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The Aztec Account of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico
 
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 Interest in History in the Indigenous World

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PostSubject: Interest in History in the Indigenous World   Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:48 pm

The Mayan stelae, the other commemorative monuments of the Mayas and Nahuas, and the historical codices or xiuhamatl (books of years) of the Nahuas all testify to the care with which both cultures chronicled the important events in their past. These records were complemented by oral texts, which were faithfully passed down by memory in the pre-Hispanic centers of education. Students were taught, among other things, the history of what had happened year by year, anamplified version of what was contained in the codices.

A single contemporary report will make clear the Indians' concern to preserve their history. It is taken from the Historia general by Don Antonio de Herrera, royal chronicler of Philip 11. Don Antonio never pretended to glorify the Indians, but he gathered together, better than anyone else, a great mass of reports and information concerning them. In section four, book ten, he observes:

The nations of New Spain preserved the memory of their antiquities. In Yucatan and Honduras there were certain books in which the Indians recorded the events of their times, together with their knowledge of plants, animals and other natural things.

In the Province of Mexico, they had libraries of histories and calendars, which they painted in pictures. Whatever had a concrete form was painted in its own image, while if it lacked a form, they represented it by other characters. Thus they set down what they wished.

And to remember the times in which each event came to pass, they had certain wheels, each of which represented a century of a hundred and two years. Also, depending on the year in which memorable events took place, they painted their pictures and characters, such as a man wearing a helmet and a red mantle, under the sign of the cane stalk, to show the year in which the Castilians entered their land, and so with the other events.

And because their characters were not sufficient, like our own writing, they could not set things down exactly, only the substance of their ideas; but they learned in chorus many speeches, orations and songs. They took great care to see that the youths learned them by memory, and for this they had schools in which the old taught them to the young. By this means, the texts were preserved in their entirety.

And when the Castilians entered that land and taught the Indians the art of writing, the natives wrote out their speeches and songs as they had known them since antiquity. They also recorded their discourses in their own characters and figures, and in this manner they set down the Paternoster, the Ave Maria and all of the Christian doctrine.

In all these ways, Nahuas and Mayas recorded the most impressive and tragic event in their history, the fall of their civilization at the hands of strangers, ending with the destruction of their ancient ways of life. The present book, a kind of anthology of texts and pictures, offers some examples of the different impressions preserved by the Nahuatl-speaking Indians regarding Cortes and the Spaniards, the events of the Conquest and the final ruin of the Aztec capital and its culture.

A similar book could be prepared on the Mayas, who also left indigenous accounts of the Conquest, including those in the Anales delos Xahil, the Titulos de la Casa Ixquin-Nehaip and the Cronica deCbac-Xulub-Cben, and at least fragments in certain books of theChilam Balam. But this task remains for those who dedicate themselves to the study of Mayan civilization.

We must turn next to a brief discussion of the various sources from which these Nahuatl records of the Conquest have been selected.
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