The Indigenous as the Malleable "Other" Doomed to Subjugation
If human life is sacred, then the genocide that the Spaniards perpetrated against the Indians of Mexico (and the Caribbean) is the most heinous crime ever committed by a people. In 1492, Christopher Columbus opened the door for the conquistadors, and the slaughter began. There is no logic to explain the evil that would drive men to sport with human lives as these Spaniards did simply to test the sharpness of their swords:
the whole hundred drew theirs and began to rip open the bellies,
cut and kill those lambs‑‑men, women, children, and old folk The
Spaniards entered the large house nearby and in the same way, with cuts and
stabs, began to kill as many as they found there, so that a strew
of blood was running, as if a great number of cows had perished
‑‑Las Casas (Todorov 141).
Todorov, in his Conquest of America presents a history from a moralist's
perspective and the results are such (as Todorov himself proclaims) that even
normally strong superlatives are not enough to capture the immensity of the
evil that was rampant in Mexico at the end of the fifteenth century. Like
Todorov, Gary Jennings' novel Aztec seeks to repudiate, albeit belatedly, the
crimes that European found so easy to commit against the natives of America.
There seems to be a tacit agreement that language was a primary cause of the
Aztecs' inability to fend off their attackers; (these two texts offer the
language for the Indians in an attempt to share the circumstances of their
civilization and their subsequent destruction)
This paper examines the dialogue between these two texts to answer the
questions about the thriving Indian culture and its subsequent conquest,
destruction, and replacement. What forces dictated that the conquest of Mexico
be genocidal versus simply domineering ) as it tended to be for the Asian
countries? What was the moral obligation of the church toward the victims of
the conquest? What would have become of the Aztec civilization had the
Spaniards never conquered/kifled them? What primal differences are there
between Indians and Caucasians that allow the latter to conquer and destroy
the former? What is the criteria for "civilized" and
"uncivilized" up to and including today's first world and third
world countries? It is my contention that the Spaniards and Europeans in
general engaged themselves in a systematic effort of de‑humanizing, or
"othering," non‑Europeans, particularly black Africans and the
Indians of the Americas. They did this by creating their own truth regarding
almost every aspect of life (using Christianity as a means rather than an
end),and by ignoring or losing all sense of morality or ethics in their
pursuit of wealth and pleasure.
dedication of his book to the memory of a Mayan woman who was devoured by dogs
to whom the
fed her for refusing their sexual advances is the first indication that
Conquest of America is not an ordinary history book. He promises that his
subject is almost solely "the Spaniards' perception of the Indians."
He then proceeds to catalog the many records of the conquistadors and of
Columbus as to their perceptions of America and its inhabitants, finally
concluding that the genocide was a horror indeed. On the eve of the conquest
there were 25 million Indians in Mexico alone; by 1600 there were one million
left. The causes of so much destruction?‑‑ 1) murder; 2) ill
treatment; 3) "microbe shock" (the majority) (13 3). But the numbers
and catalogs alone do not tell the true evil that seemed rampant as the
Spaniards abused every conceivable moral principle ) as when a child at suck
was fed to hungry dogs for crying; or new‑borns were hurled against a
rock or tossed into the jungle when they cried; or when the gold mine foremen
cuckolded every Indian, then beat him and "he was bound hand and foot and
flung under the bed like a dog before the foreman lay down, directly over him
with his wife." (139). Jennings does not describe the horrors of the
conquest so well because his book focuses on the marvelous civilization that
existed before the conquest, but it is precisely the knowledge of that
civilization that makes the conquest so much more tragic.
the passage of time the truth seems to elude writers more and more. What
really happened and, more importantly, why, can only be surmised today, but
intelligent, thoughtful people can agree that verisimilitude is reliable
enough. "The questions raised here refer less to a knowledge of the truth
than to a knowledge of verisimilitude " (Todorov 54). Jennings expresses
the same sentiment in his final chapter. Athough early on he promises that he
is merely stating the facts. He states, speaking through his protagonist,
Mixtli: "what I now state and affirm did all occur. I only narrate what
happened, without invention and without falsehood. I kiss the earth. That is
to say: I swear to this" (8). There is today a growing acceptance of what
A Austrian‑born philosopher Feyerabend calls "the tyranny of
truth." He challenges the scientists to acknowledge that much of what
they do is mere guesswork, fodder for fantastic stories. Some scientist such
as the late physicist Heinz R. Pagels have reluctantly validated Feyerabend by
admitting that some of his "views of science are correct if we could but
see our science from the perspective of a thousand years hence" (Hogan
36). If scientists can be challenged as to their veracity, then certainly
fiction and narrative histories can be challenged, but challenging absolute
truths does not preclude accepting verisimilitude. Conversely, the Spaniards
used a manipulation of their own established "truths" to go about
the destruction of the Indians.
is perhaps human nature to ascribe negative qualities to one's enemies or
otherwise undesirable neighbors for although
the Spaniards did a typically European dehumanizing of the Indians, it appears
that the Aztecs too used that tactic with regards to their neighbors. Examples
of this abound. Columbus is the first to dismiss the humanity of the natives
by focusing more on the animals and other physical qualities than the people
and their culture. The Indians are seen as no different from animals even when
he acknowledges that they "seem" closer to men than animals.
"The allusion to the dogs among the remarks on the women and the men
indicates nicely the scale on which the latter will be assessed" (Todorov
34). The Aztecs being the feared nation of the continent hold a superior
status and thus they too engage in depicting their enemies as dirty, lazy, and
ugly. Mixtli had been telling of how much the Chichimeca stunk and how
dirty they were, but when he first encounters the Spaniards, they repulse him
even more than the Chichimecas: "The Chichimecas were garden flowers by
comparison with the white men, who seemed to prefer their repulsiveness and to
fear cleanliness as a mark of weakness or effeminacy" (Jennings 593).
feelings of superiority were short lived and his kind were never again to
define either cleanliness, or attractiveness, or even themselves. For today
"the indigene is a semiotic pawn on a chessboard under the control of the
white signmaker" (Goldie 232). Goldie explains that today words like
"war dance," "war whoop," "tomahawk," and
"dusky" all conjure up universal symbols of Indian stereotypes that
are applied to not only American Indians but also to the Aori and the
Aborigine. This would indicate that the "othering" of the Indians
was so successful that "terms misapplied in the Americas became
re‑misapplied in a parody of imperialist discourse" (Goldie 232).
Goldie goes on to explain other typical stereotypes that serve to dehumanize
Indians: Sex‑‑the dusky maiden as free and open sexuality;
Violence‑‑fiendish warrior with impassioned spirit of evil;
Orality‑‑no writing equals different dimensions of consciousness;
Mysticism‑‑can be good or evil oracular power; and
Prehistoric‑‑a remnant, a historical artifact in the context of
the white world.
are, of course, modern and thus more "sensitive" stereotypes, but
the older literature was much more direct in its negative descriptions of
Indians. Francis Parkman, for example, repeatedly describes Indians as ugly,
infantile savages: "They seemed like ungoverned children inflamed with
the fiercest passions of men" (106); tione or two snake‑eyed
children seated behind them ... girls whose native ugliness not all the charms
of glass beads and scarlet cloth could disguise" (22). Parkman was not
much kinder to the descendants of the Aztecs, now the half‑breed
Mexicans called mestizos: "Two rowers, swarthy, ignoble Mexicans, turned
their brutish faces upwards to look, as I reached the bank" (62). Parkman
wrote almost four hundred years after the conquest of Mexico, so it appears
that the Indians were under constant attack by one European group or another
for four hundred years.
be sure, the Spaniards were much kinder in assessing native beauty, but that
did not stop them from destroying it. Todorov lists several instances of the
Spaniards' appreciation of the native beauty: Columbus‑"They were
all very well made, stout of body and very comely of countenance (11‑
10‑ 149 2); All of splendid appearance. ‑filey are very handsome
people (13 ‑10‑149 2); These were the handsomest men and the most
beautiful women whom he had hitherto encountered"
(16‑12‑1492) (36). Todorov only reconfirms what Jennings' Aztecs
say for themselves. Their interactions are in every way like those of today's
societies where people work, fall in love, study, raise children, etc. The
Spaniards wasted no time in taking women and fathering children. Could that
have been an act of bestiality (as it must be if the Indians are no better
than animals) or was it real appreciation of the Aztec women and their beauty?
immorality and hypocrisy of the Spaniards is evident in their relentless greed
and hedonism. No amount of appreciation for the greatness and/or beauty of the
civilization or its people, no amount of Catholicism or pleadings by chaplains
like Bartholome de Las Casas could slow down their avaricious, destructive
cavalcade. Lawrence Kohlberg describes six stages of moral development in
which the highest stage, the sixth, describes human life as sacred, a
universal human value of respect for the individual. That is the level on
which most religions and "civilized" societies place the value of
life. But the Spaniards, "civilized" and "Christian" as
they were, seem to have operated at the lowest level which confuses the value
of human life with the value of physical objects and is based on social status
or physical attributes (Kohlberg 20). Perhaps they were even operating below
that level. Either way, it is ironic that the so‑called civilized and
Christian Europeans proved themselves to be immoral, like wild animals, and
un‑Christian. Philosopher Feyerabend believes that the world is really
abundant and that "all enterprises consist in cutting down this . . .
abundance... the perceptual system cuts down this abundance or you couldn't
survive" (Horgan 37). Perhaps that was natural, then, for the Spaniards
to cut down the abundance of Indians in order to survive themselves.
Underneath all these struggles is the need for superiority, for power. As
Goldie quotes Abdul R. JanMohamed: "The dominant model of
power‑‑and interest‑‑relations in all colonial
societies is the manichean opposition between the putative superiority of the
European and the supposed inferiority of the native" (233).
idea of the power struggle between the European race and the Indigenous race
is echoed by Aijaz Ahmed as he responds to a colleague who has condemned third
world literature as necessarily non‑universal; "Jameson also
suggests that the difference between first world and third world is itself
primordial, rooted in things far older than capitalism as such" (77).
Todorov expresses a similar sentiment: "the economic explanation is here
proved inadequate" (143). Jennings acknowledges that the Aztec aggression
against their neighbors was for economic reasons, and Mixtli might be compared
to a high‑powered American businessman traveling the world over. He
undertakes epic journeys and experiences the War of Flowers, The Aztec capital
of Tenochtitlan, the Dog People of the desert, the Cloud People of the
mountains, the remnants of the Maya, grand sacrificial ceremonies, and love
and sexual encounters in numerous varieties. His first sight of Tenochtitlan
(at age seven) by night is described as a magical sight: "Then there came
a point of light, and another and twenties upon twenties more. And thus I saw
Tenochtitlan for the first time in my life" (35). As romanticized an
account of Aztec life as Jennings might give, this description is modest
compared to the description of the same city by the Spaniards: "'These
great towns and cues (temples) and buildings rising from the water, all made
of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision from the tale of Amadis. Indeed some
of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream"' (Todorov 129).
Spaniards were thrilled with the new sights, but they were compelled to
destroy them, at least according to one Sepulveda's journal,for four reasons:
1) the Indians' natural condition demanded that they should obey others; 2) to
banish the portentous crime of eating flesh; 3) to save the would‑be
victims of human sacrifices; and 4) infidels should be killed (Todorov 154).
Clearly numbers one and four are invalid reason. The other two are only
relatively wrong. How can all the other overwhelming evidence of the Indians'
civilized ways be ignored? P.,@n‑fhe question of cannibalism is
dismissed by Jennings as merely a ceremonial ritual: "We paid the dead
every funeral honor and devotion, including the ceremonial cooking and eating
of their most intimate parts and organs" (590). But Jennings denies
cannibalism, with his usual sense of humor, in the exchanges between Mixth and
other characters. In one scene Mixth is offended that an old woman from a
different tribe believes he would eat her dead son: "I ground my teeth
and said, 'kindly inform her that we Mexica do no such thing
most successful response to the myth of the Aztecs' primitiveness is its
detailed descriptions of those simple, every day things that modem societies
take for granted as "civilization." Mixtli is followed as he grows
up and experiences the wonders of childhood, getting an education at "The
Houses of Manners and Strength" (62) and even going to a university, the
Calmecatin; he describes their physicians and medicines including using
powdered barbusco for birth
contraceptives (79); He talks about the family who polishes quartz to make
magnifying glass/ eyeglasses; He also mentions many other aspects of civilized
society such as libraries, poetry readings, and the royal zoo (142, 734).
is very proud of his city and describes the central plaza as being six hundred
square man‑feet "paved with marble ... and it was polished as
smooth and shiny as a tescatl mirror" (Jennings 42). Again, Aztec contains
no exaggeration, for the Spaniards described the architecture in grander form:
the fortified lodgings are larger and stronger than the Burgos Castle; like
the silk market in Grenada except greater quantities; a tower higher than the
cathedral of Seville; the market place of Tenochtitlan is larger than that of
Salamanca; "the city was indeed the most beautiful thing in the
world" (Todorov 128).
t is puzzling how a great civilization could also be so barbaric in its
religion and so stifling in its social rules. Those strict rules for public
conduct and morality go hand in hand with the ritualized nature of their
speech ‑‑"speech regulated in its forms and functions,
memorized and hence always quoted" (79) ‑‑and general modus
operendus. Consider the penalties for the elders responsible for youth who
committed a wrong. "We have an additional proof of this preeminence of
the social over the individual in the role taken by the family: parents are
cherished, children adored, and the attention devoted to each absorbs much
social energy... father and mother are held responsible for the misdeeds of
the child... even the servants, tutors, nurses are killed" (Todorov 67).
Jennings too expresses Mixtli's frustration at some of the strict rules:
"My mother ferociously beat my sister's buttocks bright red with a bundle
of nettles because the girl had been guilty of immodesty" (19). On the
other hand, the Indians developed ingenious ways to deceive their elders and
other rule keepers.
also includes some touches of magical reali sm in its inevitable treatment of
some of the Aztec deities: "'You met him.‑ my father said huskily.
"'You met the god and he let you go. The god Night Wind"' (56). As
Jacques Stephen Alexis writes, it is only natural that people with such
uniqueness as the Aztecs would experience a similar "marvellous
realism" as the Haitians. This is another way in which the Jennings text
speaks to the non‑Indian.
the Aztec society was doomed to failure. It had too many enemies all around,
it was too rigid to accomodate change, and its religion could not continue to
expect human sacrifices forever. That the Spaniards precipitated its demise in
a most cruel and bloody manner is not excusable, however, and that clash has
raised the many questions that still trouble the student of history or
literature. Todorov and Jennings in their respective books acknowledge these
facts, and both attempt to raise and answer some of the tough questions on
morality, civilization, and otherness. Whatever natural human weaknesses might
have eventually doomed the Aztecs, their fate at the hands of the Spaniards
could not have been more tragic. The Mayan woman ~o whom Todorov dedicates his
book is only a symbol of the Other and his/her miserable fate: "She is
not raped as a Spanish woman might have been in time of war; she is thrown to
the dogs because she is both an unconsenting woman and an Indian woman"
(247). He goes on to say that our dream of the noble savage win always be
sterile because "the savage is dead or assimilated" (97). There was
a primitiveness about the world in 1492, but it was not just in the human
sacrifices of Mexico. It was just as pronounced in the heart of every European
with designs on the new continent. Could they have been more moral to satisfy
Kohlberg's definition? "The question 'why be moral' is a question about
the meaningfulness of one's existence as a rational being" (Kohlberg
322). Are today's "powers that be" any more rational or moral than
the conquistadors? Aijiz Ahmed used to think so until he discovered that his
Anglo intellectual colleague considered him an Other, not universal, thus
inferior. No amount of statistical data on his native India can convince a
Jameson that India is not a third world country (Ahmad 78‑80). As Mixth
wraps up his story in Aztec, he makes reference to Martin, the son of Cortes
and Malintzin, Cortes's first translator and lover. Martin represents the new
race of mestizos "the colored of cheap, watered‑down chocolate.
That may be the future..." (7 5 6).
Aijaz. "Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the National Allegory." The
Post‑Colonial Studies Reader, B. Ashcroft, et al, eds. London:
Routledge. (77). 1995.
Jacques S.. "Of the Marvellous Realism of the Haitians." The PostColonial
Studies Reader B. Ashcroft, et al, eds.. London: Routledge (194).1995.
Terry. "The Representation of the Indigene." The PostColonial
Snidies Render, B. Ashcroft, et al, eds.. London: Routledge. (232). 1995.
John. "Profile: Paul Karl Feyerabend‑‑The Worst Enemy of
Science." Scientific American 36‑7. May 1993.
Jennings, Gary. A7tec New
York: Atheneum. 1980.
Lawrence. The Philosophy of Moral Development San Francisco:
Harper& Rowe. 1981.
Parkman, Francis. The
Oregon Trail New York: Signet. 1978.
Todorov, Tzvetan. The
Conquest of America New York: Harper & Rowe. 1984.
The Indigenous as the Malleable Other Doomed to
paper examines the dialogue of the texts Aztec by Gary Jennings, a
historical novel; and The Conquest of America by Tzvetan Todorov, a
history of the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean Islands and Mexico. Jennings'
novel is the story of Mixtli, a lower‑middle class Mexica Indian who in
his middle seventies is summoned by the Spanish Bishop of Mexico to narrate
the history of his people in detail by request of King Carlos of Spain. The
novel is an epic along the lines of James Clavell's Shogun While Aztec
paints a detailed and intimate picture of what it must have been like to
be a part of the great Aztec civilization just before and through the
conquest, Todorov details the conquest itself from many of the same sources as
Jennings' but does not offer much information on the civilization of the
questions that this paper hopes to answer are derived from the fact that both
books agree in their condemnation of the genocide committed by the Spaniards.
The books are complementary to each other in depicting the thriving Indian
culture and its subsequent conquest, destruction, and replacement. What forces
dictate that colonialism be genocidal versus simply domineering? What was the
moral obligation of the church then and now toward the victims of the
conquest? What would have become of the Aztec civilization had the Spaniards
never conquered/killed them? What primal differences are there between the
Indians and the Caucasians that allow the latter to conquer and destroy the
former? What is the criteria for "civilized" and
"uncivilized" up to and including today's first world and third
questions are answered through analysis of the two texts and supporting texts
and articles such as Francis Parkman's The Oregon Trail. Several of the
articles in The Post‑Colonial Reader indicate that the "othering"
of the indigenes was a way of dehumanizing them and thus subjugating them to
perpetual inferiority. The Aztecs, sometimes compared to ancient Greece, stood
the best chance to withstand the conquest, but they, too, were defeated and
are a mere remnant in today's Mestizo who continues to be thrown into a daze
even by today's benign racism.
The Quashing of the
Duplication oKapanese Fortune;
is definitely a tentative plan. I am interested in examining the phenomenon of
the development of the European arrogance and the subsequent presumption by
European explorers and colonialists that nonwhite cultures are inferior. It
may be accepted that to Westernized peoples non‑Western cultures are
undesirable (but for internalized racism, it would also be vice‑versa)
for, indeed, apples and oranges cannot be compared. But the arrogance is in
not having left the non‑European peoples undisturbed. The conquest and subsequent
widespread propagation of dehumanizing misinformation about how
"stupid" and "inferior" the people of color were
(especially the natives of the "new world") robbed these people of
their true evolutionary destiny. Had they been left undisturbed by the
colonialists could they have become a worldclass power much like the
homogeneous and autonomous Japanese7
propose to use Francis Parkman's The Oregon Trail and Jennings"
and Aztec as the two texts in
I consider Parkman's book a good example of how easy it became to popularize a
of negative myths about the natives of North America by cavalierly dismissing
and uncivilized, etc. ‑ comparing apples to oranges. Jennings, on the
other hand, researched
the Aztec culture and has it speaking eloquently as to its uniqueness and
of its own, including implications of its great potential as a
world‑class power. Other texts I
use are Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Tzvqajj's conquest of
America, and several other
What other, more effective, approach could I take to a dialogue between
American natives like the Aztecs and the perpetrators of their near
annihilation and subsequent (seemingly irreversible) bastardization?
Project Progress Report
only progress I have made so f a r is to search the UH‑Central library
catalog (computer?) for book titles that may contain information pertaining to
my topic which is Aztec/Mexican Indians in dialogue with European
settlers/conquerors. I found a large selection of titles under the subject
heading of "Imperialism." I checked out several books, but I have not
had time to really preview them. I am also rereading Gary Jennings' Aztec ,
extensively researched ("twelve years in the making") and published in
1980, 761 pages; and I am reexamining Francis Parkman's Ihe,_ Oregon ImiL
originally published in 1849. 1 am beginning to consider replacing Parkman with Todorov'sThe
Conquest of America
am still comfortable with my thesis and my choice of texts. I will begin
extensive note‑taking following my out‑of‑town trip this
weekend, so by July 20 1 expect to have worked through a fairly thorough outline
of the paper. I am not a fast reader, so the reading for this class has been
more than I am comfortable with, b t I will be caught up by July 16 and
will make faster progress.
have settled on the thesis that was described in my original proposal) which is
basically that the Aztec civilization is an example of a thriving Indian culture
which could have evolved into a modern or future first‑world
country"but for the destructiveness and greed of the European conquerors. I
am looking through the selected texts and essays for information that might
support this thesis, but I expect to have to infer and extrapolate much
information due to the speculative nature of my thesis.
Of the several texts I
have borrowed, I feel that The Spanish in America 1513‑197% edited
by Arthur A. Natella Jr., could prove useful. Also, After Colonialism, edited
by Gyan Pakash, seems to have some interesting essays that perhaps I can use.
The following is a partial bibliography just to give you an idea of the
direction I have taken so far:
Identity On Latin America UNESCO. 1985. Hertian,dez‑Gutierrez,
Manuel de Jesus. El colonialismo Interno en la Narrativa Ch*canas El Barrio,
el Anti‑Barrio y el Exterior, Bilingual Press: Tempe, AZ. 1994.
Jennings, Gary. Aztec Atheneum:
New York. 1980. Kershner, Frederick, Jr., ed. Tocqueville's Americae The
Great Quotations Ohio UP: Athens, OR 1983.
Jose C. Salazar
Dear Jose, Fine work,
especially considering the duress you're working under, so thanks for staying
the course and continuing to write as well as I expect you to. My only technical
complaints can be found in the margins. Altogether the most impressive quality
in the essay is how well you mediate between different critics and theorists (as
well as Jennings the novelist). You show that you read and remember well when
you cite the support of one voice, cite another to contest that first, then cite
yet a third voice to back up the second. You do something like this two or three
times in your paper, and it's fairly rare to see it. I know when I was in your
shoes that my profs tended to be impressed when I could do this now and then,
and now I'm in their shoes and feeling the same way.
Thanks for putting up with
me and Jacky the other night. I felt bad that I ran down Catholic population
practices‑‑I think it's true that they must be criticized, but
whatever cannot be spoken with a gentle and generous spirit is not truth, I
think the Buddha said.
I appreciated your
sticking around to talk with me the other night, and you and your family have
been on my mind. I was especially struck by your distinction between the
attitudes Rodriguez noted in his father as Indian attitudes and the attitudes of
your own father as Spanish. Suddenly I felt, I can't believe that I was teaching
this guy about Latino literature last semester; such distinctions are so
repressed in the United States (at least in the south, where the sexual
interaction of the dominant and repressed culture are at least nominally
different) that I couldn't have conceived of what you said until I heard it from
you (not that it was outlandish, just unfamiliar). My first point was, thanks
for putting up with what must be numerous blunders and insensitivities on my
part. My second point would be, consider this division between Spanish and
Indian traits as a possible topic for a thesis here. If I don't know about it,
certainly many others don't. It's probably an accepted feature of discourse in
Mexico, but how much does that discourse continue in the United States, where
virtually all comers from Mexico are simply Mexicans instead of this or that
side of the nation's genesis?
One more thing, though I
won't go into it. The more I read Todorov, the less I think he really sees the
Indians of Mexico and instead falls into typical European othering practices.
That is, the way he describes the Indian of Mexico conforms so to the way
Europeans see all others that I sometimes wonder if he was capable of actually
perceiving what was unique about their cultures instead he seems to force them
into his pre‑existing categories for oral/ritual peoples, as you
intimated. I'm not sure how to resolve this. Well, we'll talk more, I hope. God
bless you and your family in the coming months. project grade: