- The Two Taríacuris and the Early Colonial and Prehispanic Past of Michoacán by David L. Haskell
The Relación de Michoacán (RM) is the most important document about pre-Hispanic and early colonial West Mexico. It has preoccupied scholars since Seler, and has recently been the subject of two monographs, by Stone (2004) on authorship and identity, and by Afanador-Pujol (2015) on its images. So why another book on the RM, more specifically about the part known as the priest’s speech? Haskell’s answer to this question has two responses. The first is methodological: he proposes to analyze the speech through the lens of historicity as developed by Turner and Piaget. The second is the result of the first: through his novel kind of analysis, Haskell arrives at a new interpretation. He exhorts scholars to “stop seeing the priest’s speech as the ‘official history’ of the Uacúsecha” (218) in pre-Hispanic times and instead interpret it as a “full-throated call for the people to rally around Don Francisco Taríacuri in the chaotic time of the Early Colonial Period” (7).
Haskell develops his argumentation in six chapters. The best of these, in my view, is the introduction, where he summarizes his hypothesis: the priest’s speech essentially tells the story of the formation of the Tarascan state and its ruling lineage, the Uacúsecha, focusing on the first pre-Hispanic Tarascan king, Taríacuri. Dialoguing with the results of Stone and Afanador-Pujol, Haskell shows how the development and characterization [End Page 472] of the pre-Hispanic Taríacuri is constructed in analogy to the heir of the last Tarascan king, don Francisco Tariácuri. Although the pre-Hispanic Taríacuri is constructed as encompassing both the “Chichimec” and “Islander” categories (36), don Francisco Taríacuri could analogously be seen as representing both “Chichimec and Spanish nature” (41).
At the time of writing of the RM, around 1540, don Pedro Cuinierángari, a non-Uacúsecha noble, held the position of governor of the Spanish colonial province of Michoacán. The priest, in his “reformulated . . . past” (6), according to Haskell, advocated for don Francisco Taríacuri as governor, a goal ultimately achieved in 1543 but soon followed by the premature death of the office holder. The remaining five chapters detail selected parts of this line of argumentation. Chapter 2 locates the narration in the wider Mesoamerican context. Chapter 3 is almost purely methodological and does not make for an easy read. It explains the concept of historicity, intimately linked to syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations and refuting the dichotomy between myth and history. Chapter 4 analyzes the priest’s speech step by step, including summaries of the episodes, which help with understanding the rather complicated language of the RM. Chapter 5 repeats the major findings from Chapter 4 and continues to explore and partly refute some central propositions made by other authors about the priest’s speech, such as Stone’s interpretation that it was bishop Vasco de Quiroga, not don Francisco Taríacuri, who was intended to be the “future leader of the people of Michoacán” (175).
Chapter 6 places some aspects of the priest’s speech again in a wider Mesoamerican context. Thus, the Chichimec–Islander dichotomy is related to the Chichimec–Toltec dichotomy in Central Mexico and more generally to a duality between foreigner and autochthon (202). Also explored are the counterclockwise direction of migration and the conceptualization of the last Tarascan king Tangáxoan as a “boundary figure” (206), analogous to Motecuzoma, embedded in a cyclical conception of time.
The central argument of Haskell’s book is compelling, although I would not follow his arguments in every detail (and would have preferred that my last name be correctly spelled!) I found the heavily theoretical and methodological parts somewhat tiring. I venture that for a full understanding it is necessary for the reader to be familiar with the RM, and preferably also...