Lord Eight Wind of Suchixtlan and the Heroes of Ancient Oaxaca

[ Latin American Studies ]

Lord Eight Wind of Suchixtlan and the Heroes of Ancient Oaxaca

Reading History in the Codex Zouche-Nuttall

By Robert Lloyd Williams

Foreword by F. Kent Reilly III

Introduction by John M. D. Pohl

A pioneering interpretation of an ancient Mixtec painted book that offers a unique window into how the Mixtecs themselves viewed their social and political cosmos.



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6 x 9 | 240 pp. | 25 b&w photos, 4 illustrations, 4 maps, 19 tables, 8 color photos

ISBN: 978-0-292-72573-7

In the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican world, histories and collections of ritual knowledge were often presented in the form of painted and folded books now known as codices, and the knowledge itself was encoded into pictographs. Eight codices have survived from the Mixtec peoples of ancient Oaxaca, Mexico; a part of one of them, the Codex Zouche-Nuttall, is the subject of this book. As a group, the Mixtec codices contain the longest detailed histories and royal genealogies known for any indigenous people in the western hemisphere. The Codex Zouche-Nuttall offers a unique window into how the Mixtecs themselves viewed their social and political cosmos without the bias of western European interpretation. At the same time, however, the complex calendrical information recorded in the Zouche-Nuttall has made it resistant to historical, chronological analysis, thereby rendering its narrative obscure.

In this pathfinding work, Robert Lloyd Williams presents a methodology for reading the Codex Zouche-Nuttall that unlocks its essentially linear historical chronology. Recognizing that the codex is a combination of history in the European sense and the timelessness of myth in the Native American sense, he brings to vivid life the history of Lord Eight Wind of Suchixtlan (AD 935–1027), a ruler with the attributes of both man and deity, as well as other heroic Oaxacan figures. Williams also provides context for the history of Lord Eight Wind through essays dealing with Mixtec ceremonial rites and social structure, drawn from information in five surviving Mixtec codices.

  • Foreword by F. Kent Reilly III
  • Author's Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction by John M. D. Pohl
  • Part One
    • Chapter 1: It Happened Long Ago
    • Chapter 2: The People of the Codices
    • Chapter 3: The Narrative Structure of Codex Zouche-Nuttall Obverse
    • Chapter 4: Sacred Geography, Personified Geography
    • Chapter 5: Caves in Mesoamerican Iconography: Chalcatzingo and the Mixteca
  • Part Two
    • Chapter 6: Lord Eight Wind's Introduction
    • Chapter 7: The War from Heaven, Part One
    • Chapter 8: The War from Heaven, Part Two
    • Chapter 9: Lord Eight Wind's Family
    • Chapter 10: Transition to the Future: Eight Wind, Two Rain, and Eight Deer
  • Part Three
    • Chapter 11: Rituals of Order: Codices Zouche-Nuttall and Vienna
    • Chapter 12: The Problem of the Two Dead Lords
    • Chapter 13: The Epiclassic Mixtec Ceremonial Complex
  • Appendix I: Biographical Sketches of Major Personnel from the Codices: Lord Eight Deer the Usurper, Lord Two Rain the King, and Lady Six Monkey of Jaltepec
  • Appendix II: Notes for Codex Zouche-Nuttall Pages 1-4
  • Appendix III: Codex Zouche-Nuttall Reverse Day Dates on Pages 46a-48a for Year 5 Reed (AD 1095) and Lord Eight Deer's Campaign as Lord of Tututepec
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

In 1985, I studied Mayan hieroglyphic writing with Professor Linda Schele at her annual spring break Maya Hieroglyphic Workshops at the University of Texas at Austin. I taught introductory classes for her in 1987 and 1988 at that workshop. In 1989, Professor Schele asked me to found a Mixtec Pictogram Writing Workshop as an adjunct to the larger seminar because she wanted to increase the scope of the workshop to include as many Mesoamerican cultures as possible.

I subsequently taught two master classes on the Mixtec codices under Professor Schele's aegis at the University of Texas. Then followed a series of articles in 1991 about the first side of Codex Zouche-Nuttall for the periodical Texas Notes on Pre-Columbian Art, Writing, and Culture as well as an article in 1993 for the same journal, coauthored with Timothy Albright and Rex Koontz, titled "Eight Deer Plays Ball Again: Notes on a New Codiacal Cognate." These are in the University of Texas Department of Fine Arts online files (CHAAAC). Mr. Albright and I also presented the five-hundred-year genealogy of Lord Eight Wind Eagle Flints at the 1993 SAA meeting in Anaheim, California. We demonstrated Lord Eight Wind's descendants as recorded in several of the Mixtec codex genealogies from AD 935 until the Spanish Colonial era.

I taught the first Mixtec Seminar on Codex Selden in 1992 at the UT Maya Meetings Long Workshops, but on the proviso that an established scholar had to be engaged to direct subsequent annual sessions. Dr. John M. D. Pohl was that scholar, and in the next twelve years we established and codirected the curricula and taught the seminar. Professor Pohl's leadership enabled me to evolve my thinking regarding the largely unexplicated sections of Codex Zouche-Nuttall obverse, which had been the subject of my previous articles. My master's thesis at Texas State University-San Marcos, which due to space limitations concerned only the first eight pages of Codex Zouche-Nuttall obverse, was the direct result of my many years of study, research, and original thought about the topic. This book is an expansion of that thesis and a collection of essays on various topics in Mixtec codices.

In January of 2007, I taught an anthropology course at Texas State University titled Mixtec Codices: The Prehispanic Historical Literature of Oaxaca. The syllabus included codex material as history (the War from Heaven, the Siege of Hua Chino), biography (Lord Eight Deer Jaguar Claw of Tilantongo, Lady Six Monkey of Jaltepec-Hua Chino, and Lord Two Rain of Tilantongo), and genealogy (the first and second dynasties of Tilantongo and the second dynasty of Jaltepec). The final exam was led by the graduate students (three from Texas State University-San Marcos, two from the University of Texas at Austin). Under their leadership, the undergraduates presented sections from the codices consisting of Power Point presentations demonstrating the chronological biography of Lord Eight Deer Jaguar Claw read from Codex Zouche-Nuttall reverse, Codex Alfonso Caso, and Codex Bodley.

I conducted the final 2007 Mixtec Codex Seminar at UT over spring break and essentially retaught in synopsis the Texas State-San Marcos course—but in three days. Participants, including those from Guatemala, received course outlines and Power Point presentations of essential class material regarding my work and research in Mixtec codices.

The reader can see that I began this study late in life, never intending to create a long academic career based on it. Although I researched everything available to me, my approach to the Mixtec documents evolved into something unique: the ancient Mixtecs and their heroes of old Oaxaca survived for me in their manuscripts as stories, songs, sagas, dances, playlists, and dynastic propaganda/histories. The word "history" always carries the sense of "retrospective," yet the individuals and events in the Mixtec codices are delightfully current and contemporary, transferring all the excitement and drama of an archaeological culture into the modern world. The manuscript scribes still speak, but their words are only available to those who can hear with their eyes, as when reading music. The Mixtec narratives are not only history but also fascinating introductions and extended stories of a vital, dynamic people who found their own unique way of transcending time and space. Let us now undertake a journey—sometimes difficult, perhaps controversial, but always fascinating—and meet these powerful men and women of ancient Oaxaca.

The Mixtec Indian people are concentrated in the northern and western parts of what is today Oaxaca, southern Puebla, and Guerrero. Their land is composed of a succession of small, yet prosperous valleys surrounded by high mountains and dry deserts. The largest is called the Nochixtlan Valley. Some 10,000 years ago their ancestors subsisted by hunting and gathering. Later they became agriculturalists specializing primarily in growing maize, beans, and squash. For over a millennia they lived in small villages, but after 500 BC, their society became highly stratified as the people allowed themselves to be governed first by councils of priests and elders, and later by a class of hereditary chiefs. Between AD 200 and 1000, the Mixtecs lived in large, concentrated mountaintop communities of as many as 10,000 people, with the archaeological zones of Yucuñudahui, Yucuita, Mogote del Cacique, and Yucu Yoco being predominant in the Nochitlan Valley of the Mixteca Alta during the Classic period (figure I.1). The principal royal families had clearly foreseen great benefits in uniting themselves. They built expansive palaces and erected great pyramids dedicated to their gods and ancestors. Then, for reasons that are hotly debated by archaeologists, the elite class abandoned these mountaintop citadels, divided the surrounding lands among themselves, and founded nearly a hundred petty city-states, each dominated by a single king and queen.

At the beginning of Mesoamerica's Postclassic period (AD 1000-1521) Nahua peoples migrated into what are today the states of Tlaxcala and Puebla to the north, while to the east the Zapotecs dominated the great Valley of Oaxaca. Seeking new and profitable opportunities for trade, the Mixtecs invited the Nahuas and Zapotecs to engage in powerful marriage alliances that subsequently unified most of southern Mexico between 1150 and 1450. Then in 1458, the kingdom of Coixtlahuaca was attacked by the armies of the Aztec Empire, whose capital was located at Tenochtitlan, or what is today Mexico City. The defeat of the Mixtecs and their allies ended an era of unprecedented independence and prosperity in Mesoamerica. Once the Aztecs had taken out the alliance structure south and east of Cholula, a principal religious center, the game was up for the southern highland confederacies, and Oaxacan noble houses reoriented themselves to a Pacific coastal trade by establishing new political centers at Tututepec and Tehuantepec.

The defeat of the Aztec Empire by a Nahua-Spanish army sixty years later brought dramatic changes to southern Mexico. A new society of Mixtec caciques (colonial nobles) rose to power. Although they took the names of ranking Spanish leaders whom they regarded as their peers (for example, Felipe de Austria of Tilantongo and Domingo de Guzmán of Yanhuitlan) they also continued to preserve the legacy of their pre-Columbian past by conserving the codices of their ancestors and even creating new pictographic manuscripts to document their political affairs.

A significant issue in Mesoamerican studies remains the nature of the Late Postclassic period in southern Mexico and adjacent regions. Far from representing any cultural decline, a persistent view promoted by Gibbon-inspired notions of fallen societies, the Postclassic should instead be considered a time of major societal transformation that withstood Aztec conquest only to resurrect itself upon a new early colonial Spanish foundation. Consequently, the strong distinction made between the pre-Columbian and Early Colonial periods ought to be combined into a "Late Antiquity," the term applied by historians to other areas of the world that witnessed comparable developments, including decentralized political systems, an emphasis on pilgrimage centers as coordinating mechanisms, and the subsequent spread of Christianity through the missionary efforts of monastic orders working in conjunction with an indigenous pagan elite.

Today there are more than 2.5 million Indian people still living in the Mexican states of Tlaxcala, Puebla, and Oaxaca. Of these, 400,000 are Mixtec speaking. Many continue to live in small villages, farming their land much as their ancestors did for millennia. Others have migrated to Mexico City or the United States, where they have prospered. Many still return to their traditional villages annually for religious festivals and other occasions important to the community.

The Mixtecs were renowned throughout Mesoamerica for their miniature artistic masterpieces of turquoise, gold, silver, jade, shell, and many other precious materials, as well as polychrome ceramics and the codices. Evidence of the social intensity achieved by the alliance networks that joined city-states during highland Mesoamerica's Postclassic is revealed in the development and spread of a pictographic communication system once called Mixteca-Puebla, but now more properly called the Nahua-Mixteca style in light of recognition of its source at Cholula and the cultural groups most responsible for its refinement. It was composed of highly conventionalized symbols. Colors were vivid, and imagery shared many of the attributes of contemporary cartoons, the exaggerated emphasis on the head and hands, in particular, being reminiscent in overall design to characters made famous by contemporary film animation studios such as the Walt Disney Company. In full figurative form the style was primarily employed to convey historical or ritual narrative, but certain symbols could also be reduced to simple icons that symbolized either an idea or a spoken word. For example, the depiction of repetitive designs of such common motifs as birds, butterflies, and jewels invoke the spirits of ancestors who were thought to have been transformed into animals or precious objects after death.

By AD 1300, the Nahua-Mixteca style had supplanted earlier pictographic and phonetically based scripts employed by the Classic period civilizations of La Mojarra, Teotihuacan, Cacaxtla, Xochicalco, Nuiñe, Monte Alban, and to some extent even the Maya. There is some evidence that the old writing systems were intentionally rejected and that the new system was adapted from the figurative symbolism used to ornament jewelry and textiles—small, portable works of art that were exchanged through bridewealth, dowry, and other forms of royal gift exchange. Far from representing any decline in literacy, therefore, the employment of this new cartoon-like horizon style became an ingenious response to the redistribution of power among Postclassic lords who communicated in as many as twelve different languages.

After the conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521, a few learned Spaniards began to collect the pictorial books that were employed by the many indigenous peoples throughout Mesoamerica to document their religious rituals and histories. Some manuscripts were thereby spared from the fires of militant Christian evangelization, while others were copied by Indian scribes who added Spanish or native language script for explanation. There are eight pre-Conquest style codices attributed to the Mixtec-speaking people of Oaxaca, Mexico, known collectively as the Mixtec codices:

  • Codices Zouche-Nuttall and Egerton (British Museum, London)
  • Codices Bodley and Selden (Bodleian Library, Oxford)
  • Codex Vindobonensis (National Bibliotek, Vienna)
  • Codex Colombino (Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City)
  • Codices Becker I and II (Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna)


(Codex Colombino and Codex Becker I are two parts of the same codex, together referred to as Codex Colombino-Becker.)

Some scholars once believed that there was little or no cultural distinction between the Mixtec Group and the Borgia Group, and that the differences in content and format simply reflect a variance in intellectual application (see Pohl 2004a and Pohl and Urcid 2006 for discussion). The Mixtec Group, it was argued, is "descriptive"; in other words, the screenfolds describe historical events that actually took place and will never recur again. The Borgia Group, on the other hand, is "prescriptive"; in other words, the screenfolds prescribe events that may take place at some time in the future. However, such pan-Mixtec-oriented arguments were made by codex specialists who focus only on iconographic and stylistic similarities between codices and ignore contextually related material in ceramics, frescos, and other artifacts (Pohl 2004a). We can now determine conclusively that the Mixtec Group and the Borgia Group are culturally and behaviorally distinct, with the former being produced by Mixtec confederacies of Oaxaca, and the latter being produced by the Eastern Nahuas and the peoples they dominated in the states of Puebla, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. While there is differential emphasis in the two groups with regard to mytho-historical versus divinatory content, both were employed to determine the proper calendrical timing and kinds of ceremonies to be enacted at royal feasts.

The Mixtec codices were made of animal hide and covered with a gesso-like foundation upon which figures were painted. They were folded so that they could either be stored compactly or opened to reveal all of the pages on one side. The symbols represent people, places, and things, organized to communicate religious stories, histories, and genealogies. Thanks to the writings of the colonial Oaxacan historians, we know that the codices were actually made by the ancient Mixtec ruling class:

. . . they had many books . . . that the historians inscribed with characters so abbreviated, that a single page expressed the place, the site, province, year, month, and day with all the names of the gods, ceremonies, and sacrifices, or victories that they celebrated, and recorded in this way by the sons of the lords . . . their priest had instructed them since infancy to illustrate the characters and memorize the histories. . . . I heard some elders explain that they were accustomed to fasten these manuscripts along the length of the rooms of the lords for their aggrandizement and vanity, they took pride in displaying them in their councils. (Friar Francisco de Burgoa, AD 1674)

The fact that the Mixtec codices were hung on walls implies that they were not meant to be read simply as books, but also displayed as "storyboards." A poet would then recite the text from the codex to musical accompaniment while actors performed parts of the saga in costume. The setting for these literary and theatrical presentations was the royal feast. Imagine a banquet in which the participants were literally part of the art of the performance. Their garments were painted with figures of culture heroes and gods, they drank and ate from polychrome pottery decorated with scenes from the codices, and they exchanged gifts of gold, shell, bone, and turquoise engraved with images of the founding ancestors of the highest-ranking dynasties.

According to the codices, Mixtec nobles believed that their ancestors had been miraculously born from trees, rivers, stones, mountains, and even the sky. This enabled their descendants to claim they were divinities. The ancient Mixtec word for "king" or "queen" was yya, but it also signified "god." By advocating kinship to the gods, the Mixtec aristocracy had irrefutably fixed their role as society's mediators with the supernatural. By being literally descended from various parts of a personified landscape, they could maintain, by divine right, proprietary claims unattainable to the lower classes. Marriage was the means by which the Mixtec aristocracy enriched themselves, perpetuated control over their people, and linked their communities into large political constellations. Codices Zouche-Nuttall, Vindobonensis, Bodley, and Selden feature different versions of the genealogies of the great patriarch Lord Eight Wind and his descendants Lady Six Monkey, Lord Eleven Wind, Lord Two Rain, Lord Eight Deer, and Lord Four Wind. By 1521, virtually every ranking noble house in Oaxaca could claim descent from these epic heroes.

Lord Eight Wind

A significant cycle of legends portrayed on Codex Zouche-Nuttall 1-8 recounts the saga of Lord Eight Wind. On the first two pages, Eight Wind is depicted as a patriarch who is magically born from the earth at two different locations: Hill of the Monkey and Hill of the Rain God. Eight Wind's narrative is then interrupted on Zouche-Nuttall 3-4 by a rendition of the War from Heaven that differs from the version on pages 20-21, which I have discussed elsewhere (Pohl 2004b). Here Stone Men first attack Hill of the Rain God and capture Lady Nine Monkey. The bloody war then rages on at Hill of the Flower, where Lady Six Eagle and Lord Seven Serpent defend themselves. Next we see Lord Seven Earthquake sacrificing a Stone Man at Hill of the Jewel—Hill of Feathers, followed by a sequence of additional conflicts at Black Hill with Lord Seven Wind and Lady Eight Deer, at Town of Blood with Seven Wind Flint Eagle, and at Feather Plain with Lord Five Dog and Lord Nine Dog. On page 4, we see three red-and-white striped men, personifications of stars (or clouds), descending from the sky before Lady Eleven Serpent at Hill of the Ballcourt. Lord Four Serpent and Lord Seven Earthquake appear again, capturing two of the star warriors. After the war is resolved, the story of Lord Eight Wind resumes on pages 5-7. On page 5, Eight Wind again emerges from the earth at two additional place signs. He is blessed by the rain god Dzahui and takes his rightful place as ruler of Hill of the Monkey—Platform of Flowers. His marriage to Lady Ten Deer produces five children. Two additional wives and seven nobles who attended the marriage are portrayed on page 6. The Eight Wind saga then concludes on pages 7-8, where the patriarch, now an elder, advises Lord Two Rain Ocoñaña to form a confederation of allies to defend his claim to the throne of Tilantongo, or possibly lay claim to the kingdoms of Red and White Bundle and Jaltepec as well.

The place signs are the key to attributing both the Eight Wind saga and an earlier portrayal of the War from Heaven in the Zouche-Nuttall narrative to the northern Nochixtlan Valley. M. E. Smith first identified the kingdom with which Eight Wind is associated in codices Selden and Bodley as Suchixtlan, symbolized by the sign depicting a temple platform with a flowery tree growing from it. The community is located on the lower slopes of Cerro Jasmin, the enormous Classic period citadel that dominated most of the surrounding region. Elsewhere I have argued that Hill of the Monkey is Cerro Jasmin, or at least part of it (Pohl 2004b:226-230) (figure I.2). A Mixtec toponym associated with this general vicinity is Danacodzo. Da is a corruption of dza, meaning "place." Na has not been interpreted. Codzo means "monkey." Following his emergence from Hill of the Monkey, Eight Wind travels to Apoala, 40 kilometers to the northeast, where he descends into one of two rivers there and reemerges at Hill of the Rain God (figure I.3). The hill displays the frontal image of a deity with the blue, disk-shaped eyes and fanged mouth commonly associated with the Aztec rain god Tlaloc, but we know from colonial documents that the Mixtecs called this god "Dzahui." The place sign should be translated as something like "Yucu Dzahui." The largest archaeological site in the northern Nochixtlan Valley is, in fact, named Yucuñudahui, a term composed of the substantives yucu, or "hill"; ñu, meaning "town"; and dahui or dzahui, usually translated as "mist," but clearly a dialectical variant of the name of the rain god. The appearance of the place sign with both Eight Wind and the War from Heaven in Codex Zouche-Nuttall is clearly a representation of the toponym for the archaeological zone.

Yucuñudahui is located on a 400-meter-high ridge lying 8 kilometers northeast of Cerro Jasmin (figure I.4). The site is composed of a series of plazas, mounds, and patios running along an L-shaped ridge for approximately a kilometer from west to east and nearly 3 kilometers from north to south (figure I.5). Preliminary reconnaissances were made in the 1930s by Eulalia Guzmán, Martin Bazán, and others (Pohl 2004b). Alfonso Caso briefly investigated several major architectural features at the site in 1937 and recorded significant fragments of paintings and stone carvings with Late Classic Nuiñe-style glyphs. No further work was done until 1966, when Ronald Spores surveyed the site. Four years later Spores excavated the remains of dwellings on the western and southern peripheries of the central ceremonial complex. Michael Lind then excavated the Postclassic palace at Chachoapan, built on one of the lower slopes. Despite its prominence, Yucuñudahui was only the largest of an intensive network of Classic period sites that extended along a series of adjacent ridges from Coyotepec in the north to Yucu Ita in the south. Codex Vindobonensis 9-10 in fact portrays a large landscape profile that matches such a settlement system. Not only is Yucuñudahui prominently featured, but probably Coyotepec and other nearby promontories as well.

In examining the War from Heaven scenes on Zouche-Nuttall 2-3, I noted that Hill of the Rain God, or Yucuñudahui, is followed by a Hill of the Flower. While flowers frequently appear as qualifiers for place signs in the codices, this particular one can be correlated with the Mixtec term ita in Codex Muro (Pohl 2004b:229). Thus Hill of the Flower should be called Yucu Ita. An archaeological site named Yucuita is located 4 kilometers south of Yucuñudahui. Yucuita flourished throughout the Formative as one of the largest occupations in Oaxaca, but its power was subsumed by Yucuñudahui during the Late Classic. Nevertheless, the site clearly continued to play an integral role as a secondary center within Yucuñudahui's sphere of influence. Following a preliminary reconnaissance by Ronald Spores, the site was more intensively surveyed by Marcus Winter and Patricia Plunket. Yucuita is characterized by a towering conical hill connected to a long, narrow ridge descending to the valley floor. Numerous ceremonial and residential structures were mapped over the promontory's entire extent. Excavations also uncovered large fortification walls, some over 5 meters high, as well as expansive networks of ceremonial platforms and plazas constructed over an ingenious system of drains and tunnels.

Even more compelling evidence that the first eight pages of Zouche-Nuttall concern legends associated with the northern end of the Nochixtlan Valley is found in a remarkable series of colonial testimonies. Between 1544 and 1546, the indigenous noblemen of Yanhuitlan, a community located 2 kilometers northwest of Cerro Jasmin, were investigated by the Dominican order for practicing rituals dedicated to ancient Mixtec gods. Hoping to take advantage of political rivals, caciques from surrounding communities were quick to give testimony about the idols that they said were kept in a hidden chamber in a Yanhuitlan palace. Among the images that were specifically named were "Xacuv," or Seven Earthquake; "Sachi," or Seven Wind; "Xio," or Eleven Serpent; "Xiq," or Ten Lizard; and "Siqui," or Eleven Crocodile (Pohl 2004b). All five of these deities are depicted among the principal combatants in the War from Heaven portrayed in Zouche-Nuttall 3-4. Lord Seven Earthquake was the hero who sacrificed the Stone Man at Hill of the Feathers—Hill of the Jewel, Lord Seven Wind was one of the defenders of Black Mountain, and Lady Eleven Serpent appears at Hill of the Ballcourt. Eleven Crocodile appears by name at the same location, and according to Codex Vindobonensis 3, Lady Eleven Serpent's husband was known to have been Lord Ten Lizard. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the larger Yanhuitlan community—including Suchixtlan, Chindua, and Andua—was regarded as the most powerful of the Postclassic kingdoms that dominated the northern end of the Nochixtlan Valley. Archaeologists have proposed that it was a direct inheritor of the venerable traditions of power and authority established in this region at the Classic ceremonial centers of Cerro Jasmin, Yucuñudahui, and Yucuita some 500 years earlier. We can see through an analysis of the legend of Lord Eight Wind that this hypothesis is verified by the ethnohistorical record as well, albeit through myth and allegory.

Alfonso Caso proposed a chronology that placed Eight Wind in the ninth century (Caso 1960:79). I published a revised chronology based in part on Caso, my own research with Bruce Byland, and the work of Emily Rabin, who was generous to share her thoughts on some of the more problematical dates with me (Byland and Pohl 1994:233-261). Rabin subsequently published a report on some of her findings confirming the placement of Lord Eight Wind in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, and updating her proposals on the problematical dates (Rabin 2002:107-108). The problem is that some of the events in the patriarch's life appear to contain dates that are nonsequential, leading one to conclude that either the patriarch lived for an extraordinarily long time, or dates can serve other ritual purposes than simply to document genealogy. Robert Williams examines the situation in detail and proposes some provocative solutions in the present publication. Byron Hamann (1998) has shown that centuries-long genealogies conveyed through primogeniture have rarely, if ever, been accurate enough to calculate truly precise historical dates, so we should probably be thinking in relative terms anyway. Nevertheless, it is significant that the Mixtecs themselves envisioned their world as being created in the tenth century, the time when archaeologists relatively date the outset of the Natividad phase of the Postclassic in the Mixteca Alta.

I find the legend of Lord Eight Wind especially fascinating because his biographers chose not to associate him with a Late Classic Nuiñe dynasty at Yucuñudahui but rather the mountain itself and, in the case of Cerro Jasmin, a platform from which grows a flowering tree. It is as if Mixtec nobles wished to connect themselves to the Classic by venerating the ruins, but not the original inhabitants who were actually responsible for constructing them. It is a break with the past administration, but not the landscape they once dominated.

It is also important to remember that the painters of the Mixtec codices were attempting to accommodate broader agendas than simply documenting history. I have proposed that the dates may determine a chronology, but they also signify principal feast days during which the events portrayed in the codices' creation stories were reenacted. Moveable feast cycles characterized ritual life in Oaxaca and are described throughout Mixtec colonial accounts. The sixteenth-century lords who were charged with idolatry in Yanhuitlan were accused of holding four feasts annually. Ten were held at Tilantongo. Many Mixtec feasts were sponsored on local mountaintops at the ruins of Classic period citadels such as Yucuñudahui, Yucuita, Mogote de Cacique, and Yucu Yoco, where the ancestral foundation events depicted in the codices were thought to have taken place (Pohl, Monaghan, and Stiver 1997; Hamann 2002). Caves in adjacent cliffs held the mummies of the principal royal lines, and feasts and associated market fairs were carried out in conjunction with the veneration of the founding ancestors (figure I.6). In contrast to their Eastern Nahua confederates, the Mixtecs and Zapotecs consequently saw little utility in a fixed feast system given the profound environmental differences that characterize Oaxaca (Pohl 2003a:147).

Different Histories, Different Agendas

Ronald Spores has always expressed concern over the relevance of the codices given the notable lack of a place sign for Teposcolula, one of the wealthiest and most powerful kingdoms in the Mixteca Alta at the time of the Spanish entrada (Spores 1967, 1984; Spores and Garcia 2007; Terraciano 2001). Considering the amount of archival material on the administration of the colonial cacicazgo, it does present a conundrum. However, it is not entirely true that Teposcolula is absent from the accounts. Two boundary signs for the kingdom appearing in the colonial Codice de Yanhuitlan—Ravine of the Column and Market of the Bird—are depicted as locations visited during the course of a peregrination by the eleventh-century Lord Eight Deer on Zouche-Nuttall page 69. It is also possible that we simply have not identified the correct place sign for the palace; it should be a hill sign with a jewel, signifying Teposcolula's Mixtec name, Yucundaa, but there may be another name associated with the site as well. On the other hand, it may be significant that there is an equally notable lack of colonial documentary material for many of the cacicazgos of the Nochixtlan Valley (Terraciano 2001).

The bias in pre-Columbian codical emphasis on the Nochixtlan Valley in the northeastern Mixteca Alta, on the one hand, and colonial documentary emphasis on the western Mixteca Alta from Tlaxiaco to Teposcolula on the other may not be coincidental. We see in the Eight Wind story a reflection of a purposeful, even structured formula by which Mixtec aristocrats connected themselves to the remote past by showing their ancestors, priests, and oracles emerging out of the "pre-sunrise" world of the Classic period (Hamann 2002). Archaeological survey of the western Mixteca Alta has demonstrated that although the Late Preclassic Ramos phase at Huamelulpan rivaled or even surpassed comparable developments at Monte Negro and Yucuita, the region did not experience the same level of growth during the subsequent Classic Las Flores phase (Balkansky et al. 2000). Consequently, we can see why the Mixtecs attributed their tenth-century dynasties to Nochixtlan Valley citadels. They really were the ranking Classic period capitals of the Mixteca Alta at the time, and they dominated what would later be recognized as some of the most fertile bottomland in New Spain (figure I.7). Elsewhere I have discussed the subsequent legend of the War from Heaven as an explanation in allegorical terms for the abandonment of Classic sites and the founding of the earliest Postclassic kingdoms. The ensuing eleventh- and twelfth-century conflicts over the inheritance of Tilantongo and Jaltepec—involving Lord Eight Deer, Lady Six Monkey, and Lord Four Wind—then represent an Iliad of the Mixtec people that was played out in the southern Nochixtlan Valley. It is their direct descendants who are subsequently credited with establishing the principal alliances throughout the greater Mixteca Alta, the Baja, the Costa, and the Valley of Oaxaca.

In 1528, Yanhuitlan displayed a codex in a Spanish court that depicted a succession of twenty-four rulers who had governed the kingdom over the previous 500 years. Although the manuscript is now missing, its description in the court testimonial places Yanhuitlan's earliest ancestors at around AD 1028, the period of Eight Wind. Significantly, the famous legend of the birth of the first ancestors at Apoala was actually recorded at Cuilapan in the Valley of Oaxaca. This kingdom had been ruled by a Mixtec lord of Yanhuitlan who married into the Zapotec royal line of Zaachila. The alliance and the invocation of the legend suggest that Mixtec and Zapotec ethnicity among the nobility was not emphasized through language and behavior, but rather through the invocation of religious stories that differentiated their families. Codex Bodley Obverse portrays a genealogy of Tilantongo through twenty-three rulers—from Lord Four Crocodile, who lived around AD 950, to Lord Four Deer, who was ruling in 1519. The account begins with a sequence of marriages between kingdoms that dominated the southern end of the Nochixtlan Valley. The first genealogy ends with the death of the male heirs during the War from Heaven at Yucu Yoco. In 990, Tilantongo creates its first dynasty through marriage with a surviving female. However, when this dynasty also fails at the end of the eleventh century with the suicide of Lord Two Rain, the saga of Lord Eight Deer is recounted to explain the institution of a second Tilantongo dynasty that continued relatively uninterrupted through the time of the Conquest. Several different kingdoms are shown as having intermarried with Tilantongo during the intervening centuries, including Teozacoalco, Tulancingo, Tlaxiaco, Chalcatongo, Jaltepec, and Yanhuitlan.

Other genealogies were structured to associate the families of two or three royal houses into extended alliance corridors. Codex Zouche-Nuttall, for example, follows the Tilantongo genealogy through Eight Deer but then switches to recount first the dynasty of Eight Deer's son at Teozacoalco and later a new dynasty at Zaachila through the marriage of the Teozacoalco Lady Four Rabbit to the Zapotec Lord Five Flower. Partners in these alliances subsequently supplied one another with heirs during times of successional crisis. Eight Deer was not necessarily the preferred heroic ancestor, however. On Codex Bodley reverse the royal houses of Tlaxiaco and Achiutla are portrayed as consistently intermarrying with each other from the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries. In this case, Tlaxiaco and Achiutla traced their heritage back to Eight Deer's son-in-law and assassin, Lord Four Wind. The two royal houses later became so closely connected that by colonial times they were considered to be a single cacicazgo. The Lienzo de Zacatepec indicates that the first lord of that kingdom was appointed by Lord Four Wind, and he was very likely his son as well (Smith 1973:110-119). There were apparently significant linkages between the kingdoms of Jaltepec, Yanhuitlan, and Cuilapan. A colonial genealogy called "the Yale document" may trace the ancestry of the cacique of Cuilapan back to Jaltepec's Lady Six Monkey, Four Wind's mother and Eight Deer's principal rival for control over the southern Nochixtlan Valley. Codices Selden and Bodley reverse in turn allow us to extend the genealogy of both Tlaxiaco and Jaltepec back to the miraculous birth of the first ancestors from both the rivers of Apoala and a ceiba tree at Achiutla.

The legends in the codices were mythic, propagandistic, theatrical—but they were very real to the people who composed them and are therefore worthy of anthropological analysis in attempts to understand the past from an indigenous perspective. Furthermore, evidence that the alliance corridors charted through them had become so institutionalized by the sixteenth century that they could define territoriality is indicated by the distribution of the three dialectical groups that continue to divide the Mixteca Alta today (figure I.8). The Northeastern Alta dialect extends from Apoala through Yanhuitlan, Jaltepec, and Etla to Cuilapan. The Eastern Alta dialect extends from Coixtlahuaca through Teposcolula and Tilantongo to Teozacoalco, whose eastern boundary is contiguous with Zapotec-speaking Zaachila. The Western Alta dialect extends from Ñumi through Achiutla and Tlaxiaco, south through Zacatepec to the Mixteca Costa. As the Postclassic progressed, political constructions became ever more intricate and widespread throughout Oaxaca as lesser-ranking kingdoms sought to increase their status by intermarrying with the highest-ranking royal lines.

In the fifteenth century, Teozacoalco played a particularly significant role and even became the dominant partner in its alliance with Tilantongo. Given the competitive factionalism that characterized Mixtec dynastic affairs, we should not be surprised to see that the most powerful cacicazgos at the time of the Spanish entrada were not necessarily the oldest. Survey of the western Mixteca Alta demonstrates that by the late fifteenth century the region had experienced an unprecedented level of expansion, with kingdoms such as Teposcolula, Tlaxiaco, and Achiutla evolving into prosperous city-states that far surpassed their counterparts in the Nochixtlan and Oaxaca valleys in size and complexity (Balkansky et al. 2000).

Wealth and power did not necessarily coincide with prestige in Postclassic southern Mexico. The ranking houses of Tlaxcala are certainly not the largest or most complex archaeologically (García Cook 1981:273-274). Zaachila was said to be the highest-ranked royal house of the Zapotecs, and yet the ruins of its palace are hardly impressive compared to Yagul (Blanton et al. 1982:129). By the same token we know virtually nothing about Yagul's royal family from the historical sources, suggesting that its nobles may have held secondary rank. We should also consider the possibility that we are dealing with a traveling nobility comparable to medieval European princes who moved from one residence to another, living off stores until they were depleted, after which the farming population labored to replenish them in preparation for their return. We know that Zapotec nobles, for example, maintained palaces both within their own territories and at Mitla. By comparison, Nine House appears as both a lord of Teozacoalco and Tilantongo in codices Bodley and Selden, even though Tilantongo apparently had its own ruler as well.

Who or What Was Lord Eight Wind?

Codex Zouche-Nuttall depicts a history, but a unique kind of history in that it reflects how the Mixtecs themselves viewed their social and political cosmos without the bias of western European interpretation. In fact it is the longest continuous history known for any indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere. Marshall Sahlins (1983:517) proposed that historians trained from a western European perspective have been arguing over two polar ideas. Many support the analysis of an elite history, narrated with its partiality to higher politics, while others favor the study of the would-be life of communities. Actually both positions merely reflect the evolution of thought since the first empirical treatments made by the Classical Greeks. Sahlins proposed, therefore, that many traditional societies did, and still do, maintain a different kind of historical tradition that might better be described as "heroic history."

In such societies "heroes" are seen as persons who were considered extraordinary during their lifetime, who were honored after death by public worship, and who were usually ascribed some degree of divinity. Heroic history, then, is usually elite genealogical history. It is not evenly distributed in the society, as it is in and of itself a symbol of politico-religious authority reserved for the ruling class. If, as Sahlins originally proposed, different cultural orders have their own ways of reckoning historical action, consciousness, and determination, it should be possible to identify some aspects of Mixtec social organization on the basis of what they thought necessary to communicate. Above and beyond the fact that the ancient Mixtec nobility were so obviously concerned with time-reckoning and genealogical accounts, what is most notable is the emphasis on place signs and therefore the geography of creation stories like that of Lord Eight Wind. Elsewhere I have proposed that one cannot discuss the politics of Mixtec kinship hierarchies without also discussing the way in which the kinship segments defined by the genealogies had distributed themselves over the landscape. Like the elite kinship structure, the division of the land was justified by mytho-historical events involving founding ancestors of the various kin group segments, described in colonial sources as linajes, or lineages (Pohl 1984:133). I therefore propose that:

  1. Lineage maintained social order and defined the kinship segments of the society.
  2. Lineage was tied to the land through some form of genealogical record on the division of the territory by the society's founding ancestors.
  3. The land was therefore used to prove the genealogies and kinship group affiliation, for aside from violent seizure or community fission (acts depicted in the codices as well), the very fact that an individual or group was occupying it was used to demonstrate that it must have inherited it through established rules of property transference laid out by the first ancestors.
  4. Thus all land owners must have had to trace the title to their territory through their genealogy. By doing this, they were coincidentally reaffirming lineal affiliations with other parts of their segment, and of their segment to other segments.

Nowhere are these principles more graphically portrayed in allegory than in the portrayal of Eight Wind as literally a personification of the earth itself. From this perspective the fact of whether Eight Wind was an actual historical personage or not is irrelevant to anthropological study, for he had been transformed into something more of a structural principle in the rationalization of the Mixtec social hierarchy and land distribution of the Late Postclassic period than a historical individual. But by the same token we know that he was also the subject of religious veneration, and given our understanding of how the codices were used in feasts and other ritual displays, he must have been the focus of considerable dramatic attention. It is the latter perspective that intrigues Robert Williams. There have been many commentaries written about the codices, but for the most part they have been simply annals or lists of events. In this regard, Williams departs from the more standard approach and provides us with a literary interpretation that I hope will point the way to more humanistic insights into the minds of ancient nobles that are equally worthy of our scholarly endeavors.

By Robert Lloyd Williams

Robert Lloyd Williams, a former student of renowned Mayanist Linda Schele, has studied the Mixtec codices since the 1980s and has taught courses relating to them since 1992. He is currently completing a Ph.D. in Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

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