Spaniards and Indians in Southeastern Mesoamerica: Essays on the History of Ethnic Relations

By Murdo J. MacLeod; Robert Wasserstrom | Go to book overview

Indians in Colonial Yucatan: Three Perspectives

Nancy M. Farriss

The post-conquest history of the Indians of Mesoamerica can be approached from three points of view: the Indian as a vestige of the pre- Columbian past, as an object of colonial or neo-colonial rule, or as a subject in his own right. The third approach is the least common, and understandably so. History in the sense of a prelude to the past has passed the Indians by. They have played no active role in shaping its course and have no prospects of doing so in the future: since by definition Indians are powerless, anyone assuming an active role ceases to be an "Indian." By this measure of historical significance they rate above the Philippine Tasaday but well below the Yoruba of Nigeria or even the Burmese Shan, who have controlled a large part of the world's opium trade for the past century. Nor have the post-conquest Mayas or Zapotecs produced any magnificent works like their ancestors, works in a tradition that is now lost but that continues to beguile many moderns by its sophistication and its very remoteness.

The Mesoamerican Indians have some claim on our attention as descendents of one of the world's high civilizations, and there is a certain curiosity value in tracing how they got from there to here. But their history has value beyond a local, antiquarian interest. Mesoamerica provides some of the richest documentation available on the subject of culture contact. Anyone studying, say, the Roman conquests or the spread of Islam might well envy this material, and it could contribute much to a general understanding of the processes of acculturation.

To further that end, we will have to discard the term "acculturation" or at least define it more broadly. As it is most commonly understood in Mesoamerican studies, acculturation is too confining a concept. The conclusion of the analysis is already contained in the premise, which is that change will inevitably move in the direction of assimilation into the

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