Home India News 16th-century Mexican Indian map offers key to history

16th-century Mexican Indian map offers key to history


Denver : A map painted by Mexican Indians, or indigenous Indians, in the mid-16th century has become a key document for understanding the migration of Mesoamerican people from their land of origin in what is now the US Southwest, according to a scholar at Harvard University Divinity School.

“Five years of research and writing (2002-2007) by 15 scholars of Mesoamerican history show that this document, the Map of Cuauhtinchan 2, with more than 700 pictures in colour, is something like a Mesoamerican Iliad and Odyssey,” David Carrasco told EFE in a telephone interview.

“The map tells sacred stories and speaks of pilgrimages, wars, medicine, plants, marriages, rituals and heroes of the Cuauhtinchan community, which means Place of the Eagle’s Nest (in the present-day Mexican state of Puebla),” he said.

The map, known as MC2, was painted on amate paper made from tree bark probably around 1540, just two decades after the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

Through images and pictographs, the map recounts the ancestral history of the Mesoamerican people of Chicomoztoc, meaning Place of the Seven Caves, followed by their migration to the sacred city of Cholula and the foundation of Cuauhtinchan, probably in 1174.

The document was apparently meant to resolve a dispute between the indigenous peoples and the conquistadors as to land ownership in Cuauhtinchan and surrounding areas, following the evangelising process that began in 1527 and was intensified in 1530 with the building of the town’s first convent, which seems to have entailed the dismantling of the Indian temple.

“The history begins in a sacred city under attack and continues with the people of Aztlan coming to the city’s rescue. In compensation they are granted divine authority to travel long distances until they find their own city in the land promised them. Their travels are guided by priests, warriors and divinities,” Carrasco said.

That sacred city and the original land of Aztlan would have been in what is today the Southwestern US.

MC2 remained in Cuauhtinchan until 1933, the year it was sent to a regional museum and later came into the possession of an architect.

In 2001, philanthropist Espinosa Yglesias acquired the map and shortly afterwards contacted Harvard’s Center of Latin American Studies to ask who could analyse the map. Harvard chose Carrasco.

The result of five years of interdisciplinary studies was the publication of the 479-page book “Cave, City, and Eagle’s Nest: An Interpretive Journey Through the Map of Cuauhtinchan No. 2”.

Carrasco said that in 2010 the University of New Mexico, which published the original version, will edit the version in Spanish.

“This map and the book we published to decipher it have changed our understanding of the Mesoamerican codices and of the sacred lands of that region,” Carrasco said.

That new understanding has political and social significance today.

“This map links the identity and politics of Mexican-Americans, that is, the Chicano people, with the art, rituals and philosophical practices of pre-Colombian Mexicans,” he said.

“The insistence of Mexican-American scholars and activists on using Aztlan as their symbol is strengthened by the history recounted by this map, since it places Mexicans in the US within a wider history of migration, ethnic interactions, religions and rituals,” the academic said.

MC2, according to Carrasco, links Chicanos “with the lands where the struggle for their freedom and rights took place before the oppression”.

So great is the connection of this map with Chicanos that Colgate University astronomy professor Anthony Aveni and journalist Laana Carrasco — David’s daughter — published a children’s book telling the story of 10-year-old Mexican-American twins who “travel in time” and go on pilgrimage with their ancestors 100 years before the Spaniards arrived.

This book “connects many of the concerns and hopes of the present-day Chicano Movement with the cosmology and life of the ancient indigenous Mexicans”, David Carrasco said.

Together with his students and his interdisciplinary team, Carrasco continues to study the sacred objects and numerous plants that appear on the map.

“This map is a treasure for academics because it reveals with artistic splendour and in detail the way of life of an Indian community that told its own story in the midst of a serious social conflict,” he said.