The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame, and Violence in Colonial Latin America

The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame, and Violence in Colonial Latin America

The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame, and Violence in Colonial Latin America

The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame, and Violence in Colonial Latin America


A contemporary of Columbus noted "those crazy Spaniards have more regard for a bit of honor than for a thousand lives." This obsession flourished in the New World, where status, privilege, and rank became cornerstones of the colonial social order.

Honor had many faces. To a freed black woman in Brazil it proscribed spousal abuse and permitted her to petition the Church for permission to leave her husband. To a high church official charged with sodomy in Alto Peru, honor signified the privileges and legal exceptions available to those of his background and social position. These nine original essays assess the role and importance men and women of all races and social classes accorded honor throughout colonial Latin America.

"The best work on honor in Latin America and an invaluable and insightful volume. A must for both scholars and classroom use."--Professor Susan M. Socolow, Emory University


Let us begin our discussion of colonial Latin America's culture of honor with a story from the unsettled and violent period that followed the fall of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in 1521. After defeating the Aztecs, Hernán Cortés led an ambitious new military expedition to the south. When rumors that Cortés and his followers had been killed in battle began to circulate, a violent struggle for power broke out among the men delegated to rule the new colony in the conqueror's absence. According to Francisco López de Gómara, Cortés's secretary, the ambitious and cruel Gonzalo de Salazar proclaimed himself governor and began to imprison his rivals. When Juana de Mansilla, the wife of one of the men who had gone with Cortés, was heard to deny Salazar's claim that Cortés was dead, she was arrested and then publicly whipped like a common criminal. As Gómara makes clear, Salazar's brutal treatment of Juana de Mansilla was intended as a punishment and a public humiliation; he sought to injure both her body and her honor. After Cortés returned and ended the tyranny of Salazar, he attempted to repair Juana de Mansilla's damaged honor, in the words of Gómara, "by carrying her behind him on his horse through Mexico [Mexico City] and addressing her as doña Juana." In the sixteenth century doña was the designation for a woman of the nobility, a social status so elevated that the honor of its members was nearly unassailable.

In this incident we see illustrated the public nature of honor. As one modern scholar has defined it, "Honor was more than a set of rules for governing behavior. It was your very being. For in an honor-based culture there was no . . .

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