Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Believe What the Natives Tell You?—the Writings of Ixtlilxochitl

Continuing from the last post with the words of Fernando de Alva Cortes Ixtlilxochitl who, by the way, was not a pure Indian, but a Castizo, part Spanish on his mother's side, was a student at the Imperial College of Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, where he was educated in both Nahuatl and Spanish. He lived in San Juan Teotihuacan from 1600 to 1604.

Fernando de Alva Cortes Itlilxochitl, the most illustrious of the native Mexican historians and the great-grandson of Don Fernando Ixtlilxochitl, fifth son of Netzahualpilli, King of Texcoco, and of his wife Doña Beatriz Panantzin, daughter of Cuitlahuac, last of the Aztec emperors.

In 1608, he was employed as interpreter by the Spanish viceroy, which appointment he owed to his learning and skill in explaining the hieroglyphic pictures of the ancient Mexicans. He was responsible for writing several "histories." He wrote these at the behest of the Spanish viceroy ruling Mexico at the time. The main reason why he was commissioned was because he was viewed as both a decendent of the former rulers as well as being quite safely ensconced in Spanish culture (as well as being raised Christian, he had been educated at the college of Santa Cruz de Tlaltelolco, which was founded by the Spaniards). Obviously, Fernando Ixtlilxochitl was raised a very strong believer in Christianity, and the bias in his writings is very apparent in his histories.

It should be kept in mind that Ixtlilxochitl was  very eager to present his ancestors in a light that he believed made them appear more "civilized" and palatable to the new Christian era. At the time, there were two common approaches to indigenous religion under the pressures of Christianity--outright demonization of the beliefs, or Christianization of them. This Christianization was often done by people with good intentions in mind--after all, the church was very apt to censor anything that was considered to encourage any sort of "idolatry." Even some of the Spanish friars who made accounts of the native religion (such as Sahagun) were threatened by the Inquisition because the church feared that even the records of its own clergy might somehow encourage the continued practice of the native religion. Because of that, often the only safe way to record anything that cast native peoples in a positive light was to make them appear to be more safely European and Christian in values and beliefs, which was hardly something unique to post-conquest Mexico. Ixtlilxochitl became so highly considered by the early church that even today he bears his own entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
At the time, notwithstanding his illustrious birth, education, and ability, he had lived for a long time in dire poverty, and the greater part of his works were written to relieve his wants, as was the case when he was commissioned to write histories of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. His Relacion historica de la nacion tulteca (usually called Relacion) was written between 1600 and 1608, in which he gives a detailed account of the important part played by his great-grandfather Don Fernando, the Aztec Chieftan and chief of Texcoco, supported the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes in the conquest of rival Aztecs in Tenochtitlan. 
At the time of the Spanish conquest, the cities of Texcoco and Tenochtitlán (the capital of the Aztec confederation) were engaged in an active rivalry with each other. Ixtlilxóchitl, moreover, was involved in an internal dispute with his brother over leadership of the Texcocans. When Cortés offered to support his claims and the aspirations of Texcoco, Ixtlilxóchitl allied his people with the Spanish invaders and assisted in the siege of Tenochtitlán, which led to the Conquest of Mexico and the pacification of the Indians of New Spain. Ixtlilxochitl, praised his grandfather in every possible way, and was angry with the Spanish for their ingratitude of his grandfather and the ancient Mexican nobility.

For his writings, Ixtlilxochitl availed himself of the ancient Indian hieroglyphic paintings, and the traditions and songs of the Indians; he indicates those which he has consulted--all of them more than eighty years old. This, of course, means that the "ancient" people he talked to were all born around 1520 or so A.D., which means that unwritten accounts of this history stretched over more than a thousand years.

Later, before 1640 A.D., he wrote the Spanish work Historia chichimeca, which refers to the same events, but with more organization. Historia chichimeca is not the original title, which is unknown, but was supplied by Carlos de Siguenza y Gongora when the manuscript was in his possession. Lorenzo Boturini Bernaducci, who owned the same manuscript later, called it Historia general de la Nueva Espana. There are indications it was part of a larger work, the rest of which has been lost, or perhaps it was unfinished, and ends with the siege of Mexico. The work gives the Texcoca version of pre-Columbian history and the conquest, in contrast to the work of Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc which gives the Mexican version. The Historia chichimeca is considered Ixtlilxochitl's best work.

If, for no other reason than the quest for memory, the ancient history of Ixtlilxochitl's people and their coming from the east, etc., should be taken with considerable leeway, understanding that memory, songs, and handed-down events over several centuries, and even a millennium, and involving scores of generations, is going to be faulty at best, downright misleading at worst. Combine that with the need to satisfy the church's concern for indigenous histories that were not in keeping with the imposition of Christianity upon the natives, it might be difficult to pick out the truth from Ixtlilxochitl's embellishments.

In fact, Ixtlilxochitl is  rarely used as a source by any reputable historians, whether regarding religion or even the facts of the conquest and native life. When his works are used, it is usually due to his presentation of poems supposedly written by Nezahualcoyotl. For many reasons, although these poems are very beautiful and certainly worth appreciating, they are probably post-conquest compositions which were attributed to Nezahualcoyotl to add validity to them. 

Going back to the author's question in the article sent to me: "Have we overlooked the obvious?" Which is followed with two rules: "First, believe the Book of Mormon; and second, believe what the natives tell you."

It seems far more prudent to ask instead: "Have we overlooked the obvious? Believe in the Book of Mormon!"

Any other material can be used as supplemental, so long as it agrees with the scriptural record. If not, then that material should be held in suspect and discarded, and corroborating evidence found since we know that the Book of Mormon is correct--the most correct book ever. Ixtlilxochitl and other early writers quite often had their own agenda they were working on, and it did not necessarily stay true to the truth of the matter--even if it was known by them a thousand years after the close of events of the Nephite Nation.

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