The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca:
Ńudzahui History, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries
The book is a history of the Mixtec “Indians” of southern Mexico, who in their own language call themselves tay Ńudzahui or “people of the rain place.” The Mixtecs were among the most populous Mesoamerican culture and language groups at the time of the Spanish conquest. The study spans a region of Oaxaca called the Mixteca, focusing on communities in the central Mixteca Alta subregion from around 1540 to 1750.
This history is based on a magnificent collection
of primary sources. In particular, the author has translated and analyzed
hundreds of Mixtec-language documents, which were written by Mixtecs
in the roman alphabet from the mid-sixteenth to the early nineteenth
centuries. The collection includes a wide variety of mundane archival
records, including wills, personal letters, criminal records, and financial
accounts, as well as several ecclesiastical publications and manuscripts.
In the last decade, the author has pioneered the study of colonial Mixtec-language
texts. To complement the native-language corpus, the author examines
preconquest and early colonial pictorial writings. The Mixtecs practiced
an elaborate pictographic writing system, which was altered but not
entirely displaced by European forms after the conquest. Also, the author
makes use of Spanish-language civil and criminal trial records, and
Nahuatl-language (Aztec) texts. In its use of multiple types of pictorial
and alphabetic writings for the history of indigenous peoples, this
book is the first of its kind.
The book’s eight substantive chapters address many interrelated themes,
including writing, language, sociopolitical organization, local government,
social and gender relations, land and household organization, religion,
ethnicity, and historical memory. Each chapter considers changes and
continuities from the earliest observable period in the sixteenth century
until the second half of the eighteenth century, indicating local and
regional variation when possible. Throughout, the author emphasizes
the internal, indigenous perspective instead of relying on Spanish sources
and points of view. In its focus on indigenous concepts, the work introduces
a new terminology and new categories of analysis. The conclusion makes
detailed comparisons with recent findings on the Nahuas of central Mexico
and the Maya of Yucatan, and revisits the topic of cultural change among
indigenous peoples under colonial rule. An appendix features transcriptions
and translations of Mixtec-language documents. The book includes 56
illustrations and three maps.
The work builds upon a tradition of excellence in Mixtec and Mesoamerican ethnohistory, while offering an important reinterpretation of Ńudzahui society and culture under Spanish rule. The book's content and methodology will interest scholars from many fields of history and related disciplines, such as anthropology, linguistics, women's studies, and art history.