Lord Eight Wind of Suchixtlan and the Heroes of Ancient Oaxaca: Reading History in the Codex Zouche-Nuttall

Lord Eight Wind of Suchixtlan and the Heroes of Ancient Oaxaca: Reading History in the Codex Zouche-Nuttall

Lord Eight Wind of Suchixtlan and the Heroes of Ancient Oaxaca: Reading History in the Codex Zouche-Nuttall

Lord Eight Wind of Suchixtlan and the Heroes of Ancient Oaxaca: Reading History in the Codex Zouche-Nuttall

Synopsis

In the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican world, histories and collections of ritual knowledge were often presented in the form of painted and folded books now known as codices, and the knowledge itself was encoded into pictographs. Eight codices have survived from the Mixtec peoples of ancient Oaxaca, Mexico; a part of one of them, the Codex Zouche-Nuttall, is the subject of this book. As a group, the Mixtec codices contain the longest detailed histories and royal genealogies known for any indigenous people in the western hemisphere. The Codex Zouche-Nuttall offers a unique window into how the Mixtecs themselves viewed their social and political cosmos without the bias of western European interpretation. At the same time, however, the complex calendrical information recorded in the Zouche-Nuttall has made it resistant to historical, chronological analysis, thereby rendering its narrative obscure.

In this pathfinding work, Robert Lloyd Williams presents a methodology for reading the Codex Zouche-Nuttall that unlocks its essentially linear historical chronology. Recognizing that the codex is a combination of history in the European sense and the timelessness of myth in the Native American sense, he brings to vivid life the history of Lord Eight Wind of Suchixtlan (AD 935-1027), a ruler with the attributes of both man and deity, as well as other heroic Oaxacan figures. Williams also provides context for the history of Lord Eight Wind through essays dealing with Mixtec ceremonial rites and social structure, drawn from information in five surviving Mixtec codices.

Excerpt

Some seventeen hundred years ago in the mountainous western Mexican state of Oaxaca, a culture developed that left us with the rarest of commodities: books. This culture—the Mixtecs—existed in a world defined by mountains, valleys, and caves. Politically, this landscape was divided into a series of very small principalities that in many ways resembled the city-states of Renaissance Italy. the ruling lineages of this group focused on an ideology based on ancestors, marriage alliances, and warfare. the books that the Mixtecs produced were principally devoted to these genealogies and their roles in political legitimization.

Europeans first became aware of these native books, called “codices,” when Hernán Cortés included two of them in his gift of New World curiosities to Emperor Charles V. They were among those items intended to elicit royal interest, delight, and amazement.

Since their introduction into the European academic landscape, these manuscripts have sparked strong interest. Though there have been many attempts at interpretation, the great breakthrough was achieved by Alfonso Caso when, in 1949, he published a definitive argument establishing their Mixtec origins (El Mapa de Teozacoalco, 1998). As Caso’s research progressed, it became apparent that these manuscripts contained historical information. He noted:

The Indians not only of Mexico, but from the whole of Mesoamerica possessed
a true historical vocation, and they told and wrote history. (trans. Manuel Agui
lar and Claudia Alarcon)

Since Caso’s groundbreaking discoveries there have been many efforts to recover the specifics of Mixtec history as they wrote it. Two of their documents have been resistant to historical, chronological analysis; namely, Codex Zouche-Nuttall obverse and Codex Vindobonensis Mexicanus I obverse. in them, the Mixtec calendar has been both a key and an impediment to . . .

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