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Reviewed by:
  • After Moctezuma: Indigenous Politics and Self-Government in Mexico City, 1524-1730
  • Yanna Yannakakis
After Moctezuma: Indigenous Politics and Self-Government in Mexico City, 1524-1730. By William F. Connell. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011. Pp. xviii, 352. Illustrations. Tables. Map. Appendix. Notes. Bibliography. Index.

William F. Connell charts the politicization of indigenous municipal government in colonial Mexico City from its inception in 1524 through its full maturation in 1730. Through engaging analysis of the interplay between indigenous and Spanish political forms, Connell contributes substantively to a historiography of indigenous self-government pioneered most notably by Charles Gibson (1960), James Lockhart (1992), and Robert Haskett (1991) and to a more recent literature that nuances indigenous political and cultural negotiation with Spanish institutions, as seen in the work of Edward Osowski (2010), Susan Kellogg and Ethelia Ruiz Medrano (2010), and the author of this review (2008).

Connell's study proceeds chronologically, each chapter demarcating a stage in the trajectory toward the mature political culture of Mexico City's indigenous government. The first stage from 1536-1572 marks a period during which, despite the imposition of Spanish-style municipal government, strong continuities with pre-conquest political traditions prevailed. Most notably, indigenous judge-governors were drawn from the Tenochca Mexica nobility and served for life. Also, indigenous leaders created a rotation system for the position of alcalde such that each of the four subdivisions within the altepetl could hold the office in alternate years. Engagement with colonial institutions accompanied these accommodations. Opposing nobility petitioned the Spanish legal system to remove the ruling faction based on abuse of authority and other misdeeds. This strategy became a hallmark of indigenous political culture in the decades and centuries that followed.

During the second, transitional phase, from 1573-1610, elected governors of non-Tenochca lineage replaced Tenochca nobility, though Connell notes that the impetus for this shift remains unclear. The transitional governorship of Don Antonio Valeriano (r. 1573-1599), who lacked dynastic affiliation and even noble birth, epitomizes this phase. Educated in the Franciscan Colegio de Santa Cruz Tlaltelolco, Valeriano was bicultural with strong ties to the indigenous world and deep knowledge of Spanish institutions. His ability to negotiate skillfully the amount of tribute to be paid by his indigenous constituents and collect it successfully represented the hallmark of his rule and provided a blueprint for future indigenous political leadership.

The calamitous flood that inundated Mexico City in 1629 initiated a period of heavy viceregal interference in indigenous politics. Population loss put enormous pressure on indigenous tributaries and on the indigenous governors who collected tribute, which led to the institutionalization of fiadores (financial agents) to guarantee tribute payment. Initially these men were indigenous, but over time, they were increasingly Spanish and mestizo, allowing for the infiltration of non-indigenous influence and patronage. [End Page 286] The imprisonment of an indigenous governor, don Cristóbal Pascual, for failure to collect the tribute and his replacement with an outsider from Puebla marked unprecedented viceregal intervention in native politics. Connell perceptively argues, however, that the heavy-handedness of the viceroy opened opportunities for savvy native political actors who manipulated viceregal interventions to their advantage. It also opened space for nonnative political actors to assert themselves in indigenous patronage networks through, for example, the office of alguacil amparador.

By the mid-seventeenth century, which initiated the final phase of political maturation of the indigenous cabildo, a good indigenous governor was one who could create political alliances and networks, successfully collect tribute, and avoid giving commoners or "oppositional political figures the capacity to contest through petition" (p. 126). The politically mature indigenous cabildo proved contentious largely because native political actors had refined over time sophisticated strategies with which to engage the Spanish legal system and harness Spanish authority in the interest of indigenous causes. It was native initiative in the form of legal petitions that impelled viceregal intervention in indigenous affairs, not the other way around.

Based primarily on municipal records, audiencia cases and appeals, and the annals of the Nahua historian Chimalpahin, Connell's study is robustly researched and documented. Its laser-like focus on the indigenous parcialidades of Mexico City affords an impressive depth of vision, although...


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