The Invisible War: Indigenous Devotions, Discipline, and Dissent in Colonial Mexico

The Invisible War: Indigenous Devotions, Discipline, and Dissent in Colonial Mexico

The Invisible War: Indigenous Devotions, Discipline, and Dissent in Colonial Mexico

The Invisible War: Indigenous Devotions, Discipline, and Dissent in Colonial Mexico

Synopsis

After the conquest of Mexico, colonial authorities attempted to enforce Christian beliefs among indigenous peoples- a project they envisioned as spiritual warfare. The Invisible War assesses this immense but dislocated project by examining all known efforts to obliterate native devotions of Mesoamerican origin between the 1530s and the late eighteenth century in Central Mexico.

The author's innovative interpretation of these efforts is punctuated by three events: the creation of an Inquisition tribunal in Mexico in 1571; the native rebellion of Tehuantepec in 1660; and the emergence of eerily modern strategies for isolating idolaters, teaching Spanish to natives, and obtaining medical proof of sorcery from the 1720s onwards. Rather than depicting native devotions solely from the viewpoint of their colonial codifiers, this book rescues indigenous perspectives on their own beliefs. This is achieved by an analysis of previously unknown or rare ritual texts that circulated in secrecy in Nahua and Zapotec communities through an astute appropriation of European literacy. Tavarez contends that native responses gave rise to a colonial archipelago of faith in which local cosmologies merged insights from Mesoamerican and European beliefs. In the end, idolatry eradication inspired distinct reactions: while Nahua responses focused on epistemological dissent against Christianity, Zapotec strategies privileged confrontations in defense of native cosmologies.

Excerpt

On April 18, 1665, several nocturnal comings and goings took place in Lachirioag, a Northern Zapotec community in Villa Alta, a district northeast of Oaxaca City in New Spain. These activities were uncanny from the vantage point of Antonio de Cabrera, an African slave whom Diego Villegas y Sandoval Castro, Villa Alta’s alcalde mayor, or chief magistrate, had entrusted with the task of reporting any suspect activities. Cabrera’s owner, the encomendero of Lachirioag, was also in town, discharging his duties as collector of indigenous tribute. Cabrera’s attention focused on several events that would have attracted little notice had they occurred at daytime or in an urban setting. He saw some natives enter the house of Lachirioag resident Gerónimo López late at night. They came in, passed two women at the door, placed a half real—a coin of moderate value—on the ground, and sat near two large pots in which deer meat simmered as a native stood nearby holding a reed shaft topped with a bloody rag, and another illuminated the scene with a torch. As Cabrera drew closer, one of the women cried out a warning, and everyone left López’s house in haste. a week later, Cabrera came across López and many adult residents of Lachirioag as they came down a hill and approached the town center early at night. Cabrera later noticed that some people were once again cooking deer meat in two large pots at López’s house. Even later, just before dawn, Cabrera went past this dwelling and surprised several natives who were dividing the deer meat among themselves; as before, they exited the house in a rush.

Even though these activities may seem innocuous when compared to the human sacrifices described in lavish detail in accounts of Central . . .

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