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Mixtec Peoples

The Mixtec (or Mixteca) are indigenous Mesoamerican peoples inhabiting the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla in a region known as La Mixteca. The Mixtecan languages form an important branch of the Otomanguean language family. (The term Mixtec (Mixteco in Spanish) comes from the Nahuatl word mixtecah, "cloud people" . The area in which Mixtec is spoken is known as the Mixteca. The Mixtecs call themselves ne'ivi davi; they call their region Ñuu Savi, Ñuu Djau, Ñuu Davi, etc., depending on the local variant of their language; they call their language sa'an davi, da'an davi or tu'un savi.)

The Mixtec Pictorial Manuscripts: Time, Agency and Memory in Ancient Mexico  by Maarten E. R.G.N. Jansen, Gabina Aurora Perez Jimenez (Early Americas: History and Culture: Brill Academic) The Mixtec civilization (of Oaxaca, Mexico) is one of the most interesting to survive from pre-colonial Mesoamerica. Among its characteristic products were highly artistic pictographic codices depicting the history and dynasties of the its city-states. This handbook surveys and describes the illustrated Mixtec manuscripts that survive in Europe, the United States and Mexico. It outlines the history of their decipherment, current questions, discussions and methodologies relating to readings, social organization, religion and historical drama, and surveys the six centuries of Mixtec history covered in the texts.

Nuu Dzaui, today often pronounced Nuu Savi or Nuu Davi, meaning 'Nation of the Rain', the Mixtec land and people in southern Mexico, developed its own beautiful writing tradition long before the Spanish conquest (1521). Screenfold books made of deerskin and large pieces of cloth were covered with bright and polychrome paintings, telling specific stories through pictures. Only a few examples of such pictorial manuscripts have survived colonial destruction: the codices Yuta Tnoho (Vindobonensis), Iya Nacuaa (Colombino-Becker), Tonindeye (Nuttall), Nuu Tnoo-Ndisi Nuu (Bodley), Anute (Selden), Nuu Nana (Egerton), Nuu Naha (Muro), the Map of Chiyo Cahnu (Teozacualco), and several other minor documents register the history of various dynasties governing the sovereign communities, often called 'city-states', which made up the geo-political map of the Mixtec Highlands during more than six centuries before the colonial invasion, spanning the so-called Postclassic Period (± AD 900-1521).

This book is a guide to the scholarly interpretation of those pictorial chronicles, to 'read' the images and to understand their cultural and political background. Different themes appear prominently in these pre-conquest records. On the one hand there is the genealogical reg-ister of rulers, on the other, there are more dramatic accounts of their acts in war and ritual. Each codex offers its own specific selection of historical data, in accordance with the viewpoints of its community of origin and the interests of the dynasty that ruled there. We started out writing a commentary on the so-called 'Codex Bodley', as a logical sequel to our earlier work on other pictorial manuscripts. The main result is the brief explanatory text that accompanies the photographic edition of that manuscript by the Bodleian Library (Jansen & Perez Jiménez 2005). The foundation for this was the work done during a sabbatical year (1997-1998), financed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). The complex and comprehensive character of Codex Bodley made it necessary, however, to follow up on the many cross-references that connect it to other Nuu Dzaui sources and to reconstruct the dynamics of the ancient Nuu Dzaui polities. NWO-financed research project `Mixtec city-states' (2001-2008) enabled us to explore these aspects further, while Laura van Broekhoven and Alex Geurds investigated the archeology and the economy of the region, and Gilda Hernández Sánchez made impor-tant breakthroughs in the interpretation of the codex-style decora-tions on Mixteca-Puebla style ceramics. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) gave us important additional support.

For a second NWO-financed project we focused on the Mixtec lan-guage itself, together with linguist Michael Swanton and Ph.D. candi-dates Ubaldo López Garcia and Juan Julián Caballero. This effort resulted not only in a coursebook and in the conversion of the monu-mental Spanish-Mixtec dictionary of Friar Francisco de Alvarado (1593) into a Mixtec-Spanish one, but also in a much better under-standing of the relationship between pictorial writing and the spoken language.

In this context we started working on an overall reconstruction and analysis of Nuu Dzaui Postclassic history. The first result was a detailed reading of the formative story of the Nuu Dzaui communities, focus-ing on the creation of the polities in the Early Postclassic and on the saga of Lord 8 Deer and Lady 6 Monkey, with an interpretation of the ritual and religious aspects of power in precolonial Mesoamerica: Encounter with the Plumed Serpent (Jansen & Pérez Jiménez 2007a).

A third NWO-grant for a research program concerning time and identity in Mesoamerica allowed us to produce the present synthesis as a sequel and complement to that specific study. It is meant to be a handbook, which not only offers an overview of the whole of Postclassic Nuu Dzaui dynastic history, from the Primordial Founders to the early colonial caciques (indigenous rulers), but also provides a discussion of the pictorial sources themselves and the problems of decipherment, reviewing the impressive amount of earlier research and indicating the main empirical foundations and methodological tools. 'Ibis ambition calls for detailed and technical discussions, with up-to-date references to the most relevant publications. Our reading of Codex Bodley, that backbone of Mixtec memory, is incorporated here as a leading thread, but embedded in, and connected to, the full corpus of the Mixtec pictorial manuscripts, ranging in contents from the sacred origins of the Postclassic dynasties (codices Vindobonensis and Nuttall) to the colonial transformation of indigenous society (Codex Yanhuitlan). We hope that this comprehensive presentation may serve as a companion to the study of individual manuscripts and as an introduction to the profound meanings and themes of Mesoamerican historiography.

Therefore we wanted to include the - often fragmentary and dispersed - data and complex considerations that are the indispensable background and basis for future research, as well as give an adequate idea of the present state of decipherment and understanding of the nucleus of the - mostly precolonial - pictographic chronicles from the mixtec Highlands. These sources are in themselves important as works of art and examples of an original form of historiography, worthy of attention, but they are also a relevant case for more general theoretical reflections on the relations between writing, ritual performance, and memory. The ancient manuscripts were not meant to be read in silence, but were the scores for oral literature (storytelling or dramatic performances) in the context of important social events. In this way they were cornerstones of the development of mnemonic communities and their cultural memory.'

Historiography looks back at the passage of time, manifest in human actions, and in doing so it imposes on those actions a narrative structure. Here we refer to the fundamental insights of the French hermeneutic philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who in his famous Time and Narrative (1984-1988) explains:

By means of the plot, goals, causes and chance are brought together within the temporal unity of a whole and complete action...
The plot of a narrative ... grasps together and integrates into one whole and complete story multiple and scattered events, thereby schematizing the intelligible signification attached to the narrative taken as a whole.
... what is ultimately at stake in the case of the structural identity of the narrative function as well as in that of the truth claim of every narrative work, is the temporal character of human experience. The world unfolded by every narrative work is always a temporal world. Or, as will often be repeated in the course of this study: time becomes human time to the extent that it is organized after the manner of a narrative; narrative in turn, is meaningful to the extent that it portrays the features of temporal experience. (op. cit.: 3)

The humanized time of historiography, structured as a set of narratives, integrated through its underlying human and divine intentions and causalities, becomes social and cultural memory, while also transmitting ethical and ideological messages, especially concerning the legitimacy of power structures, in particular the positions and acts of the rulers, who supervise the very way these stories are told. The veneration of the ancestors (persons of divine origin and status), the attendance of ritual obligations, but also the relations of kinship (genealogy), the conquests of places and the consequent accumulation of tribute rights, in this manner become interwoven in a single pattern, producing the narrative identity of a people. This narrative identity is a prime mover of cultural memory. In the case of Mesoamerica, the 16th century colonization meant a painful and traumatic interruption, drastic reorientation and partial overwriting of the indigenous identity and memory, to the extent that contemporary indigenous peoples have been excluded from their own history and literature, and consequently they have been made 'strangers in their own land'. This background lends dramatic social relevance to what otherwise might seem a simple iconographical and philological exercise.

OOur book is divided into three parts. Focusing on the primary data and pre-understandings of this research, the first part contains an introduction to the conventions of pictorial writing (chapter 1), a presentation of the corpus of codices in question (chapter 2), a sketch of the fundamental decipherment during the first three quarters of the 20th century (chapter 3), and an overview of advances and issues of scholarly debate during the past decades (chapter 4).

The second part lays the general foundation for our own reading of this ancient historiography, it introduces the basic elements of ethno-iconological theory and method (chapter 5), continues with analyzing the depiction of the protagonists and their actions (chapter 6), and sketches the geographical dimension through the identification of place signs (chapter 7)./p>

TThe third part contains a discussion of the contents of the corpus in historical order. Chapter 8 tells the story of the origin of the dynas-ties, connected to the formative process of the Mixtec city-state cul-ture during what archeologists call the Early Postclassic Period (± AD 900-1200). Chapter 9 presents in detail the genealogies and their alli-ance policies, i.e. the structure of peer polity interaction in the later part of the Postclassic, and chapter 10 illustrates the transformations and local developments after the Spanish colonial invasion of 1521 by commenting on the Codex of Yanhuitlan. The conclusion (chapter 11) gives a synthetic view of the way in which the Mixtec political land-scape has developed over time.

We pay special attention to the relationship between the ancient images and the spoken language, both in the identification of toponymic signs and in the reading of scenes. Another important aspect is the clarification of the genealogical relationships within and among the different royal families, and, in relation to those, the correlation of the Mixtec dates, which has obvious implications for archeological research in the region and for Mesoamerican chronology in general. These are intricate and specialist issues, which, however, are of utmost importance for reconstructing the spatial and temporal dimensions of ancient historiography. This leads us to organize the data in a coherent sequence and in the wider context of a reflection on city-state culture and ideology, which permits explanations in terms of causality, political purpose, and narrative structure. Taken as a whole, the resulting (re)construction is necessarily subjective and speculative, but may serve as an explicit reference point, and, hopefully, a stimulus, for further study of the historical processes that affected Nuu Dzaui and of the religious concepts that determined most of the rulers' actions, while sustaining the social ethos and sovereignty of the communities.

Today we use the term `Mesoamerica' for the millenarian, original and sophisticated cultural tradition that has developed in the huge region that stretches from the northern deserts of Mexico to the tropical mountain ranges of Nicaragua and Costa Rica.' This region is famous for its impressive archeological sites, its pyramids and artistic monuments, situated in landscapes of great beauty, as well as for its colorful folklore and rich panorama of languages and oral literatures that characterize the descendant communities. Having come to flourish without strong influences from the outside world, this civilization is a truly original contribution to world heritage. Studying it offers fascinating insights into the commonalities and variations of human creativity, community building and religious experience. On the other hand the Spanish colonial invasion (1521) initiated a prolonged period of cultural interaction between Mesoamerica and Europe, a violent and painful experience, from which, however, a lot may be learned.

Several Mesoamerican peoples had invented writing systems, which took several forms, but 'which all consisted of combinations of figurative scenes with hieroglyphic (phonetic) elements, in varying proportions. Inscriptions and pictorial manuscripts registered information about history, religion, astronomy and many other aspects of the ancient society and way of life. Mesoamerican pictorial writing, as in use shortly before and after the Spanish invasion, particularly in the Nuu Dzaui (Mixtec) region, is the subject matter of this book.

The ancient Mexica or Aztecs, the dominant people and empire at the time of the Spanish invasion, defined their own culture as part of the Toltecayotl, 'the legacy of those who inhabited the Place of Reeds' Indeed, several successive imperial and cultural capitals, all desiginated as Tollan, 'Place of Reeds', mark the progress of this civilization: Teotihuacan, Cholula and the Aztec capital Mexico-Tenochtitlan, These Central Mexican sites are now impressive ruins, admired by thousands of tourists from all over the world.

In AD 1521 the conquistadors took over the Mexica (Aztec) agrarian tribute-state, which had been created in a mere hundred years of military and commercial expansion, and dominated large parts of the area at the time. Many smaller polities had been subdued and/or incorporated by the Mexica realm, others had preserved their independence. The Spanish siege of the Mexica capital Mexico-Tenochtitlan, followed by the colonization of the whole Mesoamerican world, interrupted the further autonomous development of this civilization in a brutal manner. It was a major blow, a watershed, which still has a traumatic and determining influence on present-day reality. Much knowledge and many artistic products were destroyed or lost.

During the remainder of the 16th century, Spanish took the place of Nahuatl, the language of the Mexica, as the lingua franca in New Spain and became the metalanguage for the research and discourses on the Native American world. Spanish conquerors and monks, such as Hernán Cortés himself, the Franciscan Friars Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, Bernardino de Sahagun and Juan de Torquemada, or the Dominican Friar Diego Duran, produced important chronicles, describing the native civilization of Central Mexico with a wealth of details, but their vision was often distorted, or at least strongly influenced, by European bias and value-judgements. The same is true for documents such as the Relaciones Geograficas, descriptions of the different villages of what was then known as 'New Spain', written around 1580 in response to a questionnaire: basically they tried to accumulate data as a guide for Spanish governmental administration and economic exploitation. The surviving examples of the historiography and literary heritage of the Native American peoples themselves, therefore, constitute a crucial primary source of inside information, which no study of the Americas can ignore.

Writing had started in Mesoamerica more than 2000 years before the Spanish conquest. Its roots are found already in the formative period, generally designated as 'the Preclassic' by archeologists, concretely in the so-called Olmec 'mother culture' (± 1200 till ± 600 BO. Later, the civilization of Teotihuacan in the first half of the Classic Period (± 200-650) used in its frescoes - and presumably also in pictorial manuscripts, which did not survive - a fully developed system of pictorial writing, pictography. During the second half of the Postclassic (± 1250-1521), in the centuries immediately preceding the Spanish invasion, different peoples in Central and southern Mexico, such as the Mexica (Aztec) and the Nuu Dzaui (Mixtec), used it in screenfold books (codices), made of deerskin or bark paper, on large pieces of cloth (lienzos), as well as on carved stones, frescoes, painted ceramics and other decorated artefacts. The scenes are painted in poly-chrome and figurative style, according to a specific system of pictographic signs and conventions.'

When colonization interrupted the ancient pictographic tradition, it also severed the link between the Native American peoples and their literary heritage. The few codices and lienzos that have survived became riddles of the past. Their interpretation today is a special form of iconological and contextual analysis. 'Those not familiar with this matter often wonder how we can know what certain images mean and consider the modern 'readings' as mere hypotheses, comparable with the speculations about the possible meanings of prehistoric rock art, for example. Fortunately this is not the case. There are various 'bilingual' keys to the system in the form of colonial codices in precolonial style but adequately explained through added comments written in Spanish or an Amerindian language (in alphabetic notation) under the images, a famous example being the Codex Mendoza and the Matricula de Tributos (Clark 1938; Reyes Garcia 1997). Often these glosses or annotations come directly from those who were intimately familiar with both the pictographic forms and the cultural contents. In the same way, the Spanish monks, in their zeal for recognizing paganism with the intention to exterminate it, have left us paintings and descriptions of the Gods and the major rituals, sometimes with very precise lists of attributes, sacred objects and temples (e.g. Codex Magliabechi). Other sources expand and clarify these data. Especially valuable are the chronicles in Nahuatl and other Mesoamerican languages written with the Spanish alphabet (e.g. the Historia Tolteca Chichimeca or the chronicle of Tezozomoc). Thus, careful screening of the annotated pictograms, in terms of consistency, clarity and probable correctness, provides us with a 'pictographic dictionary' (cf. Nowotny 1959b), which permits us to recognize the basic elements and the conventions of pictorial representation.

Furthermore, the Mesoamerican culture, although affected and transformed by centuries of external and internal colonialism, is not dead. Today scores of Native American peoples in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras manifest a distinct linguistic-cultural identity and preserve many pre-colonial traditions. The ancient scriptures document their history and memory, their worldview and rituals, their social and religious ethics, as well as their political strategies and ideology.




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