- Chimalpahin’s Conquest: A Nahua Historian’s Rewriting of Francisco López de Gómara’s La conquista de México
Chimalpahin’s Conquest is an English translation of a uniquely hybrid colonial text from central Mexico. In the early 1600s the Nahua annalist Domingo Francisco de San Antón Muñón Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin transcribed La conquista de México (1552), a widely popular history of the so-called “conquest” of Mexico-Tenochtitlan [End Page 175] written by the sixteenth-century Spanish humanist Francisco López de Gómara. Instead of merely reproducing the history word for word, Chimalpahin deleted some words and phrases, made a few corrections, and added several commentaries on indigenous life and customs. His final text — translated by Susan Schroeder, Anne J. Cruz, Cristián Roa-de-la-Carrera, and David E. Tavárez (a team of specialists in Nahua and Spanish historiography) — provides a fascinating look into the world of indigenous scholarship.
Three preliminary essays introduce the manuscript and authorship of Chimalpahin’s Conquest. In the first, Schroeder describes the eighteenth-century copy of Chimalpahin’s holograph (known as the Browning Manuscript) and the approach taken to translate it. Tavárez, in the second, examines Chimalpahin’s modifications to La conquista de México, arguing that he was “the equal of a legendary Spanish chronicler in intellectual and discursive terms” (p. 29). In the third, Roa-de-la-Carrera analyses the life and work of López de Gómara, suggesting that, instead of excluding Indians from the “conquest,” he “unintentionally created a common ground wherein a Nahua historian such as Chimalpahin could claim a stake in this history” (p. 43).
Since Chimalpahin was for the most part a faithful copyist, the general narrative of La conquista de México is still present in Chimalpahin’s Conquest. One can follow the life of the conquistador Hernán Cortés from the cradle to the grave, principally his exploits in the siege of Mexico-Tenochtitlan and later in Central America. López de Gómara unabashedly expresses his admiration for the conquistador, presenting him as a herald of the Christian gospel (pp. 218–220) and as a warrior who performed feats more daring than any “Greek or Roman” (p. 215) without “the slightest sign of cowardice” (p. 136). Although López de Gómara’s relationship with Cortés is uncertain, he clearly drew upon his letters and testimony to write his history, defending his seigneurial goals by claiming that he “did not receive the respect that he deserved” (p. 415) and that his “exploits were worthy of a Roman reward” (p. 426). Near the end of his history he included 49 chapters on indigenous customs, based primarily on the work of the Franciscan friar Toribio de Benavente Motolinía. The content of López de Gómara’s history, however, worried the crown because it openly expressed the feudal aspirations of the conquistadors. In 1553 the Council of the Indies banned his text from publication, and in 1566 King Philip II prohibited its reading in Spain and America.
Despite these royal prohibitions, Chimalpahin still read through La conquista de México, and the changes he made to the text in his transcription are highly suggestive. He highlights his own personal history by expanding upon his native altepetl (“ethnic state”) of Amecameca Chalco (p. 177) and by referencing the “church of our Lord San Antón” (p. 314) in Mexico City, where he lived and worked. Several of his insertions reveal the mind of a Nahua Christian who had internalized various aspects of Catholicism. Chimalpahin refers to the street that “leads to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe” (p. 324) and to “a saint” who left “crosses to their ancestors” (p. 170). Further, he speaks of the “rituals” and “ministers of the devil” (pp. 197...