Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Re-envisioning the Spanish Conquest

Contemporary Mixe Indians

My tour guide in Oaxaca gave me a piece of information that altered my understanding of the Spanish Conquest.  He told me that there was an indigenous group, the Mixes, that had not known about the Spanish Conquest until 150 years after the event.  This group, or at least a part of this group, had been hiding from the marauding Mexica (Aztecs) in the mountains and were so well sequestered that they had missed the big news.

Aztec sacrifice

We all have heard of the Aztecs, but most of our education about the Conquest has been limited and because of this, distorted. What we term the Aztecs (more properly called Mexicas), were a group of relative newcomers to the scene that had emerged as political victors by the time Cortes arrived.  In truth, they had only been top dogs for some one hundred years.   These Nahua speakers had started off centuries earlier as a nomadic group from the north,  as "Chichimecas"( the Mesoamerican equivalent of barbarians), and had migrated to central Mexico, adopting the customs of the more sophisticated peoples they encountered.  They became politically ascendant in 1427 through the "Triple Alliance" they created with two other groups and became severe overlords  exacting tribute both material and human ( sacrificial victims) from those they conquered.  Although many Mesoamerican groups had practiced human sacrifice, the Aztecs, by their own account, brought the practice to new heights.   The statistics cannot be verified, but one report has it that in 1487 for the reconsecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan some 84,000 prisoners were sacrificed over a period of four days.  That's a lot of blood.  

Tlaxcalans fighting alongside Spanish

As you can imagine, the Aztecs had made numerous enemies and some of them, most notably the Tlaxcalans but others as well, played an important role in the Spanish victory.  There is a book entitled "Indian Conquistadors"  which explores the indigenous 
participation in the Conquest.  Sources indicate that everyone was happy to be rid of the Aztecs, although the Spanish victory presented them with a whole new set of challenges.  It is these challenges and the many sorts of resolutions and compromises that evolved that have been the focus of this blog.

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