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The Learned Ones

Nahua Intellectuals in Postconquest Mexico

Kelly S. McDonough

Publication Year: 2014

They were the healers, teachers, and writers, the “wise ones” of Nahuatl-speaking cultures in Mexico, remembered in painted codices and early colonial manuscripts of Mesoamerica as the guardians of knowledge. Yet they very often seem bound to an unrecoverable past, as stereotypes prevent some from linking the words “indigenous” and “intellectual” together.

Not so, according to author Kelly S. McDonough, at least not for native speakers of Nahuatl, one of the most widely spoken and best-documented indigenous languages of the Americas. This book focuses on how Nahuas have been deeply engaged with the written word ever since the introduction of the Roman alphabet in the early sixteenth century. Dipping into distinct time periods of the past five hundred years, this broad perspective allows McDonough to show the heterogeneity of Nahua knowledge and writing as Nahuas took up the pen as agents of their own discourses and agendas.

McDonough worked collaboratively with contemporary Nahua researchers and students, reconnecting the theorization of a population with the population itself. The Learned Ones describes the experience of reading historic text with native speakers today, some encountering Nahua intellectuals and their writing for the very first time.  It intertwines the written word with oral traditions and embodied knowledge, aiming to retie the strand of alphabetic writing to the dynamic trajectory of Nahua intellectual work.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-2

I am deeply grateful for the many people who have supported this project and shaped it in innumerable ways. Many thanks to Kristen Buckles at the University of Arizona Press for nudging me toward writing with my own voice, Natasha Varner for kind and encouraging words, and the anonymous...

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Introduction. Ixtlamatinih: Nahua Intellectuals Writing Mexican Modernity

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pp. 3-33

The tlamatinimeh and tlahcuilohqueh, the scholars and writers of pre-Hispanic Nahuatl-speaking cultures, are remembered in painted codices and early colonial-period alphabetic manuscripts of Mesoamerica as the producers, transmitters, interpreters, and guardians of knowledge. The...

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Chapter 1. Describing Nahuatl Language to Others in Early Colonial Mexico: Antonio del Rincón

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pp. 34-58

Descended from nobility of Texcoco, and the first indigenous person in the Americas to write a grammar of his own language, Antonio del Rincón (1555–1601) has been called “el primer lingüista nativo del Nuevo Mundo” (the first native linguist of the New World).1 Through the figure...

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Tlen naman 1. The IDIEZ Project

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pp. 59-62

Founded in 2002 by John Sullivan, Angelina Belmontes Martínez, Urbano Francisco Martínez (Nahua, San Luis Potosí), and Delfina de la Cruz (Nahua, Veracruz), the Instituto de Docencia e Investigación Etnológica de Zacatecas (Zacatecas Institute for Teaching and Research in Ethnology...

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Chapter 2. Writing Tlaxcalan Memories that Matter: Don Juan Buenaventura Zapata y Mendoza

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pp. 63-82

Writing about the past is a highly selective task, one of remembering but also of forgetting (or silencing, in the words of Michel-Rolph Trouillot).1 A written record of the social memory of a people, as ethnohistorian Stephanie Wood has argued, is similar to the production of an image, as...

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Tlen naman 2. Nonahuatlahtolnemilitzin (My Life in Nahuatl): Refugio Nava Nava

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pp. 83-87

Refugio Nava Nava is a Nahua from Tlaxcala. He holds a doctorate degree in anthropology from CIESAS, Mexico City, and is currently a professor/ researcher at the Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala in Mexico. His research focuses on the maintenance and revitalization of indigenous languages...

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Chapter 3. Defending Indigenous Citizens When “Indians No Longer Existed”: Faustino Galicia Chimalpopoca

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pp. 88-115

How does one legislate and govern in a pluricultural nation such as Mexico? Should indigenous lands be afforded special protections? What is the place of indigenous languages in Mexico? Questions like these, still pertinent today, are representative of the kinds of issues debated by nineteenth-century...

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Tlen naman 3. Tlapepetlaca (Lightning Strikes Again and Again): Victoriano de la Cruz Cruz

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pp. 116-119

Victoriano de la Cruz Cruz (fig. 2), a native speaker of the Nahuatl language, was born in Tepoxteco, Chicontepec, Veracruz. He holds a master’s degree in Indoamerican Linguistics from the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (Center...

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Chapter 4. Knowing, Speaking, Teaching, and Writing: Doña Luz Jiménez

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pp. 120-153

In 1997, the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo in Coyoacán (Mexico City) hosted an unusual exhibition—the focus was not on a particular artist, style, or movement. The show was instead organized around the female indigenous model who had inspired the most prominent artists...

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Tlen naman 4. Cihuatequiuh (Women’s Work): Sabina Cruz de la Cruz

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pp. 154-159

Sabina Cruz de la Cruz (fig. 6) is a native speaker of Nahuatl from Tecomate, a small community outside of Chicontepec, in the Mexican state of Veracruz. She completed an undergraduate degree in law in 2007 at the Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas. Focusing on federal labor law...

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Chapter 5. Performing the Recovery of Indigeneity: Ildefonso Maya Hernández

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pp. 160-195

Many of the previous chapters focused on Nahua intellectuals who have lived in or near Mexico City, the cultural capital of the Mexican nation. In this chapter we move to the predominantly indigenous Huasteca region of Mexico during the latter half of the twentieth century. Our protagonist...

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Conclusions and Beginnings: Reading and Writing Nahua Space

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pp. 196-204

It is written that in 1591 an elder of the Nahua village of San Matías Cuixinco in the Central Valley of Mexico called his people together to tell a very important story and to have this story recorded in alphabetic script. The elder explained how Cuixinco lands were founded and defended in...


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pp. 205-234


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pp. 235-254


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pp. 255-260

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780816598663
E-ISBN-10: 0816598665
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816511365
Print-ISBN-10: 0816511365

Page Count: 275
Illustrations: 14 photos
Publication Year: 2014