Weaving the Past: A History of Latin America's Indigenous Women from the Prehispanic Period to the Present

By Susan Kellogg | Go to book overview

3

Colliding Worlds
Indigenous Women, Conquest,
and Colonialism

That women played a variety of roles during the conquest and colonial periods almost goes without saying. However, one woman in particular has gone down in history as especially noteworthy during this period. She is Malinche, or doña Marina, or Malintzin, the variously named translator and sometime consort of the conqueror of the Nahuas of central Mexico, Hernán Cortés. Though no documents exist in which she narrates or interprets her life in her own voice, Spanish sources often refer to her somewhat ironically as la lengua (tongue). Her image and life illustrate in microcosm the ways that sexuality and gender were part of the process of conquest (see figs. 3. I and 3.2). The illustrations, while different, recall some of the strength implicit in the Coyolxauhqui image discussed in the last chapter, but her life course tellingly foreshadows the conquerors' treatment of the indigenous women on whom they depended and with whom they had intimate relations. While Malintzin herself played an important public role in the events of conquest, other women experienced diminished public roles. And she gave birth to children who were among the first mestizo children of mainland Spanish America, helping to set off the development of mixed ethno-racial identities whose existence would complicate both gender and racial hierarchies.

This chapter explores this decline at the same time that it highlights a historical counterpoint, one in which native women demonstrated an admirable capacity to survive, adjust to, or resist myriad changes, barriers, and problems. While multifaceted transformational influences, especially new forms of labor extraction and a new religious belief system that stressed women's passivity, enclosure, purity, and honor, ended in a widespread dimi-

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