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The Nahuas at Independence: Indigenous Communities of the Metepec Area (Toluca Valley) in the First Decades of the Nineteenth Century

  • Author(s): Melton-Villanueva, Miriam
  • Advisor(s): Lockhart, James
  • Terraciano, Kevin B
  • et al.

It had been believed that Nahuatl recordkeeping, the focus of a whole movement of central Mexican ethnohistory, had halted by 1800. The author then discovered a large cache of Nahuatl testaments from communities in the Metepec area in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the independence period. The present study, based on those materials, brings native-language ethnohistory a full generation forward in time and is the first to look at indigenous communities in the independence years from the inside.

The continued production of Nahuatl testaments itself shows a cultural persistence; the content of the testaments shows most features of local life still operating much as before. The

greatest surprise was that in the corpus women testators and property owners outnumber men, making up almost two-thirds of the total, thus reversing the traditional proportions.

In chapters on writing, religious practices, the household complex, and non-household land, interrelated blocks of local sociocultural life are portrayed and analyzed against the background of Nahua life in previous centuries. Women are abundantly studied, and the role of the genders receives much attention through statistical comparisons and analysis of cases. Again the results are a surprise, for though women show evidence of a new prominence in matters of funeral rites, for the rest their role seems much as it had always been, and through their bequests they were well on the way to handing males their traditional predominance in property holding.

The corpus contains collections from three communities that show micro-local distinctions, featured in each of the chapters. Some of the testaments are in Spanish, which became predominant before 1830, but the texts are so dependent on Nahuatl phrases that they can be studied as part of the whole and show that the language transition at first had small effects on local culture.

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