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The Tira de Tepechpan

The Tira de Tepechpan
Negotiating Place under Aztec and Spanish Rule

An interpretive analysis of a sixteenth-century Aztec painted history from a provincial city in Central Mexico.

November 2008
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186 pages | 7 x 10 | 32 halftones, 20 color illus. in 16 page section, 1 map, 2 tables |

Created in Tepechpan, a relatively minor Aztec city in Central Mexico, the Tira de Tepechpan records important events in the city's history from 1298 through 1596. Most of the history is presented pictographically. A line of indigenous year signs runs the length of the Tira, with images above the line depicting events in Tepechpan and images below the line recording events at Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec empire and later the seat of Spanish rule. Written annotations amplify some of the images.

In this volume, which includes color plates of the entire Tira, Lori Boornazian Diel investigates the motives behind the creation and modification of the Tira in the second half of the sixteenth century. She identifies the Tira's different contributors and reconciles their various histories by asking why these painters and annotators, working at different times, recorded the events that they did. Comparing the Tira to other painted histories from Central Mexico, Diel demonstrates that the main goal of the Tira was to establish the antiquity, autonomy, and prestige of Tepechpan among the Central Mexican city-states that vied for power and status in the preconquest and colonial worlds. Offering the unique point of view of a minor city with grand ambitions, this study of the Tira reveals imperial strategy from the grassroots up, showing how a subject city negotiated its position under Aztec and Spanish control.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. The Tira de Tepechpan: Its Structure, Contributors, and History
  • Chapter 3. Pre-Imperial History
  • Chapter 4. Imperial History
  • Chapter 5. Colonial History of Painter A
  • Chapter 6. Colonial Histories of Painters B, C, and D
  • Chapter 7. The Alphabetic Annotations
  • Chapter 8. Indigenous Histories as Strategies for Survival
  • Appendix. Transcription and Translation of Annotator 1's Glosses
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Lori Boornazian Diel is Associate Professor of Art History at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.


The Tira de Tepechpan is an annals history created in Tepechpan, a relatively minor altepetl, or city-state, in Central Mexico (plates 1-20). Painted by several historians working in the second half of the sixteenth century and then annotated alphabetically over a span of perhaps two hundred years, the main goal of this history was to establish the antiquity, autonomy, and prestige—political, religious, even intellectual—of the patron city. To fulfill this goal, important events from 1298 through 1596 were written pictographically above and below a continuous line of indigenous year signs that runs the length of the Tira, with the upper register pertaining to Tepechpan and the lower to Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec empire. In 1519, Spaniards entered Tepechpan's history, but they did not bring it to a close; instead, they simply replaced the Mexica ruling apparatus with their own, at least according to the contributors to the Tira.

In 1891, Eugene Boban published a general explanation of this manuscript, and in 1978, Xavier Noguez expanded on this work with his thorough reading of the entire document. Building upon these studies that explained what is represented in the manuscript, I now ask, why is this so? Why did these painters and annotators, working at different times, record the histories that they did? In the years since Noguez's publication, there have been numerous advances in our understanding of the Aztec pictorial writing system. Moreover, a corpus of documents—pictorial and alphabetic; mundane, religious, and historical—that speak of the pre- and post-conquest periods has been published and explicated. We now have a more nuanced picture of the Aztec and Spanish empires and their impacts on the larger Nahua world. We also have a greater appreciation for the role of history in shaping these worlds. For the indigenous peoples of Central Mexico, history was political argument, a tool of persuasion that could be manipulated to argue for power and status in the pre-conquest and colonial worlds, hence the micropatriotic focus of many of these histories, including the Tira de Tepechpan.

The Tira provides a regional perspective on the Aztec and Spanish empires, while it also presents the unique point of view of a city that was clearly a minor player within both empires. In this book, I reconcile the various histories recorded in the Tira by reading the manuscript critically and by comparing it to other Nahua histories. In essence, I trace the intertextual threads, the recurring historical tropes that form the content of the Tira, from Tepechpan to the larger Aztec and Spanish empires and then back to Tepechpan again. I reveal how history in Tepechpan was manipulated to argue for political advancement, as also occurred in other indigenous communities both powerful and powerless. Indeed, if the Tira were our only source on Late Post-Classic (1200-1521) and Early Colonial (1521-1600) Mexico, we might assume that Tepechpan was second only to Tenochtitlan within the Aztec empire and that it was the major indigenous power under Spanish colonial rule. However, other sources clearly present a different picture of Tepechpan, which until now has hindered a clear understanding of this important manuscript. Ultimately, by tracking these manipulations in the Tira and explicating the ways in which history in the larger Nahua world functioned as a tool of persuasion, I make the Tira make sense.

Tepechpan in the Late Post-Classic and Early Colonial Worlds

The Aztec empire, the dominant power in Late Post-Classic Central Mexico, was established in 1428 with the defeat of Azcapotzalco, the leading city in the Valley of Mexico at the time. Though ostensibly a confederation of three city-states—Tenochtitlan, home of the Mexica people; Texcoco, capital of the Acolhua domain; and Tlacopan, associated with the Tepanec people—the Aztec empire, or Triple Alliance, was clearly controlled by Tenochtitlan, and traditionally Texcoco is accepted as its principal ally and second in command. Over fifty smaller city-states, including Tepechpan, were then subject to one of the three ranking cities within the empire, which was consolidated through an elite interaction network (Hodge 1996; Smith and Berdan 1996:9). Upon a subject city's incorporation into the empire, its local leader was typically kept in power, serving as a link between his subjects and the imperial administrative system. Membership in this imperial network had its privileges, such as gifts and access to land, which guaranteed the loyalty of the local leader and, accordingly, the promotion of his community's membership in the network.

The modern city of Tepexpan corresponds to the Late Post-Classic period site, east of Lake Texcoco (fig. 1.1). Tepechpan is best classified as a secondary altepetl within the Aztec empire. An altepetl was an organization of people associated with a given territory and ruled by a hereditary leader called a tlatoani, or speaker. Subsumed within the larger altepetl were a number of constituent parts, which are often called calpulli or tlaxicalli; one or more calpulli may have been the civic/ceremonial center(s) of the altepetl, while others may have been outlying, more rural centers. The various calpulli were all bound by their shared obligations to the altepetl. Nevertheless, there is still quite a bit of ambiguity as to the exact structure of the altepetl, certainly because its makeup was not fixed. In Tepechpan's case, Tepechpan proper was the political and religious center of the altepetl, the calpulli in which the tlatoani resided and where its main temple was located. The other calpulli within the Tepechpan altepetl were located far from the urban Tepechpan, which increased their separatist desires, especially after the Spanish conquest.

As a secondary altepetl, Tepechpan itself was subsumed within an even larger city-state, or the huey (great) altepetl of Texcoco, which was associated ethnically with the Acolhua people. As such, Tepechpan and thirteen other Acolhua city-states were politically obligated to Texcoco, expected to provide supplies and men in the time of war, and labor and materials for public works. Nevertheless, the secondary altepetl was a more important marker of identity and typically trumped ethnic identity (Horn 1997:20); that is, the people of Tepechpan saw themselves more as Tepechpaneca than as Acolhua, which surely reflects their own separatist desires, much as some calpulli wished to be independent of their altepetl.

A destabilizing force within the larger empire was the emergence of Tenochtitlan as the supreme power in the Triple Alliance in the years before the arrival of the Spaniards, with Texcoco taking a more secondary role within the empire (Carrasco 1999:30). This power shift may help to explain what appears to be a principal problem of the Tira, namely that the primary contributor to the manuscript made no direct references to Texcoco, despite the fact that Tepechpan was a key member of the Acolhua federation. The implication is that Tepechpan was not satisfied with its subordinate status and used its history to argue for a more advantageous position within the empire, effectively usurping Texcoco's traditional role as principal ally of the Mexica.

The altepetl continued to be fundamental to Nahua life after the conquest, as much of the structure of the Aztec empire at the sub-imperial level of the altepetl was maintained into the Colonial period. Fundamental to the economic and political organization of New Spain was the Spanish cabecera, which was essentially grafted onto the pre-conquest altepetl (Gibson 1964:33; Horn 1997:19). Typically, the Spaniards ranked the different calpulli within the altepetl, making the calpulli that appeared to be the civic and ceremonial center of the altepetl the head town or cabecera, with the remaining outlying calpulli designated as sujetos (Lockhart 1992:20). The sujetos were to provide tribute, labor, and other obligations to the cabecera, which in turn provided such obligations to the Spanish state. This was done first through the encomienda structure, in which a Spaniard, typically one of the early conquerors, maintained control over the cabecera and its tribute and labor obligations; later, these obligations were provided to the state directly through the corregimiento system, in which a number of cabeceras were grouped together under the control of a higher Spanish administrator, or corregidor. However, neither of these Spanish administrative systems nor their representatives—the encomendero and the corregidor—are mentioned in the Tira.

Instead, what is given precedence throughout the Tira is the maintenance of the local ruling line, which further linked the new cabecera designation with its previous altepetl structure. The presence of a pre-conquest tlatoani was one of the earliest criteria for establishing cabecera status (Gibson 1964:34). Though the Spaniards called the indigenous rulers by new names—at first they were called caciques, but later they were given the official title of gobernador, or governor—the indigenous ruler signified a direct link to the pre-conquest noble ruling line. Accordingly, the current tlatoani of Tepechpan remained its ruler after the conquest, and because of his presence, the city was ranked as a cabecera, with its thirteen outlying calpulli becoming its sujetos. On the surface, the cabecera system dovetailed neatly with the pre-Hispanic altepetl structure; however, by relying on the presence of a tlatoani to determine cabecera status, the Spanish system did not take into account the Aztec imperial structure (Gibson 1964:34). That is, the Spaniards skipped over the primary cities of the Triple Alliance and instead named those secondary city-states ruled by tlatoque as colonial cabeceras. Although politically subordinate to Texcoco, Tepechpan was still ranked as a cabecera because it had a pre-Hispanic tlatoani tradition, which ultimately took precedence. In short, Spain's control over Central Mexico was also maintained through an elite interaction network, but under the Spanish colonial system, the status of the secondary altepetl was elevated to that of the three member cities of the Triple Alliance.

This Spanish reorganization created an unstable situation as the Triple Alliance cities, especially Texcoco and Tacuba, attempted to regain their pre-Hispanic subject altepetl, many of which had become cabeceras under the Spanish system. Furthermore, some calpulli that were relegated to sujeto status attempted to elevate their own positions by claiming independent ruling lines. Consequently, there was a lot of jockeying for position in this new Spanish colonial order, and Tepechpan was in a particularly precarious place. For example, the sujetos of Tepechpan were located north of the city, far from the cabecera (Gibson 1964:45; Evans 2001:94). So distant from the calpulli seat of the tlatoani, these outlying communities often developed a strong sense of independence and powerfully argued for separation (Lockhart 1992:53; Horn 1997:21-22). This was the case in Tepechpan, when its sujeto Temascalapa claimed independence. Moreover, the religious division of the Tepechpan altepetl may have further promoted the separation of its northern sujetos. Spain imposed a doctrinal system on the provinces of New Spain for the conversion of the indigenous peoples, but Tepechpan never became an independent doctrina, or parish, perhaps due to its small size and importance. Tepechpan and just one of its sujetos were taught religious doctrine by the Augustinians of Acolman, while the clergy who lived in Tizoyuca administered to the remainder of Tepechpan's subjects (Paso y Troncoso 1939-1942, 16:90-91). Further threatening the well-being of Tepechpan were the numerous epidemics of the Colonial period. According to Tepechpan's response to the relación geográfica questionnaire of the late sixteenth century, documentation from its lawsuits, and the Tira itself, Tepechpan experienced major population losses following the conquest, and by 1580 had only 950 tribute payers, as opposed to an estimated pre-Hispanic population of 8,000 to 12,000 people (Sanders 1965:74).

Ultimately, wealth and power in ancient Mexico rested on a foundation of land and labor, and the Spanish conquest did not fundamentally change this formula (Hicks 1986:48-49). Accordingly, local communities fiercely protected their hold over their subject communities, which provided both land and labor through tribute and service obligations. The loss of its subject populations could throw the already precarious economic situation of a town like Tepechpan into chaos, and this is just what threatened Tepechpan throughout the sixteenth century. Furthermore, because one of the earliest criteria for cabecera designation was a hereditary leader, or tlatoani, it was paramount for a relatively minor city such as Tepechpan to document the presence and high status of its ruling line. Thus, in the first century after the conquest the altepetl was far from stable, and many communities maintained traditional painted histories to document and argue for their rights and privileges in the new colonial system (Gibson 1964:50-57; Boone 1998b).

The Tira was created in this politically charged context as an attempt by Tepechpan's elite to preserve the community's corporate integrity despite the divisions of the altepetl and threats to its autonomy. Such historical manuscripts functioned as key political tools in the years following the conquest and, based on their pre-conquest precedents, surely served this same role in the years preceding the Spanish invasion.

The Nahua Conception of History

Nahua records of the past contain multiple and often contradictory versions of historic events depending on local agendas, with many Nahua histories having large mythic and propagandistic components (Umberger 2002:88; Marcus 1992:3-16; Gillespie 1989:xxii-xxvii; Boone 2001:17-18). Though those seeking objective facts in these histories may find their truth-value suspect, it is often the historical manipulations themselves that carry more intriguing meanings, for these reveal the issues of key concern to Nahua communities and their historians.

Indeed, the Nahua conception of history clearly differs from the European view that idealistically sees history as an objective, and therefore true, record of past events (Christensen 1996:441-442; Boone 2000:15). Consciously or not, European historians hid their biases, while Nahua historians more obviously constructed political arguments, reinterpreting and reconfiguring past events to fit contemporary circumstances—in short, for political expediency. For example, after the Mexica ruler Itzcoatl's victory over Azcapotzalco, he famously burned the old histories and commissioned new ones, presumably to fit the new political landscape created by this victory (Sahagún 1959-1982, 10:191). In effect, this new, official Mexica history legitimized Tenochtitlan's superior place in the empire (Wolf 1999:189).

The Mexica did not have a monopoly on historical revisionism; it is clear that less prestigious Nahua communities also manipulated history. For example, Susan Schroeder (1991:201-202) has shown that the Nahua historian Chimalpahin's copious records of the past served to glorify the prestige of his hometown, Amaquemecan Chalco. Also, analyses of Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl's historical accounts reveal that he exalted the deeds of his Acolhua ancestors, especially former Texcocan tlatoque Nezahualcoyotl and Nezahualpilli (Velazco 1998; Lee 2003a, 2003b). The same is true of the pictorials associated with Texcoco, such as the Codex Xolotl (Spitler n.d.) and the Mapa Quinatzin (Douglas 2003), which visually promote Texcoco's status, while the Anales de Cuauhtitlan (1992) and the Anales de Tlatelolco (1948)—both recorded alphabetically in the sixteenth century—also present glorified versions of their patron cities' histories.

Spanish chroniclers were clearly aware of this tendency. An account by Fray Diego Durán (1994:465) of the boasting typical in indigenous tales of the past, which could have applied to Tepechpan or any number of other secondary city-states, exemplifies the tension between European and Nahua conceptions of history, the pull between objective and subjective accounts of past events. Durán lamented that the indigenous history he was following almost completely ignored Tacuba, ostensibly the third most important city in the Aztec empire. As he put it, "I am sure that if I went to Tacuba to ask about their glorious deeds the people there would tell me that they had been greater than Motecuhzoma's." He further noted that the problem was not just tied to the history he was following, but that "all of these towns claim that they were exempt from tribute, had royal insignia, and were the victors in war." When asking residents of one particular town about their power and position in the past, he wrote, "they exaggerated to such an extent, raising their superiority to the skies, that before they reached the stars with their tales I was forced, with soft words, to get them to admit that they had been subjects of and had paid tribute to Nezahualpilli of Tezcoco." Put simply, we cannot turn to an Acolhua source to counterbalance a Mexica source, as if this will reveal the truth, for both versions were colored by local agendas.

Nevertheless, the manipulations found in these histories should not imply that these were complete fabrications; they had to have some relationship to a preexisting conceptual framework. Discussing the role of history after the conquest, Susan Gillespie (1998:256) writes, "the disruption of the conquest required a response, a re-argumentation with remodeled (not 'invented') history as people jockeyed for positions of status in the construction of a new society." Within these new histories, Gillespie argues, it is still possible to discover the indigenous symbol system that structured Aztec ideology. To be sure, manipulations must have also characterized pre-conquest histories. Long before the Spanish invasion, the Mexica had imposed their own form of rule over many Nahua communities, which surely then reconfigured their histories to jockey for position under Mexica imperial control. The local bias that characterizes Aztec histories should not diminish their value because it is the very contradictions or biases contained within these histories that reveal the issues of overriding importance in indigenous politics and ideologies under both Aztec and Spanish rule. The historical manipulations themselves highlight the issues important to the patron city. In Tepechpan's case, its denial of its subjection to Texcoco, a major historical manipulation in the Tira, suggests that its subject status was considered a serious political liability, one that a reconstructed view of the past might change.

Another important difference between Nahua and Western conceptions of history concerns the forms these histories take—pictorial for the Nahuas and alphabetic for Europeans. Indeed, some see the pictorials more as mnemonic devices that inspired oral recitations, making them less valuable than a writing system that recorded specific historical records. However, to see the pictorials simply as mnemonic devices ignores their interpretive strength. These manuscripts do not just call to mind a past event but guide its telling and interpretation; that is, the pictorials preserve histories and not simply memories (Douglas 2000:24). Furthermore, the brevity and lack of specificity in Aztec pictorial writings were not accidental. These pictorial histories were purposely ambiguous and sketchy for political reasons, allowing for varied readings based on audience and political objectives (Umberger 1981b:11). The Nahuas did not record their histories with the aim of fixing or standardizing historic traditions. Instead, the past had to remain flexible, amenable to modification, interpretation, and glorification (Gillespie 1989:xxiv), both permitted and enhanced by a pictorial writing system.

The Nahua history is therefore a living system, and the upheavals caused by the impositions of Aztec and then Spanish control created ideal opportunities for political maneuvering through historical revisionism (Gillespie 1989:xxvi). The Tira de Tepechpan was created in this environment as a tool of persuasion commissioned by Tepechpan's elites to support their ambitions. By presenting Tepechpan as a politically and religiously powerful city-state with allegiances to the dominant powers, the Tira's patrons and contributors intended to preserve Tepechpan's corporate integrity and community identity. The shifts we see in this history, which first established Tepechpan's alliance with Tenochtitlan only to quickly establish a new alliance with the Spaniards, reveal how easily history was manipulated, especially in the pictorial realm, where slight visual cues carry much interpretive weight. Moreover, the contributors to the Tira were clearly aware of changing colonial policies, and they altered the focus of Tepechpan's history to improve its standing in this evolving system.

The strategies used by the Tira's contributors are not unique to Tepechpan; the content of Nahua histories is often so standardized that it is possible to trace historical tropes and their manipulations in different histories, thereby highlighting issues important to the Tepechpaneca and other indigenous peoples subject to Aztec and Spanish imperial control.

Theoretical Framework

Over a span of perhaps 200 years, if not more, a number of painters, annotators, and even previous owners have left their marks on the Tira, and the resultant palimpsestual nature of the manuscript has made it difficult to easily categorize and understand. How do we approach a manuscript with no single moment of creation, with no single authorial intention? Moreover, what approach do we take with a manuscript that combines different systems of meaning with different intentions—the pictorial, which leaves strict interpretation open, versus the alphabetic, which seeks to fix meaning? I reconcile these issues by considering all of the contributions, both the pictorial and the alphabetic, as textual discourse. Walter Mignolo (1993:125-126, 1995:7-8, 20) and Tom Cummins and Joanne Rappaport (1998:7-11) have called for an expansion of notions of discourse and literacy to include visual forms. The implication is that by considering the pictorial writings of the Nahuas as a visual communication system, as visual discourse, they can be theorized in much the same way as language or alphabetic writing.

I therefore treat all contributions to the Tira as texts. I identify and isolate the work of the different contributors, based primarily on content and stylistic features, and I propose a basic chronology for the creation of the manuscript, which my reading of the Tira follows. I then take a thematic approach, providing an iconographic interpretation of the pictorial imagery, and translation and explanation of the alphabetic annotations. From this starting point, I find meaning in the various histories recorded in the Tira by tracing its historical tropes and intertextual threads inside and outside the manuscript, inside and outside Tepechpan.

As poststructuralist theory acknowledges, language and discourse are inherently multivalent. Texts do not have a single, unitary meaning, but rather multiple and unstable meanings. Working from the writings of Mikhail Bakhtin, Julia Kristeva (1980) theorizes that no text exists alone, nor can its full meaning be approached by treating it in isolation; that is, texts cannot be separated from the larger cultural and social processes out of which they are created (Allen 2000:37). Moreover, to borrow Roland Barthes's (1977:160) words, each text is "woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages . . . antecedent or contemporary, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony." All texts reference and borrow from other texts, and within all texts there exist multiple levels of meaning that depend upon the larger sociocultural context out of which they are created and through which they are interpreted. This sociocultural context, in turn, can only be reconstructed through traces it leaves in other texts. Therefore, to find these layers of meaning, we must consider not only the document itself—in the case of the Tira, its pictorial and alphabetic content—but also its relation to other texts.

Applying these ideas to the Tira is especially useful because of its palimpsestual nature. With its multiple contributors and dual registers, both of which promote comparison, various levels of meaning exist within the manuscript. An image on the Tepechpan register may have one meaning when considered alone and an additional meaning when compared to the imagery on the Tenochca register. The imagery added by a later painter also takes on additional meaning when compared to the content of an earlier artist. The same is true of the annotations added later, which must speak to the pictorial imagery already on the manuscript. Additionally, more meaning can be found outside the Tira by considering its intertextual threads in their larger sociohistorical context as derived through comparisons with other indigenous histories.

A comparative approach is especially important in Aztec studies because many indigenous records use the same historical tropes, making Aztec histories so standardized that slight deviations carry additional levels of meaning that are easily missed when considering a text in isolation. My approach situates the Tira in its sociohistorical context and follows its references and appropriations of other historical discourses and tropes, thereby bringing the Tira's multiple levels of meaning to the surface. Of course, by tracing these intertextual threads inside and outside the Tira, the reader/interpreter/viewer, both today and in the past, is necessarily an active participant in this construction of meaning.

The Tira as Colonial Discourse

The key contextual site from which the Tira was created and through which it must be interpreted is Tepechpan's subject position under imperial control. Created after the imposition of Spanish colonial rule, the Tira exemplifies colonial discourse; it is above all else a political document. However, though much post-colonial theory seeks to find patterns in the reactions and negotiations inherent in subjecthood, it is important to keep in mind that the colonialism of Spain over New Spain was atypical, for one reason because of the unique agency of the Nahuas themselves. The Spaniards adapted many of their policies to preexisting conditions in Central Mexico. They did not simply transplant their culture, but instead they contended with and relied upon the preexisting cultural practices and patterns of the Aztec empire and its peoples (Gibson 1964; Lockhart 1991, 1992; Hassig 2006). An important factor that allowed them to do so was the fact that imperial rule was not a new concept to the native peoples of Central Mexico.

Though scholars often treat the Aztec federation as an empire, they do not typically see the Mexica as "colonial" rulers. Surely this distinction comes from the different political, religious, and cultural systems of the Spaniards and the Mexica. The Spaniards introduced to their subjects a new form of government, a new religious system, new language, new judicial system, and so on, whereas the Mexica imposition of control did not force subjected territories to fundamentally change their societal structures and beliefs. Nevertheless, those subjects under Aztec rule did have to perform services and pay tribute to the imperial leaders, just as they had to do for their Spanish overlords. Though the nature of their rules differed, both the Mexica and the Spaniards dominated and subjected other territories through militaristic, economic, and religious means. The people of Tepechpan had already lived under subjecthood before the arrival of the Spaniards, and despite the disruptive transition from Aztec to Spanish control, indigenous communities like Tepechpan could adapt pre-conquest strategies to negotiate their new positions as Spanish imperial subjects. One of these strategies was the traditional community history.

The Tira, then, is essentially a hybrid product, a response to the Spanish colonial present and a renegotiation of the Aztec past. Accordingly, the Tira's contributors borrowed signs from the dominant discourses—Mexica, Spanish, even Texcocan—in order to advance Tepechpan's position within these controlling political systems. This hybrid context is heterogeneous; there is no simple dichotomy here between indigenous and Spanish, but instead a more complicated network of interactions, with the Tepechpaneca setting themselves within and apart from their "others."

Hybridity is not just a strategy of the colonized, who use it to cope with the dominant culture, but it is also a strategy of their overlords, who use it to incorporate subjects into their dominating systems (Dean and Leibsohn 2003:24). Hybridity is thus a two-way street, and Homi Bhabha (1994:85-92) refers to this process as mimicry. In an effort to control their subjects, colonizers impose their culture on the colonized, who may readily take on the signs of the dominant power in the hopes of attaining some of that power for themselves. In the case of the Tira, its contributors utilized the Mexica annals format and then Spanish alphabetic writing, the dominant discourses, to create sites for survival within the symbolic systems of their controllers. Though there clearly was a dominant party in colonial transactions, the subordinated subject did not passively accept outside authority but, instead, negotiated its place within the hegemonic system, appropriating the signs and discourse of the dominant power and subverting them for the community's agenda.

Of course, there is an inherent ambivalence to this approach. The colonial subject is both the observed and the observer, an active participant in the construction of identity, even though this identity is structured largely under colonial rule (de Certeau 1986). In short, Tepechpan's elites were caught in an ambivalent struggle, negotiating between assimilation and autonomy. By commissioning a community history like the Tira, they were able to articulate their desire for Tepechpan's political stability and corporate survival on this contested ground, while at the same time promoting their own membership in the elite imperial network. As colonial discourse, then, the Tira represents a type of middle ground, a "Third Space," where there is no purity of history or culture, no unity or fixity, a place where "even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized and read anew" (Bhabha 1994:37).


Ultimately, the vast span of time and history that the Tira encompasses defies simple categorization, as do the varied contributors and their methods and intentions. Hence, I take a diachronic approach with an interest in how history changed through the Colonial period and how interest in the past also changed. In the next chapter, I focus on the Tira itself. I discuss its manufacture, identify its various contributors, and trace its history. Next, I examine the pre-conquest portions of the Tira that were painted entirely by its principal artist, Tepechpan Painter A. In Chapter 3, I consider Tepechpan's "Pre-Imperial" history. Here, Painter A documented Tepechpan's status as an autonomous, ancient, and civilized city-state, the cultural superior to Tenochtitlan. Upon the Mexica victory in the Tepanec War and Tenochtitlan's emergence as the supreme power in the Valley of Mexico, Painter A subtly changed the focus of his history; as I explicate in Chapter 4, he shifted the emphasis to Tepechpan's alliance with the Mexica victors. With the Spanish defeat of Tenochtitlan and Spain's emergence as the ruling power, Painter A again modified his approach by documenting Tepechpan's allegiance to Spanish authority, as discussed in Chapter 5. The subsequent painters of the Tira, considered in Chapter 6, continued to show Tepechpan as an important member of the Spanish empire, but rather than presenting an elegantly patterned and glorified history, as Painter A did, the later painters instead highlighted potential threats to Tepechpan's corporate integrity under Spanish rule, with the focus increasingly on Tepechpan's hardships. The annotators, treated in Chapter 7, shared many of the same concerns as the later painters—they were interested in the past only insofar as it impacted the present. In conclusion, I bring these strands together, elucidating the strategies that the contributors to the Tira—and other indigenous communities, as well—used to ensure the survival of the patron city.

Ultimately, this study reveals that a community's relationship to the ruling power took precedence over ethnicity and previous political affiliations, both in the pre-conquest and Colonial periods. The pictorial history, then, was a tool of persuasion, a political argument created with the expectation of maintaining corporate integrity and even earning important privileges. By reconfiguring its past and selectively documenting its present, the community of Tepechpan hoped to secure its future.


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