- Atemorizar la tierra: Pedro de Alvarado y la Conquista de Guatemala, 1520-1541 by W. George Lovell, Christopher H. Lutz, and Wendy Kramer
I thought I knew Pedro de Alvarado. It is difficult to investigate sixteenth-century Guatemala without encountering him; he and his brothers were meddling in and around what is today El Salvador, part of Honduras, Guatemala, and even for a bit in Peru. Chasing Alvarado, trying to understand what happened, when, and why, ranges from grasping at smoke to pounding one's head against a brick wall. The time is ripe for a serious analysis of Alvarado and his entrada in Guatemala. George Lovell, Christopher Lutz, and Wendy Kramer turn the endeavor on its head by making it not about one person, but the story of peoples and places. They tell the story of a mission for personal glory such that the story and actions of native communities take center stage.
Alvarado's exploits in Mexico as Hernando Cortés's right-hand man earned him the privilege to go to Guatemala. He was famously brutal compared to Cortés. As the book's title indicates, Alvarado's cruelty did not abate in the security of achieving his reward of Guatemala. He used similar strategies in Mexico and Guatemala, the greatest difference being his efforts in Guatemala to conscript native allies, particularly the K'iche'. Bringing loyal Tlaxcallans from Mexico was important, but not enough; Alvarado needed native resident allies for his regime to succeed.
The need for local support meant that Alvarado had to acknowledge and, to different degrees, work within indigenous political geographies. Lovell, Lutz, and Kramer show how in fact Alvarado was a stage, a catalyst, for Kaqchikel, K'iché and other indigenous groups' political and social machinations. This emphasis on indigenous strategy organizes the content of the book. Divided into three long chapters, only the first deals with the journey and events of the entrada. Chapters 2 and 3 relate episodes of alliance, rebellion, and surrender. The authors clearly labeled subsections within each chapter, and those titles—"The Battle of Pachah", "Tecún Umán, Man or Myth?", "Origin and Founding of the Kaqchikel Alliance", and "Vignettes of the Vanquished"—are a series of local places, groups, and people. Certainly, Alvarado's actions had important effects, such as his naming of the successor to the Kaqchikel lord Belehé Qat, who died while mining gold as part of Alvarado's new tribute requirements for native nobles (p. 138-139). This deadly consequence of Alvarado's policy also gave him a chance to consolidate power further by installing his hand-picked successor. Lovell, Lutz, and Kramer present a balanced view of the limitations of the evidence as well as how [End Page 249] scholars have interpreted it, showing that one possibility is that Alvarado's actions triggered a second Kaqchikel uprising (pp. 141-153).
Although the three authors are well known for their writings in English, this text in Spanish is clear and compelling. Even more impressive is the even tone and style; it is hard to tell that three authors wrote it, as the text reads like a single voice. That single voice speaks with authority, viewing the past in terms of its repercussions in the present. Lovell, Lutz, and Kramer have each spent their careers in the region, conducting decades of fieldwork and archival work. They know these communities well, and this familiarity shines through in both the way they organized the text as well as the details that they highlight to illustrate key points.
What is especially impressive is the thoroughness of research. Few works deal in such a systematic way with well-known works, such as the Memorial de Sololá and the letters of Alvarado, numerous native-language texts, particularly in K'iché and Kaqchiquel, unpublished manuscripts in the Archivo General de las Indias, the Audiencia de Guatemala, and other archives, as...