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The Conquered Women of Cacaxtla: Gender identity or gender ideology?

  • Sharisse D. McCafferty (a1) and Geoffrey G. McCafferty (a1)
Abstract

The vividly painted “Battle Mural” of Cacaxtla (Tlaxcala, Mexico) depicts the gory results of a battle between racially distinct factions, characterized by their opposing jaguar and bird insignia. The two central Bird figures that remain standing are shown as captives, and in both cases they are attired in elaborate costumes that include diagnostic items of female clothing, including the quechquemitl cape and long skirt. Other figures are nude or are shown in simple male costumes, including the maxtlatl loincloth. This paper considers arguments of whether the two central figures were biological females, or rather, that the presence of female apparel on male actors was used within a context of conquest, symbolically transmitted through a gender ideology of male dominance and female subordination. While the evidence is inconclusive, we employ a contextual analysis of pre-Columbian pictorial manuscripts and Mexican cosmology to argue that these individuals were female. Furthermore, we suggest that the elaborate costume elements associated with these female figures, and their recurrence with the Jaguar Lord 3 Deer Antler “Tlaloc mask,” indicates that this was a noblewoman destined for marriage as a means of binding the Jaguar and Bird dynasties. Thus the Battle Mural depicts the capture of the “founding queen,” with the subsequent union demonstrated by the complementary depictions of Jaguar and Bird lords on Building A.

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