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Aztecs, Moors, and Christians

Max Harris
Copyright Date: 2000
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/731318
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    Aztecs, Moors, and Christians
    Book Description:

    In villages and towns across Spain and its former New World colonies, local performers stage mock battles between Spanish Christians and Moors or Aztecs that range from brief sword dances to massive street theatre lasting several days. The festival tradition officially celebrates the triumph of Spanish Catholicism over its enemies, yet this does not explain its persistence for more than five hundred years nor its widespread diffusion.

    In this insightful book, Max Harris seeks to understand Mexicans' "puzzling and enduring passion" for festivals ofmoros y cristianos.He begins by tracing the performances' roots in medieval Spain and showing how they came to be superimposed on the mock battles that had been a part of pre-contact Aztec calendar rituals. Then using James Scott's distinction between "public" and "hidden transcripts," he reveals how, in the hands of folk and indigenous performers, these spectacles of conquest became prophecies of the eventual reconquest of Mexico by the defeated Aztec peoples. Even today, as lively descriptions of current festivals make plain, they remain a remarkably sophisticated vehicle for the communal expression of dissent.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79831-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. PART ONE: PROLOGUE
    • 1 Beheading the Moor (Zacatecas, 1996)
      (pp. 3-17)

      Each year in late August several thousand Moors and Christians invade Zacatecas. Dressed in brightly colored uniforms and armed with swords, scimitars, and arquebuses, warriors from European history clog the streets of a city that was once the silver-mining capital of colonial Mexico. Music from a dozen welldrilled drum and bugle corps orchestrates the invasion. In 1996, scurrying to and fro along side streets that intersected the main path of the parade, I saw the Twelve Peers of France battle their eighth-century Turkish counterparts in a massed sword fight that moved slowly across the sloped square of Santo Domingo. And...

    • 2 Reading the Mask (Cuetzalan, 1988)
      (pp. 18-28)

      Themorismasof Bracho are part of a tradition of mock battles between Moors and Christians that is long-standing, widespread, and formally diverse. It draws on both European and indigenous sources, and, despite its apparent focus on past heroics, it is equally concerned with present power structures.

      The tradition may have begun in Spain as early as 1150 and is arguably more popular there today than at any time in the past eight centuries. Along a broad swath of Spain’s Mediterranean coast, stretching from Catalonia in the north to Andalusia in the south and from the Balearic Islands offshore to...

  6. PART TWO: SPAIN, 1150—1521
    • 3 A Royal Wedding (Lleida, 1150)
      (pp. 31-36)

      The Moors ruled parts of Spain for nearly eight centuries. The first and decisive invasion took place in 711, and by 732 Muslim forces had advanced as far as central France. Defeated at Poitiers by the Frankish armies of Charles Martel (grandfather of Charlemagne), the invaders retreated south of the Pyrenees. For the next 350 years, Muslim and Christian rulers faced each other across an oscillating frontier that stretched more or less northeast from central Portugal to the River Ebro at Tudela, and then turned east to run parallel with the Pyrenees, north of Zaragoza and Lleida, striking the Mediterranean...

    • 4 A Medley of Battles (Zaragoza, 1286 –1414)
      (pp. 37-42)

      It is another 150 years before we find the next suggestion of a Spanish mock battle between Moors and Christians. Meanwhile, there were other festive combats, including juicy “battles with oranges” between men in galleys that were dragged through the streets on “small wagons.” When such a battle was staged in Zaragoza for the coronation of Alfons III in 1286, “more than fifty cart-loads” of oranges were imported from Valencia, where a similar event had taken place for a royal visit in 1269.¹ We will meet citrus fights again in sixteenth-century Mexico, and readers familiar with the annual tomato battle...

    • 5 A Martyrdom with Hobby Horses (Barcelona, 1424)
      (pp. 43-53)

      The BarcelonaMartyrdom of Saint Sebastiandiffers from its predecessors in several ways.¹ It was performed annually, the knights rode hobby horses rather than live animals, the Muslims were designated Turks rather than Moors, and it was one in a series of processional dances and pageants. Traces of its battle between Turkish infantry and Christian hobby horses survive in Catalan festivals today. It is, moreover, well documented. It is thus not only the first undisputed example of an annual festive Spanish mock battle between Muslims and Christians, but it is also the oldest root to which current festive practices can...

    • 6 A Game of Canes (Jaén, 1462)
      (pp. 54-64)

      Every report of a mock battle between Moors and Christians before the middle of the fifteenth century comes from territory controlled by the rulers of Aragon-Catalonia. There is no mention of the tradition in Castile-León until 1462,¹ when Miguel Lucas de Iranzo, governor of the southern frontier town of Jaén, presided over ajuego de cañas(game of canes) in which half of the participants dressed as Moors and the other half as Christians. Thejuego de cañaswas a form of “equestrian exercise,” introduced to Spain by the Moors, which required teams of some thirty knights to charge one...

  7. PART THREE: MEXICO, 1321—1521
    • 7 The Fields of the Wars of Flowers
      (pp. 67-73)

      “After the conquest,” writes Inga Clendinnen, “the Mexicans were to display an early, puzzling and enduring passion for the ‘dances of Moors and Christians.’”¹ Such a passion should not puzzle us too much, for the tradition was inherently susceptible to indigenous readings. Spanish colonists may have thought they were celebrating the victory of light-skinned Christians over dark-skinned “heathens,” linking the defeat of the Moors in 1492 to the defeat of the Aztecs in 1521. But the theme cut two ways in Mexico, for the history being dramatized was not one of conquest but of reconquest: Spanish Christians had driven out...

    • 8 The Festival of the Sweeping of the Roads
      (pp. 74-84)

      Mexica military traditions, whether displayed in flowery wars or angry wars, helped to shape the visual spectacle of early colonial festivals of reconquest. Closer to the subsequent tradition of Mexicanmoros y cristianos, however, were the scripted battles embedded in Tenochtitlan’s festivals of human sacrifice, for these involved impersonation, costume, script, dance, and a festive context that flowed through the streets and surrounding countryside, engaging all the senses.

      Many scholars have noted the theatricality of the Mexica festivals. Davíd Carrasco describes them as “grand theatrical displays,” and Johanna Broda writes of Mexica “myth” being “enacted . . . in an...

    • 9 The Festival of the Raising of the Banners
      (pp. 85-93)

      Preparations for Panquetzaliztli (the Festival of the Raising of the Banners) began immediately after the close of Ochpaniztli. Nightly, during the intervening months, naked, fasting priests, blowing shell trumpets and pottery whistles, spread fir branches on mountaintop altars around Tenochtitlan. On the branches they laid bloodied reeds and maguey thorns that had been passed through perforations in their own flesh. Meanwhile, in the courtyard of the Great Temple of Huitzilopochtli, young men burned pine bonfires against the dark, sprinkling blood from their earlobes into the fire, while a captive ixiptla, dressed as Huitzilopochtli, danced.¹

      Panquetzaliztli honored Huitzilopochtli, whom we have...

    • 10 The Festival of the Flaying of Men
      (pp. 94-104)

      Before going on to our third and final Mexica festival, it may be helpful briefly to address the question of the festivals’ theatricality.On the one hand, it would be a mistake to reduce to mere metaphors descriptions of the Mexica calendar festivals as “grand ritual dramas” and as a “state theatre of power.”¹ On the other hand, the festivals do not conform to the conventional model of literary theater, in which a prescribed dramatic text is performed before a single, stationary audience intended to hear every word, see every action, and participate only with attention and applause. I regard them...

    • 11 The Dance of the Emperor Motecuzoma
      (pp. 105-114)

      As well developed as we know it was both before and after the conquest,” Mexica dance has left too little “tangible evidence” to yield any certain reconstruction. ¹ Other aspects of the Mexica festivals have left an elaborate architectural and archeological grid on which to map their remains, but dance is a fleeting and kinetic art whose performers need only time and an open space. While the accounts provided by Durán and Sahagún affirm the importance and variety of Mexica dance, they offer little in the way of detailed choreography. We may do well, therefore, to begin our inquiry with...

  8. PART FOUR: MEXICO, 1521—1600
    • 12 The Conquest of Mexico (1524—1536)
      (pp. 117-122)

      Hernán Cortés landed on the coast of Yucatan in February 1519 with an army of some five hundred adventurers. Forming alliances with the Tlaxcalteca and other native peoples eager for the overthrow of the dominant Mexica Empire, and reinforced from time to time by fresh arrivals from the Spanish Caribbean, he managed by November to enter Tenochtitlan as the guest of Motecuzoma and there to take his host hostage. For eight months, with the reluctant blessing of the captive emperor, Cortés used the Mexica capital as his base of operations.

      In May 1520, while Cortés attended to a crisis on...

    • 13 The Conquest of Rhodes (Mexico City, 1539)
      (pp. 123-131)

      The year 1539 yields undisputed testimony of three scripted mock battles in colonial Mexico: a battle between Moors and Christians in Oaxaca, aConquest of Rhodesin Mexico City, and aConquest of Jerusalemin Tlaxcala. All three were prompted by a single piece of news from Europe.

      Catholic Europe, in the third decade of the sixteenth century, was nervous. Its borders were contracting, threatened from within by the Protestant Reformation and from without by the armies of Süleyman the Magnificent. Luther had posted his ninety-five theses on the door of the Wittenburg castle church in 1517. The Ottoman Turks...

    • 14 The Conquest of Jerusalem (Tlaxcala, 1539)
      (pp. 132-147)

      Tlaxcala in 1539 was very different from Mexico City. Apart from two or three minor Spanish government officials and half a dozen Franciscan friars, the population of Tlaxcala, estimated at between 200,000 and 250,000, was almost entirely Indian. Local government was in the hands of the Indiancabildo, presided over by an elected Indian governor. Perhaps for this reason, the Franciscan mission in Tlaxcala, founded in 1524, had been remarkably successful. By the late 1530s Christian festivals were being celebrated with an enthusiasm and extravagance that astounded Spanish observers.¹

      These festivals drew on both indigenous and European traditions. In 1538...

    • 15 The Tensions of Empire (Mexico City, 1565—1595)
      (pp. 148-152)

      The scattered records ofmoros y cristianosin Mexico during the rest of the sixteenth century do not support the idea that there was a “rich pageant staged annually in the central plaza of Mexico City to reenact the conquest of the Aztec capital” or that there was anywhere “an annual battle of Moors and Christians.”¹ As in medieval Spain, with the single exception of the Catalan Turks and hobby horses, mock battles between Moors and Christians in sixteenth-century Mexico were occasional rather than annual.

      In October 1565, Alonso de Avila, son of the conquistador of the same name, rode...

    • 16 The Travels of Alonso Ponce (New Spain, 1584—1589)
      (pp. 153-160)

      Between September 1584 and June 1589, Alonso Ponce traveled relentlessly through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, visiting 176 Franciscan convents in fulfillment of his calling as commissary general of the Franciscan order in New Spain. His companion and secretary, Antonio de Ciudad Real, kept a daily record of their journeys. Published most recently under the titleTratado curioso y docto de las grandezas de la Nueva España, Ciudad Real’s account offers valuable insight into the ecclesiastical politics of the day and much anthropological, archaeological, and geographical detail about the regions through which the two friars traveled.

      Less often noted...

    • 17 The Conquest of New Mexico (1598)
      (pp. 161-170)

      From New Spain, the tradition of mock battles between Moors and Christians traveled north to New Mexico. On 30 April 1598, on the banks of the Río del Norte (now the Río Grande), Juan de Oñate formally “took possession of all the kingdoms and provinces of New Mexico, in the name of King Philip [II of Spain].”¹ Oñate may have “staged” the conquest of New Mexico as a reenactment of Cortés’s conquest of old Mexico, employing such “legendary props” as Tlaxcalteca allies, a female native interpreter, twelve Franciscans, and the same banner as Cortés had carried into Tenochtitlan.² Oñate’s expedition...

  9. PART FIVE: SPAIN, 1521—1600
    • 18 Touring Aztecs (1522—1529)
      (pp. 173-178)

      “It is possible,” María Soledad Carrasco Urgoiti wrote in 1963, “that a complete study of American festivals would discover currents of mutual influence linkingmoros y cristianosin the New World” to their Spanish counterparts.¹ Her suggestion of mutual influence is one that few have considered, let alone pursued with any rigor. We know that food traveled eastward: tomatoes, potatoes, corn, chocolate, turkeys, and tobacco all originated in the Americas and were unknown in Europe before the sixteenth century. In this chapter, we will weigh the earliest evidence that native artifacts and performers did likewise, that some of the artifacts...

    • 19 Royal Entries (Toledo, 1533, and Naples, 1543)
      (pp. 179-183)

      We will return to the influence of indigenous traditions on European festivals in due course. For now, we turn our attention to the opulent entries and other pageants of royal power in which sixteenth-century Europe negotiated the relationship between the imperial pretensions of the monarchy, the universal claims of the church, and the rights and privileges of its urban citizens. The most splendid of these spectacles were “great compilations of imperial mythology on a scale unknown since the Roman Empire.”¹

      Amidst a welter of classical allusions, chivalric fantasies, and ecclesiastical grandeur, representations of American empire and Muslim conflict, too, found...

    • 20 Great Balls of Fire (Trent, 1549)
      (pp. 184-197)

      The most spectacular series of sixteenth-century Spanish royal entries greeted the future Philip II on his long tour of Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands between October 1548 and May 1550. The tour was intended as a triumphal buildup to his proclamation as heir to the Holy Roman Empire. Having defeated the Lutheran League of Schmalkalden at the battle of Mühlberg in April 1547 and so consolidated his power in Germany, Charles V had decided that the time was ripe to secure the imperial succession for his son. As it turned out, Charles abandoned these ambitions in the face of strenuous...

    • 21 Noble Fantasies (Binche, 1549, and Rouen, 1550)
      (pp. 198-205)

      Philip’s journey through Lutheran Germany was comparatively sedate. There were no triumphal arches until he reached Brussels in April;¹ and, apart from an occasional salvo of artillery and a joust on the Danube in Ulm, very little in the way of noise. Catholic Belgium was rowdier. In Namur, in late March, the prince saw a battle between two teams of fifty men apiece on stilts. The stilts were six feet high, and the men “seemed like giants.” The battle seems to have been competitive rather than dramatic, for one side dressed in the colors of Burgundy, which was then part...

    • 22 Fêted Dreams of Peace (Andalusia, 1561—1571)
      (pp. 206-215)

      In 1561, Philip II appointed eighteen-year-old Luis Hurtado de Mendoza mayor of the Alhambra, the fortified Moorish palace that dominates the city of Granada. Luis was the fourth successive member of the Mendoza family to hold the office. Both his grandfather and father, who had preceded him in office, were still alive, the former serving as president of the royal council of Castile and the latter as captain general of the kingdom of Granada and as Philip’s ambassador to the Vatican. In his father’s absence, Luis had served for two years as deputy captain general. He was also the fifth...

    • 23 Changing Tastes (Daroca to Valencia, 1585—1586)
      (pp. 216-226)

      On 19 January 1585, Philip II set out on a royal tour of eastern Spain that lasted fourteen months.¹ Along the way, he attended his daughter’s wedding, presided over a meeting of the Cortes (legislative assembly) of Aragon, and was entertained by lavish festivities that, in his late middle age, he was beginning to find tiresome. A record of Philip’s journey was kept by a notary and archer of his Flemish guard, Enrique Cock. Trekking at first through “rain, hail, snow, and fierce winds,” the party made slow progress and encountered little entertainment.

      On Sunday, 19 February, the citizens of...

    • 24 Gilded Indians (1521—1600)
      (pp. 227-234)

      Among the triumphal floats that greeted Anne of Austria as she entered Burgos in October 1570 was one on which twelvematachinesperformed “acrobatics and feats of strength.”¹ In the same year, a dance ofmatachinesappeared in a civic procession in Seville.² As we return to the matter of mutual influence between Spanish and Mexican mock battles, concentrating now on dances rather than festivals, we face a deceptively simple question that illustrates very well the difficulty of definitive answers. What, if any, is the relationship between European and American matachines? The Europeanmatachines, who flourished from the mid-sixteenth to...

  10. PART SIX: EPILOGUE
    • 25 Dancing with Malinche (New Mexico and Oaxaca, 1993—1994)
      (pp. 237-250)

      The long popularity of dances and festivals of Moors and Christians in widely divergent cultures is due to the tradition’s remarkable flexibility of historical referent and contemporary application. The Christians can be Carolingian knights, medieval crusaders, invaders of the Alpujarra, sailors at Lepanto, New World conquistadors, or New Mexican settlers. The Moors can become Moriscos, Turks, Saracens, Jews, Aztecs, Chichimeca, or Comanches. Into the public transcript of historical conflict, various hidden transcripts can be insinuated, exposing the scars left by past traumas, negotiating current power relationships, and yearning, in Spain, forconvivencia, and, in Mexico, for freedom from external rule....

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 251-280)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 281-298)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 299-310)