The Nahuas after the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries

By James Lockhart | Go to book overview

8
Ways of Writing

THAT THE SPANIARDS had paper and ink and used them for recordkeeping caused the Nahuas no surprise or puzzlement, for following a centuries-old Mesoamerican practice they had long been doing the same thing, and they quickly made the identification between the two traditions. The indigenous words for paper (amatl) and ink (tlilli) remained in use in postconquest Nahuatl and were applied to the Spanish variants, precluding the adoption of the relevant Spanish vocabulary.* Preconquest society also knew specially trained and quite honored functionaries charged with composing and preserving written records, so that the Nahuas, like all the other Mesoamericans and more than the paperless Andeans, were immediately ready to attempt writing in a new style and to step into the important role played in the Spanish system by notary-clerks. 1 The very word "to write" in Nahuatl, icuiloa, continued to be used instead of any Spanish-influenced term, and so for the most part did pohua, "to read." 2

Yet as in other aspects of the two cultures, the convergence was not complete. That preconquest Nahua writing was pictographic-logographic rather than alphabetic was only the beginning of the differences. In line with the generous use of picture and color in indigenous writing, no strict demarcation existed between writing and painting. "Icuiloa" meant both to paint and to write, or at least to do what Europeans would tend to consider writing. 3 We have no firm evidence that preconquest Nahuas made any distinction of principle between the two activities. Likewise, tlacuilo (the agentive of "icuiloa") meant either painter or (by our lights) writer; sometimes, to make it clear what type of painter was in question, the material would be mentioned: amatlacuilo, "paper painter." 4 The Nahuas' concept of reading was also different from the Europeans'. "Pohua" had the additional, actually primary, meaning "to count," corresponding well to the very prominent numerical facets of

____________________
*
"Amatl" apparently originally referred to the vegetable material used for the purpose (see also references to the word in Chap. 7, after n. 41, and in Table 7-7). "Tlilli" meant basically "black substance, soot," and was closely analogous to Spanish tinta.

-326-

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The Nahuas after the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables ix
  • Figures xii
  • Abbreviations xiv
  • I - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Altepetl 14
  • 3 - Household 59
  • 4 - Social Differentiation 94
  • 5 - Land and Living 141
  • 6 - Religious Life 203
  • 8 - Ways of Writing 326
  • 9 - Forms of Expression 374
  • 10 - Conclusion 427
  • Appendixes 453
  • Notes 475
  • Glossary 607
  • Bibliography 613
  • Index 631
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