The Relación de Michoacán (1539-1541) and the Politics of Representation in Colonial Mexico

The Relación de Michoacán (1539-1541) and the Politics of Representation in Colonial Mexico

Copyright Date: 2015
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    The Relación de Michoacán (1539-1541) and the Politics of Representation in Colonial Mexico
    Book Description:

    The Relación de Michoacán (1539–1541) is one of the earliest surviving illustrated manuscripts from colonial Mexico. Commissioned by the Spanish viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, the Relación was produced by a Franciscan friar together with indigenous noble informants and anonymous native artists who created its forty-four illustrations. To this day, the Relación remains the primary source for studying the pre-Columbian practices and history of the people known as Tarascans or P'urhépecha. However, much remains to be said about how the Relación's colonial setting shaped its final form.By looking at the Relación in its colonial context, this study reveals how it presented the indigenous collaborators a unique opportunity to shape European perceptions of them while settling conflicting agendas, outshining competing ethnic groups, and carving a place for themselves in the new colonial society. Through archival research and careful visual analysis, Angélica Afanador-Pujol provides a new and fascinating account that situates the manuscript's images within the colonial conflicts that engulfed the indigenous collaborators. These conflicts ranged from disputes over political posts among indigenous factions to labor and land disputes against Spanish newcomers. Afanador-Pujol explores how these tensions are physically expressed in the manuscript's production and in its many contradictions between text and images, as well as in numerous emendations to the images. By studying representations of justice, landscape, conquest narratives, and genealogy within the Relación, Afanador-Pujol clearly demonstrates the visual construction of identity, its malleability, and its political possibilities.

    eISBN: 978-1-4773-0106-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Spanish invasion and colonization of the Americas was a slow process that frequently involved war, careful planning, and the crafting of political alliances. Competing expeditions of conquistadors to unexplored areas often fought for claims to land, labor, and bounty. Spanish factions found it necessary to collaborate with indigenous noble families to collect tribute, direct building projects, and maintain settlements in working order. Indigenous people were equally divided along kinship and ethnic lines, cultural practices, and centuries-old rivalries. Spaniards used to their advantage the rivalries among indigenous groups. Likewise, indigenous nobles quickly learned to work with the intricacies and politics of...

  5. 1 The Making and the Makers of the Relación de Michoacán
    (pp. 17-62)

    Turning the honey-colored leather cover that binds the Relación today reveals carefully written text and delicately executed images on select papers imported from Europe to the colonies. On the frontispiece an artist envisioned, before the fact, the presentation of the manuscript to the viceroy (fig. 1; see plate 1).¹ A barefoot friar, accompanied by a group of four indigenous men, hands over a manuscript to a bearded viceroy, who wears a robe with the cross of the Order of Santiago. The friar wears a long brown robe cinched at the waist by a cord with three knots, indicating he belongs...

  6. 2 Unfaithful Lovers and Malicious Sorcerers: JUSTICE, PUNISHMENT, AND THE BODY
    (pp. 63-84)

    In language inflated with praise for the mission of the viceroy and his own Franciscan Order, the friar-editor asserted in the prologue to theRelaciónthat the people native to Michoacán lacked books and moral virtues. The viceroy’s duty to govern the people of Michoacán was an arduous one, the friar explained, as their only virtue was generosity. They had no concept of chastity, temperance, or justice, and in P’urhépecha, their native tongue, they had to articulate such concepts in a roundabout way. Yet, contrary to the friar’s claims, theRelaciónincludes three images whose titles indicate that they depict...

  7. 3 Making and Emending Landscape in the Petamuti’s Speech
    (pp. 85-108)

    Between the two images depicting the petamuti at the justice ceremony discussed earlier (see figs. 30, 31), the folios record the speech the petamuti allegedly gave after determining the sentences criminals would receive at this annual event. His speech is a migration story in which the ancestors of the Uanacaze migrate to central Michoacán. The petamuti’s story has many resemblances to the migration stories of other indigenous groups from central and southern Mexico recorded during the colonial period (i.e., theMapa Quinatzinand theCodex Xolotl).¹ Like other migration stories, it begins with the migrant group entering a desired homeland...

  8. 4 Creating Chichimec–Uanacaze Ethnic Identity
    (pp. 109-140)

    The previous chapter explored how the images illustrating the petamuti’s speech about the migration of the Uanacaze into the Lake Pátzcuaro basin favored their and their Islander allies’ claims to the area over those of their Spanish competitors during the early colonial period. However, this story does much more than determine territorial boundaries. The images provide a window into privilege. They focus on the attributes and deeds of the nobility, and the main, and often the sole, characters in the scenes are the Uanacaze leaders. Notoriously absent are workers, merchants, and even most women, probably because indigenous male nobles collaborated...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. 5 Mimicry, Identity, and the Tree of Jesse
    (pp. 141-162)

    At the end of the petamuti’s speech in part 2 of theRelación, the contributors included an image of a family tree on a separate sheet of paper (fig. 53; see plate 24). This image not only summarizes the genealogy of rulers included in the petamuti’s narration but is key to understanding how competing agendas played out through the manuscript. Genealogical and dynastic information was a common theme among indigenous elites throughout Mexico before and after the arrival of Europeans. Mixtec genealogies and dynastic lists from southern Mexico populate many of the surviving codices from pre-Columbian and colonial times.¹ Their...

  11. 6 Memories of an Ethnographic Funeral
    (pp. 163-178)

    In 1530, civil unrest in Michoacán followed the untimely execution of the Uanacaze ruler Zinzicha Tangaxuan by order of Nuño de Guzmán, Mendoza’s predecessor as president of the Royal Audience. While Guzmán continued in his expedition to western Mexico, theRelaciónmentions that people in Michoacán were jailed to prevent them from deserting their towns. Eighteenth-century chroniclers later reported that indigenous people renounced the Spanish government and Michoacán was temporarily lost “to God and to the King.”¹

    In much of colonial Mexico, Spanish authorities depended on the leadership of the indigenous nobility to administer the indigenous population at large. After...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 179-184)

    About 1539, the newly appointed Spanish viceroy to Mexico, Antonio de Mendoza, commissioned a Franciscan friar in the City of Michoacán to record the customs of the region so that he could govern it more effectively. The friar, who has been identified as Jerónimo de Alcalá, employed indigenous informants who were members of the local P’urhépecha-speaking nobility. Their testimony was recorded in the manuscript’s text, which was divided into three parts preceded by a prologue. Alcalá also engaged four anonymous native artists to create the forty-four small paintings that illustrate what is now known as theRelación de Michoacán.


  13. Notes
    (pp. 185-232)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-256)
  15. Index
    (pp. 257-269)