- The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Ñudzahui History, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries
This is an excellent study of the Ñudzahui people—more widely known as the Mixtecs—during the colonial period. This monograph is firmly in the tradition of the UCLA school of colonial Spanish American studies, which likes to call itself the "New Philology" because of its practitioners' extensive utilization of indigenous-language documents as their primary source. Like most of the products of the "New Philology," this one spends a great deal of time on language and writing. These are topics of great interest to philologists, although not necessarily to the general reader. These cover the first third of the book, after which Terraciano turns to a detailed analysis of the nature of Ñudzahui settlements, suprafamilial social [End Page 528] structures and relations, lordship and elites, land and land tenure, religion, and ethnicity. Throughout these chapters, the author pays close attention to the role of gender in history and also makes comparisons between the Ñudzahui, the Nahua, and the Yucatec Maya. These are the topics that will be of most interest to ethnohistorians and historians.
Terraciano highlights many features of the Ñudzahui that would not have been evident in Spanish-language sources. Whereas the Spanish colonial authorities tried to recognize a single, central core settlement of local society to serve as a cabecera (as they did with the Nahua altepetl), there was none to find, because the Ñudzahui were not the Nahua. Spanish terminology obscured this indigenous reality. The native language sources thus reveal that Spanish intentions flew in the face of local realities, and after cabeceras were duly recognized, the Ñudzahui resisted, ignored, or counteracted the imposed colonial structures.
The author's attention to women and gender—topics somewhat ignored in traditional archaeology and anthropology—produces excellent results. Terraciano does not simply state that women were important and that they worked in a variety of activities. Rather, he shows over and over how women helped shape the history of the society in which they lived. Having been rulers, landowners, warriors, and goddesses in the pantheon before the conquest, women continued to play the role of rulers even during the colonial period (political power was hereditary for both sexes). For the colonial Ñudzahui, the Virgin Mary became the Queen of Heaven, who shared power with the Christian God, in order that Christianity be made to conform to native culture. Unlike their Nahua and Maya counterparts, Ñudzahui women not only inherited land but sometimes even engaged in agricultural labor, and their property and possessions were not as gender-specific as among the Nahua and Yucatec Maya.
Any study arranged by topic and covering three centuries will have difficulty in providing a coherent explanation of historical change. Terraciano nevertheless succeeds reasonably well in avoiding too many assumptions of continuity. Since the Ñudzahui-language sources are spread out chronologically rather evenly for over three centuries, Terraciano was able deal with the entire colonial period without overreliance on documents from a narrow time period. On the other hand, his almost complete reliance on indigenous-language sources leads to an avoidance of changes within the state during the Bourbon era. The word intendancy, for example, is not even in the index. What about the famous abolition of the repartimiento system? That is not mentioned, even though it must have had a significant effect on the indigenous economy. I also find it hard to believe that the village community treasuries and sodalities escaped untouched until after independence. Spanish- language sources might have shed some light on changes that do not appear in native language documents.
One could also argue about whether we really need to abandon the term Mixtec and use Ñudzahui instead. True, the people called themselves Ñudzahui, and [End Page 529] that is what we should call them while talking to them in their own language. Yet most languages have words for foreign people and places that are not accurate. Following this logic, English-speakers...