Early colonial accounts of the conquest of Mexico meticulously inventory the gold and sundry tribute items (fine cloths, turquoise, jewels) acquired by conquistadors in the service of the Spanish monarchy. Yet, within these accounts, another set of gifts—indigenous tribute women—intermittently appear in conquest narratives written from the 16th to early 17thcenturies, by Spanish, mestizo and indigenous authors. From the Yucatan Peninsula to the valley of Mexico, indigenous communities met Spanish forces with gifts that included women richly adorned with feathers, fine clothing, and face paints in a manner that recalls the preparations made for indigenous marriage ceremonies and agricultural feasts. In this talk, I argue that this cultivation of beauty, enveloped in a ritual economy, lays the foundation for conquest diplomacy during Cortés’ initial expedition in Mexico, in 1519. This argument revolves around a reading of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala, a painted history on cloth, along with a number of indigenous-Spanish texts and images that provide insight, however fragmented, into a long overlooked phenomenon of the conquest of Mexico.
Hispanic Cultures Seminar Series, Mahindra Humanities Center