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“Those who have been baptized, those who are believers in dios will transform [into animals]”: New Perspectives on Juan Teton, the Would-Be Nahua Messiah of Early Colonial Mexico


The 16th-century Nahuatl text, The Annals of Juan Bautista tells of the rise and fall of Juan Teton, the Nahua leader of an anti-Christian, millenarian indigenous movement. It includes his apocalyptic speech foretelling that Nahuas who ate meat from Spanish animals and believed in God would change into such animals. This passage is unique and invaluable, given that European-language accounts overwhelmingly dominate the historical record of indigenous resistance. In this thesis, I offer an all-new translation of the account, with notes on the Nahuatl used. I also compare Teton to similar indigenous leaders in colonial Mexico and beyond, allowing me to make inferences on his probable background and social status. I argue that the changes occurring in colonial Mexico, rather than Mesoamerican myth and legend, explain Teton's rise and the idiosyncratic aspects of his message. Finally, I show that the story of Juan Teton does not offer an example of the undue fatalism and superstition commonly ascribed to the Nahuas; I show instead that Nahua culture, contrary to prevalent depictions of it, was not particularly concerned with prophecies or auguries of doom.

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