Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2000:
David Eduardo Tavárez

Social Reproduction of Late Postclassic Ritual Practices in Early Colonial Central México
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Figure 1.1. Clandestine circulation network for ritual texts in Solá, 1629-1654.

Research Year:  1997
Culture:  Nahua and Zapotec
Chronology:  Late Post Classic and Colonial
Location:  México
Sites:  Various

Table of Contents

Ruiz de Alarcón’s written incantations
Oral and written reproduction of Nahua ritual knowledge: the tobacco epithets
A seventeenth-century Nahua devotional miscellany: Fonds Mexicain 381
The circulation of ritual texts in southern Oaxaca, 1629-1656
Social networks and the circulation of ritual texts in the Sola township>
Conclusions: Ritual texts and their readers in seventeenth-century Central México
List of Tables
Incantations seized in written form by Ruiz de Alarcón, 1614-29>
Non-canonical variations of the piciyetl (lime tobacco) epithet
Template for the canonical piciyetl epithet
Ritual text authors and owners in the Sola / Ejutla / Lachixio region, 1629-1656
Sources Cited

(Chapter 5 of dissertation in progress entitled Invisible Wars: the Extirpation of Idolatries and the Dynamics of Writing and Ritual Knowledge in Nahua and Zapotec Communities, 1585-1747)

Literate idolatries: A comparative analysis of the emergence of a clandestine ritual and devotional literature in Nahua and Zapotec communities, 1613-1654.


The transition from ignorance of alphabetical writing—and its irreducible cultural context—to its appropriation by Nahua and Zapotec communities in Central México has been customarily analyzed through textual genres which favor the representation of a community’s history and cultural identity: land surveys and maps (Galarza 1979; Kellogg 1995), primordial titles and Techialoyan land surveys (Gruzinski 1993), and pictorial narrative or alphabetic historical accounts (Galarza 1980, 1989; Lockhart 1992; Oudijk 2000; Schroeder 1991; Whitecotton 1990). However, except for some recent works (Berlin 1988; Burkhart 1992, 1995; Tavárez 1996, 1998), native Central Mexican ritual and devotional texts have attracted few analyses that go beyond surveys or critical editions. This reticence is perfectly justified, given the fact that these texts tend to be fragmentary, devoid of significant social context, and that it is extremely difficult to place them, given the paucity of data, within a textual or performative context of related texts or ritual practices (Hanks 1984, 1987).

This essay, however, will address the production and circulation of native ritual and devotional texts in colonial Central México between 1614 and 1656, which is in all likelihood a crucial period in the native use of writing for ritual and devotional purposes rather than for legal or community purposes. 1   For "ritual texts", I mean incantations or calendrical records, Christian or not, used for specific propitiatory or divination objectives. For "devotional texts", I mean texts that were meant to be used in a private manner by Christians to strengthen a personal relationship between them and a divine entity through personal acts of piety. In order to survey such a vast horizon, my analysis will focus on three case studies that may provide a good point of departure for cross-genre and cross-cultural comparisons:

(a) The simultaneous oral and written reproduction of a Nahua oral genre, the nahualtocaitl, by ritual specialists in the Cohuixca-Tlalhuica region (to the southwest of the Valley of México) in 1614-1629 (Table 1.1, Table 1.2, and Table 1.3).

(b) The production of devotional Náhuatl miscellanies in mid-seventeenth century Central México, and the Nahua appropriation of European calendrical data from Spanish-language reportorios de los tiempos. This case study will focus on Fonds Mexicain 381, a manuscript held at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

(c) The circulation of calendrical records and divination texts in the Oaxacan township of San Miguel Sola among literate Zapotec ritual specialists and some of their clients in 1629-1656 (Table 1.4; Figure 1.1).

Given their diversity, these case studies will respectively emphasize three different topics: oral versus written reproduction of ritual knowledge, the selective native appropriation of Christian devotional and divinatory practices, and the existence of social networks for the diffusion of clandestine ritual texts.

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Submitted 06/01/2000 by:
David Eduardo Tavárez

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