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The Aztec Account of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico
 
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PostSubject: Appendix --- Appendix   Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:46 pm

The chronicles and other accounts written by the men who discovered and conquered the New World were a startling revelation to the Europe of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Old World, with its long history, was suddenly eager to learn more about the "barbarious peoples" who had recently been discovered, and the reports brought or sent back by the "Chroniclers of the Indies" were received with the liveliest interest. At times these new facts we requestioned or disputed, but they never failed to elicit reflection and interpretation. The conquistadors themselves attempted to describe clearly, in European terms, the different physical and human realities existing in the New World; so also did the missionary friars and the European philosophers and humanists, as well as the royal historians.

The results were varied. Some were "projections" of old ideas: for instance, Fray Diego de Duran argued that the Nahuas were actually the descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Others were apologies-more or less intentional-for the Conquest, such as the letter-reports of Cortes. The Indians appear in some chronicles as idolatrous savages given over to cannibalism and sodomy, while in others they are described as models of natural virtue.

On the basis of these reports and chronicles, a number of histories were written in Europe from the humanistic point of view of that epoch. One outstanding example is De Orbe Novo by the celebrated Pedro Martir de Angleria, who often expresses his amazement on discovering the arts and folkways of the Indians; another is the wealth of firsthand material which the royal chronicler, Antonio de Herrera, incorporated in his Historia general de los hechosde los castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme de el Mar Oceano. European historiography, not only in Spain and Portugal, but also in France, England, Germany and Italy, gained new life when it turned its attention to the reports coming back from the New World.

We rarely consider, however, that if Europe showed so great an interest in this astonishing new continent, the Indians must have shown an equal interest in the Spaniards, who to them were strange beings from a totally unknown world. It is attractive to study the different ways in which the Europeans conceived of the Indians, but the inverse problem, which takes us to the heart of indigenous thought,is perhaps even more instructive. What did the Indians think when they saw the strangers arrive on their shores and in their cities? What were their first attitudes toward the invaders? In what spirit did they fight them? And how did they interpret their own downfall?

There are no complete and final answers to these questions; but there are some partial answers, provided by the native cultures that had then attained the highest development, the Mayas of Yucatan and the Nahuas of the Valley of Mexico. The Spanish accounts of the Conquestare only one version of it; the Indians who were its victims recorded another, in words and pictures. Inevitably there arc major disagreements between the two versions. But in spite of all the mutual accusations and misunderstandings, or perhaps because of them, both accounts are intensely human. They should be studied without prejudice, for only a calm examination, free of bias and preconceptions, can help to explain the Mexican people of today, who are the living consequence of that violent clash between two worlds.

Within Middle America, the Nahuatl and Mayan cultures left us the most ample indigenous descriptions of the Conquest. Both cultures possessed a mode of writing, an oral tradition and a sense of history. A brief consideration of their efforts to record the past will illustrate their earnest desire to depict their own version of this most shattering event.
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