Drinking, Homicide & Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages

Drinking, Homicide & Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages

Drinking, Homicide & Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages

Drinking, Homicide & Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages

Synopsis

This study analyzes the impact of Spanish rule on Indian peasant identity in the late colonial period by investigating three areas of social behavior. Based on the criminal trial records and related documents from the regions of central Mexico and Oaxaca, it attempts to discover how peasants conceived of their role under Spanish rule, how they behaved under various kinds of street, and how they felt about their Spanish overlords.

In examining the character of village uprisings, typical relationships between killers and the people they killed, and the drinking patterns of the late colonial period, the author finds no warrant for the familiar picture of sullen depredation and despair. Landed peasants of colonial Mexico drank moderately on the whole, and mostly on ritual occasions; they killed for personal and not political reasons. Only when new Spanish encroachments threatened their lands and livelihoods did their grievances flare up in rebellion, and these occasions were numerous but brief. The author bolsters his conclusions with illuminating comparisons with other peasant societies.

Excerpt

This book is about patterns of social behavior in Indian peasant communities of central and southern Mexico after the severe hazards of the sixteenth century had passed, leaving the pressures of a mature colonial system on the lives of an expanding population. Without attempting to force connections among peasant norms, behavior, and circumstances, I am interested in what colonial peasants believed and said about themselves, what they actually did and said in specific situations, and what their relations were to the powerful outsiders whose presence defined their position as peasants.

The beliefs and acts presented here suggest the fundamental importance of the village in Mexican peasant life. Political conquest and the economic and social sanctions of colonial rule disturbed native society at all levels, but European intrusion was most destructive of the indigenous elite, which rested on a massive rural base. Beyond the sharp decline of the elite, many kinds of local adjustment in rural Mexico had to be made to colonial rule. Encomienda, epidemic disease, repartimiento, reparto de efectos, and congregación forced changes in peasant life and traditional culture, but somehow peasant communities survived, and not merely at the pleasure or weakness of Spanish masters. The land-based communities were more resilient than the forests of central Mexico, which were destroyed for timber, and than the millions of individuals who succumbed to the fearsome epidemics of the colonial centuries. They were not crushed and swept aside; nor did they endure only in remote areas of refuge. I have found much evidence of decline and destruction, but I have also found energy and ingenuity in the ways Indian peasants coped with and survived within the Spanish system. In the heartland of colonial Mexico the most enduring native American adaptation to colonial demands centered on the land-holding village. It usually was the basic unit of common interest for peasants in central and southern Mexico, giving this community a special importance and a moral basis. The strong association of individuals as members of a single community is documented in various ways--in their conscious identity and especially in their social behavior.

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