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The Aztec Account of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico
 
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 Dance of the Great Conquest, Eighteenth Century

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PostSubject: Dance of the Great Conquest, Eighteenth Century   Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:39 pm

In many different forms Nahuatl-speaking people continued over the centuries to express their feelings about what had befallen them. Among the existant testimonies that recall the Spanish invasion, there are several compositions conceived to be performed accompanied by music, song, and dance. They are productions belonging to a genre of native plays that were developed throughout the colonial period. Among the numerous "dances" or ballet-dramas whose theme is the "Conquest", there is one written in elegant Nahuatl that deserves special consideration, among other reasons because it was still being performed as late as 1894 in the town of Xicotepec (today Villa Juarez) in the state of Puebla.

As is common in Greek drama, the plot of the "Dance of the Great Conquest" develops in a single day. The story concerns the arrival of Hernan Cortes, his encounter with Motecuhzoma, and some important events said to have immediately followed the meeting. The text conveys a type of Christian lesson centered on the benefits believed to have come from Cortes's advent as the bearer of the true faith. From this one can infer the intervention of a friar's hand; yet at the same time it includes a dialogue between Motecuhzoma and prince Cuauhtemoc that no one but a Nahua could have introduced. This dialogue transforms the play, perhaps created originally as a piece of "missionary theater", into a courageous condemnation both of the Spanish intrusion and of Motecuhzoma's attitude toward Cortes, which we discussed earlier in Chapter 4. This attack, uttered by Cuauhtemoc, is accompanied by a contemptuous depiction of the conqueror and his men.

The fact that this play, whose language is indicative of an eighteenth-century composition, was performed as recently as 1894, demonstrates the enduring force of the collective memory of the Nahuas, which could keep alive sentiments associated with an event that, although it had radically affected their culture and being, occurred in a distant past. Numerous anachronisms and fanciful interpretations of historical facts are understandably present throughout the play. For example, Cuauhtemoc refers to Motecuhzoma as "the great ruler who governs this new land called America." And due most likely to the friar's intervention, following Cuauhtemoc's reprimand of Motecuhzoma the play ends with an imaginary mortal combat in which Cuauhtemoc loses his life. This fight, which supposedly took place on the same day, deviates widely from the accepted historical facts, which identify the Aztec leader's death as taking place when he was hanged by Cortes in Tabasco in 1525. In the spirit of a sermon, a choir sings: "There died poor Cuauhtemoc. He went to Hell. Because of his blindness, his perdition took place."

This admonition, made to be enunciated in an edifying manner, contrasts with the young prince's courageous rebuke against Motecuhzoma. The words, notwithstanding a few anachronisms, ring true to our understanding of the character of the last Aztec "emperor".

Emperor Motecuhzoma, great Lord, Monarch, as you are named here in the land called America.

Improperly are you so named, for you no longer ought to wear the crown, for you have lost courage and you are afraid. Tell me if you dare to speak to this great city? Can you give something to those whoare down and out in the country from which they came?

They come to mock you. All those who come here are second rate or Spaniards who lost out, who come telling you that in their country there are great cities, talking of another king at the head of the empire of Castile by the name of Charles the Fifth, and of a Catholic religion.

These are only stories, lies. I do not believe in other books (i.e., except indigenous, picto-glyphic codices). I feel that their words are only like dreams. You have no courage, but I have, and I will make war and test the strength they claim to have. I shall see it, and many fearful arts will be practiced. There are flints, arrows, new stones. Flints that they will take, those who go out to war, fearful warriors, also Chichimeci, like wild beasts who maintain their anger. They are making straight (truthful) my gods, they all give me great knowledge, science. I shall lead them. I shall encourage them, all who come together, and the armies will show every form of war.

You will likewise lose your kingdom, your crown, and your scepter. You will lose all the esteem that I maintained for you because you gave yourself up. Your kingdom and you shall suffer those lost ones here present, the bandits, Spaniards who have come over here. They come to fool you, for you no longer deserve your dominion.

I deserve it. It belongs to me because I am strong of heart, valiant. I do not want the honor of our gods to come to nothing. You shall see, you shall experience who is the one who calls himself, who is named prince Cuauhtemoc. I have in my hands flames, noise, lightning, embers, smoke, sand, dust, winds, whirlwinds with which I shall drive them back. If they do not want to die, let them go right back to their country. If they do not, they shall perish here no matter what you do to prevent it.
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