WHEN I SET OUT to do the research and writing that eventuated in this book, I wanted in a very general way to help put the history of indigenous people in Spanish America on the same level as the more developed literature about Spaniards.* I did not mean to tie the work to any single theme. Perhaps I was especially interested in demonstrating the desirability or necessity, as well as the feasibility, of using Indian-language sources in writing the history of at least some major indigenous groups after European contact. I wished to show, and believe I have shown, that such groups long continued to constitute an immensely complex, partly autonomous sector that must be studied on its own terms, if only because its nature was vital to questions of postconquest continuity and change affecting early Spanish America as a whole--Indians, Spaniards, and their common arena, Spanish American society in general. Then too, the book, as the result of the first broad pass through the Nahuatl sources, contains much that may illuminate indigenous life in some way without being closely related to any particular special theme; I meant to let no detectable new characteristic of Nahua culture and its postconquest evolution escape mention.
Nevertheless, as the study progressed it became surprisingly thematic; nor could this result be said to have been entirely accidental. Ever since my first archival experiences with them, I have had great respect for the degree of integrity of both Hispanic and indigenous spheres in early Spanish America. I have felt that each long retained its own center of balance, relatively imper____________________