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Indigenous Literacies in the Techialoyan Manuscripts of New Spain

  • Author(s): Stair, Jessica J.
  • Advisor(s): Olson, Todd;
  • Trever, Lisa
  • et al.

Though alphabetic script had become a prevailing communicative form for keeping records and recounting histories in New Spain by the turn of the seventeenth century, pre-Columbian and early colonial artistic and scribal traditions, including pictorial, oral, and performative discourses still held great currency for indigenous communities during the later colonial period. The pages of a corpus of indigenous documents created during the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries known as the Techialoyan manuscripts abound with vibrantly painted watercolor depictions, alphabetic inscriptions, and vivid invocations of community elders’ speeches and embodied experiences. Designed in response to challenging viceregal policies that threatened land and autonomy, the Techialoyans sought to protect and preserve indigenous ways of life by fashioning community members as the noble descendants of illustrious rulers from the pre-Columbian past. The documents register significant events in the histories of communities, often creating a sense of continuity between the colonial present and that of antiquity. What is more, they provide the limits of the territory within a depicted landscape using a reflexive, ambulatory model. Representations of place evoke ritual practices of walking the boundaries from the perspective of the ground, enabling readers to acquire different forms of knowledge as they move through the pages of the book and the envisioned landscape to which it points. The different communicative forms evident in the Techialoyans, including pictorial, alphabetic, oral, and performative modes contribute to understandings of indigenous literacies of the later colonial period by demonstrating the diverse resources and methods upon which indigenous leaders drew to preserve community histories and territories.

The Techialoyans present an innovative artistic and scribal tradition that drew upon pre-Columbian, early colonial, and European conventions, as well as the contemporary late-colonial pictorial climate. The artists consciously juxtaposed traditional indigenous materials and conventions with those of the contemporary colonial moment to simultaneously create a sense of both old and new. Not only did the documents recount indigenous communities’ histories and affirm their noble heritages, they also proclaimed possession of an artistic and scribal tradition that was on par with that of their revered ancestors, thereby strengthening corporate identity and demonstrating their legitimacy and autonomy within the colonial regime.

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