believes Sahagún qualifies as a Renaissance humanist only when he draws on
Classical exemplars for guidance. The author cites the case of the “Coloquios,” a
reconstruction of the 1524 meeting between Nahua dignitaries and the newly-arrived,
original twelve Franciscan missionaries. Sahagún organizes the “Coloquios” as a
Classical dialogue, to be read aloud or performed, in which the Nahuas ultimately
convince themselves to convert to Christianity (p. 81-90).

The author sees the greatest potential for understanding Sahagún in the
worldview of the Middle Ages. Per a 1966 article by Donald Robertson, the division of
the HG into chapters on divine, human, and natural things, duplicates the organization
of specific medieval encyclopedias (see pp. 91-92). Browne further examines the issue
of medieval influences later in the book.

Part Two (Chapters 3-5) analyzes Sahagún’s encounter with the “entirely
alien” worldview of the Nahuas, an experience that compelled the friar “to reexamine
the universality of his own worldview” (p. 9). Chapter 3 identifies the problems
Sahagún had in reconciling his expectations of the Nahuas with his actual
experiences, the effect this had on his plans for the HG, and how both matters relate
to medieval modes of thought. In the worldview of the Middle Ages, all knowledge
derived from God and reached humanity only through divine revelation (p. 9). There were
three “ways of knowing”. In descending order of confidence these were authority,
reason, and experience (p. 133). Authoritative sources, such as Scripture or writings
by Doctors of the Church, had not anticipated the existence of the Americas.
Sahagún was at a loss to explain, through reason, why God had kept this
knowledge hidden from Christians for so long (p. 132). The HG would have to report all
the “things” of New Spain in a systematic manner (pp. 120-121), using experience – the
interview data – to clarify “the place of the Nahuas in the cosmological and historical
order” (p. 138). In the 16th century such a treatise was known as a “universal history”
(p. 121). Sahagún chose this very title for the work, Historia Universal de las
Cosas de la Nueva España, according to the only complete title page extant, the
cover of a draft chapter (p. 121). An 1829 edition mistakenly called it the “Historia
General,” the label by which the work is commonly known today (p. 120).

Chapter 4 discusses Sahagún’s growing disillusionment with the outcome of the
missionary effort. In the last decades of his life he became increasingly convinced
that the Nahuas were only pretending to be Christians (p. 177). Browne believes this
concern strengthened Sahagún’s desire to master the subtleties of Nahuatl. It
also encouraged him to develop multiple examples to illustrate any given Christian
doctrine, a strategy the friar employed in his “Psalmodía Christiana” (pp.

Chapter 5, the final portion of the book, considers the issue of modernity. Earlier,
Browne proposes that “Sahagún was caught in an epistemological tug-of-war
between medieval and early-modern modes of thought and structures of knowledge…” (p.
8). In the modern worldview, all knowledge derives from the human mind observing the
(external) world (p. 9). Sahagún’s firsthand observations of the Nahuas,
particularly the “weakness” of their Christian faith, did not seem to harmonize with
the medieval notion of an orderly cosmos operating according to God’s plan. He found
the solution in the writings of Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.), an early Doctor of the
Church (p. 206). Augustine had faced a similar dilemma, namely how to explain the
achievements of the ancient, pagan Greeks and Romans in the context of a Christian
cosmos. The answer for Augustine was Satan, whose existence was revealed in Scripture.
Sahagún now understood that the “evil” aspects of Nahua civilization were the
product of Satan’s influence; the Nahua deities in fact were “devils.” The good aspects
of Nahua civilization – all the traits of which he spoke with such admiration – were
proof of God’s grace and benevolence.

Browne states that Sahagún appears “modern” in many respects, but his
worldview is fundamentally medieval. His use of a questionnaire format has precedent in
confessional manuals (per Klor de Alva, cited on p. 59). The need to identify Satan’s
influence on Nahua life motivated Sahagún’s data-gathering, not intellectual
curiosity. Europeans had a negative view of curiosity until the Enlightenment (p. 211).
He sought information from indigenous informants because, unlike the Greeks and Romans,
there were no authoritative indigenous texts (by European standards) from which to
demonstrate that the Nahuas were indeed a civilization (p. 206). The HG would be a
substitute for such texts, but only if the data were organized in a structure that made
sense to Europeans (p. 212). Browne concludes that Sahagún arrived at an
imperfect comprise between medieval and modern approaches to knowledge.

Both books are worthwhile additions to one’s personal library, with the following
caveats. It would have been very helpful if either author had provided a brief time
line listing the major events in Sahagún’s life and career, as a ready
reference. As I read each work I ended up jotting down my own time line to keep track
of significant or disputed dates. The English translation in Leon-Portilla’s is
occasionally too literal, making the prose sound clumsy (e.g., commemorative “stone”
instead of “tablet”). The dust jacket insists on calling the Nahuas “Aztecs,” which
seems inappropriate. The original title of the book in Spanish was Bernardino de
Sahagún, pionero de la antropología. It is unclear why the title was
changed. Walden Browne sometimes couches his arguments in almost impenetrable
postmodernist jargon, using terms such as “mimesis,” “alterity,” and so forth. Some of
the digressions into postmodernist theory seem irrelevant or downright silly, for
example, the statement that “Inadequacy is a paradigm not a stigma” (p. 13); and
calling Sahagún an “object of scholarly desire” (p. 17).

These particulars aside, I learned a great deal from the two studies: the details of
Sahagún’s life and projects from León-Portilla; and the probable workings
of Sahagún’s mind from Browne. The authors are aware of each other’s work.
Transition is Browne’s book-length critique of the assumptions that underlie
León-Portilla’s Sahagún studies. First Anthropologist includes a short
response directed to Browne, about 450 words (pp. 9-11), but León-Portilla goes
on to say: “…I believe that my book challenges the claims Walden Browne makes in his
book” (p. 11). Actually, both scholars are talking past each other, and neither is
likely to concede a point to the opposition. This is because the real disagreement is
about intellectual paradigms – the nature of human knowledge, the rules of evidence,
and the goals of scholarly inquiry.

Eileen M. Mulhare (de la Torre)
Research Associate in Anthropology, Colgate University

Women in Mexico: A Past Unveiled. By Julia Tuñón Pablos. Translations from Latin America Series. Austin: University of Texas Press, Institute of Latin American Studies, 1999. Pp. xvi+144. ISBN 0292781601 (cloth). ISBN 029278161X (paper).

Julia Tuñón’s goal for the book Women in Mexico: A Past Unveiled seems
to be two-fold. Her first goal is to carry out a reflexive analysis of herself as a
Mexican woman and academic and her role and position within Mexican society as a whole.
In this sense she is using an ethnohistorical approach to write the book, since she
acknowledges that her own views play a great part in shaping the questions she asks and
the final outcome of the book. She states that the book is “to a large extent an
inquiry into myself as a member of a social group” (p. ix). She adds, “my need to
understand myself as a person was continually distorted by an occupational hazard:
being a historian leads one to question oneself untiringly, to delve into processes,
antecedents, interrelations… and to do so conscious of being a woman… and aware
that one is part of a system” (p. ix).

Tuñón’s second goal for the book is for it to “serve as a guide,
provide information on the circumstances that have shaped Mexican women, awaken
interests, and lead to inquiries” (p. x). The information found in the book will be of
interest to any scholar of Mexico since it covers the history of women from
pre-Columbian until the present times. She includes interesting information on the
acculturation processes that have taken place throughout this period and how women have
been a factor in some of these processes.

In Chapter 1, “Women in the Mexican World,” Tuñón describes the way of
life of the indigenous groups of pre-Columbian Mexico, concentrating primarily on the
Mexica. She asserts that the status of women in the indigenous pantheon was very
different to the status of actual women in the patriarchal society. Women had symbolic
power in terms of the female lineage, but in daily life this power was non-existent.
Women tended to function within a domestic and private domain and were dependent on and
subservient to men in all aspects of life, such as education, daily duties and rights,
and sexuality.

In Chapter 2, “Women in New Spain,” the author summarizes the events and processes
taking place after the arrival of the Spaniards wherein acculturation and ethnogenesis
created mestizo culture. She discusses the lives of three women, Marina (also known as
Mallinalitzin or Malinche), the Virgin of Guadalupe, and Sor Juana Inés de la
Cruz, and shows that they are symbols for treachery, purity, and oppression,
respectively. Although women had some participation in production at the end of the
Colonial period, they were not yet emancipated from the rules of the men.

In Chapter 3, “Mexican Women in the Nineteenth Century,” we find a contrast between
the lives of most women, who are primarily within a domestic domain, and the lives of a
few exceptions whom Tuñón refers to as “heroines.” These women emerged
during this tumultuous period and were active in politics. Here we find Josefa Ortiz de
Domínguez, Leona Vicario, Josefina Guelberdi, Ignacia Rieschl, among others. The
author also goes on to describe the improvements in the legal status of women over
time, for example the obtaining of a divorce under the conditions of gender oppression
and reducing the legal age of women to twenty one. She also discusses issues of
femininity among the different social classes; these issues include sexuality and
licentiousness as well as leisure and clothing. She concludes the chapter by a
description of the new regulations that allowed women to be educated in order to better
prepare them for society.

Chapter 4, “Peace in Porfirian Times,” discusses the role and status of women during
the rule of Porfirio Díaz. Women during this time were relegated to the role of
wives and mothers, a role they were used to, but which was now couched in “scientific”
terms that focused on women’s biology. Many contradictions arose about the way women
were supposed to act and the way they actually acted in their daily lives. In some ways
this led to women becoming marginalized. However, many women worked outside of the
home, which eventually led to them participating in social organizations and movements.
Some of these movements were concerned with gender issues and feminism and may have
served as catalysts for the Revolution that eventually ousted the Porfiriato.

In Chapter 5, “From Revolution to Stability,” Tuñón covers a long
period in history from the Revolution to the end of Lázaro Cárdenas’
presidency. She explains the role of women during the war (as soldaderas and adelitas)
wherein, although they were fighting alongside men, they often maintained their
traditional role of caretakers. Tuñón places an emphasis on women’s
organizations and their efforts to gain equality within the social and political
arenas. Although many changes occurred in women’s legal equality, suffrage was not
attained until 1953.

Chapter 6, “From ‘Development’ to Crisis,” analyzes the issues surrounding Mexican
women from the 1940s to the present (such as suffrage, abortion, work conditions,
migration, among others). In particular, Tuñón looks at the broad-based
women’s movements that have had effects on policy. An important point she makes is that
although there have been changes in policy, these have not necessarily been realized,
since much of the oppression of women is found outside of the legal sphere and there is
still a strong gender hierarchy and asymmetry.

Finally, Tuñón concludes her book by a summary of her most important
points as well as by stating that by using history, women can overcome their
traditional silence and eventually change the course of gender relations in Mexico.

The book will be of interest to anthropologists, historians, political economists,
ethnohistorians, and scholars of gender studies. Although it is an academic book, it is
written in an engaging style that can also be understood and enjoyed by non-academics.
Women of Mexico is also a short book, with just over 100 pages making up the main text,
hence making it light reading for people interested in a good overview of the events
involving women that have transpired since before the Conquest until the present time.
But, since it does not delve deeply into any one aspect it lends the book a certain
amount of superficiality. Tuñón leaves the reader with many doubts and
questions, few of which are answered in the book. Nevertheless, this encourages further
reading into any section that is of interest and the author provides a good reference
list that aids in this purpose.

Tuñón discusses at length the issues of women’s resistance during the
twentieth century, especially in their joining organizations and political parties to
obtain equality (p. 97). However, she does not mention resistance in the early chapters
of the book, namely the chapters on the pre Columbian and early colonial periods. She
states that women had to follow the social norms (p. 6) but does not add whether there
was any resistance on the part of women within the home. This begs the question, Did
women actually follow the norms as much as it has been supposed? Tuñón’s
book leads one to conclude that women were relatively passive during the early colonial
period and had no method of resisting societal norms. It would have been useful for
Tuñón to consider whether there were any oblique methods of resistance
that would not have necessarily been broad-based but rather mostly confined to domestic
spheres. This would provide a more rounded picture of what the status and role of women
during this period actually was like. Apart from documentary sources, there are
archaeological projects that have started to explore ideas of resistance (e.g., the
work of Elizabeth Brumfiel) that Tuñón could have incorporated so that
the indigenous voice and not just the Spanish chroniclers could be heard.

In the final chapters, where Tuñón discusses the women of modern
Mexico, she fails to fully discuss the world of the mujeres indígenas. Although
she speaks of women of different social classes she does not talk about how the women
in indigenous groups interact within their social spheres or with the larger Mexican
culture. It would have provided a more realistic portrait of Mexican women to have
included indigenous voices.

An interesting approach for the book would have been a historiography of the lives
of the women themselves and the ways that they negotiated the norms of society. This
would have added depth to the book and would have placed the women at center stage, as
the title suggests, instead of focusing on the events that happened around them.

However, I find much more in Women in Mexico to praise than to criticize and the
points mentioned above are minor compared to the strength of the rest of the book. This
book was very well-researched and provides a fascinating read into some of history’s
forgotten players. All anthropologists who study Mexico will find information in this
book that is relevant to their research, in particular information on aspects of
history that have often been overlooked in favor of the more colorful (male) characters
found inside any book on Mexican history.

Vania Smith
University of Illinois, Chicago
Field Museum of Natural History

In the following essay submitted by Rodrigo Marcial Jiménez, he discusses the new edition of El pueblo del Señor: Las fiestas y peregrinaciones de Chalma. By María J. Rodríguez­Shadow and Robert D. Shadow. Toluca: Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, 2002. Pp. 204.

El pueblo de México se caracteriza por su profunda religiosidad representada
por las innumerables fiestas dedicadas a santos, vírgenes, imágenes, e
infinidad de centros de peregrinación católica. La religiosidad popular
late en las venas del pueblo mexicano que se encuentra y se ve representado por un
amplio espectro de intermediarios, que son los santos que interceden ante Dios o antes
las fuerzas sagradas para pedir favores individuales y /o colectivos. Los favores se
piden directamente a los santos, cristos o vírgenes a través de la
oración, la manda, la ofrenda y la peregrinación.

El territorio mexicano tiene a lo largo y ancho de su territorio un sinfín de
lugares de peregrinaje, de los mas reconocido tenemos la Villa de Guadalupe, en la C.d
de México, el señor del Sacromonte, en Amecameca, el de los Remedios en
Tláxcala, el Señor de Tila, en Chiapas, el del Ñiño Doctor
en Tepeaca, Puebla, San Juan de Los Lagos en el estado de Jalisco, el señor de
Chalma, en el estado de México.

Este es quizá el mas conocido por el imaginario colectivo de los mexicanos,
es este un punto de referencia obligada para los católicos de cepa, por lo menos
una ves en la vida todo católico que se precie de serlo tiene que ir a “bailar a
Chalma”, esto ultimo para pedir algún favor en especial al cristo negro que
ahí se venera. Este santuario de peregrinaje se ha hecho famoso y ha cruzado las
fronteras, hace poco tiempo empezaron a llegar extraordinariamente peregrinos franceses
en busca del milagro que cure la enfermedad o el maleficio personal, que no ha podido
ser aliviado con otros procedimientos.

El santuario Chalma es un lugar extraordinario, ya que ahí confluye todo el
fervor y la fe del pueblo mexicano, de todo llega ahí el ruletero chilango que
va a pedir que le vaya bien para poder pagar sus deudas; el campesino humilde que viene
a orar para que sus animales no se enfermen; la ama de casa que llega de rodillas para
pedir por alguno de sus hijos; el enfermo en silla de ruedas que es trasladado para
rogar por el milagro que la ciencia no le ha podido conseguir; el burócrata
agobiado por la deudas hipotecarias; entre otros mas. Y el “Señor de Chalma”
cumple, al menos eso es lo que dicen los múltiples milagros y agradecimientos
que ahí se pueden apreciar, por eso Chalma es el destino obligado del fervor
religioso popular, es una de las mecas del catolicismo mexicano de ayer y de hoy.

Todo esto nos sirve de contexto, para elaborar una breve presentación del
libro de la doctora en antropología María Rodríguez-Shadow y del
antropólogo Robert D. Shadow, que lleva como titulo El pueblo del Señor:
Las fiestas y peregrinaciones de Chalma (2002), que a bien tuvo reeditar la Universidad
Autónoma del Estado de México(UAEM) en su colección de textos
sobre Ciencias Sociales. Lo que quiero destacar de este libro es su importancia dentro
de los estudios que sobre Chalma se han hecho con anterioridad.

Este libro destaca por que ha sido escrito con el rigor que exige la
antropología, pero tan bien con la amenidad de un literato; además es un
libro que destaca por recoger las voces de los peregrinos, voces claridosas y llenas de
fe que están plasmadas en los milagros de los favorecidos. Otra cosa que me
gusta de este libro, es que puede ser leído por cualquier persona, y no solo por
los especialistas acostumbrados a farragosos comentarios e innumerables citas de pie de

Una cosa importante a destacar de este libro, es que su contexto histórico
esta bien fundamentado, esto nos permite observar la evolución histórica
de la región y del santuario de Chalma desde la época prehispánica
hasta nuestros días. El libro de Maria J. Rodríguez – Shadow y Robert D.
Shadow es un texto clave para entender los símbolos y significados de la fe y de
la religiosidad popular mexicana, la información que aquí se presenta,
nos presenta uno de los tantos rostros del México profundo. Además esta
investigación se conforma como un referente para los estudios regionales, que
aun faltan por realizarse sobre el Estado de México, en suma es texto valioso,
que mucho servirá a los especialistas de la antropología, la historia, la
cultura popular, entre otros.

Por ultimo quiero destacar la atinada decisión de reeditar este libro por
parte de la Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, esto lo digo
porque para fortuna del los autores y de la misma universidad, el texto que hoy se
presenta tiene ya su segunda edición. También me permito felicitar a la
doctora María Rodríguez-Shadow y al Robert D. Shadow por haber hecho una
importante contribución a la memoria histórica y de la identidad del ser

El santuario de Chalma es muchas cosas, es un lugar de peregrinación, de
curación, de fe, de fiesta, de identidad, de comunión; de danza , es
también uno de los espacios simbólicos en donde se puede entrever la
esencia de lo mexicano a través de la Fe.

Rodrigo Marcial Jiménez


“Aztec Poetry” by Esther Pasztory (Columbia University)

“What is a nice girl like you studying Aztec art?” asked a number of Precolumbian
specialists encountered at conferences and conventions. The questioner was usually
older, male, and curious. As if such an interest betrayed a streak of perversity in my
seemingly normal character so that it had to be explained. I usually stammered
something about the art being beautiful and the poetry profound. In my book on the
Aztecs I tried to bring out their noble or at least human character. For the cover I
would have chosen the lovely very human mask from Castillo de Teayo in the American
Museum of Natural History. The publishers, probably knowing the taste of their audience
better, wanted something wilder and more “primitive” and chose a turquoise mosaic mask
with a lot of big teeth from the British Museum. Publishers know that you sell books by
appealing to the popular idea of the Aztecs, which is that they were bloodthirsty
barbarians. I went through this argument on a more recent book where the publishers
insisted on a cover showing Maya bloodletting as the high point of Pre-Columbian art.
While we may recoil in horror from Mesoamerican civilization with its sacrifices, we
also revel in their transgression of ordinary norms and appreciate the horror. The
bottom line is: You can’t sell the Aztecs without blood.

The image of the Aztecs was set in stone by the 16th-century conquerors and
missionaries and apparently can’t be changed. Their obsessive focus on “sacrifice” and
“idolatry” color everything we say today because that is where our information comes
from in general. More than just the texts, the much-published illustrations of
sacrifice in Sahagún or codices like the Magliabecchiano make sacrifice
cinematically vivid. Actually the Aztecs did not usually show scenes of sacrifice in
their representations. The recent Templo Mayor excavations did not reveal hundreds of
buried victims. If it were not for the 16th-century texts, Aztec culture would seem no
more obsessed by sacrifice than any other culture of Mesoamerica, say, Teotihuacan with
its hearts impaled on knives in paintings or El Tajin with its scene of decapitation.
The staggering number of victims the Aztecs are supposed to have killed on certain
occasions is also unreliable: their number was likely exaggerated by the Aztecs to
prove their prowess and by the Spanish to prove the extent of Aztec brutality and hence
justify the conquest. These numbers mean very little. The 16th-century texts detail
with agonizing minutiae the techniques of the various sacrifices which fascinate
generations of scholars anew. But is this the Aztec mind or the European mind at

What do we need the Aztecs for? Claude Lévi-Strauss once explained that
totemic animals were not so much good to eat, as the previous century assumed, but good
to think. Animals provide systems of classification for “primitive” man. For us “modern
primitives,” cultures are classificatory in a similar way. The Aztecs have become for
us the bloody culture par excellence, the very nadir of human cruelty, as the Scythians
once were for Herodotus and the ancient world. Until the discovery of America and the
Aztecs the Scythians were thought to be the most violently primitive. They have now
been eclipsed by the Aztecs. Other cultures are similarly typecast as extremes: we
think of Hindu-Indian culture as quintessentially erotic, or associate China and Japan
with excessive refinement. It does no good for scholars to put Aztec sacrifice in
context and point out that at one time or another most cultures around the world
practiced some form of human sacrifice. I have concluded that we need the Aztecs to be
the most horrible because some culture needs to take on that role and the Aztecs were
cast in it since the 16th century and perform wonderfully well for us.

Comments on the Aztecs are gratuitously advanced even when they are not relevant,
and the tone is suddenly no longer impersonal and scholarly but personal. For example,
Kiernan writing about the European 18th-century view of the North American Indian
suddenly comments tangentially on the Aztecs: “…the Aztec had nightmarish qualities,
an obsession with mass human sacrifices, that suggest a civilization going mad – as
ours is perhaps doing today” (Kiernan 1990:87). No such comment of insanity is
suggested for any other Indians, even those whose cruelty he details. I haven’t kept a
record of such comments, but 20th-century scholarship is studded with similar
statements on the Aztecs that put them beyond the pale of all civilizations.

In all the years since the 16th century, the Aztecs received a positive evaluation
only during the Enlightenment when they were admired for their political institutions –
the election of kings and the meritocracy of some of their officials and warriors. In
the sea of self-important chiefs and despots and in the complications of status and
privilege that the age of exploration revealed in the world, there were few antecedents
or parallels to democracy. The Aztecs were one of them and thus noticed with some

Moreover, the 18th century was not squeamish about cruelty – having tossed aside the
Bible as an explanation of and guide to human behavior, there was a search to find out
what human nature was in the state of nature. Bizarre behavior was of interest if it
indicated the limits of human behavior. Therefore the licentious behavior of the
Tahitians and the cruelty of the Aztecs were sources of information rather than
occasions for admonition. The cannibal had been domesticated by Montaigne, although
that could be considered French literary sophistry. But, the marquis de Sade was all
too real and not just tolerated but quite famous as much for his libertine life as for
his writings in a century that had a very unsentimental romanticism. The marquis the
Sade explained the Aztecs for Europeans.

Such an acceptance of the macabre would not happen again in Europe until a fringe
group of Surrealist artists advocated the virtues of violence. Georges Bataille,
uniting violence and eros actually planned to perform a sacrifice in Paris in the 1930s
and even had a willing victim. To Bataille and his group, sacrifice was the ultimate
access to the spiritual in contrast to the utilitarian industrial society they lived
in. Bataille’s first published statement was, in fact, on the Aztecs, written on the
occasion of a Paris exhibit of pre-Columbian objects. He tells us that in its classical
beauty Maya art is boring but it is Aztec art and civilization that is the most
exciting. The essay begins thus: “The life of the civilized peoples of America before
Christopher Columbus is not just prodigious for us because of the fact of their
discovery and of their immediate disappearance, but also because undoubtedly never was
such bloody eccentricity conceived by the human mind: continual crimes committed in
full daylight only for the satisfaction of deified nightmares, terrifying phantoms! The
cannibal meals of the priests, the ceremonies with corpses and rivers of blood, more
than one historical adventure evokes the blinding debaucheries described by the
illustrious marquis de Sade” (Bataille 1928:5).

Nevertheless the Aztecs were superior to any other pre-Columbian civilization. The
Maya tropical luxuriance was stifling and the statism of the Inca was an existence
“without air.” Therefore, “if one wants air and violence, poetry and humor one will
find it only among the people of Central Mexico” (Bataille 1929:8).

The most surprising revelation about the Aztecs to me was how practical they were:
the hydraulic works of Tenochtitlan with dikes, aqueducts and bridges, and the
extensive irrigation canals and terracing in the countryside. The population density
was higher under the Aztecs than in the Colonial era; only about 1900 did population
levels reach the old Aztec ones. For a preindustrial culture, Aztec economy was
flourishing. How was one to square that with the mass murders in the temples? Most
Aztec scholars deal with sacrifice tangentially or not at all if it does not relate to
their immediate subject. How did the Aztecs deal with it? In one migration codex, the
Codex Boturini, the Aztecs learn how to perform human sacrifices after they have left
their nomadic homeland. Human sacrifices are rituals of the advanced settled
civilizations. (This is in fact true. Human sacrifices are more common in ranked
archaic states and chiefdoms than in relatively egalitarian bands and tribes.)

While it may be that the Aztecs tried to outdo the past in this as in everything
else, the most likely situation is that Aztec sacrifices were on a par with those of
earlier civilizations and there was nothing all that exceptional about them. This is a
way of spreading the onus of sacrifice on other Mesoamerican cultures – which has been
done very effectively by the Mayanists who have recently claimed rivers of bloodletting
for the Maya enough to have satisfied Bataille’s most bizarre fantasies. This has not
tarnished the image of the Maya in the view of the West. Given the Maya writing system
and its process of decipherment, the classical-looking lordly profiles of the Maya
rulers now given names, and our own attitude of primitivism derived from the
Surrealists, the Maya could only be enhanced, rather than denigrated by such
reinterpretations. The Maya thus became classical and exotically kinky at once. The
finding of blood everywhere makes all of Mesoamerica “Aztec,” and to a large extent
that is correct, but it only aggravates the issue.

The role of the Aztecs remains as the extreme top, or in fact over the top. The root
of the problem is the 16th-century texts. We know that headhunting was practiced in New
Guinea until recently, but we do not have hundreds of pages of documents devoted to
shocked and disapproving description. In fact, Tobias Schneebaum chronicled his stay in
New Guinea recently, including a discussion of headhunting in the most idyllic terms.
Suppose the Aztecs had been discovered in the 18th-century by Captain Cook, or
Bougainville after a few weeks of sex in Tahiti, or were visited by Tobias Schneebaum
in the 20th century? I am quite sure that we would have different narratives of
sacrifice. Or, to look at it the other way, imagine Sahagún or Diego
Durán writing about Maori tattoos bringing out their barbaric features, while a
few centuries later for the philosopher Immanuel Kant the Maori tattoo is a source of
fascination in his rumination on beauty and the aesthetic sense as English aristocrats
are actually sporting tattoos. As George Kubler pointed out brilliantly, “entrance” is
everything and the timing of the Aztec “entrance” from the point of view of the
sensibility and mind of the West was unfortunate. The Spaniards saw the devil
everywhere and we are all too happy to continue the satanic vision – pro or con.

Mexican scholars have had a vested and romantic interest in rehabilitating the
Aztecs as the ancestors of modern Mexicans. More than anyone Miguel
León-Portilla focused on the noble aspects of the Aztecs in their philosophy,
literature, and poetry. He was interested in the individual artist in works such as
“Trece Poetas del Mundo Azteca.” These works and others by a circle of Mexican
aztequistas initiated a small vogue of learning the Aztec language Nahuatl in its old
or “Classic” form, and translating Aztec poems. These scholars either did not talk
about sacrifice or had the primitivist attitude derived from the Surrealists of
sacrifice being a grand cosmic vision. However, important these studies were for
Mexico, they had little effect on foreigners, like Inga Clendinnen, who made names for
themselves by retelling the sensational sacrifices from 16th-century sources. Four
centuries have not dulled the impact of those narratives.

The bottom line is that we need the Aztecs to be the most brutal people of
antiquity, so we can line them up with all the other extremes: the most promiscuous,
the most self-controlled, the most backward, the most clever. Peoples have been
caricatured in the same way children’s stories and folk tales assign a particular
character to animals: chickens are stupid, foxes clever. We need these classifications
because they help to organize the universe and we have a vested interest in keeping the
status quo as writers and movie directors continually reinforce them for us. Such a
place in the limelight of excess is not necessarily eternal. The Aztecs very likely
took on the role of the Scythians in the ancient world, and have now become, to some
extent, overshadowed by the Nazis in the popular imagination. Other horrific peoples
may upstage all of them in the current world of terror.

I have followed the interpretations of the Aztecs for several decades. One moment
that stands out is the first major Aztec sculpture exhibition at the National Gallery
in Washington in 1984. The objects were the most dramatic and exquisite stone carvings
from Mexico, Europe, and the U.S. Beautifully polished curving masses punctuated by
detailed symbols and dates indicated a sophisticated art style and by extension a
sophisticated people. The newspaper reviews of the exhibition were, however, all
equally shrill in focusing on and illustrating only the horrible sacrifices of the
Aztecs and said nothing about the art. Their illustrations came from 16th-century texts
and they basically used them to rail against the mere idea of exhibiting Aztec “art.”
You can’t fight the power of the 16th-century texts on the Aztecs.

Currently, the British Museum is planning a major Aztec exhibition and I suspect not
much will be different in the interpretations. The voice may be neutrally scholarly but
I suspect that the issue of sacrifice will be prominent. After all, anyone going to see
an Aztec show wants to know about the sacrifices and would be disappointed without
them. When the organizers asked for my suggestion I recommended that they put in some
Aztec poetry.

“There, where the darts are dyed,

where the shields are painted,

are the perfumed white flowers,

flowers of the heart.

The flowers of the Giver of Life

open their blossoms.

Their perfume is sought by the lords:

This is Tenochtitlan.”

– Cantares Mexicanos (León-Portilla 1963:166)

Of course, all Aztec poetry we know is from early Colonial texts.

References cited

Kiernan, V. G. 1990. “Noble and Ignoble Savages.” In Exoticism in The Enlightenment.
G. S. Rousseau and Roy Porter, eds., pp. 86-116. Manchester: Manchester University

Bataille, Georges. 1928. “Vanished America.” In L’art précolombien:
L’Amérique avant Christophe Colomb, pp. 5-14. Cahiers de la République
des lettres et des sciences et des artes, XI. Paris: Les Beaux-Arts.

León-Portilla, Miguel. 1963. Aztec Thought and Culture. Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press.

Illustrations in this Issue

The illustrations appearing in this issue are from The Postclassic Mesoamerican
World. Michael E. Smith and Frances F. Berdan, eds. Salt Lake City: University of Utah
Press, 2003. ISBN 0 87480-734-4.

Directory Update

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.

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