Annals of Native America: How the Nahuas of Colonial Mexico Kept Their History Alive
For many generations, the Nahuas of Mexico maintained their tradition of the xiuhpohualli. or year counts, telling and performing their history around communal firesides so that the memory of it would not be lost. When the Spaniards came, young Nahuas took the Roman letters taught to them by the friars and used the new alphabet to record historical performances by elders. Between them, they wrote hundreds of pages, which circulated widely within their communities. Over the next century and a half, their descendants copied and recopied these texts, sometimes embellishing, sometimes extracting, and often expanding them chronologically. The annals, as they have usually been called, were written not only by Indians but also for Indians, without regard to European interests. As such they are rare and inordinately valuable texts. They have often been assumed to be both largely anonymous and at least partially inscrutable to modern ears. In this work, Nahuatl scholar Camilla Townsend reveals the authors of most of the texts, restores them to their proper contexts, and makes sense of long misunderstood documents. She follows a remarkable chain of Nahua historians, generation by generation, exploring who they were, what they wrote, and why they wrote it. Sometimes they conceived of their work as a political act, reinstating bonds between communities, or between past, present, and future generations. Sometimes they conceived of it largely as art and delighted in offering language that was beautiful or startling or humorous. Annals of Native America brings together, for the first time, samples of their many creations to offer a heretofore obscured history of the Nahuas and an alternate perspective on the Conquest and its aftermath.