- In Place of Gods and Kings: Authorship and Identity in the Relación de Michoacán
The ethno-historical significance of the Relación de Michoacán—a conquest-era text recording versions of the indigenous past, as well as moments from the first generation sixteenth-century "encounter"—has long been recognized. Cynthia Stone's great achievement in this volume is to provide the most detailed study of this source to date, one that successfully argues for its literary as well as ethno-historical value. To do so, she redefines authorship to account for the multiple voices that together comprise the Relación, evident in the forms and colors of images as well as in written words. Stone makes creative use of concepts drawn from literary theory, history and anthropology in the service of a masterful "close reading" that allows her to unravel and reconstruct the multiple layers of this intriguing source.
Stone's scholarship is remarkable for its profound, even loving attention to the physicality of the text itself, including its revisions, erasures, marginal notations, and various scripts. She notes "the twin extremes of insufficiency and excess" (p. 6) found in Escorial Ms.C.IV.5. Parts of the original text were irretrievably lost prior to binding, a process that also included the insertion of loose leaf illustrations, while other areas where subsequently removed. Stone details the "numerous repositionings, emendations, erasures and blank spaces for drawings that were never completed" (Ibid.) as well as the "multiplicity of hands" (Ibid.) involved in compiling the manuscript, even prior to its arrival in Spain. These come in addition to the multiple authors that she was able to identify: Jerónimo de Alcalá, the missionary author; the Caracha, or Scribes-Painters, who illustrated the text by "writing in pictures"; the Petámuti, or high priest, who provided an oral performance recounting pre-hispanic regional history that was finally recorded in writing in the Relación; and Don Pedro Cuiníarángari, the indigenous noble who emerged in control of the local population after Spanish settlement in Michoacán. Stone's careful attention to the traces of these distinct authorial voices throughout the text allows her to argue persuasively for its "culturally hybrid" (p. 155) status, a recognition that gives unprecedented depth to her careful reading.
Indeed, the most interesting aspect of this book is Stone's combination of theoretical innovation with disciplined "close reading." This methodology allows for precise and at times startling insights. In the space of a short review it is not possible to do justice to all of the insights gained from this work. Scholars of Michoacán, colonial literature, and the historical, anthropological and literary dimensions of sixteenth-century Amerindian/European "encounters" will benefit from this study. Stone provides new insights into the relatively minor role played by the missionary author; the complexity of the process involved in writing, re-writing, binding and preserving; the ways in which the physicality of the text itself reveals history; how oral traditions and written histories operate according to distinct logics but also intersect; and how conquest and colonization transformed Michoacán. She also provides [End Page 274] an interesting redefinition of Don Pedro Cuiníarángari as less of an opportunistic collaborator and more of a "cultural broker" (p. 186) than has been understood previously, and adds some depth to the notion of a "symbolic bridge" (p. 152) linking the prehispanic cultural hero Taríacuri with Vasco de Quiorga, the region's first Bishop. This book will stand for many years as a definitive study of the Relación, making an invaluable contribution to the growing Mexican and international literature on a once relatively understudied region.