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Insignia of Rank in the Nahua World

Insignia of Rank in the Nahua World: From the Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Century

Justyna Olko
Copyright Date: 2014
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  • Book Info
    Insignia of Rank in the Nahua World
    Book Description:

    This significant work reconstructs the repertory of insignia of rank and the contexts and symbolic meanings of their use, along with their original terminology, among the Nahuatl-speaking communities of Mesoamerica from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Attributes of rank carried profound symbolic meaning, encoding subtle messages about political and social status, ethnic and gender identity, regional origin, individual and community history, and claims to privilege.Olko engages with and builds upon extensive worldwide scholarship and skillfully illuminates this complex topic, creating a vital contribution to the fields of pre-Columbian and colonial Mexican studies. It is the first book to integrate pre- and post-contact perspectives, uniting concepts and epochs usually studied separately. A wealth of illustrations accompanies the contextual analysis and provides essential depth to this critical work.Insignia of Rank in the Nahua Worldsubstantially expands and elaborates on the themes of Olko'sTurquoise Diadems and Staffs of Office, originally published in Poland and never released in North America.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-241-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    “Let your Majesty not imagine that what I say is fabulous, for it is true that Moteucçoma had had copied very faithfully all the things created in both land and sea of which he had knowledge, in gold and silver as well as in precious stones and feathers, in such perfection that they almost appear to be the things themselves … Besides this, Moteucçoma gave me much clothing that belonged to him, which considering that it was entirely of cotton with no silk, in the whole world the equal could not be made or woven, nor in so many and...

  6. 2 The Repertory of Elite Apparel and Insignia of Rank
    (pp. 33-186)

    “All the nobles, all the eagles and jaguars [brave warriors], and the commoners were delighted when they assumed [the paraphernalia]. For they did not lightly attain all the ruler’s gear that they put on; it was worth their life.”¹ Indeed, as implied by this Nahuatl text of thePrimeros Memoriales, the desire for high-ranking, costly insignia and status items was a strong personal motivation of Aztec nobles and warriors striving for personal promotion, even with their lives at stake. Used in public displays and elaborate ceremonies, the apparel served as an essential marker in social hierarchy and communicated a variety...

  7. 3 Images of Rank by Region
    (pp. 187-308)

    The Nahuatl-speaking altepetl and other communities of central Mexico have left a particularly rich and notable body of pictorial renderings of their native nobility in different media. Among these, precontact sculptures and postcontact manuscripts have survived as a significant corpus essential for understanding both the traditional iconography of rank of the Nahuas and their neighbors before the Spanish conquest and the form it took on through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Such imagery was surely recorded also in other materials and with other techniques (e.g., wall paintings) that have not survived as well, so it remains debatable whether the picture...

  8. 4 Functions and Meanings of Precontact Costume and Status Items
    (pp. 309-334)

    The Nahuas and other Mesoamerican groups were not exceptional either in the importance they gave to dress and insignia or in their use of them to convey sophisticated symbolic messages. Just as in numerous traditional and modern cultures worldwide, garments and other status items served to transmit information on social and political rank, gender, occupation, and ethnic affiliation. Depending on the context, such objects were used as economic commodities and tribute items, valued gifts in social exchange, instruments of political power, and spiritually charged insignia in ritual. Potentially, all components of dress could communicate information about rank and identity, but...

  9. 5 Postcontact Survivals and Adaptations
    (pp. 335-358)

    Even if preconquest apparel continued to play a crucial role in early colonial imagery of the native nobility, the change in dressing customs took place relatively quickly, mirroring the quick adoption of numerous elements of Spanish material culture. The European shirt (camisa) with a collar and buttons is well attested already about 1550; at this date its native manufacture and trade are widespread, whereas the word camisa rapidly entered the Nahuatl vocabulary ascamixatli. A text from Tullantzinco (Tulancingo) in 1584 reveals that even an unemployed thief wore a camixatli in addition to his indigenous loincloth and cape (Lockhart 1992,...

  10. 6 Summation
    (pp. 359-366)

    Those who study the Nahua world may feel particularly fortunate in having available to them a huge corpus of extant preconquest and postconquest sources for numerous aspects of native life and culture. This material, though certainly not exhaustive, permits us to address a whole range of research topics. Nevertheless, the very size and diversity of the corpus make it very difficult to achieve an overall perspective that addresses broader phenomena across the whole temporal and geographical range, while at the same time paying the necessary attention to detail and tangible evidence. In the past the solution has often been to...

  11. Appendix: Dictionary of Insignia and Accouterments
    (pp. 367-444)
  12. Abbreviations Used
    (pp. 445-446)
  13. References
    (pp. 447-472)
  14. Index
    (pp. 473-492)