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‘El Yndio Mas Venturoso’: A Spanish Guadalupan Drama of the Early Nineteenth Century

  • Stafford Poole (a1)

The Catholic missionaries who first brought Christianity to New Spain (colonial Mexico) were often very creative and innovative in their teaching methods. They used various audiovisual devices and, often without realizing it, built on preconquest and pre-Christian concepts, a form of unconscious syncretism. It is widely accepted that the missionary enterprise began in 1524 with the arrival of “The Twelve,” the first Franciscan missionaries. Their initial decision that evangelization would be carried on in the native languages, not Spanish, was crucial and had become Church policy by the eighteenth century. They were aided in this by the fact that Nahuatl, the Aztec language, served as a lingua franca, especially in commerce and diplomacy, throughout the central plateau and as far south as Guatemala. The Franciscans, and later the Jesuits, produced grammars (artes), dictionaries, sermonaries, catechisms, miracle stories, and even religious drama in Nahuatl. The adaptation of Nahuatl to the Latin alphabet was enthusiastically received by the native peoples who left us chronicles, town council records, censuses (with valuable information on baptisms and polygamy), lawsuits, and other documentation. With all this, we have been able to open a new window on colonial life.

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1. The pioneering work in this regard is Ricard, Robert, The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico: An Essay on the Apostolate and the Evangelizing Methods of the Mendicant Orders in New Spain: 1523–1572, Lesley Byrd Simpson, trans. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1966). The original work (La “conquête spirituelle” du Mexique: Essai sur l'apostolat et les méthodes missionaires des ordres mendiants en Nouvelle-Espagne de 1523-24 à 1572) was published in 1933, and more recent studies have expanded and altered Ricard's work to varying degrees. Among these are Evangelización y teología en América (siglo XVI), Josep-Ignasi Saranyana, Primitivo Tineo, Antón M. Pazos, et al., dirs. (Pamplona: Universidad de Navarra, 1990): Burkhart, Louise, The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth-Century Mexico (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989); and Schroeder, Susan and Poole, Stafford, eds., Religion in New Spain (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007).

2. Studies based on native language sources have expanded greatly in recent years, and they now constitute a rich field for scholarly endeavor. There are too many works to be listed here. Among the essential works are Lockhart, James, The Nahuas after the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992); and Burkhart, Louise, The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth-Century Mexico (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989).

3. In this regard, the pioneering work was that of Horcasitas, Fernando, El teatro náhuatl: épocas novohispana y moderna (Mexico: UNAM, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, 1974). His work was continued by Garibay K., Ángel María in Historia de la literatura nahuatl (second part), 3rd ed. (Mexico: Editorial Porrúa, 1987). The most recent major contribution is Nahuatl Theater, edited by Barry D. Sell and Louise Burkhart, 4 vols. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004–2009). This series contains translations and commentaries on almost all known Nahuatl dramas and is an invaluable source.

4. See Edgerton, Samuel Y., Theaters of Conversion: Religious Architecture and Indian Artisans in Colonial Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001), esp. chapts. 6 and 7.

5. Sánchez, Miguel, Imagen de la Virgen Maria, Madre de Dios de Guadalupe, milagrosamente aparecida en la ciudad de Mexico. Celebrada en su historia, con la profecia del capitulo doce del Apocalipsis (Mexico: Imprenta de la Viuda de Bernardo Calderon, 1648).

6. de la Vega, Luis Laso, Huei tlamahuiçoltica omonexiti in ilhuicad tlatocacihuapilli Santa Maria totlaçonantzin Guadalupe in nican huei altepenahuac Mexico itocayocan Tepeyacac (Mexico: Imprenta de Iuan Ruiz, 1649). The English translation is The Story of Guadalupe: Luis Laso de la Vega's Huei tlamahuiçoltica of 1649, Lisa Sousa, Stafford Poole, C.M., and James Lockhart, eds. and trans., UCLA Latin American Publications, University of California, Los Angeles, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).

7. Joaquín García Icazbalceta to Archbishop Pelagio Antonio de Labastida y Dávalos, October, 1883, in Poole, Stafford, The Guadalupan Controversies in Mexico (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), p. 237. The original Spanish can be found in Carta acerca del origen de la imagen de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Mexico escrita por D. Joaquín García Icazbalceta al Ilmo. Sr. Arzobispo D. Pelagio Antonio de Labastida y Dávalos seguida de la carta pastoral que el señor arzobispo de Tamaulipas don Eduardo Sánchez Camacho dirigió al mismo eminent prelado, 1896, Mexico, pp. 4–52. It is reproduced in Testimonios históricos guadalupanos, Ernesto de la Torre Villar and Ramiro Navarro de Anda, eds. (Mexico: Fonda de la Cultura Económica, 1982), pp. 1096–1126.

8. Nahuatl Theater, Vol. 2, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Barry D. Sell, Louise M. Burkhart, and Stafford Poole, eds. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006).

9. I wish to express my thanks to Adán Benavides of the Benson Library at the University of Texas for providing me with a copy of the book.

10. Emphasis in original.

11. No early sources give a Nahuatl name for Juan Diego. The name first appears in 1689 in a work by Góngora, Carlos de Sigüenza y, Piedad heroyca de Don Fernando Cortés, Delgado, Jaime, ed. (Madrid: José Porrúa Turranzas, 1960), p. 63.

12. Nahuatl for “poor” or “wretched.”

13. El yndio, published version, p. 98.

14. Antonio de Nebrija (or Lebrija) (1441–1522), pioneering Spanish grammarian. He is noted for his observation that language was the instrument of empire.

15. El yndio, published version, p. 6.

16. What deity this may be is not clear. Perhaps it is a corruption of yaotl, “enemy,” another name for Tezcatlipoca.

17. El yndio, published version, p. 8.

18. Ibid., p. 10.

19. Ibid., p. 11.

20. Ibid., p. 12.

21. Ibid., p. 13.

22. Also spelled “Tepeyacac,” meaning “at the nose of the hill.”

23. El yndio, published version, p. 25.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid. The idea that Juan Diego was a native of Cuahtitlan (sic for Cuauhtitlan) but later moved to the nearby town of Tolpetlac was first proposed by Luis Becerra Tanco in a posthumous work, Felicidad de Mexico, in 1675. He had concluded that the route from Cuauhtitlan to Tlatelolco would not have passed by Tepeyac. See Poole, Our Lady of Guadalupe, p. 145.

26. El yndio, published version, p. 29.

27. Ibid., p. 42.

28. Ibid., p. 48.

29. Ibid., p. 68.

30. Ibid., p. 74. The association of the hill with the deity Tonantzin was first made by the Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún around 1576. See Poole, Our Lady of Guadalupe, pp. 77–81.

31. This is in accord with the tradition that the name Guadalupe was revealed to Juan Bernardino rather than Juan Diego.

32. El yndio, published version, p. 109.

33. “Ayer se quitó de orden del gobierno el cartel de la comedia en que se anunciaba que se representaría la comedia de la aparición de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Pintábanse en sus decoraciones los papeles del señor arzobispo Zumárraga bailando el jarabe en loor del prodigo [sic for prodigio?]. Este es el modo de ridiculizar un suceso que ha inspirado la mayor confianza en la protección de María Santísima y por tales medios se va atacando la piedad mexicana.” Reproduced in Diario histórico de México, 1822–1848, del Licenciado Carlos Maria de Bustamante, Josefina Zoraida Vázquez and Héctor Cuauhtémoc Hernández Silva, eds. (Mexico: Colegio de México, 2001). I wish to thank Donald Stevens for sharing this quotation with me.

The author wishes to acknowledge the help that he has received from many sources. These include Professor Louise Burkhart whose outstanding studies of native language dramas have contributed so much. He also thanks to the editors and staff of The Americas, the anonymous reviewers of this article whose suggestions have been incorporated, and Jill Ginsburg, whose proofreading contributed so much.

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The Americas
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  • EISSN: 1533-6247
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