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date: 24 April 2017

The Colonial Mosaic of Indigenous New Spain, 1519–1821

Summary and Keywords

From a geographically, environmentally, linguistically, and ethnically highly variable Mesoamerica, Spain created a core region within her American territories. But for New Spain’s indigenous inhabitants (Mexica or Nahua, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Maya), despite experiencing demographic catastrophe, political and religious subjugation, and labor exploitation during and after conquest, native cultural patterns and agency influenced the reshaping of governance and community (the latter into pueblos de indios), economy, and spiritual and social life during the period of colonial rule. Because environments, indigenous languages, patterns of political, economic, and spiritual organization, ways of structuring family life, varieties of cultural expression, and forms of interrelationships with Spaniards varied so much, indigenous people did not experience a single New Spain. Instead, a multiplicity of New Spains emerged. These indigenous New Spains would play different roles during the independence period, which led to a protracted struggle, further impoverishment, and growing isolation in the new nations of Mesoamerica but cultural survival as well.

Keywords: indigenous New Spain, conquest, indigenous languages, independence, Maya, Mesoamerica, Mexica, Mixtec, Nahua, Pueblos de indios, religion, Zapotec

The ethnic differences that existed as Europeans encountered and colonized non-European peoples have proven very persistent. They provide the basis for political and cultural fault lines relevant to many political struggles within and between postcolonial nation states throughout the world. Also true for Mesoamerica, the “many Mexicos” that Lesley Byrd Simpson observed for the 19th and 20th centuries can also be seen as “many New Spains” for the colonial period.1 From a geographically, environmentally, linguistically, and ethnically highly variable Mesoamerica, Spain created a core region within her American territories. But for New Spain’s indigenous inhabitants, despite experiencing demographic catastrophe, political and religious subjugation, and labor exploitation, native cultural patterns and agency influenced the re-shaping of governance, economy, and spiritual and social life during the period of colonial rule. Thus, because environments, languages, patterns of political, economic, and spiritual organization, ways of structuring family life, varieties of cultural expression, and forms of interrelationships with Spaniards varied so much, indigenous people did not experience a single New Spain. Instead, a multiplicity of New Spains emerged.

These New Spains would shape Spanish actions and indigenous responses to them across the colonial period. The existence of these indigenous-influenced regions helps explain the complexity of native actions and roles during the independence period. Native cultural patterns and agency, of course, did not solely determine patterns of colonial governance—who conquerors were and how they carried out their particular projects of military and political domination, varying patterns of migration and population change in Mesoamerica, and the identities and changing aims of officials on both sides of the Spanish Atlantic all helped forge the colonial system. But the highly differentiated patterns of life and belief systems Spaniards encountered would endure well beyond the colonial period. Despite similarities in colonizing and administrative goals and acculturative congruities that developed across indigenous cultures, from indigenous perspectives, the viceroyalty of New Spain did not constitute a homogeneous, singular ruling system. Instead, its patterns of power and authority were experienced in heterogeneous and highly variable ways.

Local Environments, Peoples, and Cultures in 1519

The modern nations of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador as well as parts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica constitute Middle or Mesoamerica. Almost a century ago, Paul Kirchhoff argued that a specific set of traits including full-time agriculture, the existence of large cities or ceremonial centers including their identifiable territories with pyramids, palaces, and ball courts, villages shaped by kinship, definable boundaries, and a primary or tutelary deity, hieroglyphic or pictographic writing systems, and 365- and 260-day calendrical systems characterized the beliefs and practices of this large geo-cultural region.2 Later scholars place a greater emphasis on the environmental and cultural differences that served to bind areas within Mesoamerica through cooperation and conflict. A subject of particular contention has been where Mesoamerica’s northern border lies. Traditionally, the northern boundary has been drawn around the Pánuco and Sinaloa rivers that cut across the eastern and western escarpments of the Sierra Madre Mountains, but this excludes northern agriculturalists whose languages, architecture, and trade patterns show persistent connections and similarities to central Plateau Mesoamerican peoples from the Classic Period on (150–900 CE). Perhaps the northern and southern boundaries are best conceived of as fluid and shifting in relation to environmental, cultural, and economic changes during the Classic and Postclassic periods. Mesoamerica, therefore, should be viewed less as a geographically bounded cultural area and more as a sphere of cultural interaction within which enormous environmental and cultural complexity existed before and after Europeans arrived.

Its environments have typically been understood in relation both to elevation and climate. In simplest terms, they divide Mesoamerica into three altitude-based zones: highlands (tierra fría, 0–1,000 m high), temperate lands (tierra templada, 1,000–2,000 m high), and lowlands (tierra caliente, 2,000–2,800 m high).3 These elevation differences combined with regional geographic divisions upon which geographers and archaeologists do not precisely agree created distinctive ecological zones. At least five important ones can be identified—the North-Central Highlands, Southern Highlands, Gulf Coast Lowlands, Pacific Coast Lowlands, and Far Northern Dry Lands—that shaped population distributions and agricultural and trade potentialities resulting in an incredibly diverse mix of cultures and languages. In some regions people used these potentialities to create urban civilizations that waxed and waned in influencing broad areas within Mesoamerica.4

Some fourteen language families have been identified for Mesoamerica. Some of the oldest include the Otomanguean and Mayan language families, with Uto-Aztecan languages—the group that includes the language, Nahuatl, spoken by the Mexica and related peoples, commonly known as the “Aztecs” or Mexica—a latecomer to the Mesoamerican linguistic scene. Linguistic, archaeological, and historical evidence provides many clues to the cultural complexity of Mesoamerica—the mix of peoples, languages, and rise and decline of urban civilizations, from the Olmecs, Zapotecs (Benezaa), and Mayas (among the earliest) to the Mixtecs (Ñudzahui), Tarascans (P’urhépecha), and Aztecs.5 Rather than trace this complex earlier cultural history, this article focuses upon those peoples encountered by Spaniards who then made profound adjustments from 1519 on. Yet many of these peoples would find ways to shape the new colonial world. Indigenous actions allowed for cultural survival that preserved languages and cultural beliefs and practices and influenced regional patterns of governance and society.

Spaniards encountered a politically, ethnically, and socially diverse Mesoamerica in 1519. Throughout central, western, and southern Mesoamerica, Europeans found complex cultures, organized into kingdoms or city-states, the altepetl (Mexica), the yuhuitayu (Mixtec), the queche (Zapotec), or the cah (lowland Maya), each with a ruler or rulers representing a dynasty or dynasties that shared the responsibilities of rulership over urban and rural areas. In the center and west, imperial political organizations also existed, with the Aztec excan tlatolayan (commonly known in English as the Triple Alliance) and Tarascan empires being the best known. In Oaxaca and the lowland and highland south, highly competitive kingdoms existed, with ephemeral confederations forming at times. But competition and near-constant wars did not allow such confederations to organize diplomatic, trade, or tribute relations for lengthy periods. In the north, Spaniards encountered the greatest diversity of peoples, languages, and types of political organization; by 1519 for most of that huge area, true city-states do not seem to have been present.6 Across that area, both hunting and gathering and sedentary agricultural peoples existed, with the former living in a transient, migratory pattern and agriculturalists organized into permanent villages and towns that rarely developed into ceremonial centers or city-states.7

In the north and central regions especially, a diverse panorama of ethnic differentiation was to be found. For the north, over forty groups with distinctive languages and/or a shared sense of identity existed at the time of first contact. For the center, perhaps about the same number of ethnicities existed, including the center-west and Oaxaca. But how late prehispanic peoples understood ethnic differentiation is not easily comprehended; thus “counting” ethnic groups is no straightforward matter. Even among Nahuas, many city-states were multi-ethnic and somewhat linguistically diverse, although the Nahuatl used in and around the Basin of Mexico was fairly uniform. In the south about thirty distinct Mayan languages were spoken, with linguistic diversity concentrated in the Maya highlands, but ethnicity does not appear to have existed to the same degree as in the north and center. For the south, locality, kinship, and class apparently played larger roles as the basis for collective identities.8

For both the center and the south, class also shaped the social diversity that structured political and daily life in these areas. Clear evidence of class stratification in these areas dates back to the early Classic period. There societal distinctions based upon differential access to material goods, power, and/or prestige prevailed, distinguishing two strata of nobles and commoners. Status was conferred by birth, but each group was further divided as to prominence; for example, some nobles, especially those most closely related to ruling dynasties, held more power, and some commoners had greater access to land or the luxury goods traded across Mesoamerica. A middle stratum of specialists and functionaries also furnished skills and services needed by the upper class. A small group of slaves, war captives and individuals who had sold themselves, also existed.9 How did Spaniards begin the process of interaction with these diverse regions, environments, peoples, and cultural practices upon their arrival in Mesoamerica?

Interactions, Diplomacy, Conquest

Many historians and certainly students and the general public still view conquest by Spaniards as a single unique set of events carried out by strategically, militarily, and culturally superior Spaniards rather than the lengthy, often intermittent, and highly contested process that it was. As Matthew Restall has convincingly shown, the dominant narrative involves many myths, especially ideas about Spanish military superiority and a native belief that Spaniards were gods, which are false.10 The most significant factors in explaining conquests had to do with indigenous allies, including translators like the famous Malintzin, who aided Cortés, or whole ruling groups or factions who sided with Spaniards, the use of steel weapons, and the spread of disease—the latter factor particularly crucial in the surrender and defeat of the Mexica.

In the 1520s, chains of conquest radiated from the center to the west, north, and south, and over time Spaniards brought Mesoamerica under a degree of political and economic control. However, considerable variety characterized this process, influenced by differences in environment, modes of indigenous–European interactions, extent of diplomacy, and course of military action. Particularly in the north and south, conquests were usually prolonged affairs in which multiple conquerors with different personalities and strategies participated, and attempts to subdue and subjugate native peoples required tenacity over long periods of time. These efforts needed to be persistent because some environments made avoidance of Spanish invaders easy and because cultural characteristics, political structures, and responses to Europeans varied both within and across regions. Indigenous actions to defend, maintain, or reestablish political autonomy entailed repeated Spanish forays to subdue violent resistance. Oaxaca, on the other hand, provides an example similar to the Valley of Mexico, where some groups largely allied themselves with Cortés. But the Sierra Zapotecs, Chinantecs, and Mixes suffered extreme forms of violence including the intensive use of dogs to pacify these peoples who fought tenaciously for sovereignty until the 1550s.11

While the indigenous did not completely control forms of interaction with Spaniards, their modes of interaction strongly influenced how patterns of alliance, violence, and warfare played out. Four strategies for dealing with Spaniards existed—misdirection, flight, alliance, or warfare. Some groups used more than one of these strategies: the Tlaxcalteca first battled to keep Spaniards out of their territory but then formed through diplomacy the alliance most crucial to Cortés’s defeat of the Mexica and conquest of Tenochtitlan. Mayas were adept at misdirection as when Yucatec Mayas encouraged Cortés and his followers to march west in search of a wealthier people to conquer and plunder.12

Another strategy consisted of flight to regions of refuge to avoid subjugation. Cortés, in his letters to Charles II, described Mayas fleeing Spaniards during his expedition to Honduras. Indeed, flight from what natives viewed as intolerable Spanish efforts at economic, social, and spiritual control was characteristic of Maya regions, lowland and highland, as well as many areas in the far north.13

Warfare became the most common outcome of encounters, with some campaigns of subjugation very prolonged. While conquering the Mexica took just under two years, the subjugation of Mayas, who were not unified under the control of a single group or confederation, took nearly 200 years. Mayas engaged in continuous resistance in the first decades after the arrival of Europeans, forcing Spaniards to repeatedly expend resources and manpower to subdue peoples who fought to maintain autonomy. Undermining these Maya efforts to maintain independence were decisions by some groups and factions to side with Spaniards, less because of a desire for integration and acculturation, and more because of an expansionist politics predicated upon the goal of subduing other indigenous groups. The highland K’iche Maya, for example, engaged in a lengthy project of expansion and domination over other Maya groups before the arrival of Spaniards.14

In the north, waves of warfare greeted multiple Spanish entradas (expeditions) as western and far northwestern peoples rejected the Spanish presence. By the last quarter of the 16th century, however, after contacts and expeditions by Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado and others, the spread of disease, slaving, and the slow encroachments of encomiendas (a grant of tribute and labor which carried responsibilities of governance and evangelization) led to the establishment of towns, mines, haciendas (large landed estates), and ranches even as multiple groups persisted in rejecting or rebelling again Spanish authority.15 But even after the subjugation of the majority of Mesoamerican peoples by the 1550s, the process of instituting tributary and governing relations as well as effecting cultural transformation continued, like conquest, to be shaped by the different environments, cultures, and political and economic formations that forced Spaniards to adjust.

Economy and Labor

Transferring wealth to the Spanish Crown and individual Spaniards, participants in the wars of conquest or governing officials, soon became the primary goal of the Spanish Mesoamerican project. In fact, early institutions of governance came into being to facilitate the use of indigenous labor and transfer wealth, mainly in raw materials. It can be argued that Spaniards maintained this pattern of economic predation across Mesoamerica and throughout the entire colonial period. But how labor was provided and what material goods Spaniards desired differed across space and time in accordance with varying environments and indigenous patterns of economic extraction and governance.

During the first decade of the 16th century, Spain established both the encomienda and the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade, to license ships, merchants, and emigres and oversee goods shipped across the Spanish Atlantic) in the Caribbean. Both institutions served as the early foundation for Spanish economic policy in Mesoamerica. Cortés began the process of distributing encomiendas to his followers and to a few indigenous high nobles (particularly some of the children of the Mexica ruler Motecuhzoma, whose loyalty to Spaniards Cortés wished to secure). By the mid-1530s, about thirty encomiendas had been distributed in the Basin of Mexico, based largely on the altepetl or prehispanic kingdoms and the surviving members of the prehispanic ruling dynasties. The Crown expressed ambivalence toward encomienda as soon as Cortés began distributing them to himself and others. This uncertainty, attacks from the clergy (especially from Bartolomé de las Casas), and dramatic demographic decline combined to undermine the institution with a transition toward a system of civil governance, tribute payments made in currency and/or maize (rather than other kinds of goods), and a substitution first of a rotational labor system, repartimiento, and then a more privatized labor system involving contracts, debt, or imprisonment instituted in many parts of Mesoamerica by 1580.

What Spaniards did not do right away was attempt large land transfers; encomiendas were not land grants. But while Spaniards effected a process of transfer over time, it was complex, laborious, and very uneven. Understanding prehispanic patterns of property ownership across Mesoamerica and how they would shape the implementation of Spanish models is quite challenging. Because indigenous concepts of ownership and value differed markedly from those of Europeans and often involved layers of shared and collective rights that varied regionally and culturally, historians must rely largely upon Spanish descriptions of phenomena they comprehended at best only partially. In the Basin of Mexico most land fell into three categories: lands of commoners “owned” by the corporate units, tlaxilacalli or calpulli, into which prehispanic city-states were divided (calpullalli); lands of the rulers and nobility (tlatocatlalli, teuctlalli, or pillalli), often worked by low-status commoners attached to noble families or houses (lineage-like units of social structure); or lands tied to supreme rulers or others who performed administrative, military, and/or judicial offices for rulers and kingdoms (tecpantlalli). This description may roughly apply to other areas of Mesoamerica, especially the west, Oaxaca, and the Maya south, but specific patterns varied, and it does not pertain to the north where prerogatives were less stratified.16

While Spanish law, in theory, offered protection for native landholdings, the office land category disappeared quickly, and noble and commoner lands began to become privatized. Demographic decline and the policy of congregación (resettlement designed to facilitate nucleation for civil and religious administrative purposes) came together to allow growing transfers of land to Spaniards, and outright squatting, especially through cattle grazing, facilitated transfers of “vacant” lands even when native communities had valid claims to ownership. These transfers permitted haciendas, plantations, missions, and mines to develop. Nevertheless, indigenous communities maintained common, community-controlled property known as ejidos (community lands) and the fundo legal (legally protected minimum amount, 600 square varas, of community land) and did so based upon the persistence of native landholding structures. This occurred in the Puebla region, for example, where noble houses, teccalli, maintained land holdings through cacicazgo (the native form of mayorazgo, the right of an eldest son to a title and specific share of inheritance). In contrast to the center and south, the north presents a much more complex patchwork pattern of both change and continuity in which shifts in land use and ownership occurred later and differently, complicated by issues of water access.17

Even with property retention and agricultural patterns conforming to indigenous production and inheritance practices, Spanish units of agriculture appeared, persisted, and prospered by the late 16th century. Agricultural and ranching haciendas could be found in many areas, north, center, and south. Indigenous communities or individuals across Mesoamerica fought Spanish rights to land and water, used largely prehispanic farming methods aimed at producing the traditional subsistence crops of maize and beans, and worked land in a more collective fashion. The maintenance of other forms of production, especially textiles and cochineal dye, ensured that the indigenous in many regions retained considerable control over production and local markets. Competition over land would, however, be exacerbated in the 18th century as native population rebounded. As land loss accelerated, indigenous peoples—north, center, and south—increasingly migrated to cities, mining towns, or haciendas to find employment, spawning new patterns of ethnic diversity in New Spain’s cities.18

A wide array of forms and sites of labor for indigenous people characterized Mesoamerica throughout the colonial period. By 1542, the Spanish Crown had outlawed Indian slavery, but in both the far north and far south Spaniards exploited native slaves and/or captured natives and shipped them to other areas of Spanish America to be used as slaves.19 In most areas of Mesoamerica, native men and women worked in haciendas, mines, domestic service, or public works such as the huge drainage project known as the desagüe that drained the lakes in and around Mexico City, as well as in their own neighborhoods or towns.20 Colonial forms of labor blended elements of paternalism, coercion, and native agency. Spaniards in some areas depended on native labor performed in a traditional fashion to produce highly desired, valuable items. Such was the case with the repartimiento de mercancias or repartimiento of goods in which raw or finished goods were sold to native communities or individuals at high prices in return for tribute in finished goods such as textiles or cochineal dye. Spaniards also purchased these goods at artificially low prices.

The production of the red dye cochineal—the second largest export from Mesoamerica for much of the colonial period—was centered in Oaxaca. An extremely labor-intensive process, cochineal production entailed the growing of the needed insect on cacti, then “harvesting” and drying the insects in order to sell them for dye production. These activities required skills long cultivated by indigenous peoples, especially Mixtecs and Zapotecs. Repartimiento de mercancias was less a labor system and more a means of exchange by which Spanish merchants obtained a commodity for which Spaniards could not easily organize the labor. The system depended upon balancing elements of credit extension, coercion, and negotiation, with local Spanish officials, alcaldes mayores, often playing a role in its functioning but not in production itself.21

Politics and Governance

The extraction of wealth through labor and production required social order; thus civil governance played an important role in indigenous life throughout the colonial period, especially from the late 1520s on when Charles II appointed officials to supplant Cortés’s governing role. Yet the forms of political organization and enactment of political authority, while seemingly similar, varied across regions and cultures because of the different political systems Spaniards encountered. Equally important were indigenous responses that ranged from partial acceptance or transformation of these impositions to outright rejection. The encomienda grants mentioned earlier relied upon the political authority of native leaders. But as encomienda died out, colonial political organization became more complex despite its theoretical bifurcation into two semi-autonomous repúblicas, the Republic of Spaniards and the Republic of Indians, each of which had its own political hierarchy of institutions and officials. For indigenous peoples, these blended Postclassic structures and nomenclature with Spanish forms and terminology. Colonial indigenous leaders, caciques and gobernadores (governors), and the main political units, towns (pueblos de indios), derived from native structures of which Spaniards could make use. The Nahua tlatoque, Mixtec yya toniñe, Zapotec coquitao, and lowland Maya halach uinic or batab (all terms for supreme rulers) became caciques in the colonial era, and the Nahua altepetl and kingdoms of other Postclassic states became the organizational units, generally referred to as pueblos by the late 16th century. Each unit had a central area or head town (cabecera) and outlying, more dispersed areas, many of which sought through legal means to become independent pueblos beginning in the 17th century.

The viceroyalty and audiencias (jurisdictions into which viceroyalties were divided) formed the upper levels of administration within New Spain. These institutions and their officials mattered to decision making for the indigenous population. But officials at lower levels of administration mattered even more, especially the corregidores or alcaldes mayores who oversaw the corregimientos (similar to counties or districts and their officials), along with local native officials who served as or under the gobernadores (pueblo governors).The native officials most directly responsible for governance in pueblos and indigenous sectors of colonial cities included alcaldes (who served as both judges and councilmen) and regidores (councilmen) of the cabildos (town councils), as well as notaries, constables, tribute collectors, jailers, and church stewards. The arena of governance is where we see the greatest similarities across Mesoamerica, even when the timing of the imposition of the Spanish municipal structure and governing hierarchy, as well as adaptation of the indigenous governing bureaucracy to a hispanicized system, differed according to the period of conquest. Despite the seeming homogeneity, Spanish structures were almost always a veneer that masked, but did not destroy, local political and settlement practices.22

Local administration of native communities thus contained strong elements of indirect rule and showed regional variations in both the structure and timing of the introduction and evolution of the system of civil governance even as a hierarchical system of office holding, the cargo system, developed after the cabildo structure took hold across most regions of New Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries. When the cargo system emerged, its offices and ladder of prestige were primarily civil, with the positions carrying responsibilities over governance, tribute collection, and social order. Religious offices did not appear in their fullest form until the third century of colonial rule, but the steward or fiscal of the local church as well as the church constable and scribe (alguacil and escribano de la iglesia) constituted positions within this governing hierarchy.23

While native communities adapted and transformed Spanish civil and religious governance in order to meet community needs, colonial records reveal widespread forms of resistance and revolt. Collaboration and accommodation by native elites and commoners certainly occurred across Mesoamerica during and after the waves of conquest. Nonetheless, resistance (nonviolent efforts at agency including legal and extralegal assertions of will over labor, governance, and spirituality) and rebellion (violent assertions of will) became common. Use of Spanish law to contest both community and individual grievances with Spaniards over land, labor, water, tribute collection, and governance-related issues (especially about office holding and elections) occurred in many areas of Mesoamerica. Litigation became so common, especially in central Mexico, that the Spanish Crown created a special court for Indians, the Juzgado General de Indios, to manage the vast outpouring. But harsh working and living conditions, waves of disease, repression of indigenous beliefs, and loss of autonomy led—even under threat of harsh punishments—not only to acts of resistance but to waves of rebellion.

Despite areas of marked opposition to Spanish conquest in the north (including the Mixtón and Chichimeca wars of the 1540s and beyond), the Sierra of Oaxaca (1530s), and the Yucatan and Guatemala (1530s and beyond), a period of adjustment and adaptation occurred during the 16th century. In the Basin of Mexico region where the intensity of Spanish rule made aggressive resistance more difficult (though not impossible), cultural creativity in writing, the arts, and adapting the Spanish legal system to indigenous ends occurred early and profoundly. When rebellions occurred they were briefer and smaller in scale than elsewhere in the 17th and 18th centuries. For other regions and cultures, there is a deeper, more persistent record of rebellion.24

Early revolts in the north with millenarian undertones aimed to rid the region of Spaniards and reassert native autonomy and spiritual practices. The Tepehuan Rebellion of 1616, for example, was among the most successful for several years in assertions of ethnic identity and indigenous agency, with a large human and material investment necessary to end the revolt. Later rebellions, while also asserting agency, sought more advantageous terms for work conditions and access to land within the colonial system. The more ominous Yaqui Rebellion of 1740 has been attributed to the violation of a longstanding and peaceful colonial pact that afforded Yaquis substantial autonomy.25

In western and southern Mesoamerica, the goal often was reform, but some revolts became widespread. The Tehuantepec revolt of 1660, for example, began there and soon spread to other parts of Oaxaca including Nejapa, a nearby community, and towns in the highlands such as Ixtepei and Villa Alta, the seat of Spanish authority in the region. Numbering in the thousands, Zapotecs and supporters from other indigenous ethnicities fought and killed a number of Spanish officials, protesting against excessive repartimiento and tribute demands as well as various kinds of harsh treatment. Eventually the viceregal government in the person of a judge of the Real Audiencia from Mexico City arrived to investigate and punish. Sentencing six leaders to death and imposing punishments ranging from exile to whipping, most participants actually went unchastised and some extractive excesses were ameliorated in the years that followed.26

Repressive reactions would grow still more severe. Tzeltal Maya rebels in the highlands of Chiapas revolted over efforts to maintain a kind of Catholic religious autonomy through expressions of loyalty to a local image of the Virgin Mary that became linked to desires for Maya priests and protests against economic abuses. Fighters from twenty-one towns rose up and ultimately numbered between four and six thousand. Finally, after battles and forced Spanish occupations, the rebellion ended, the colonial government executed dozens of rebel leaders and whipped and/or exiled hundreds of others.27

While repression tended to lead to periods of peace, the Bourbon reforms of the 18th century (discussed further below) caused both ephemeral as well as some more lasting revolts by Indians and others. The reforms led, for example, to responses in the 1760s in Michoacán, Guanajuato, and San Luis Potosí, in which mestizos (people of mixed indigenous-Spanish descent) and mulatos (people of mixed African and Spanish descent) participated. Perhaps the most threatening revolt occurred in the environs of Pátzcuaro (Michoacán) when the native governor of the city and region, Pedro de Soria Villarroel, sought to recreate the Tarascan kingdom. From this foundation of indigenous legitimacy, he advocated keeping tribute payments in Pátzcuaro rather than having them delivered to the region’s capital city, Valladolid, and argued for the exemption the city of Pátzcuaro and surrounding indigenous pueblos from other types of payments. When he gathered arms to defend his movement, the Bourbon Crown and viceregal officials perceived the rebellion as a serious challenge, and a severe response ensued. But once again a tenuous peace broke out. 28

Even though colonial indigenous rebellions rarely succeeded and alliances among native groups or between those groups and others were at best ephemeral, an examination of the diverse areas of colonial rebellion suggests that Catholicism sometimes served as a unifying force for protests against a variety of aspects of colonial rule. Nonetheless, the dominant feature of what has been called the spiritual conquest was how, beyond superficial similarities in the techniques of conversion, evangelization actually provoked differing responses.

Religion, Family Life, and Gender

The most fundamental point to understand about the effort to Christianize native peoples throughout Mesoamerica is that while a conversion process occurred everywhere, responses to it were highly diverse and in many ways controlled by the indigenous. Christianity would thus be filtered through native languages and in ways compatible with the spiritual beliefs, both general and local, of Mesoamericans. This complex conversion process produced not a single native Catholicism but many local, plural Catholicisms that began in the colonial period and still exist today.

If the desire to obtain material wealth, particularly silver and gold, motivated Crown, conquerors, and many Spanish emigres, these same actors and others rationalized their actions by undertaking a “spiritual conquest” to convert indigenous Mesoamerica to Christianity. The missionary friars who arrived there in the 1520s were full of a sincere optimism and energy, charged by crown and pope with educating, converting, and monitoring compliance with this new religion. The Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian friars who carried out this project found a highly devout population with sophisticated, deeply held worldviews about the full range of spiritual themes—creation, prayer, sacrifice, penance, time, the life cycle—that religions embrace. If outwardly there were some similarities between native beliefs and Christianity, these were at best surface phenomena that friars seized upon to undertake conversion. This process would require explanation of the new monotheistic beliefs rooted in a deep personal faith in God, Jesus, and Mary and an understanding of sin, the devil, and heaven and hell, concepts completely foreign to Mesoamerican belief systems.

The numbers of indigenous (even with demographic decline) and their highly variable languages and belief systems, as well as the very real gaps that lay between Christian and native spiritual understandings, meant that missionaries had to be innovative. To foster communication about these new beliefs across Mesoamerica required the use of sign language, interpreters, and studying hundreds of different languages. Thus indigenous language learning and translation of key Catholic texts from Latin first into Nahuatl and then into many other languages became core methods upon which other techniques depended. These included an emphasis on teaching children, especially those of rulers and nobles, mass baptisms, reliance on the spectacle of building impressive churches often atop the ruins of indigenous temples, and public performances of plays, music, dances, and processions to introduce and reinforce new ideas and practices. Violent punishment including imprisonment, whipping, water torture, and even execution (used only early and rarely) also constituted sanctioned methods of instilling Christian obedience.29

Such efforts required an institutional structure that Church and Crown supplied through the mendicant orders mentioned above and their monasteries, schools, and hospitals organized through parishes, or doctrinas as they were called early on in the central and southern regions, or missions in the north. The secular clergy, those under the direct supervision of the diocesan organization headed by bishops and archbishops, also played a role in conversion, surveillance over religious compliance, and the daily spiritual lives of indigenous parishioners, especially in larger towns and cities. The increasingly developed Catholic institutional structure depended upon financial support to thrive. Much of this support came from the indigenous in the form of tithes, which at first were included in the tribute payments to encomenderos and then became stand-alone payments to the clergy along with the provision of labor to build the Church’s architectural infrastructure.30

There is no doubt that these efforts provoked substantial change. Temple buildings, indigenous priests (in the prehispanic sense), polygamy, and human sacrifice disappeared for the most part. The hard work of friars and the incorporation of indigenous personnel into the everyday workings of the Catholic Church helped engender these changes in religious practices. In many rural areas, and even in cities where their numbers were higher, the priesthood was insufficient to meet the needs of the population (even after some indigenous became admitted to the priesthood in the 18th century). This meant that many of the daily tasks necessary for churches and chapels to operate were carried out by native personnel, the teopantlaca, or “church people” as they were known in Nahuatl. These officials interacted daily with neophytes and parishioners, teaching and reinforcing Catholic precepts and ceremonies.31

In many regions, clerics ingratiated themselves with their indigenous parishioners and formed relations of mutual dependence in which they not only supported the spiritual lives of natives but offered new forms of useful information, services (for example in making wills), and support for native petitions concerned with ecclesiastical and political issues. They mediated conflicts over indigenous payment of tithes, encroachments on village lands, and excessive demands on labor. Eventually, however, many of them came to see the evangelization project, which they had once so optimistically viewed as both great opportunity and success, in negative terms. They viewed conversions as superficial at best and feared backsliding, idolatry, and paganism behind every altar. What Spanish churchmen failed to understand was that conversion was a more complex process than mass baptism, even accompanied by punitive sanctions, could accomplish. Furthermore, their inexpert use of indigenous languages actually furthered the persistence of some indigenous religious beliefs. Christian ideas were often presented in such a watered-down, even meaningless, fashion that natives could only grasp them in simplistic or erroneous ways, begging the question of whether deeply individualized beliefs had been inculcated.32 Yet over time real religious change occurred. Indians came to see themselves as baptized Christians who valued Catholic sacraments and devoted themselves to God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and a variety of saints. But beyond this core of Catholic belief and practice, indigenous Christians observed the new religion collectively with family and kin as well as through local, community calendars, festivals and celebrations, and ways of healing. Yucatec Maya ideas about sacred space, world creation, and pilgrimage persisted, for example, as part of early colonial Maya Catholic processions and production of art in Yucatec churches.33

The wide variations in language and local settings resulted in the construction of idiosyncratic Christianities in which local as well as some key pan-Mesoamerican spiritual beliefs survived and have persisted to the present day. Anthropologist Gary Gossen argues that six such ideas endure, even though the terminologies and cultural contexts for their expression vary. These include the concept of individual coessences, vital powers that can be shared with deities, spirits, or animal companions that come into being when an individual is born; cyclical time as a sacred entity; the idea of the cosmos as structured both vertically and horizontally; the notion of conflict—especially supernatural forms of it—as creative and life-sustaining forces; the notion of spoken language as a powerful symbolic entity in and of itself; and dualism and complementarity as fundamental elements of religious symbolism and social structure enacted through daily life.34

Dualism and complementarity, in fact, underlay important aspects of family life and gender for many colonial Mesoamerican peoples. Dualism refers to the idea that two opposing forces must be brought together in order for action to occur and balance to be achieved. Many Mesoamerican historical and ethnographic studies emphasize that male and female essences must come together to constitute a whole. Ideas of gender dualism and complementarity informed many aspects of Mesoamerican family life and sexuality, even as relationships of inequality in both the prehispanic and colonial eras influenced daily life in significant ways.

While kinship and household structures varied across Mesoamerican and still do today, there is little doubt that the introduction of the new religion, combined with changing demographic patterns and new kinds of labor and tribute regimes as well as long-term influences of Spanish kinship and family terminologies, influenced trends emphasizing father–child ties and household nuclearization. For church and state, a more nuclear family structure offered advantages. This household form made tribute assessment and collection easier. It also served to reduce the collective authority of elders, with households becoming more centered on the father’s authority (rather than the prehispanic parallel or complementary authority structures). He would serve as the family’s representative to local authorities, Spanish and indigenous. Priests also worked to reinforce the Catholic marriage sacrament, with their preference for premarital chastity encouraging marriage at younger ages, especially for women. They imposed new restrictions on marriage partners, ended polygamy practiced especially by elites, and forbade marriages between relatives, particularly cousins, that would have been allowed in the prehispanic era.35

Drawing an overly romanticized picture of indigenous family life before 1519 would be an error, given that poverty, war, and violence against women all existed and disrupted family life. The church’s emphasis on a new kind of family values (chastity, monogamy, and a de-emphasis on marriage as a relationship between families and kin groups) elevated men’s status at the expense of women. But both women and men found ways to strengthen family, kin, and community ties through new institutions, especially compadrazgo (ritual kinship or coparenthood) and cofradías (confraternities or brotherhoods). Natives often eagerly adopted compadrazgo, the practice through which most commonly a couple, related through kinship or friendship ties, took on the obligation to aid parents’ efforts to support and educate their children, usually at a child’s baptism, and practices such as female ritual activities in marriage, medicine, and childbirth continued.

In a colonial society in which death due to recurring epidemics, the frequent absence of men due to labor obligations, and higher likelihood of poverty related to the instability of family life, ritual kinship became a useful substitute for the extended family structures of the past. Cofradías, communal organizations that supported local religious celebrations and helped families in times of economic hardship, performed similar functions at the community level. Men tended to run these organizatios, in part because male office holders in the pueblos managed their properties and funds with the aid of a mayordomo who reported to the communities’ governing officials and the local priest. But women could belong to the cofradías and sometimes took on leadership roles, especially overseeing activities of female members, an echo of the complementary roles they played in religious organization of the prehispanic past.36

Female roles in birth, marriage, and medicine also carried over into the colonial period, as women worked as midwives, matchmakers, and healers. Women’s activities in all three areas provoked negative responses from clergy because of the possibility of undermining Catholic teachings. One of the ritual areas that most concerned the church in New Spain was indigenous women’s activities in the realm of magic, hechicería, which involved the use of magical objects and unorthodox rituals to achieve goals relating to illness, love, or revenge. Indigenous practitioners, predominantly female, played an important role in the practices of folk magic and healing in rural and urban areas as well as in the emergence of syncretic ideas that blended native, Spanish, and African practices.37

The popularity of these practices points to the importance of emotions in family life and sexuality. Mesoamericans saw sexuality as potentially creative and destructive and they closely linked ideas about sex, fertility, and creation, human and agricultural. Nahuas, while concerned about controlling the virginity of the daughters of the elite, worried more about the dangers of excess; promiscuity or adultery could cause thahtlacolli (damage) and tlahzolli (pollution), both of which were to be avoided to maintain balance. Ideas connecting sex, food, and agriculture can still be found among contemporary Nahuas and Mayas, who see excessive sexuality, especially adultery, as physically dangerous.38 These beliefs suggest that Catholic teaching only moderately influenced ideas about the body, procreation, and sexuality. How Mesoamericans defined, expressed, and enacted gender and sexuality also varied. For some, the sexual, familial and social landscapes embraced concepts of same sexualities (as behavior and symbol) as well as possible “third gender” people.39

Languages and Cultural Expressions

Literacy existed in many Mesoamerican cultures before Spaniards arrived, especially in the center and southern regions. A form of knowledge and skill seemingly restricted to a small number of elites for religious and governing purposes, aside from early hieroglyphic writing in stone and ceramics by Olmecs, Mayas, and others, only some fifteen pictorial and written codices of the thousands produced have survived. Written and drawn on paper made from maguey fiber, tree bark, or deer skin, they perished easily in the humid conditions of many areas. But Spaniards destroyed almost all of those that survived conquest as they sought to erase evidence of what they saw as pagan, heretical beliefs.

The existence of writing nonetheless constituted the basis for a transition in Nahua, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Mayan-speaking areas to the adoption of alphabetic literacy in those languages. The importance of that development for colonial indigenous people and societies cannot be overemphasized. Calendrics, dynastic histories and genealogies, tribute collection, and maps all became subjects for colonial documents or postconquest codices. Such texts served as vehicles for memory transmission within and beyond communities as a number of them fulfilled political and legal purposes, asserting rights of communities or factions within them over rulership, property ownership, or resource use. While frequently the means for the expression of noble concerns, both nobles and commoners came to use writing, for example, in wills to claim and defend rights that were increasingly contested in the demographically, socially, and economically fluid colonial world. Once the technology of writing became dispersed, Spaniards could not control the uses to which writing was put. Official communication multiplied and unofficial, unsanctioned, or clandestine literatures developed.40

That indigenous literacies served official purposes can be seen in the mountains of documents produced regarding town governance and economic affairs, individual property ownership, and even criminal activities. Furthermore, the position of notary or scribe, as noted earlier, became a crucial office for the functioning of pueblo governance throughout colonial Mesoamerica. This official documentation sheds much light on both daily life and legal activities during the colonial period. Scribes produced a wide array of texts, including contracts, wills, census-type documents, tribute records, testimony for court cases, and cabildo records. While many, if not all, of these records reflect the requirements of the colonial political and judicial systems, some types of record keeping used by Nahuas, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Mayas, and others adapted elements of prehispanic communication genres, such as pictorialism and emphasis on oral modes of expression and history keeping, to the colonial alphabet.

The basic categories of texts are similar across the colonial written indigenous language groupings, but the timing of their adoption varies, depending upon the timing of conquest and the initiation of evangelization. There were also regional variations and disparity in the extent of Spanish language impact on indigenous grammar and vocabulary; Yucatec Mayan was the slowest to change and the least affected. Perhaps the greatest variability occurred among the colonial Mixtecs, some of which was due to geographic location. Places that had greater contact with Spanish administrative centers and personnel manifested earlier and deeper language change, while more remote sites experienced less and were more likely to retain their spoken and written languages for much longer.41

Indigenous alphabetic writing did not always serve official purposes and the existence of so-called “clandestine” documents may complicate our ideas about pathways of change. Some colonial Nahua, Zapotec, and Maya religious specialists remained strongly influenced by indigenous beliefs about deities, calendars, and healing. They produced indigenous language versions of Christian calendars, prayers, and other sacred writings—for both communal and familial rituals, and perhaps individual devotions as well.42 Often serving as vehicles for the expression and reinforcement of expressly local continuities in timekeeping, healing, beliefs in prehispanic deities, and conceptions of time and space, such ideas, as well as the ritual orations and practices connected to them, reflect a culturally and locally specific process of change in indigenous religions. The Maya-authored Books of the Chilam Balams, several examples of which have been published, included Christian ideas but combined them with worldviews reflecting Yucatec Maya concepts of both religion and political organization.43

Native church officials, fiscales and maestros, heavily influenced the writing and dissemination of these clandestine texts, thus playing a leading role in the diversification and localization of Catholicism. They provided vehicles for the maintenance, through text and practice, of a wide variety of ceremonies and ideas about deities, fertility (human and agricultural), calendrics, and healing. If no one single indigenous Catholicism existed, can we say that a single New Spain existed, especially for indigenous people who practiced—as individuals and communities—such diverse languages, social routines, forms of artistic expression, and ways of making a living? What about the wide array of indigenous responses to both the Bourbon reforms and the development of ideas about independence?

Bourbon Rule and the Coming of Independence

With the transition from Hapsburg to Bourbon rule came a period of pronounced political and economic shifts emanating from Spain. These changes carried many implications for indigenous peoples and communities across New Spain. They had a deep impact on the administration of governance in the pueblos de indios into which most Mesoamerican communities were organized by the 18th century. New economic policies had significant negative consequences, as did new social and religious policies aimed at intensifying acculturation and lessening the semi-autonomous relationships of both secular and regular clergy with the pueblos. All of these impositions, some more effective than others, occurred against a backdrop of population increase in urban and rural areas, growing numbers of multiracial people, and a globalizing economy.44

On the eve of the independence struggle, some 4,300 indigenous pueblos existed in New Spain, the result of the de-urbanization or deconcentration of population in indigenous city-states across central and southern Mesoamerica. These were, for the most part, functioning administrative and social units, with governments and economies that paid tribute, provided labor for public works, carried out religious festivals, funded education, and managed to create an annual surplus kept in the virtual banks of the pueblos, the cajas de comunidad.45 Given the Bourbon crown’s desire to boost revenues, the Spanish government devised means to reach directly into pueblo cultures and economies. First, they created the means to access these surplus funds ostensibly to fund education in the pueblos by requiring each to have a teacher and second, by placing the cajas directly under Spanish administrative control. Special permission became required for the payment of extraordinary expenses, and the amounts allowed to be spent on local festival cycles decreased. Pueblos were directed to lease corporately owned landholdings to raise money and to send surplus funds to provincial capitals where they were applied to local, viceregal, or imperial ventures.

In northern New Spain, the Bourbons implemented a new administrative structure based on the recommendations of royal visitor José de Gálvez, designed to increase revenue and impose greater control over mission pueblos, silver mines, Spanish towns, and military forces that were still fighting hostile indigenous groups like Apaches and Comanches. In the rest of the viceroyalty, the imposition of new policies was largely uniform, but the results were not. The bewildering variety of Mesoamerican cultures, environments, and economies meant that new policies were received in very different ways and sometimes undermined. Ultimately, however, demographic, political, and economic transformations led to impoverishment, litigation, and growing resistance.46 In an increasingly tense atmosphere of growing competition for resources, mounting pressure and impoverishment within many indigenous regions and pueblos, and decreasing autonomy for pueblo governments—stressing, if not ending, what pueblos saw as a pact allowing for a modicum of self-governance, what Murdo MacLeod called the “Pax Hispanica”—Spaniards’ abilities to use force and punishment to control violence remained strong.47 That would change in 1810.

The war for New Spain’s independence was no mass indigenous uprising, but indigenous peoples, especially in particular regions, played important roles in the independence movement across over two decades of violence, destruction, and economic and social change. Without the thousands of natives who participated, independence likely would not have begun nor played out as it did. Beginning in 1810, Padre Miguel Hidalgo attracted thousands of indigenous men to his cause; at the height of his movement in 1811, Hidalgo’s poorly equipped and trained force numbered around 80,000, with the majority likely indigenous. After Hidalgo’s capture and execution that same year, Padre José María Morelos inherited his leadership position in the movement and continued to recruit indigenous troops until he was captured and executed in 1815.48

At the end of the colonial period, New Spain’s population of about 6 million was roughly 60 percent indigenous, and indigenous participation closely mirrored that statistic, amounting to about 55 percent of the pro-independence fighting forces.49 From where did they come, and why did they join in the long, arduous struggle? And what can their motivations tell us about how they saw their own place in the late colonial era? Many of those who joined Hidalgo’s forces came from regions just north (the Bajío) and west of Mexico City, primarily of Nahua, Otomí, and Tarascan ethnic origins. Morelos also attracted indigenous support, including Nahuas and other ethnic groups from Guerrero as well as Mixtec followers in parts of Oaxaca.50 But the inability of Hidalgo and Morelos to attract larger numbers of Nahua followers in and around the Mexico City area prolonged the destructive struggle.

Why were some areas and pueblos attracted to the cause and others not? John Tutino argues that Nahuas in the Basin of Mexico had greater autonomy and security within their pueblos and in their relationships with the region’s haciendas, even in the face of the efforts to weaken indigenous autonomy. In contrast, indigenous peoples in the Bajío and Guadalajara regions had faced deeper commercialization and proletarianization and greater outmigration; they were attracted to Father Hidalgo, who had a history of developing projects to aid native communities (around the pueblo of Dolores), denounced tribute payments, and promised the return of lands that had been lost.51

Those rural indigenous who supported independence did so to promote local interests and traditions (often opposed to change) and were not attracted by the proto-nationalism that emerged before and during the Hidalgo movement. For Eric Van Young, defense of community (what Lockhart and others refer to as “micropatriotism”), loyalty to a distant, abstract, and paternalistic king (as opposed to local Spanish officials who enacted the modernizing Bourbon policies), and rejection of the forces of political and economic change best explains the attraction to the independence cause.52 Yet the pueblos de indios interpreted new ideals embedded in the concept of citizenship as defined in the Cádiz Constitution of 1812 as protection “of ancient freedoms—of ancient rights over territory” and used the electoral system to protect community autonomy.53

Independence must have proved disappointing for those pueblos and people who rioted, rebelled in their own communities, or fought with independence forces. New nation states in Mexico and Central America formally ended the caste system and abolished tribute, but these measures were not harbingers of change. Poverty, exploitation, and a racialized social hierarchy continued to characterize indigenous life. Nineteenth-century indigenous rebellions in both regions loudly proclaimed the rejection of liberal assimilationist policies. Many New Spains became many Mexicos for the new nation’s indigenous inhabitants. Despite continuing land loss and efforts at forced acculturation, indigenous Mexicans maintained languages, cultural practices, lands, and political structures that allowed for survival and cultural creativity. Their resistance and even rebellion in the 21st century, along with their on-going quest for human rights and social justice at local, state, and national levels, still echoes colonial Mesoamerican struggles over identity, land rights, and autonomy.

Discussion of the Literature

Studies of colonial indigenous Mesoamerican peoples, which began as celebrations of heroic Spanish conquistadors who subjugated and evangelized “tribally” organized peoples, moved into an institutional phase that culminated in magisterial studies of the colonial “Aztecs,” lowland Maya, and Mixtecs.54 These studies supported the idea of indigenous agency and survival as they emphasized the ways native political and economic institutions interacted with Spanish institutions to produce a colonial Indian culture, amid the demographic crisis provoked by war, disease, and growing impoverishment.55 The institutional focus has given way to three current trends, one being the New Philology School that emphasizes the study of indigenous language documentation and cultural continuities between the late prehispanic and colonial periods.56 Another trend is an emphasis on the diversity of Mesoamerican peoples that highlights differences among indigenous experiences in rural and urban areas, interactions with and travel to Spain, with the latter studies showing the influence of an Atlantic history approach. This framework examines the colonial and metropolitan within a single analytic lens, as well as the diversity of colonial Mesoamerican populations, indigenous, African, Asian, and Spanish to reconstruct the history of each ethnoracial group as well as interactions among them.57 Another area of interest has been the far north and its divergent trajectory of native cultures, colonization, patterns of production, and social structures.58

Primary Sources

Colonial Mexican history has long profited from the publication of Spanish-language documentation, by both conquerors and early chroniclers, as well as collections of archival documentation published primarily by Mexican scholars. The turn toward analysis of native language documentation was presaged by the publication of early colonial codices such as the Codex Mendoza, edited by Frances Berdan and Patricia Anawalt, and ushered in by the University of Utah’s and the School of American Research’s publication of Arthur Anderson’s and Charle Dibble’s magnificent twelve-volume transcription and translation of Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún’s General History of the Things of New Spain, published as the Florentine Codex. Following that example, New Philology scholars have emphasized publication of indigenous-language sources, led by James Lockhart’s efforts, with Arthur Anderson and Frances Berdan in Beyond the Codices as well as his publication of Nahuatl-language conquest accounts in We People Here. Many other collections of Nahuatl-language documents followed, too many to list here, but volumes dealing with wills, including Kellogg and Restall’s Dead Giveaways and Caterina Pizzigoni’s Testaments of Toluca, which focus on later colonial wills, are examples, as is Teresa Rojas’s four-volume collection, Vidas y bienes olvidadas. Susan Schroeder, with Arthur Anderson, has translated a number of texts authored or transcribed by don Domingo de San Anton Muñón Chimalpahin compiled in the two-volume Codex Chimalpahin, and Louise Burkhart and Barry Sell translated and analyzed numerous Nahuatl-language plays, many translated from Spanish Golden Age theater (Nahuatl Theater). Matthew Restall has translated Yucatec Maya language texts, wills as well as documents dealing with conquest in Life and Death in a Maya Community and Maya Conquistador, and a number of the Books of the Chilam Balam have been published with translations into English or Spanish (see note no. 43). Restall, Sousa, and Terraciano have published Mesoamerican Voices, a single-volume work that provides examples of documents in Nahuatl, Maya, and Mixtec languages, which treat a wide variety of themes including conquest and political organization, family, gender, and religious life. This volume, along with Burkhart’s one-volume overview of Nahuatl language plays (Aztecs on Stage), both with extended introductory essays, are particularly suitable for the undergraduate classroom.

Links to Digital Materials

The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is one of the great libraries in the United States (to be found at the University of Texas, Austin) focused on Latin American, particularly Mexican, sources. The Mexican Manuscript Collection contains extensive colonial materials relevant to the study of native peoples, some dating back to the 1540s.

This site contains numerous indigenous-related documents, many colonial, and is searchable by century. Its documents come from four prominent Mexican cultural institutions: the Archivo General de la Nación, the Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia, the Centro de Estudios de Historia de México, and the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes.

This library research guide from New Mexico State University has a special focus on the Mexico–U.S. border with many sources relating to northern Mexico.

This collection includes texts in multiple native languages across the Americas, many early Mexican. It covers many different kinds of texts including grammars, dictionaries, vocabulary lists, plays, catechisms, and speeches.

Sponsored by the Wired Humanities Projects at the University of Oregon, this online searchable database is publishing textual colonial manuscripts in Nahuatl to which a variety of international collaborators is contributing. Covering the 16th through 19th centuries, it covers a variety of geographic regions and genres of documents.

The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies (FAMSI) was created in 1993 to foster increased understanding of ancient Mesoamerican cultures. The website includes links for Mesoamerican codices as well as other material relating to anthropology, archaeology, art history, epigraphy, ethnography, ethnohistory, linguistics, and related fields.

This site features digitized pictorial Mexican manuscripts, many with cartographic features, with others that illustrate the landscapes of a variety of native communities across Mesoamerica.

This is a multiple language resource in English and Spanish that includes indigenous language materials, for teachers, students, and scholars. Colonial texts and their transcriptions, tutorials on indigenous writing and culture, and video and audio commentaries by scholars on Mesoamerica, past and present, can be found on this site.

This is an online, searchable, vocabulary list that includes Nahuatl, Spanish, and English terms. Also sponsored by the Wired Humanities Projects, other dictionaries are available for Maya, Mixtec, and Zapotec.

This online Portal de Archivos Españoles provides information and access to digitized documents for a wide variety of Spanish archives, including the Archivo de Indias and the Archivo Histórico Nacional, both major repositories for colonial documentation relating to the governance of indigenous peoples.

This project makes available and analyzes information about people, places, and legal actions by indigenous communities who frequently granted powers of attorney in accessing legal representation. Such documents show individuals and communities acting in self-defense yet drawing upon a legal procedure that allowed all native people to participate in legal and political processes.

This digital archive is a portal that offers faculty and students a much more focused way to search for Mesoamerican digitized materials than Google and includes materials from the websites of collaborating institutions and individuals. It includes reproductions of manuscripts and images and aims to provide access to materials about Mesoamerican indigenous peoples from the prehispanic period to the early 19th century.

This portal contains primary source documents from all over the world, is easily searched for Mexico and other countries part of Mesoamerica, and contains Mesoamerican-related materials from the 16th century on.

Further Reading

Burkhart, Louise M. The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth-Century Mexico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989.Find this resource:

Castro Gutiérrez, Felipe. Nueva ley y nuevo rey: reformas borbónicas y rebelión popular en Nueva España. Zamora, Michoacán: El Colegio de Michoacán and UNAM, 1996.Find this resource:

Chance, John K. Race and Class in Colonial Oaxaca. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1978.Find this resource:

Christensen, Mark Z. Nahua and Maya Catholicisms: Texts and Religion in Colonial Central Mexico and Yucatan. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Deeds, Susan M. Defiance and Deference in Mexico’s Colonial North: Indians Under Spanish Rule in Nueva Vizcaya. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Farriss, Nancy M. Maya Society Under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.Find this resource:

Gibson, Charles. The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519–1810. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1964.Find this resource:

Kellogg, Susan. Law and the Transformation of Aztec Culture, 1500–1700. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Levin Rojo, Danna. Return to Aztlan: Indians, Spaniards, and the Invention of Nuevo México. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Lockhart, James. The Nahuas After the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Radding, Cynthia. Wandering Peoples: Colonialism, Ethnic Spaces, and Ecological Frontiers in Northwestern Mexico, 1700–1850. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Restall, Matthew. The Maya World: Yucatec Culture and Society, 1550–1850. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Romero Frizzi, María de los Angeles. El sol y la cruz: los pueblos indios de Oaxaca colonial. Mexico City: CIESAS, 1996.Find this resource:

Romero Frizzi, María de los Angeles, ed. Escritura zapoteca: 2,500 años de historia. Mexico City: CIESAS and INAH, 2003.Find this resource:

Sheridan Prieto, Cecilia. Fronterización del espacio hacia el norte de la Nueva España. Mexico City: CIESAS and Instituto Mora, 2015.Find this resource:

Spicer, Edward Holland. Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533–1960. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1962.Find this resource:

Tavárez, David. The Invisible War: Indigenous Devotions, Discipline, and Dissent in Colonial Mexico. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Terraciano, Kevin. The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca; Ñudzahui History, Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Tutino, John. From Insurrection to Revolution in Mexico: Social Bases of Agrarian Violence, 1750–1940. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Van Young, Eric. The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Mexican Struggle for Independence, 1810–1821. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Wood, Stephanie Gail. Transcending Conquest: Nahua Views of Spanish Colonial Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003.Find this resource:


(1.) Lesley Byrd Simpson, Many Mexicos (New York: Putnam, 1941). Jorge Klor de Alva, “The Postcolonization of the (Latin) American Experience: A Reconsideration of ‘Colonialism,’ ‘Postcolonialism,’ and ‘Mestizaje’,” in Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements, ed. Gyan Prakash (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 215–250; and Jaime E. Rodríguez O., “We are now the true Spaniards:” Sovereignty, Revolution, Independence, and the Emergence of the Federal Republic of Mexico, 1808–1824 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), 3–5, reject the appropriateness of the label “colonial” because Spain considered New Spain a “kingdom,” like others on the Iberian peninsula. But the word “colonial” captures the legally, politically, economically, and socially subordinate situation of Spain’s New World holdings, especially its indigenous peoples, and the “colonial”/“modern” divide retains meaning historically and historiographically. Therefore I use the term “colonial” throughout this essay.

(2.) Paul Kirchhoff, “Mesoamerica,” Acta Americana 1 (1943): 92–107.

(3.) William T. Sanders and Barbara J. Price, Mesoamerica: The Evolution of a Civilization (New York: Random House, 1968), 101–105.

(4.) Robert C. West, “The Natural Regions of Middle America,” in Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 1, Natural Environment and Early Cultures, ed. Robert C. West, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Also see Robert M. Carmack, Janine L. Gasco, and Gary H. Gossen, The Legacy of Mesoamerica: History and Culture of a Native American Civilization, 2d ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007), 12–18. For historians’ thinking on regions of Mexico, if not all of Mesoamerica, see James Lockhart and Ida Altman, eds. Provinces of Early Mexico: Variants of Spanish American Regional Evolution (Los Angeles: UCLAS Latin American Center Publications, 1976); and Eric Van Young, ed. Mexico’s Regions: Comparative History and Development (San Diego, CA: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, UCSD), 1992.

(5.) On the number and early histories of Mesoamerican languages, see Yolanda Lastra, “Linguistics,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures: The Civilizations of Mexico and Central America, vol. 2, ed. Davíd Carrasco (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 123–131. Also see Lyle Campbell, “Middle American Languages,” in The Languages of Native America: Historical and Comparative Assessment, eds. Lyle Campbell and Marianne Mithun, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979), 902–1000; and Jorge A. Suárez, The Mesoamerican Indian Languages (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1983). Because of the wide range of readers with different levels of knowledge about Mesoamerican indigenous peoples, I generally use the older but better known names of peoples while providing the more ethnically accurate names, the ethnonyms peoples use for themselves rather than those, often used by Nahuas, that became common in historical and anthropological literatures.

(6.) J. Charles Kelly, “Mesoamerica and the Southwestern United States,” in Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 4, Archaeological Frontiers and External Connections, eds. Gordon F. Ekholm and Gordon R. Willey (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966), 95–110; Susan Deeds, “Legacies of Resistance, Adaptation, and Tenacity: History of the Native Peoples of Northwest Mexico,” in The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, vol. 2, Mesoamerica, part 2, eds. Richard E.W Adams and Murdo J. Macleod (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 49–52; and Danna A. Levin Rojo, Return to Aztlan: Indians, Spaniards, and the Invention of Nuevo México (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), 52.

(7.) Beatriz Braniff, “La frontera septentrional de Mesoamérica,” in Historia antigua de México, vol.1, El México antiguo, sus áreas culturales, los orígenes y el horizonte preclásico, eds. Linda Manzanilla and Leonardo López Luján (Mexico City: INAH, UNAM, and Porrua, 1994), 113–143; Braniff, La arquitectura de Mesoamérica y de la Gran Chichimeca (Mexico City: INAH, 2010); and Cecilia Sheridan, Fronterización del espacio hacia el norte de la Nueva España (Mexico City: CIESAS and Instituto Mora, 2015).

(8.) Edward H. Spicer, Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533–1960 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1962); Kevin Terraciano, The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Ñudzahui History, Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001), 252–317; and Frances Berdan et al., Ethnic Identity in Nahua Mesoamerica: The View from Archaeology, Art History, Ethnohistory, and Contemporary Ethnography (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2008).

(9.) Pedro Carrasco and Johanna Broda, Estratificación social en la Mesoamérica prehispánica (Tlalpan, D.F., México: SEP/INAH, CIESAS, 1976).

(10.) Matthew Restall, Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); and Stephanie Gail Wood, Transcending Conquest: Nahua Views of Spanish Colonial Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003).

(11.) John K. Chance, Conquest of the Sierra: Spaniards and Indians in Colonial Oaxaca (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989), 16–20.

(12.) Inga Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniards in Yucatan (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 16.

(13.) Nancy Farriss, Maya Society Under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 72–79; Susan M. Deeds, Defiance and Deference in Mexico’s Colonial North: Indians Under Spanish Rule in Nueva Vizcaya (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003), 78–82; and W. George Lovell and Christopher Lutz, with Wendy Kramer and William R. Swezey, Strange Lands and Different Peoples: Spaniards and Indians in Colonial Guatemala (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013), 191–192.

(14.) Robert M. Carmack, The Quiché Mayas of Utatlán: The Evolution of a Highland Guatemala Kingdom (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981), 61–60.

(15.) Philip Wayne Powell, Soldiers, Indians, and Silver: The Northward Advance of New Spain, 1550–1600 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1952); Oakah L. Jones, Los Paisanos: Spanish Settlers on the Northern Frontier of New Spain (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979); L. Carroll Riley, The Frontier People: The Greater Southwest in the Protohistoric Period (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987), 5–14; Deeds, Defiance and Deference; and Ida Altman, The War for Mexico’s West: Indians and Spaniards in New Galicia, 1524–1550 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press), 2010.

(16.) Charles Gibson, The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519–1810 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1964), 257–270; and James Lockhart, The Nahuas After the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 141–163.

(17.) On Puebla, see Ursula Dyckerhoff, “Colonial Indian Corporate Landholding: A Glimpse from the Valley of Puebla,” in The Indian Community of Colonial Mexico, eds. Arij Ouweneel and Simon Miller (Amsterdam: CEDLA, 1990), 40–59. On the north, see Susan Deeds, “Land Tenure Patterns in Northern New Spain,” The Americas 41 (1985): 446–461; Cynthia Radding, Wandering Peoples: Colonialism, Ethnic Spaces, and Ecological Frontiers in Northwestern Mexico, 1700–1850 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), 171–207; and Chantal Cramaussel, Poblar la frontera: La provincial de Santa Bárbara en Nueva Vizcaya durante los siglos XVI y XVII (Zamora: El Colegio de Michoacán, 2006).

(18.) John Chance, Race and Class in Colonial Oaxaca (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1978); Eric Van Young, Hacienda and Market in Eighteenth-Century Mexico: The Economy of the Guadalajara Region, 1675–1820 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Felipe Castro Gutiérrez, ed., Los indios y las ciudades de la Nueva España (Mexico City: UNAM, 2010); Dana Velasco Murillo, Mark Lentz, and Margarita Ochoa, eds., City Indians in Spain’s American Empire: Urban Indigenous Society in Colonial Mesoamerica and Andean South America, 1530–1810 (Brighton, U.K.: Sussex University Press, 2012); and Susan M. Deeds, “Labyrinths of Mestizaje: Understanding Cultural Persistence and Transformation in Nueva Vizcaya,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Borderlands of the Iberian World, eds. Cynthia Radding and Danna Levin Rojo (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

(19.) William L. Sherman, Forced Native Labor in Sixteenth-Century Central America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979); James Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture by University of North Carolina Press, 2001); and Nancy E. Van Deusen, Global Indios: The Indigenous Struggle for Justice in Sixteenth-Century Spain (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015).

(20.) On the desagüe project, see Gibson, Aztecs, 236–242, 306–307; and Vera Candiani, Dreaming of Dry Land: Environmental Transformation in Colonial Mexico City (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014).

(21.) Jeremy Baskes argues against seeing the repartimiento de mercancias in Oaxaca as forced sale in Indians, Merchants, and Markets: A Reinterpretation of the Repartimiento and Spanish-Indian Economic Relations in Colonial Oaxaca, 1750–1821 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000). Instead he asserts it was more a system for the extension of credit that indigenous peasants desired and negotiated. Chance, in Conquest of the Sierra, emphasizes the coercive nature of it in Oaxaca (see especially 89–122). Gibson, in Aztecs, also took the coercion positon for the Valley of Mexico with which Ouweneel disagrees, Shadows over Anáhuac: An Ecological Interpretation of Development in Central Mexico, 1730–1800 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996), 159–209. Robert Patch reassesses this debate and argues for regionally focused studies that examine the interplay of indigenous agency and colonial coercion (acknowledging that the coercive aspects, especially in Central America, were real), showing that a key aspect of repartimiento de mercancias was that it integrated native pueblos, especially in the Kingdom of Guatemala, into New Spain’s and the 18th-century global economy, in Indians and the Political Economy of Colonial Central America, 1670–1810 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013), 79–115. Romero Frizzi provides a similar analysis for Oaxaca; see Economía y vida de los españoles en la Mixteca Alta, 1519–1720 (Mexico City: INAH, 1990).

(22.) John Francis Bannon, The Spanish Borderlands Frontier, 1513–1821 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1974); Robert M. Hill and John Monaghan, Continuities in Highland Maya Social Organization: Ethnohistory in Sacapulas, Guatemala (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987); Robert Haskett, Indigenous Rulers: An Ethnohistory of Town Government in Colonial Cuernavaca (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991); Sergio Quezada, Pueblos y caciques yucatecos, 1550–1580 (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1993); Rebecca Horn, Postconquest Coyoacan: Nahua-Spanish Relations in Central Mexico, 1519–1650 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997); and Cecilia Sheridan, Anónimos y desterrados: la contienda por el “sitio que llaman de Quauyla,” siglos XVI-XVIII (Mexico City: CIESAS and M.A. Porrúa Grupo Editorial, 2000).

(23.) Pedro Carrasco, “The Civil-Religious Hierarchy in Mesoamerican Communities: Pre-Spanish Background and Colonial Development,” American Anthropologist 63 (1961): 483–497; and John K. Chance and William B. Taylor, “Cofradías and Cargos: An Historical Perspective on the Mesoamerican Civil-Religious Hierarchy,” American Ethnologist 12 (1985): 1–26.

(24.) For overviews of colonial Mesoamerican rebellions, see Friedrich Katz, ed., Riot, Rebellion, and Revolution: Rural Social Conflict in Mexico (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988; Felipe Castro Gutiérrez, La rebelión de los indios y la paz de los españoles (Mexico City: CIESAS and INI, 1996a); and Susan Schroeder, ed., Native Resistance and the Pax Colonial in New Spain (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998).

(25.) María Teresa Huerta Preciado, Rebeliones indígenas en el noreste de México en la época colonial (Mexico City: INAH, 1966); Luis Navarro García, La sublevación yaqui de 1740 (Seville, Spain: Consejo Superio de Investigaciones Científicias, 1966); Edward H. Spicer, The Yaquis: A Cultural History (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1980), 32–57; Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Missionaries, Miners, and Indians: Spanish Contact with the Yaqui Nation of Northwestern New Spain, 1533–1820 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1981); Susan M. Deeds, “First Generation Rebellions in Seventeenth-Century Nueva Vizcaya,” in Native Resistance and the Pax Colonial in New Spain, ed. Susan Schroeder (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998a), 1–29; Deeds, “Indigenous Rebellions on the Northern Mexican Mission Frontier: From First-Generation to Later Colonial Responses,” in Donna Guy and Thomas Sheridan, eds., Contested Ground: Comparative Frontiers on the Northern and Southern Edges of the Spanish Empire (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998b), 32–51; Charlotte M. Gradie, The Tepehuan Revolt of 1616: Militarism, Evangelism and Colonialism in Seventeenth-Century Nueva Vizcaya (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000); and Raphael Folsom, The Yaquis and the Empire: Violence, Spanish Imperial Power, and Native Resilience in Colonial Mexico (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), 150–181.

(26.) Marcello Carmagnani, El regreso de los dioses: el proceso de la identidad étnica en Oaxaca, siglos XVII y XVIII (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1988); Héctor Díaz-Polanco, ed., El fuego de la inobediencia: autonomía y rebelión india en el Obispado de Oaxaca (Mexico City: CIESAS, 1992); Judith Francis Zeitlin, Cultural Politics in Colonial Tehuantepec: Community and State Among the Isthmus Zapotec, 1500–1750 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 168–202; and Yanna Yannakakis, The Art of Being In-Between: Native Intermediaries, Indian Identity, and Local Rule in Colonial Oaxaca (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 65–97.

(27.) In addition to Kevin Gosner’s account in Soldiers of the Virgin: The Moral Economy of a Colonial Maya Rebellion (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992), especially on the number of soldiers, see 127, 136–138; also see Victoria Bricker, The Indian Christ, The Indian King: The Historical Substrate of Maya Myth and Ritual (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 53–84; and Juan Pedro Viqueira, Indios rebeldes e idólatras: dos ensayos históricos sobre la rebelión india de Cancuc, Chiapas, acaecida en el año de 1712 (Mexico City: CIESAS, 1997), 45–65.

(28.) Felipe Castro Gutiérrez, Movimientos populares en Nueva España: Michoacán, 1766–1767 (Mexico City: UNAM, 1990), 111–122, 136; and Castro Gutiérrez, Nueva ley y nuevo rey: reformas borbónicas y rebellion popular en Nueva España (Zamora, Michocán: El Colegio de Michoacán and UNAM, 1996b), 165–173, 207–208.

(29.) Spicer, Cycles of Conquest, 326–331; Gibson, Aztecs, 98–135; Robert Ricard, The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico: An Essay on the Apostolate and the Evangelizing Methods of the Mendicant Orders in New Spain, 1523–1572, trans. Lesley Byrd Simpson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966); Farriss, Maya Society, 90–96, 149–152; Louise M. Burkhart, The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth-Century Mexico (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989); Chance, Conquest of the Sierra, 21–22, 123–150; Fidel Chauvet, Los Franciscanos en México, 1523–1980: historia breve (Mexico City: Provincia del Santo Evangelio de México, 1981); David J. Weber, The Spanish Frontier in North America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 108–110; Kristin Dutcher Mann, The Power of Song: Music and Dance in the Mission Communities of Northern New Spain, 1590–1810 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010); David Eduardo Tavárez, The Invisible War: Indigenous Devotions, Discipline, and Dissent in Colonial Mexico (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011); and Ronald Spores and Andrew K. Balkansky, The Mixtecs of Oaxaca: Ancient Times to the Present (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013), 150–152.

(30.) Gibson, Aztecs, 119–120, 122–124.

(31.) Guillermo Porras Muñoz, Iglesia y estado en Nueva Vizcaya, 1562–1821 (Pamplona, Spain: Universidad de Navarra, 1966), 250–304; Robert M. Carmack, The Quiché Mayas of Utatlán: The Evolution of a Highland Guatemala Kingdom (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981), 309–311; Farriss, Maya Society, 233, 235–236; Lockhart, Nahuas, 210–218; Matthew Restall, The Maya World: Yucatec Culture and Society, 1550–1850 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), 150–151; Terraciano, Mixtecs, 285–286; Erick Langer and Robert H. Jackson, The New Latin American Mission History (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995); and Maria de Fátima Wade, Missions, Missionaries, and Native Americans: Long-term Processes and Daily Practices (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008).

(32.) Spicer, Cycles of Conquest, 327–328; Burkhart, Slippery Earth; William F. Hanks, Converting Words: Maya in the Age of the Cross (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); and Mark Christensen, Nahua and Maya Catholicisms: Texts and Religion in Colonial Central Mexico and Yucatan (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013).

(33.) Amara Solari, Maya Ideologies of the Sacred: The Transfiguration of Space in Colonial Yucatan (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013).

(34.) While Gossen first made his argument about five enduring ideas in 1986, in South and Meso-American Native Sprituality: From the Cult of the Feathered Serpent to the Theology of Liberation, eds. Gary Gossen and Miguel León-Portilla (New York: Crossroad, 1993), he updated the argument to include six such ideas by adding of the point about coessences in Carmack, Gasco, and Gossen, Legacy of Mesoamerica, 527–532. Also see Miguel León-Portilla, ed. and trans., Native Mesoamerican Spirituality: Ancient Myths, Discourses, Stories, Doctrines, Hymns, Poems from the Aztec, Yucatec, Quiche-Maya and Other Sacred Traditions (New York: Paulist Press, 1980).

(35.) For discussions of the various forms of bilaterally and patrilineally organized kin terminologies, kin-based organizations, and household structures, see Pedro Carrasco, “Social Organization in Ancient Mexico,” in Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 10, Archaeology of Northern Mesoamerica, Part 1, eds. Gordon F. Ekholm and Ignacio Bernal (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971), 349–375; Susan Kellogg, Law and the Transformation of Aztec Culture, 1500–1700 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press), 160–212; Richard R. Wilk and Wendy Ashmore, eds., Household and Community in the Mesoamerican Past (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988); John K. Chance, “The Noble House in Colonial Puebla, Mexico: Descent, Inheritance, and the Nahua Tradition,” American Anthropologist 102 (2000): 485–502; Rosemary A. Joyce and Susan D. Gillespie, eds., Beyond Kinship: Social and Material Reproduction in House Societies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000); and Caterina Pizzigoni, The Life Within: Local Indigenous Society in Mexico’s Toluca Valley, 1650–1800 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012).

(36.) Gibson, Aztecs, 127–135; Chance and Taylor, “Cofradías and Cargos”; Hugo G. Nutini and Betty Bell, Ritual Kinship: The Structure and Historical Development of the Compadrazgo System in Rural Tlaxcala, vol. 1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980); Farriss, Maya Society, 154–155, 167–168, 265–270; and Jonathan Truitt, “Courting Catholicism: Nahua Women and the Catholic Church in Colonial Mexico City,” Ethnohistory 52 (2010): 415–444.

(37.) This paragraph draws on Susan Kellogg, Weaving the Past: A History of Latin America’s Indigenous Women from the Prehispanic Period to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 18–52. Also see Susan M. Deeds, “Double Jeopardy: Indian Women in Jesuit Missions of Nueva Vizcaya,” in Indian Women of Early Mexico, eds. Susan Schroeder, Stephanie Wood, and Robert Haskett (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 255–272; Martha Few, Women Who Live Evil Lives: Gender, Religion, and the Politics of Power in Colonial Guatemala (Austin: Unviersity of Texas Press, 2002); Laura A. Lewis, Hall of Mirrors: Power, Witchcraft, and Caste in Colonial Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003); and Joan Cameron Bristol, Christians, Blasphemers, and Witches: Afro-Mexican Ritual Practice in the Seventeenth Century (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007).

(38.) Gary H. Gossen, Chamulas in the World of the Sun: Time and Space in a Maya Oral Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974); Burkhart, Slippery Earth; Alan R. Sandstrom, Corn Is Our Blood: Culture and Ethnic Identity in a Contemporary Aztec Indian Village (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991); and James M. Taggart, The Bear and His Sons: Masculinity in Spanish and Mexican Folktales (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997).

(39.) Clark L. Taylor, “Legends, Syncretism, and Continuing Echoes of Homosexuality from Pre-Columbian and Colonial Mexico,” in Latin American Male Homosexualities, ed. Stephen O. Murray (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995), 80–99; Richard Trexler, Sex and Conquest: Gendered Violence, Political Order, and the European Conquest of the Americas (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1995); Peter Sigal, From Moon Goddesses to Virgins: The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000); and Sigal, The Flower and the Scorpion: Sexuality and Ritual in Early Nahua Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

(40.) Lockhart, Nahuas after the Conquest, 326–373; Restall, Maya World; Susan Kellogg and Matthew Restall, eds., Dead Giveaways: Indigenous Testaments of Colonial Mesoamerica and the Andes (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1997); Terraciano, Mixtecs, 82–99; María de los Angeles Romero Frizzi, ed., Escritura zapoteca: 2,500 años de historia (Mexico City: CIESAS and INAH); Hanks, Converting Words; Hanks, “Alphabetic Literacy and Colonial Process in Yucatán,” Ethnohistory 62 (2015): 651–674; and Gabriela Ramos and Yanna Yannakakis, eds., Indigenous Intellectuals: Knowledge, Power, and Colonial Culture in Mexico and the Andes (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

(41.) Restall, Maya World, 296–301; and Terraciano, Mixtecs, 64–65, 99–101.

(42.) Serge Gruzinski, The Conquest of Mexico: The Incorporation of Indian Societies into the Western World, 16th–18th Centuries, trans. Eileen Corrgian (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1993); Gruzinski, The Mestizo Mind: The Intellectual Dynamics of Colonization and Globalization, trans. Deke Dusinberrey (New York: Routledge, 2002), 60–63; Tavárez, Invisible War, 124–158; and Christensen, Nahua and Maya Catholicisms, 84–86, 195–211.

(43.) Restall, Maya World, 276–281; Hanks, Converting Words; Timothy W. Knowlton, Maya Creation Myths: Words and Worlds of the Chilam Balam (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2010). For examples of the Books of the Chilam Balam, see Ralph L. Roys, trans., The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1933); Munro S. Edmonson, trans. and ed., The Ancient Future of the Itza: The Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982); Victoria R. Bricker and Helga-Maria Miram, trans. and eds., An Encounter of Two Worlds: The Book of Chilam Balam of Kaua (New Orleans: Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, 2002); and Laura Caso Barrera, trans., Chilam Balam de Ixil: facsimilar y estudio de un libro maya inédito (Mexico City: Artes de México, INAH, CONACULTA, 2011).

(44.) While the Bourbon reforms cannot be discussed in detail here due to space limitations, see Castro Gutiérrez, La rebelión de los indios, 88–104, for a clear, concise discussion of the overall program of reform in New Spain, especially the economic reforms.

(45.) For the 4,300 figure, see Bernardo García Martínez, “La naturaleza política y corporativa de los Pueblos de Indios,” in Memorias de la Academia Mexicana de la Historia (Mexico City: Academia Mexicana de la Historia, 1999), 231. On the cajas, see Dorothy Tanck Estrada, Pueblos de indios y educación en el México colonial, 1750–1821 (Mexico City: El Colegio de México), 1999.

(46.) Gibson, Aztecs; Farriss, Maya Society, 355–388. On the far north, see Weber, Spanish Frontier, 226–242; and Deeds, Defiance and Deference, 104–189.

(47.) Murdo J. MacLeod, “Some Thoughts on the Pax Colonial, Colonial Violence, and Perceptions of Both,” in Schroeder, ed., Native Resistance, 129–132.

(48.) Fine accounts, with some eye toward indigenous participation, especially of the early stages of the independence movement, include Hugh Hamill, The Hidalgo Revolt: Prelude to Mexican Independence (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1966); Brian Hamnett, Roots of Insurgency: Mexican Regions, 1750–1824 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986); and John Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution in Mexico: Social Bases of Agrarian Violence, 1750–1940 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986).

(49.) Eric Van Young, The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Mexican Struggle for Independence, 1810–1821 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001), 46.

(50.) Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution, 191–192; Peter F. Guardino, Peasants, Politics, and the Formation of Mexico’s Nation State: Guerrero, 1800–1857 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), 48–54; and Leticia Reina, Caminos de luz y sombra: historia indígena de Oaxaca en el siglo XIX (Mexico City: CIESAS, 2004), 96–98. For discussions of local politics that ultimately support Tutino’s geographic observations but show the complexities of politic contestation over independence and royalist forces in this period, see Rebecca López Mora, “La sociedad dividida en la subdelegación de Tacuba, 1810–1815,” in México a la luz de sus revoluciones, eds. Laura Rojas and Susan Deeds, 2 vols. (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 2014), vol. 1, 225–261; and Michael Thomas Ducey, “Indios, insurgentes, y súbditos: autoridad e insurrección en los pueblos indígenas de la costa veracruzana de barlovento y la sierra huasteca, 1810–1812,” in Rojas and Deeds, eds., México a la luz, vol. 1, 427–454.

(51.) Hamill, Hidalgo Revolt, 123, 131–136; John Lynch, The Spanish American Revolutions, 1808–1826 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1973), 308–311; and Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution, 134–135.

(52.) Van Young, The Other Rebellion, 127–138, 141–164, 407–494; and Christon I. Archer, “The Indian Insurgents of Mezcala Island on the Lake Chapala Front, 1812–1816,” in Schroder, ed., Native Resistance, 84–128.

(53.) Antonio Annino, “The Two-Faced Janus: The Pueblos and the Origins of Mexican Liberalism,” in Cycles of Conflict, Centuries of Change: Crisis, Reform, and Revolution in Mexico, eds. Elisa Servín, Leticia Reina, and John Tutino (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 86; Karen Caplan, Indigenous Citizens: Local Liberalism in Early National Oaxaca (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), 1–37; and Juan Carlos Cortés Máximo, “‘Al mismo modo que lo hacían en el tiempo de su extinguida república’. Guerra insurgente y justicia en los pueblos indios de Michoacán, 1786–1831,” in Rojas and Deeds, eds., México a la luz, vol. 1, 399–425.

(54.) For example, Gibson, Aztecs; Farriss, Maya Society; and Ronald Spores, The Mixtecs in Ancient and Colonial Times (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984).

(55.) For overviews and other references, see Sherburne F. Cook and Woodrow Borah, Essays in Population History: Mexico and the Caribbean, 3 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971–79); and Noble David Cook, Born to Die: Disease and New World Conquest, 1492–1650 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

(56.) Matthew Restall, “A History of the New Philology and the New Philology in History,” Latin American Research Review 38 (2003): 113–134.

(57.) For examples, see Chance, Race and Class; Matthew Restall, The Black Middle: Africans, Mayas, and Spaniards in Colonial Yucatan (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009); Tatiana Seijas, Asian Slaves in Colonial Mexico: From Chinos to Indians (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014); and Van Deusen, Global Indios.

(58.) Spicer, Cycles of Conquest; Sheridan, Anónimos y desterrados; Deeds, Defiance and Deference; Folsom, Yaquis and Empire; Levin Rojo, Return to Aztlan; and José Refugio de la Torre Curiel, Twilight of the Mission Frontier: Shifting Interethnic Alliances and Social Organization in Sonora, 1768–1855 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012).