Monday, March 9, 2009

Community Maps from the Benson

Last friday we went to the Benson Latin American Collection with Dr. Butzer for his Indigenous Maps and Architecture seminar.  I was able to snap a few shot with my iPhone and thought I would share them here.

These maps are part of a collection that were produced in response to a questionnaire sent out by Spain in the late 1570's designed to assess its own holdings in the New World.  The map-makers were indigenous and offer a fascinating glimpse into their communities as they saw them in the first half-century of the Spanish presence.  

These two are from the map of Cenpoballa.  This map is much more detailed and interesting than the first.  You can see some interesting allusions to the town's heritage, represented by its former leaders around the plaza. 

This is the hill represented in the map of Cenpoballa.  You can the Nopal, Maguey, deer, and owl all represented.  All in bright detail and color, juxtaposed with the plain white church below it.  The map is dotted with Christian elements but all of them are simple sketches and all of them are left white.  How does this represent what these people thought about the Spanish?  Were they seen as transient elements in their otherwise established and vibrant landscape?  
The Spanish never felt authorized, as it were, to displace indigenous communities in the areas around Mexico City.  They never felt that they had ownership over the land, only users' rights. They did seek to establish a presence but by superimposing elements of the Church and Spanish civil rule on top of traditional institutions.  I think this is fascinating because it requires that we think about the "conquest" differently than we typically do.  How much agency did the indigenous people in central Mexico have during the beginning of the Spanish colonial period? It seems to me that, if they were representing their communities like this, they had quite a lot.  
Fascinating stuff.  Very cool maps.    

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