Rethinking Zapotec Time
Cosmology, Ritual, and Resistance in Colonial Mexico
360 Pages, 42 b&w photos, 8-page color insert, 1 map
Sales Date: February 8, 2022
2023 — Best Subsequent Book — Native American and Indigenous Studies Association
2023 — Honorable Mention, Best Book in the Social Sciences — Latin American Studies Association, Mexico Section
2022 — Marysa Navarro Best Book Prize — New England Council of Latin American Studies
2023 — Honorable Mention, LASA Mexico Social Sciences Book Prize — Mexico Section, Latin American Studies Association (LASA)
As the first exhaustive translation and analysis of an extraordinary Zapotec calendar and ritual song corpus, seized in New Spain in 1704, this book expands our understanding of Mesoamerican history, cosmology, and culture.
In 1702, after the brutal suppression of a Zapotec revolt, the bishop of Oaxaca proclaimed an amnesty for idolatry in exchange for collective confessions. To evade conflict, Northern Zapotec communities denounced ritual specialists and surrendered sacred songs and 102 divinatory manuals, which preserve cosmological accounts, exchanges with divine beings, and protocols of pre-Columbian origin that strongly resemble sections of the Codex Borgia. These texts were sent to Spain as evidence of failed Dominican evangelization efforts, and there they remained, in oblivion, until the 1960s.
In this book, David Tavárez dives deep into this formidable archive of ritual and divinatory manuals, the largest calendar corpus in the colonial Americas, and emerges with a rich understanding of Indigenous social and cultural history, Mesoamerican theories of cosmos and time, and Zapotec ancestor worship. Drawing on his knowledge of Zapotec and Nahuatl, two decades of archival research, and a decade of fieldwork, Tavárez dissects Mesoamerican calendars as well as Native resistance and accommodation to the colonial conquest of time, while also addressing entangled transatlantic histories and shining new light on texts still connected to contemporary observances in Zapotec communities.
Rethinking Zapotec Time makes several significant contributions. It is a major synthesis of documentary evidence from the Zapotec mantic and ritual manuals that is both revisionist and encyclopedic. David Tavárez’s work has succeeded in mining the manuals' content to understand local historical processes and to link them as part of a longue durée in the production of knowledge by Zapotec peoples that goes back more than a thousand years. The book also sheds new light on highly debated issues concerning Mesoamerican calendrics and synchronology with European time, as well as oncontested interpretations of obscure passages in the Codex Borgia and other divinatory manuscripts.
— Javier Urcid, Brandeis University, co-author of The Lords of Lambityeco: Political Evolution in the Valley of Oaxaca during the Xoo PhaseThis book introduces participants in a 'republic of letters' in the Zapotec language who, in the 1600s, created something new through their combination of ancestral knowledge and new knowledge from the Spanish realm. With its focus on actors outside the colonial political hierarchy, the book gives extraordinary insight into the lives of residents of colonial Indigenous towns that were locally administered, often only lightly overseen from distant political and religious centers. David Tavárez’s understanding of Zapotec history and cultural achievement is without parallel. The analysis of Zapotec literacy as 'anti-colonial discourses' contributes to an important global reconsideration of Indigenous lives under colonial power.
— Rosemary Joyce, University of California at Berkeley, author of Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives: Sex, Gender, and ArchaeologyRooted in the exceptional linguistic skills and erudition of David Tavárez, this study of Zapotec-language calendric texts and ritual songs not only explains the workings of northern Zapotec pre-Hispanic and early colonial timekeeping, it reveals the multifaceted intellectual traditions of colonial indigenous ritual specialists. They fostered intense communal efforts to maintain sacred beliefs and local practices, sometimes leading to dissent within communities and suppressive efforts from Catholic officials. Nonetheless, the Zapotec sacred survived—transformed in some ways—until today, a story Tavárez brilliantly details.
— Susan Kellogg, University of Houston, co-editor of Género y Arqueología en Mesoamérica: Homenaje a Rosemary A. JoyceThis is a superb study of both the Indigenous secret republics of letters and their Indigenous rivals. It is also a brilliant analysis of Zapotec divinatory colonial practices.
— Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, University of Texas at Austin, author of How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies, and Identities in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World
List of Abbreviations
Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. Rethinking Time: Zapotec and Nahua Cycles after the Conquest
Chapter 3. Northern Zapotec Writing, Literacy, and Society
Chapter 4. The Shapes of the Universe: Theories of Time and Space
Chapter 5. Deities, Sacred Beings, and Their Feasts
Chapter 6. Singing the Ancestors Back to Earth
Chapter 7. Confronting Christianity: Resistance, Adaptation, Reception
Chapter 8. Conclusions
Appendix. Analytical Translation of Songbooks 100 and 101, and Manual 1, Excerpt