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The Aztec Account of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico
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 Indian Texts and Paintings Describing the Conquest

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PostSubject: Indian Texts and Paintings Describing the Conquest   Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:51 pm

Fray Toribio de Benavente, known as Motolinia, arrived in Tenochtitlan in June 1524, one of a celebrated group of twelve Franciscan friars. He was the first to discover the Indians' determination to preserve their own memories of the Conquest. In the beginning of the third part of his Historia de los indios de la NuevaEspana, he reported:

Among the events of their times, the native Indians took particular note of the year in which the Spaniards entered this and, for to them it was a most remarkable happening which at he first caused them great terror and amazement. they saw a strange people arrive from the sea, a feat they had never before witnessed nor had known was possible, all dressed in strange garments and so bold and warlike that, although few in number, they could invade all the provinces of this land imperiously, as if the natives were their vassals. The Indians were also filled with wonder at their horses, and the Spaniards riding on their backs. They called the Spaniards "teteuh", meaning "gods", which the Spaniards corrupted into "teules".

The Indians also set down the year in which the twelve friars arrived together.

There are twelve surviving documents, written or painted, in which the Indians described the coming of the Spaniards and the great conflict that ensued. They are not of equal importance and antiquity, but they reveal the characteristic impressions that the Nahuas formed of the Conquest. The most valuable of these documents are:

(1) Songs of the Conquest. The oldest native accounts of the Conquest are in the form of songs, composed in the traditional manner by some of the few surviving cuicapicque, or Nahuatl poets. Trueicnocuicatl (songs of sorrow) are the stanzas describing the final days of Tenochtitlan (in Chapter 14) and the grief of the Mexican people over their defeat (in Chapter 15). As Dr. Angel Maria Garibay has pointed out in his Historia de la literatura nabuati, the first of these poems must have been composed in about 1524, the second a year earlier.

(2) Unos anales historicos de la nacion mexicana. This title has been given to the important "Manuscript 22" in the National Library in Paris. The manuscript dates from 1528, only seven years after the fall of the Aztec capital, and was written in Nahuatl by a group of anonymous natives of Tlatelolco. The most remarkable thing about this document is the fact that its Indian authors somehow how learned the correct use of the Latin alphabet (the Colegio de Santa Cruz had not yet been founded) in order to write out some of their memories of past events, above all, their own account of the Conquest.

The work is valuable to us as historical evidence, but its literary and human value is perhaps even greater. It presents for the first time, and in detail, a picture of the destruction of Nahuatl culture, as witnessed by a few of its survivors. The relevant passages from the manuscript, which has been translated from Nahuatl into Spanish by Dr.Garibay, are given in Chapter 14 of this book.

(3) Codex Florentino. The description of the Conquest preserved in this codex was recorded later than that in "Manuscript 22", but it is much more ample. It was written in Nahuatl, under the eye of Fray Bernadino de Sahagun, by his Indian students from Tlatelolco and elsewhere, using the reminiscences of aged natives who had actually seen the Conquest. The first version of the text "in the Indian language, and in the crude manner in which they spoke it", seems to have been completed in about 1555; unfortunately it has been lost. Fray Bernadinolater made a resume of it in Spanish. Still later, in about 1585, he prepared a second version in Nahuatl to correct the first, which, he said contained "certain things that were not true, and was silent about certain others where it should have spoken".

As Dr. Garibay has remarked, it is impossible to say whether the text has gained or lost from these amendations. It is, however, the most complete indigenous account of the Conquest now known from the sighting of various omens, when the Spaniards had not yet come to this land, to a transcript of one of the speeches in which Don Hernando Cortes admonished all the lords of Mexico, Tezcoco and Tlacopan to deliver their gold and other treasures. We have drawn a number of selections from this invaluable source.

(4) The Major pictographic records. The texts by Sahagun's informants and other native historians are supplemented by various records in which events of the Conquest are set down as paintings, the traditional Indian manner of writing history. The three principal works of this nature are the paintings corresponding to the Nahuatl texts by Sahagun's informants, preserved in the Codex Florentino; the Lienzode Tlaxcala (dating from the middle of the sixteenth century), a collection of eighty paintings describing the actions of the Tlaxcaltccas, a subject tribe who allied themselves with the Spaniards; and the improperly named Manuscrito de 1576 (it mentions several later dates), also known as the Codex Aubin, with both texts and related paintings. There are also some pictures, clearly indigenous in nature, in the manuscript called the Codex Ramirez. This codex was probably compiled from the data assembled before 1580 by Fray Diego de Duran, who is known to have had access to many other native accounts which have since been lost.

(5) Briefer indigenous accounts. We have also drawn several passages from briefer works in Nahuatl. The Codex Aubin is especially valuable; one of the descriptions of the massacre at the chief temple (in Chapter 9) was taken from it. Other important material was set down by Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc in his two chronicles, "Mexicana" and "Mexicayotl", and by the celebrated historian of Chalco, Domingo Francisco de San Anton Munon Chimalpain Cuauhtlehuanitzin. From Chimalpain's VH relation we have used a selection (in Chapter 13) describing the demands made by Cortes after the fall of the capital. Finally, there are the Codex Ramirez, which includes important data from the informants of Tlatelolco, and the brief sections about the Conquest in the Anales Tepanecas de Azcapotzalco and the Anales deMexico y Tlatelolco, both of which are written in Nahuatl.

(6) Accounts by the native allies of Cortes. Any presentation of indigenous texts describing the Conquest must contain at least a few of the accounts written by certain historians, Indian and Mestizo, descended from those natives who joined with Cortes to defeat the Aztecs. The versions they present of certain events, while differing from the other indigenous narratives, do not fall outside the general scope of this book. It is true that the Tlaxcaltecas and Tezcocanos fought at the side of the conquistadors, but the effects of the Conquest were as unhappy for them as for the other Nahuas: all were placed under the yoke of Spain, and all lost their ancient culture forever.

Along with the Lienzo de Tlaxcala (mentioned previously), we have made use of the Historia de Tlaxcala by Diego Munoz Camargo, amestizo who wrote in Spanish during the second half of the sixteenth century. His obviously slanted version of the massacre at Cholula (in Chapter 5) is particularly interesting. We have also used the descriptions of the Conquest which Don Feranado de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, a descendant of the ruling house of Tezcoco, wrote down from the point of view of the Tezcocanos. His XIII relation and Historia chichimeca, both written in Spanish, contain data which he gathered from old Nahuatl sources no longer existant, but which he interpreted in a manner very different from that of the writers of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco.
Posted by Steel Here at 21:20
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