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Performing the Zaachila Word: The Dominican Invention of Zapotec Christianity

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Performing the Zaachila Word
e Dominican Invention of Zapotec Christianit y
David Tavárez
DOI: ./.c
In , almost  years aer the printing of the rst Zapotec doctrinal text, the
Dominican Cristóbal de Agüero thought he had at last found a truly persuasive
argument for conversion. In that year he published Misceláneo espiritual, a Valley
Zapotec work more than  pages long. In the introduction (Agüero , Av),
he asserted that this volume, likely compiled with the help of Zapotec assistants,
was ticha nallahui, “the word in the middle” or “the communal word.” In a ight of
fancy that exceeded Baroque exuberance, he also claimed these Christian teachings
were ticha Zaachilla, or the word of Zaachila—a pre-Columbian and decidedly
pagan Zapotec state.
Four decades later, Agüero’s inventive pact with Zapotec history came apart.
During the seventeenth century, in spite of Dominican eorts, idolatry trans-
gressions in Oaxaca had emerged both as grave ecclesiastical matters and pitched
contests over public order. While a  multiethnic uprising in Tehuantepec had
political and economic roots (Zeitlin ), Dominican and civil justice inquiries
into native devotions triggered two insurrections—a minor one in Zoogocho in
 and a riot in San Francisco Caxonos in , which began with the deaths of
two Zapotec informants and ended with the execution of een insurrects (Alcina
Franch ; Gillow ). Two years later the Benedictine Ángel Maldonado,
bishop of Oaxaca, conducted a painstaking assessment of Dominican evangeliza-
tion. His  initiative, the largest single campaign against idolatry in Spanish
America, deeply impacted the Dominicans, as their perceived failures supported
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) and linguists (e.g., Anderson and Lillehaugen ; Broadwell , ;
Foreman and Lillehaugen ; Sonnenschein ) have engaged in a close his-
torical and philological analysis of a deep colonial archive that contains hundreds of
mundane, ecclesiastic, and civil records in Zapotec languages. ree websites have
also made an important contribution to Zapotec studies: Oudijk  is a useful
online search tool for Juan de Córdova’s Spanish-Zapotec dictionary; Oudijk 
features transcriptions, and many analytical translations, of most documents in the
colonial Northern Zapotec corpus; and Lillehaugen et al.  provides linguistic
analyses of Córdova’s Zapotec grammar, Levanto’s catechism, and colonial Valley
Zapotec documents.
is chapter provides a rst overview of the colonial Zapotec Christian corpus
in its entirety. Colonial Zapotec lexicography primarily addressed three language
groupings: two branches, Valley and Northern, and a third, Isthmus, with no cover-
age of a fourth, Southern Zapotec. e most authoritative colonial Valley Zapotec
dictionary and grammar were compiled by the Dominican Juan de Córdova (a,
b) as a Vocabulario and an Arte, respectively. e only comparative grammar
of Valley and Northern Zapotec was Gaspar de los Reyes’s  [] Gramática,
while Juan Martín’s (n.d.) Nexitzo Zapotec Bvcabulario was a manual for Spanish
speakers. Four manuscripts demonstrate the resourcefulness of Dominicans as
grammarians: Alonso Martínez’s ( []) Manual breve; the eighteenth-
century Arte de Lengua Zapoteca (n.d.), attributed to Leonardo de Levanto; the
anonymous  Quaderno de Ydioma Zapoteco del Valle (n.d.); and Juan Francisco
Torralba’s  Arte Zaapoteco. Finally, Antonio Peñael ( []) published
an anonymous grammar, along with a grammatical treatise by Andrés Valdespino.
Table . lists fourteen extant catechetical sources, excluding grammars and dic-
tionaries, all authored by Dominicans except for Pacheco de Silva’s Doctrina. e
earliest and most inuential source was Pedro de Feria’s  Doctrina; as we have
seen, Agüero’s  Misceláneo was an encyclopedic imprint. e only catechism
published in a Northern Zapotec variant, Nexitzo, was Francisco Pacheco de Silvas
 Doctrina, reprinted in , , and . Two eclectic manuscripts recorded
prayers, sermons, and examples. Parábolas, a remarkable collection of sermons and
moral examples, is attributed to Pedro de la Cueva (n.d.). Hispanic Society of
America NS  (henceforth HSA-Gramática) contains Rosary songs, a confes-
sional guide, the Athanasian Creed, the Rosary prayer known as camándula, and
nineteen sermons. While one section, a Zapotec grammar, is attributed to Antonio
del Pozo, the authorship of other sections is unclear. Leonardo de Levanto’s 
Cathecismo, printed in  but with licenses granted in , contains a catechism,
an extended catechetical dialogue, and Rosary songs. Arte en lengua zaapoteca del
balle, a Valley Zapotec anonymous grammar, catechism, and confessional sketch,
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T .. e extant catechetical corpus in colonial Zapotec
de Silva
Mex 882,
1766 [1732]
nario ca.
undated TOTAL
Valley Valley Valley Valley Valley Northern Northern Valley Valley Valley Valley Valley,
Valley 
Yes Yes, by Pozo Yes Yes Yes Yes
Catechism Yes Yes Yes; as
Yes Yes; as
Yes Yes; as
in various
Yes Yes Yes Yes Valley
Sermons    
Exempla   
    
ticha xooni,
“words of
    
of Saint
sustained through ninety brief Marian songs (thirty-eight of them printed). As
suggested by the size of this corpus and its reliance on manuscripts, an important
tension existed between Dominican determination to create a devotional literature
and the availability of printed works and missionaries uent in indigenous lan-
guages. In , for thirty-three Oaxacan parishes, only thirty-two ministers and
seven ecclesiastics at the cathedral knew indigenous languages; most knew Nahuatl,
and fourteen knew some Zapotec (García Pimentel , ; for a full discus-
sion, see van Doesburg ).
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Dominican authors and their indigenous coauthors might have shared a sense
of what constituted a compelling rhetorical performance. Nevertheless, no colonial
examples of rhetorical devices deployed by Zapotec writers survive other than ritual
songs devoted to ancestors and deities (Tavárez , , ) and the rhetoric
employed in close to  extant colonial petitions, letters, and wills in Zapotec.
Nancy Farriss (, , ) argued that since Dominican Zapotec texts frequently
employed devices present in other Mesoamerican oral genres—morphological,
syntactic, and semantic parallelism—these features must be based in preconquest
Zapotec oratory. Farrisss exemplary work has shown the way for further research
on rhetorical devices and metaphors in Valley Zapotec doctrinal texts. Following
this lead, my chapter takes a step towards a more thorough comparison of pastoral
literature with texts written by Zapotec ritual specialists, and sketches a few pos-
sibilities for the large mundane text corpus.
e Dominicans’ regimented approach to catechesis in Central Mexico echoed
the focus on close scrutiny of translation and orthodox use of Scripture mandated
by the Council of Trent (). Hence, major sixteenth-century catechetical
works by New Spain Dominicans communicated Christian teachings through
carefully ordered schema and presented biblical teachings indirectly, through
narrative preaching. e Zapotec Doctrina by Feria (, v–v) followed this
trend through an orderly presentation of ticha nalij, “true words,” into ve capi-
tal sayings” (cayo quiquie ticha). Remarkably, it listed in rst place not the canoni-
cal prayers but the Fourteen Articles of the Faith (chitaa xibaa); aerward came
the Apostle’s Creed and then the Pater Noster, Hail Mary, and Salve Regina. Since
there was little innovation in the Valley Zapotec catechetical vocabulary aer
Feria, his Doctrina established the canonical words Zapotecs were to perform to
be counted as Christian. Credit for this achievement also belongs to Bernardo de
Albuquerque, bishop of Oaxaca in the period , as in his prologue Feria (,
iii, v) indicated that his work was assisted by “the doctrina that Your Excellency
[Albuquerque] made in that same Zapotec language.”
Albuquerque’s and Feria’s seminal catechism did venture references to Zapotec
beliefs that bore parallels with Christian ones. is refashioning was congruent
with Bartolomé de las Casas’s (, ) opinion that all peoples had access to
God and natural knowledge and that pagan practices were imperfect forms of
Christian ones. Both Feria and the  Dominican Nahuatl Doctrina cautiously
engaged with native cosmologies by deploying native terms for a Christian universe.
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A division into Sky, Earth, and Underworld was an important feature of Zapotec
cosmology. Until the eighteenth century, Northern Zapotecs employed the biyee, a
-day divinatory count that merged time with space by associating each of twenty
-day periods with three cosmological regions: yoo yeche lao yoo (Earth), yoo yebaa
(Sky), and yoo cabilla (Underworld; Tavárez , ). Dominicans borrowed
these names to describe Sky as a quehui lani quiebaa, or “palace inside the sky,” while
humans lived in “the community (on) Earth” (yeche lao yoo, queche layoo).
A comparison of Zapotec translations with those employed in Nahuatl reveals
crucial divergences, particularly regarding sin, the Devil, and idolatry. In Nahuatl,
the Devil was designated with a sorcerer’s title, tlacatecolotl, “human horned owl”
(as translated in Burkhart , ), while Dominicans boldly selected Bezelao,
ruler of the Zapotec Underworld (Smith-Stark ), as a referent for the Devil.
Bezelao remained a bivalent term bridging two cosmologies, and its constant recur-
rence in catechesis allowed Zapotecs to engage with him as both Devil and deity.
While “sinin Nahuatl became tlahtlacolli, something damaged or o-balance
(Burkhart , ), this concept was translated into Zapotec through four
terms: to(l)la, tee, quia, and xihui. While any preconquest semantic link among
these terms is not well documented, Córdova (b, r, v, v, v) glossed
the rst three as “guilt,xihui as “injury” or “suspicion” (v, v), “evil” as tee or
tola, and “iniquity” as quia or tee (see also Schrader-Knii and Yannakakis ).
Tol a originally referred to a preconquest Zapotec ceremony that Dominicans iden-
tied as a practice resembling Christian confession (see also Madajczak’s chapter,
this volume). As Córdova (b, v) observed, penitents twisted strands from a
plant called tòla into short rope lengths, which they placed before a ritual specialist
as depictions of their transgressions (Burgoa  [], vol. , ).
A remarkable characteristic of Feria’s Doctrina (gure .) is its sustained focus
on a denunciation of Zapotec idolatry, in contrast with the occasional treatment of
this topic in Dominican catechesis in Nahuatl—as in the  Dominican Doctrina
or in Domingo de la Anunciación’s  Doctrina. Ferias (, v, r) transla-
tion for idolatry was memorable: “the manufacture and the teachings of stone dei-
ties and wooden deities” (quela huezaa, quela huecete bitoo quie, bitoo yàga). is
phrase demarcated a line between an idolatrous past and a Christian present and
used an important Zapotec verbal derivational process to ridicule the ancestors for
heeding the teachings of false gods. Ferias translation departed signicantly from
the Nahuatl rendering of “idolatry” as “following something as a deity(tlateoto-
quiliztli) and placed a greater emphasis on idolatry than did his correligionaries in
their Nahuatl Doctrina (Dominican Order , v, v, r, r). Ferias refer-
ences to stone and wood were rooted in Isaiah :, : , Jeremiah :,
and Habakkuk :, which mocked idolaters’ wishes to fashion stone and wood
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into deities (Halbertal and Margalit ). Feria also argued that the epidemics that
decimated the natives were God’s punishment for idolatry, in which he behaved as
a husband forced to discipline his unfaithful wife, thus echoing the denunciation of
Israel as God’s unfaithful consort in Ezekiel : and Hosea :.
rough the deployment of adaptations of the ideas of omas Aquinas and Luis
de Granada, Feria embraced a daring approach to catechesis that departed from the
more orthodox work of Nahuatl-speaking Dominicans and shared similarities with
Figure 1.2. Feria
on idolatry’s origins,
Doctrina christiana
en lengua castellana y
çapoteca (1567), 60v.
Courtesy of the John
Carter Brown Library,
Brown University,
Providence, RI.
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the strategies of early Dominicans in Highland Maya communities (Sparks )
and also with those of the Franciscans of Central Mexico. Feria’s discussion of idola-
try stands out as a sophisticated narrative that worked at two levels. For neophytes,
it was a seamless account of idolatrys origins; for Dominicans in the know, it dis-
tilled into Zapotec the opinions of the inuential Dominican theologian omas
Aquinas without crediting its source (for a detailed discussion of Feria’s doctrine on
the origins of idolatry, see Tavárez .)
In his Summa theologiae (Secunda Secundae, uaestio ), Aquinas (,
) discussed two causes of idolatry: one that issued from human nature and
actions (dispositiva) and the other resulting from actions of the Devil (consum-
mativa). Furthermore, Aquinas divided the dispositiva into three motivations: the
disordered love between parents and children that caused them to make images
to remind them of their beloved dead, the worship of carefully craed images,
and ignorant worship that focused on the beauty and power of earthly creatures.
Aquinas used Wisdom : as the inspiration for the dispositiva: “For a father being
aicted with bitter grief, made to himself the image of his son who was quickly
taken away: and him who then had died as a man, he began now to worship as a god,
and appointed him rites and sacrices among his servants.” is was Feria’s (,
r) adaptation of Aquinas’s discussion:
Cotobi loo còca cicatij, quelani toti beni natij xinì nachijni: chicani tebela còti xinini
nachijni, citao tete pelacelachini, chela piñaxoolàchini, niateni xiquela côti xini
nachijni: [. . .] cani naca cî quie, naca cî yaga penichàhuini tobi loâ, tobi bennabi
xiteni quettoo xînini, laaca loà canî, bennabi canî copachahui lichini: niani ca[n]nani
looni, cica yobi xinini copalachini beni cani loà canî, laaca bennabi canî pebaquini,
e rst [cause] was thus: because of a person who dies and is a beloved child, so that,
if his dear son died, he was extremely sad, and he was irascible because of the death of
his beloved child . . . But vainly, he fashioned well from stone and wood an image, a
representation of his child's tomb. And he kept well in his house one mere image, one
depiction so that, before it, that very child was thus in the person’s heart, but merely
an image. And he set up a mere depiction, and he grew very animated.
Ferias translation stressed the emotions cited by Aquinas: the father in the narrative
citao tete pelacelachini, “was extremely sad.” is verb is closely related to a Christian
reading on Zapotec emotions, as Córdova (b, r) glossed it as “to become con-
trite,” as a sinner must do to confess his transgressions.
Feria’s appropriation of Aquinas was a landmark moment in the embrace of
omistic teachings by Dominicans and Franciscans in the middle years of the
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sixteenth century. As noted in Sparks and Sachse’s chapter in this volume, in 
the Dominican Domingo de Vico draed a theological treatise in K’iche’an lan-
guages that was based in part on Aquinass Summa. In Central Mexico, the inuential
Franciscan scholar Bernardino de Sahagún also turned to Aquinas in his appendix to
Book I of the Florentine Codex, an encyclopedic work on Nahua history, language,
and society compiled between the late s and the late s. While the main con-
tents of Book I described the faculties and appearance of Nahua deities and some of
the observances held in their honor, the appendix turned to a lengthy refutation of
idolatry in Nahuatl. Like Feria, Sahagún (, Book I, , ) emphasized
the falsity of wooden idols, provided a loose adaptation of Aquinas’s argument on
the two causes of idolatry, and cited Wisdom  in support of his argument. Unlike
Feria, Sahagún focused on Aquinass discussion of human nature as a cause, such as
the remembrance of the dead and the beauty of painted and sculpted images, even
if he did characterize the sway of false deities over the Nahua as the work of the
Devil. In the end, Feria did go further in terms of his appropriation of Aquinas’s
work: while Vico’s and Sahagún’s omistic commentaries remained in manuscript
form, Feria became the rst author to disseminate in print, but without a citation,
Aquinas’s thought translated into an Amerindian language.
Moreover, Feria also drew inspiration from Luis de Granada, an acclaimed but
controversial Dominican author. In doing so, he followed a similar path to the one
chosen by Franciscans authors who translated into Nahuatl works associated with
two worship traditions: the devotio moderna (modern devotion) and the contemp-
tus mundi (contempt of the world). In the s or s, Franciscans and native
coauthors at the Colegio de Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco worked on a rst Nahuatl
version of the devotio moderna’s most inuential work, omas à Kempis’s On the
Imitation of Christ (Escorial d.iv.; JCB Codex Ind. ). Even if this translation
remained in manuscript form (see Bautista Viseo , preface), the Franciscan
Juan Bautista Viseo adapted into Nahuatl two popular works about meditation and
the repudiation of worldly things: Granada’s Libro de la oración y meditación and
the Franciscan Diego de Estella’s  Contemptu mundi, translated into Spanish as
Libro de las vanidades del mundo (Tavárez ).
Ferias incursion into the “contempt of the world” tradition was brief but memo-
rable—and it provided a compelling opening for his Doctrina. In a striking move,
Feria began by fulminating against beni yaca q[ui]quieni, yaca lachini, cana xe
q[ue]la queche lao yo nabaquixolachini, “people without heads or hearts, who only
care about worldliness, thus coining a neologism, quela queche lao yo, for worldli-
ness. Two folios later, Feria oered an evocative sermon on the nature of the soul
(rendered conservatively with the Spanish term ánima) and of the body (pelalati,
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Ferias sermon on the misery of the body and the beauty of the soul, shown below,
is an amalgam of at least three sources: the Gospels, a work by Granada, and early
modern metaphors for the Trinity and the body of Christ. e rst one is what
Feria claimed as his source, the “doctrine of Saint Paul.” Although he cites no spe-
cic passage, the reference suggests Feria had in mind Paul’s letters to the Romans
(:), in which Paul reasons that even when he has a will to do good, the “law
of sin” is present in his own body, leading him to conclude, “I myself, with the mind
serve the law of God; but with the esh, the law of sin.
But Feria’s cardinal innovation was to render in Zapotec disparaging terms for
the body, inspired by Granada’s exceedingly popular Libro de la oración y medit-
ación. is volume, which included meditations to be read each day of the week,
was rst published in  in Salamanca; in subsequent editions, three sermons on
the virtues of prayer were added (Cuervo , ). is work’s popularity merited
at least eleven editions until it was added to the rst inquisitorial Index of  upon
suspicions of opinions tainted by iluminismo, or devotions that stressed direct com-
munication with God for all members of society (Llorca Vives , ). Granada
corrected his work quickly, and by  a revised reprinting of the Libro had been
approved (Cuervo , ). Inquisitorial doubts had little impact on the
transatlantic circulation of Granada’s works, as documented by Irving Leonard
( [], ), who noted the presence of the Libro and other Granada volumes
in the manifestos of ships bound for Peru and Mexico.
As seen below, Feria’s text hinges on a powerful metaphor: that the human body
and soul are like a tallow candle, where the tallow (zaa) is esh while the wick (too)
stands for the soul. Feria’s description of the body as hygo, “to be fetid,” was appar-
ently inspired by Granada’s references to the body as “foul-smelling” (hediondo) in
a meditation for Tuesday nights. e semantic and syntactic similarities between
these texts are highlighted below in bold:
Feria , v–r Granada , v
us is the soul itself: it is hidden
and seated inside the body. It is not
apparent. And also the soul itself
makes the body live and moves it. If
the body has no soul, it does not have
its own spirit, but is just dead. [e
body] will not move, will not walk,
will not see, will not feel . . . [e body]
did not make its life with blood, but it
just lies like stone or wood . . .
And I would like you to see with
a good set of eyes the very body
of man (whom men so esteem
and vaunt): how it is, beautiful as
it may seem from the outside. Tell
me, I beg you, what is the human
body, if not a damaged vessel,
which turns sour and corrupts any
essences poured into it?
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Feria , v–r Granada , v
And another thing also: the tallow is
dirty, it is fetid; it smells. And thus,
dirty and fetid is the body; it smells.
What is the body but dung, but
putrefaction? Do you wish to know
what our body is? Beware of what
comes out of  our mouths—and our
noses, and our eyes, and our ears—of
all the things we produced. It is all
dung, rancidness, putrefaction, all
of it is very dirty and very fetid.
What is the human body but a dung
heap covered with snow, which seems
white on the outside but is full of lth
within? Is there another dung heap
as dirty as this one? Is there so dirty
a cesspool elsewhere that lets o
such things through all of its drains?
Trees, plants, and some animals give o
gentle smells, but such things come out
of man, that he seems to be nothing
but a spring of lth.
e similarities between Granada and Feria are striking: just as Granada exhorts
his readers to “see with a good set of eyes the very body of man,” Feria asks, “Do
you wish to know what our body is? Beware of what comes out of our mouths,
using an unusual verb, canachahuyyobito, which compels Zapotecs to beware of
the lth their own bodies produce. While Granada’s human body is “a dung heap
covered with snow,” “a cesspool,” and “a spring of lth,” Feria’s human body is oach-
aba nàcani, “always dirty,cani quixi nacani, cani q[ue]la tocho nacani, “but dung,
but putrefaction,and q[ui]xi . . . q[ue]la nixiñe, q[ue]la tocho, “dung, rancidness,
Moreover, Feria’s use of a candle and its wick as metaphors for body and soul
aligned with a common early modern metaphor for Christ’s body. In his discus-
sion on the feast of the Purication of Mary in the Legenda aurea, the Dominican
Jacobus de Voragine contended that a candle’s wick, wax, and ame “signify three
things about Christ: the wax is a sign of his body, which was born of the Virgin
Mary without corruption of the esh, as bees make honey without mingling with
each other; the wick signies his most pure soul, hidden in his body; the re or the
light stands for his divinity, because our God is a consuming re” (Voragine ,
). e signicance of wax, wick, and ame as a tripartite sign for Christ recurs
in Ludolph of Saxony’s inuential Vita Jesu Christi. In his discussion of the presen-
tation of Jesus at the temple, Ludolph argued that these elements are none other
than Christ’s “esh, soul, and true divinity” (caro, anima, et deitas vera; Ludolph of
Saxony , ). Feria’s sermon took a dierent path, as it referred to the candle’s
ame (quela piani). Having noted that this ame originates in the wick, not the tal-
low, Feria contended that it stands for the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
Feria could not simply credit Aquinas and Granada as sources. As dictated by
the First () and ird () Mexican Church Council, before being printed,
catechetical works in indigenous languages had to be approved by language experts
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and bear the bishop’s license (Lorenzana a, b). Given previous inquisito-
rial doubts about Granada, misdirection was a prudent policy. In listing the source
of his sermon on body and soul as derived from Saint Paul, Feria avoided further
scrutiny. He was not the only missionary to stealthily translate Granada into a
Mesoamerican language. In , the prolic Franciscan author Juan Bautista
Viseo published a rst work” called Libro de la miseria y breuedad de la vida del
hombre,e Book of the Misery and Brevity of Man’s Life.” e volume contained
a Nahuatl gloss and adaptation of Granada’s  Libro de la oración, as the ve trea-
tises in Bautista Viseo’s book were based, without attribution, on ve of Granada’s
seven nocturnal meditations.
As shown by Feria’s Doctrina, Dominicans faced a tension between presenting Zapotec
and Christian cosmologies as separate while framing Christianity through con-
cepts Zapotecs would recognize as authoritative. Paradoxically, Dominican authors
employed ever more inventive strategies throughout the seventeenth century, at a
time when Counter-Reformation policies resulted in a closer scrutiny of catechesis.
Few colonial Amerindian sources contain the range of exempla found in
Parábolas, an early seventeenth-century miscellanea attributed to the Dominican
Pedro de la Cueva. ese seventy-one exempla were modeled aer “peasant cus-
toms”; for instance, people who gossip, bear false witness, or commit lascivious
acts were depicted as snakes, scorpions, spiders, or skunks (Cueva n.d., v, v, r
and v, r, r, v). Several exempla were rooted in Mesoamerican practices.
Deer hunting with a bow was likened to Christ’s hunt for souls, and digging sticks
and axes for sowing were compared to the Rosary as an instrument for Christian
labor. e sweat bath’s (yaa) eects on the body were compared to the impact of
penitence on a sinner’s soul (Cueva n.d., r, r, r.). Cueva (n.d., v–v) also
contains eight salutations that scripted how a native governor should welcome a
priest, the priest’s response, and other dialogues. As idealized performances, they
bear parallels with huehuetlahtolli, the Nahua dialogues known as “elder words”
(Bautista Viseo ).
In a bolder move, Dominicans deployed an ersatz version of collective memories
about the preconquest Zapotec state of Zaachila, the most powerful Postclassic state
in the Valley and Isthmus of Oaxaca (Zeitlin ). According to the Dominican
chronicler Burgoa, the Zaachila ruler Cosijoeza conquered Tehuantepec not long
before the Spanish conquest. Aerward, Cosijoeza abdicated his rulership and
returned to Zaachila, but his son Cosijopij, baptized don Juan Cortés, would
later be accused of orchestrating idolatries in Mitla (Burgoa  [], vol. ,
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). During the seventeenth century, Zapotecs held on to exalted memories
about Zaachila. A rendering of the Zaachila royal dynasty appeared in the picto-
rial document group known as the Lienzo de Petapa and Lienzo de Guevea, and
Zaachila rulers were also referenced in the Genealogy of Macuilxochitl, the Map of
Macuilxochitl, the Genealogy of uialoo, and the Lienzo de Santa Cruz Papalutla
(Oudijk and van Doesburg ).
Agüero, vicar of Zaachila in the s, astutely revisited the collective remem-
brance of Zaachila as a powerful seat for preconquest lineages. As previously shown,
Agüero placed his reference to Zaachila in the introduction to his  Misceláneo,
which also drew two crucial contrasts: one between the Christian word and “the
ancient word” (ticha collaza) and the second between “the ancient word” and ticha
Zaachilla, “the Zaachila word”:
Aca laati cica naca ticha golla, ticha collaza, ninoocha nolliiee yoola guixila nacani,
aca nabiixi nareela, aca nanaaze nagaana, aca nacco xaaba naca ticha quee, yaca
xinni ya ziilootito, ya cozaacato cica rij ticha cani. Canna xe ticha zaa, ticha zaachi-
illa, cannaa ticha naaoo nagoochi, canaa nataa nayoolle, canna xe ticha nallahui
nacani . . . nizooaaca quinnij chahui quiraato zaa niguiiola, zaa gonnaala zaa Pirooze
pigaanala, zaa pinni huiinila zaa ni huayaaca golla gooxoni, zaabeeca zeechaacuee
benni, ni cachee cachee xiaa xiaa naca xtichani, lazigaa nayaaga, lazigaa narooba,
natiipa naca xtij tichani, hualiica yògo xenne pe quiraa ni zooaaca quiennichahuini
ticha yyecaa lanni quiichi riini, niiaxteni hualij tete zee quiraa ni cica rabi rinij yobi
benni Indios ni zaa loo Xquehui zaachiilla too. (Agüero , Av)
It is not like the old word, the ancient word, which is covered and shrouded with
earth and weeds [metaphor for “sweepings”]. [is word] is not wrapped up or tied
up, it is not muddy or dicult. Its word is not wrapped in a garment [metaphor
for “parable”]. No, children, do not be harmed, do not suer in this way for that
word. ere is only the Zapotec word, the Zaachila word, only the anointed and
smooth word. Only [this word] is delicate [“delicate” may also mean “sacred”] and
proclaimed, only this word is in the middle [“in the middle” may also mean “univer-
sal”]. It is possible that we all keep [this word] well. [is word] goes to the men, the
women, the youth, and the young men, it goes to the little children. It goes to those
of marriageable age, to the old and elderly, it certainly goes to some other people.
[Zaachila's] word is dierent and distinct, it is thick and strong. [Zaachila's] word
is rm; it is all straight and very large. It is possible to understand well the word and
symbols written on this paper, because all of it is very true. us declare and say the
Indian people who go to our palace of Zaachila.
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Another momentous appropriation of Zapotec cosmology took place as the
Dominicans boldly reclaimed a lexicon used before the conquest to invoke the cre-
ation of the world and name a deity. As omas Smith-Stark (, ) showed in
his analysis of Zapotec deities, Córdova (b, r, v, r, r) noted that
xee and cilla were part of the name of a deity who created humankind, Coqui Xee
Figure 1.3. Christianity as the “Zaachila word”: a section of the
Misceláneo underlined by a reader, with glosses and notes on equivalent
terms in Northern Zapotec. Aero, Misc eláneo espirit ual, A2v. Courtesy
of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Providence, RI.
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Coqui Xilla, and that they referred to both “the beginning of all things” and an
“innite God without a beginning.” Moreover, the HSA-Gramática deployed these
terms in the only Zapotec version of the Athanasian Creed, an explanation of the
Trinity inuenced by Augustinian doctrine, to translate the epithets increatus, “not
created,” and immensus, “without measure” (HSA-Gramática n.d., r).
To evoke the beginning of time, the Dominicans also appropriated the overture
to a Zapotec creation narrative (see Tavárez ). Córdovas  Vocabulario
recorded the earliest attested version of this opening, which used the term paa, “a
short time period, as “in the past, the period of the night, the period of the dark-
ness of dawn” (Petobinaa paa ela paa cahui). Without specifying its origin, Córdova
(b, r) glossed it as “in ancient times, ab ovo.e preamble is part of a cre-
ation account transcribed at the end of two calendrical manuals (Books  and )
from the Northern Zapotec town of Lachixila, and it is the only known version of
this narrative solely formulated by Zapotec writers. A likely author of Book  or 
was the ritual specialist Juan de Vargas, who surrendered a manual in . e
translation below shows in bold terms the Dominicans noticed and appropriated:
gati goca goxogui ga biye cota niza tao cana
coca goge gocila yetze laoo
xo tiola xo cahui xo zila xo tze
gati goca goyepi gobitza goge yetze laoo. etta. (AGI-Mex , r)
When there was the smoke from the nine time periods, the great waters lay
When the lord created the Earth.
Force of the darkness of night (North), Force of the darkness of dawn (South),
Force of the Beginning (East), Force of the Evening (West).
When the sun of the Lord of Earth existed and went up. Etc.
is unique narrative ends with a tantalizing “et cetera,” suggesting that it was only
a partial transcription of a full oral performance.
Lachixila’s remarkable creation tale began with a reference to a grouping of nine
biyee, “time periods,” and described how the Earth cota, “lay itself down.e still-
ness of this moment of creation was invoked through tiola, “darkness of night,” and
cahui, “darkness before dawn,which also stood for the North and South cardinal
points. is account and a related narrative in the Parábolas cite the burning of
oerings through references to goxogui, “smoke,” or pichi, “censers.e momen-
tous rise of “the sun of the Lord of Earth” may have referred to the creation of the
current world, which other Zapotec specialists believed could be endangered by the
rise of another sun: that of Bezelao, Lord of the Underworld.
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e recurrence of terms drawn from this narrative in three seventeenth-century
doctrinal texts suggests Dominicans regarded it as an important oral tradition ripe
for repurposing:
Cueva n.d., v, early seventeenth century, Valley Zapotec
Ticha bá toola baa cahuiy e words of the period of the darkness of
night, the period of the darkness of dawn.
Ana tocichiño tucitáya Here I compose and end.
ni coca xiycillató what our dawn was;
ni coca ba yela, ba tola, ba cahui what the period of the night, the period
of the darkness of night, the period of
the darkness of dawn was;
ni cota nixi ni cozabi nicilla. when eternity lay down, when dawn was
ni coca quita pichi when all the censers were there,
quita bi ba tola ba cahui all the periods of the darkness of night,
the periods of the darkness of dawn.
HSA-Gramática (), r, Valley Zapotec
petobinarij baa eela baa cahui petobica
cuyaapi zaabi xiaanij quijebaa
In the past, the period of the night, the
period of the darkness of dawn.
cotta pechaa layoo All over, the brightness of the sky went
up, and was alo; the earth lay down
and was mixed together.
Pacheco de Silva , r, Northern Zapotec
tzela ba eella, ba xee, ba zijla, ba thiolla,
ba cahuij nixee, nizijla acca ioho ziaani
And the period of the night, the period
of the creation and beginning, the
period of the darkness of night, the
period of the darkness of dawn, the
creation and beginning. He is not like
many deities,
Too tee zi Dios balij Betaao ioho, lani
goioho zeaglij
the one God, the true deity who is and
always was.
In the Parábolas, Cueva borrowed words from the creation narrative so they pro-
vided an opening for a sermon. Cueva’s lead was followed by a sermon on Mary’s
nativity in the HSA-Gramática, preached in “Santo Domingo,a likely reference
to the main Dominican temple in Oaxaca City. Hence, this composition, which
referenced the beginning of creation, would have been performed at one of the
most exalted Christian spaces in colonial Oaxaca, to be recognized by Zapotecs
who may have heard these words in a radically dierent context. Finally, Pacheco de
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Silva used a similar creation preamble to illustrate the eternal nature of the Trinity.
Following Córdova’s example, he did not provide a full translation and tersely
glossed his preamble as ab eterno, “from eternity,” a reference readily understood by
Zapotec audiences that remained opaque for others.
Dominicans combined formal catechesis with devotional songs and theater
from the mid-sixteenth century onward. Dominican chronicler Francisco de
Burgoa ( [], vol. , ; vol. , ) praised his correligionary Vicente
de Villanueva, vicar of Teotitlán del Valle in the s, for narrating “the myster-
ies of our Holy Faith in the poetic meter of the Indians’ language,noting that
this strateg y allowed neophytes to self-catechize, as “the Indians themselves were
actors and preachers.” He also commended his former teacher Melchor de San
Raimundo for a Zapotec verse drama presented at Etla about the martyrdom
of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Moreover, the Dominican Martin Giménez
composed Zapotec devotional plays before his death in  (Peñael , xxix).
None of these works are extant, but they served as precedent for the devotional
songs discussed below.
An anonymous group of Dominicans and natives composed an unusual col-
lection of een “songs of elegant words” (di libana) that introduced Christian
entities. ese songs, now preserved as Books  and  at the Archive of the
Indies, were copied by Zapotec writers who introduced orthographic mistakes in
Spanish (AGI-Mex , r–v, Book ; r–r, Book ). Four of the
songs focused on Mary, four on the nativity and passion of Christ, two on John the
Baptist, and the remainder on various saints. ese compositions, probably copied
in the Northern Zapotec community of Yalahui in the late seventeenth century
(Tavárez , ), were surrendered to Bishop Maldonado. Along with the
Yalahui songs, Book  and Book , two collections of songs that memorial-
ized sacred ancestors and Zapotec deities, were turned in to the bishop by special-
ists from Lachirioag and Yatee. All of these songs are extraordinary, as they possess
important features also found in the celebrated early colonial Nahua songs known
as Cantares mexicanos (Bierhorst ; León Portilla ). Both the Cantares and
the Zapotec songs were performed in public to the beat of a two-tone drum (nica-
chi in Zapotec, teponaztli in Nahuatl), were structured as stanzas divided by inter-
jections, and used syllables to transcribe drumming patterns.
Echoing Agüero’s association of Christianity with Zaachila, a Yalahui song cel-
ebrated Christianity’s arrival as another coming of the Zaachila kingdom:
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bata bida xiquitza dios
bechina zachila dao lachi guiya e bene za e. (AGI-Mex , r)
When God’s riches came,
the great Zaachila arrived, the heart, the place of reeds [origin], oh Zapotec people.
Another Yalahui song referred to the Christian “palace of Heaven” but introduced
a symbol of Mesoamerican rulership: the reed mat for legitimate rulers, as depicted in
Central Mexican pictography (Terraciano , ). ese songs employed par-
allel phrases, as shown below by the repetition of ceagli, “always, perpetually, forever”:
Ceagli naçaca
ceagli nabani yahui lani gueieba
ceagli na guitag yahui lani gueba. (AGI-Mex , v)
Virtue is forever.
e palace inside Heaven rules forever.
e reed mat of the palace inside Heaven is forever.
us, the Dominicans hoped to refashion the Zapotec past into a Christian one by
deploying three referents that resonated in collective memories—mighty Zaachila,
a “place of reeds” that referenced the Postclassic Mesoamerican state of Tollan,
and the rulers’ reed mat.
In an unusual turn, the Yalahui songs also sanitized Zapotec ancestor worship.
e Villa Alta songs from Books  and  were performed to summon ancestors
back to Earth and to memorialize their arrival from the legendary origin of Zapotec
lineages, the “Lake of Blood” (quela tene). For instance, a song in Book , which
cites the feast of “-Monke y and -Soaproot on -Earthquake” (April , ),
described one of several arrivals as/-Reed and /-Knot, lords of the Palace of
Blood.” Moreover, a recurring refrain in these songs declared that “it was the arrival
[or begetting] of the lineages” (coca quela coyeag tia) and that “the grandfather is here”
(chia teye). In an attempt to merge the notion of arriving ancestors with Christian enti-
ties, several of the Yalahui songs bore the refrain “you will return to Earth, Saint Mary,
hallelujah” (gabij lao yo loy Santa M[ari]a alleloya), and one of them, the “Sermon of
Saint Francis,” informed believers that bedahae belah nahho Santo San Fran.c[isc]o, “the
living body of Saint Francis has arrived” (AGI-Mex , r). Aer the seventeenth
century, Zapotec verbal art and traditional rhetoric continued to be deeply hybrid,
as argued by Farriss () and as shown by the late nineteenth-century love songs
published by Arcadio G. Molina (), later studied by the anthropologist Frederick
Starr, and by the insightful analyses of twentieth-century traditional Isthmus Zapotec
speeches by Víctor de la Cruz () and Víctor Cata ().
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A Dominican strategy for teaching Marian devotions focused on the ve joyful,
ve sorrowful, and ve glorious mysteries of the Rosary in Zapotec. is scheme
emphasized self-catechesis through collective singing. To be sure, orthodox musical
performances were an important component of Zapotec Christian practices, as epito-
mized by two examples: the work of the celebrated Zapotec composer Juan Mathías,
who became choirmaster at the Oaxaca cathedral (Rodys ), and a set of Zapotec
plainsong pieces preserved in eighteenth-century choral books at San Bartolo
Ya u t e p e c ( Te l l o ). Nonetheless, the Rosary song cycle, apparently composed in
the seventeenth century, stands out as a deeply hybrid approach, as it embraced both
Zapotec words and Spanish poetic meter and invited all Zapotec Christians to per-
form in public.
Figure 1.4. e
rst three Marian
joyful mysteries.
10v. Courtesy of the
Hispanic Society of
America, New York
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At the end of his Valley Zapotec Cathecismo, composed before , Levanto
(, v, r) published een songs described as “the Consideration of the Mysteries
of the Holy Rosary that ordinarily are sung in the churches of [the Zapotec] nation,
which he attributed to the seventeenth-century Dominican Jacinto Vilches, who
was ordained in  and participated in the  Dominican chapter. is claim
was reinforced by the bibliographer José Beristáin de Souza (, ), who cited
Vilches’s authorship of two manuscripts containing Zapotec Rosary songs.
However, a set of Valley Zapotec Rosary songs also appears in the HSA-Gramática
(see gure .). ese songs dier from those in Levanto on two counts: some of
them have more verses, and they also included ten joyous mysteries for the souls
in Purgatory not found in Levanto. Furthermore, what may be an early version of
Levanto’s First through Fih Sorrowful Mysteries, with verses missing and variant
orthography, is part of an early miscellaneous manuscript located by Wichells in
the eighteenth century and eventually published in Peñael ( [], ).
Hence, there exist three separate Valley Zapotec versions of Rosary songs: in
Wichells’s text (undated), in the HSA-Gramática (seventeenth century), and in
Levanto (ca. ). If Levanto’s and Beristáin de Souza’s claims are accurate, then
Vilches’s Rosary songs were copied in Wichells’s fragments, excerpted and edited
in the HSA-Gramática manuscript, and eventually published in Levanto. Other
scenarios cannot be excluded: these three surviving versions may come from a com-
mon source, or one of them—particularly the HSA-Gramática or the Wichells—
may be early versions of these songs. No other Dominican besides Vilches was
identied in colonial times as these songs’ author, but other friars, including Pozo,
may have participated in their elaboration.
Two more versions of Rosary songs were composed in Northern Zapotec: one
appeared in Pacheco de Silva’s () Doctrina, and the aforementioned Yalahui
songs also addressed Marian mysteries. A comparison of three versions of the rst
joyful mystery, the Annunciation, reveals important dierences:
HSA-Gramática, r-v, seventeenth century, Valley Zapotec
Xquehui bijtoo cozaa From the palace of God le
San Gabriel huechijna too Saint Gabriel, our servant.
loo maria pieni loo He appeared before Mary
nijatenni caca xiñaa so that she would be the mother
quela huezijllaa tonoo. of our redemption.
Coxij quela chapa yoona Virginity, purity were bestowed [on her].
caca xiñaa quela naxi She would be the mother of sweetness.
chijque coropa persona en, the Second Person
Cuyooni lanni xonaxi was placed inside the Lady:
nilijtago xibijtoona He is similar to the deity of us all.
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Pacheco de Silva , r , Northern Zapotec
Yogo netto riloho All of us give
xonee cuiti nij Xonaaxi a quick bow to this lady
nijaquie baneeza goxijlo so that gratitude is bestowed on you.
catti niho leheho naiaari ere, in your clear enclosure [womb]
goreenitaao Xijni Dios the son of God was conceived.
La iella ni beezaalachi erefore, she gave generously
gonnaaba zij gacca netto and only asked that we be
naxij, tzela nataao lachi. sweet and also humble.
AGI-Mex ,  r-v, late seventeenth century, Northern Zapotec
diose xocihe gonabeę gabihi lao yo Oh, God the Father! He commanded,
“Return to Earth!”
cocela tobi cochina guee lao san grabiel He sent one servant rst, Saint Gabriel.
Aleluya Hallelujah!
cana bichina gueane xone lao xina guela
He just arrived to make a bow before the
Mother of Mercy.
gabihi lao yo Return to Earth!
gonae aue ma[ria] e Hail Mary said it.
cana bichinae yahui naçarena lao xina
guela huezalachi.
He just arrived at the palace of the
Nazarene [sic], before the Mother of
gabi lao yo be loy santa Ma[ria] Return to Earth, you, spirit, Saint Mary!
rolohui lao san grabiel Saint Gabriel gives [us] an example.
Aleluya. Hallelujah!
e songs in the HSA-Gramática and Pacheco de Silva were to be sung habitually.
According to the former, joyful mysteries would be performed on Mondays and
ursdays; both sources reserved the sorrowful ones for Tuesdays and Fridays, and
Pacheco de Silva reminded believers that glorious mysteries would be intoned on
Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays (HSA-Gramática, r, v; Pacheco de Silva
, v, r). Except for the Yalahui songs, all Zapotec Rosary songs share a
peculiarity: they shoehorn Zapotec words into the inexible structure of Spanish
octosyllabic verses and attempt a Spanish rhyming scheme. While the verses in
the HSA-Gramática have an abbabcdcdc rhyme scheme, Pacheco de Silva used an
ababcded pattern. A comparable meter, labeled verso mexicano, “Mexican verse,
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was employed in Nahuatl by Joseph Pérez de la Fuente in the early eighteenth
century (Poole , ). Indeed, these newfangled verses may have struck native
speakers as non-idiomatic, since they modied the verb-initial Zapotec syntactic
order and introduced a foreign rhyming scheme.
e Vilches, HSA-Gramática, and Pacheco de Silva songs all focused on
canonical teachings, emphasizing, for instance, that “virginity, purity were
bestowed on Mary (Coxij quela chapa yoona). In contrast, the Yalahui songs
adapted catechesis into a Zapotec ritual genre of pre-Hispanic origin, with char-
acteristic metaphors, parallelisms, and stanza structure (Tavárez , ).
e heterodox Yalahui songs fullled two objectives: their content presented
Christian teachings as an unfolding narrative, perhaps performed in public by
Zapotec actors, and their poetics would have been recognizable by communities
that, having previously celebrated their ancestors’ arrivals, were now expected to
hail Mary’s return to Earth.
Marian devotions played a fundamental role in Zapotec Christianity. e
Dominican chronicler Agustín Dávila Padilla (, ), noted that the rst
confraternities devoted to the Virgin of the Rosary in Mexico City, Puebla, and
Oaxaca were promoted by his correligionary Tomás de San Juan in the late s.
Following in San Juan’s steps, Zapotec catechesis included many references to
the Rosary, and Agüero’s  Misceláneo is one of its most important exhibits.
A set of marginalia in the John Carter Brown Library copy of Agüero provides
title glosses for sixteen exempla and refers to a  Marian miracle compilation
by the Dominican Alonso Fernández (for an insightful discussion of Agüero’s
Marian exempla, see Farriss ). While Agüero’s Exemplum XI is an adapta-
tion of Miracle XXIV from Gonzalo de Berceo’s thirteenth-century Milagros de
Nuestra Señora and he adapted several early Marian narratives, he also extolled
the link between Rosary portents and the Mexican Dominicans. us, Exemplum
XIV recounts how a priest in Tepetlaoztoc revived a dying native by saying the
Rosary to give him a good death, while Exemplum XV relates how three indig-
enous men wearing rosaries were unharmed aer being struck by lightning at
Tepoztlán (Agüero , r–r, r–r). ese narrations appear, among other
sources, in Fernández’s Historia, who identied the priest in the rst exemplum as
the Dominican Domingo de la Anunciación (Dávila Padilla , ; see also
Burkhart , ).
As previously argued (Tavárez ), Northern Zapotec wills aord a close
perspective on the reception of specic catechetical choices introduced by the
Dominicans. Indeed, memories of the Dominican een Rosary songs—those
in Pacheco de Silva’s Doctrina—appear in some of the wills I have examined. In
, Isidro de Santiago of Yagayo recalled the Rosary songs as he mentioned
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the “een mysteries of Lady Mary” (AHJO-VA Civil, , L-E, r). In
, Nicholás Hernández of Yae proclaimed his beliefs using the very words
from Pacheco de Silva’s rst joyful mystery, “Christ was conceived there, in
[Mary’s] dear enclosure” (AHJO-VA Civil , L-E, r), while in ,
Francisco Hernández of Yalálag expressed his belief in the “een mysteries of
the Lady Mary” (AHJO-VA Civil , L-E, r). Other testators remem-
bered the een-song cycle in unusual ways. In , Miguel de Chávez of Yagayo
declared, “I kept and knew the een mysteries of God in Heaven” (AHJO-VA
Civil , L-E, r), while Marta de Yllescas of Yavichi merged Rosary and
Tr i n i t y i n  as she st ated her belief in th e “een mysteries of the Holy Trinity
(AHJO-VA Civil , L-E, r).
In any case, Maldonado’s ambitious campaign against idolatry in  ush-
ered in a more diligent application of Counter-Reformation directives. By , 
ministers in Oaxaca held appointments based on language examinations, including
 in Valley and  in Northern Zapotec parishes. Maldonado also recommended
the appointment of Spanish-language teachers, a policy continued by his successor,
Francisco de Santiago y Calderón, who in November  claimed to have estab-
lished almost  Spanish-language schools (AGI-Mex , Santiago y Calderón to
the crown, November , ).
In the end, even the most wayward Zapotecs who resorted to ancestor wor-
ship and child sacrice counted themselves as Christian through a public perfor-
mance of faith, at least until the next transgression. To come back to the vehe-
ment self-denunciation for idolatry cited at the beginning of this chapter, the
 Yalálag confessants cited Feria’s catechetical teachings by referring to their
deities as “deities of stone” (betao quiag), and to their transgressions as “the evil
labor of the Lord of the Underworld” (china xihui que Beselaho). ey asked
for that most Marian of qualities, mercifulness (yela huezaalachij), and used a
received vocabulary to promise, “we want to clean our souls (animas), so that
all the evil sin (tolla xihui) from ancient times, on this very instance, ends now.
Echoing similar complaints issued by clergy members from the ird Mexican
Church Council () onwards, they protested that a priest visited them “only
on feast days, when he receives his oering (lalatezi cati bi lani cati dizi zee
gona quehe), as required on certain holidays. ey supported measures proposed
to reform them, like learning Spanish, having a “teacher of the doctrine,” and a
resident priest (AGI-Mex , r-r.). Such an inspired performance would
later mark a deep contrast with the  indictment of Yalálag town council
members, who were imprisoned for allegedly engaging, once again, in child sac-
rice (AHJO-VA Criminal ).
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This chapter presented a historical and philological analysis of an imagined
“Zaachila word”—Dominican translation choices and their multiple sources, which
stretched from Aquinas, Granada, Berceo, and Marian legends to ancestral songs
and creation narratives—and examined indigenous Christianities through the sur-
vey of an entire catechetical corpus, a new perspective on the missionary assimila-
tion of non-Christian cultural referents, and an analysis of singing as self-catechesis.
While Nahua evangelization was marked by a proliferation of genres and innovative
projects before the early seventeenth century, Zapotec catechesis began with Ferias
conservative Doctrina and then entered an innovative stage in the seventeenth cen-
tury, during which some Dominicans attempted to sanitize Zapotec history and
cosmology. e tide turned aer Maldonado’s  idolatry campaign and led
to a return to policies associated with the Counter-Reformation through more
focused catechetical eorts.
e Dominicans set up the foundations for the construction of a collective
ground inherently littered with contradictions. Dominican Christian discourse
competed with other written and oral genres, and Zapotecs responded by com-
partmentalizing their performance of Christian belief in a variety of public and
private contexts so they could be counted as Christian. In the end, the immense
Dominican intellectual investment in a Zapotec Christian lexicon and the reinven-
tion of Zapotec history was an enormous gambit to seduce believers into inhabit-
ing a radically dierent way of living as colonial subjects. ose who persevered in
ancestral observances voted with their voices and feet and sometimes paid for their
choices with their bodies, as a “perpetual prison” for idolaters operated in Oaxaca
City between  and the s (Tavárez , , ). But Zapotecs were
not necessarily locked inside Duráns neutral nepantla, remaining instead in a broad
communal ground in which statements of belief were selective and contingent.
In the end, colonial Zapotec Christianity was constructed as discourses that
fostered a highly strategic native investment in public performances of faith. As
acrobats of the divine, the Order of Preachers crisscrossed this collective ground,
imposing an ordered catechesis, ltering the past through a Christian sieve, and
disciplining idolaters. What they accomplished cannot be described in the lapidary
vocabulary of success or failure but should be characterized as an impressive expan-
sion of devotional practices in the communal ground. As they learned the doctrine,
sang Rosary chants, and selectively practiced ancestral devotions, Zapotecs—par-
ticularly those who lived in Northern Oaxaca—embraced catechetical rhetoric to
prove themselves Christians without suppressing other beliefs dear to them. ey
also committed to a life lived, along with that of their Dominican teachers and
disciplinarians, in a vast and turbulent middle.
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I express my deep appreciation to several Zapotec scholars and activists for their suggestions
and encouragement: Ricardo Ambrosio, Juana Vásquez Vásquez, the late Víctor de la Cruz,
Pergentino José Cruz, the late Emiliano Cruz Santiago, Odilia Romero, and Víctor Cata. An
early analysis of some of the texts in this chapter was rst developed in a Spanish-language
essay containing a morphemic parsing of Zapotec translations, which was presented at a
 seminar at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Tavárez ). I thank
Ana Díaz, Federico Navarrete, Berenice Alcántara, Beatriz Cruz, and Uliana Cruz for their
discerning comments at this seminar, and my students at Vassar for subsequent feedback. I
also thank an anonymous reviewer for precise suggestions regarding a translation dra for
Tavárez . I am also grateful for Brook Lillehaugen’s comments and wish to acknowl-
edge the feedback of the late omas Smith-Stark, George Aaron Broadwell, John Justeson,
Kevin Terraciano, Louise Burkhart, Sebastián van Doesburg, Aaron Sonnenschein, and
Michael Swanton. Despite dierences in analysis, I admire the depth and breadth of Nancy
Farriss’s work on Zapotec rhetoric. As to Colonial Valley Zapotec, my translations were in-
formed by Broadwell , Anderson and Lillehaugen , and Foreman and Lillehaugen
. My consultation of Córdova b was facilitated by the use of Smith-Stark et al. .
Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine, as are all errors.
Abbreviations: AGI, Archivo General de Indias; AGN, Archivo General de la Nación;
AHJO-VA, Archivo Histórico Judicial de Oaxaca, Villa Alta; Mex, Mexico. AHJO docu-
ments are cited using both le numbers and L(egajo) and E(xpediente) numbers.
. e volume contains Rosary devotions and exemplary narratives ( folios), a -
page catechism, and a -page confessional manual.
. Córdova (b) glossed nalahui as part of a compound that meant a “general” or
“common, vulgar” thing (r, r), “communal” (v), and “universal” (v). Agüero may
have meant to convey “[it is] universal,” as a note with this gloss appears on a copy of Agüero
 at the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Providence, RI (see gure .).
. For Zapotec language classication, see Smith-Stark (); Broadwell ().
. is work, with annotations recording several sermons’ dates and places of delivery,
contains two Corpus Christi sermons (one preached in Santa María Lachiati in , the
other in Xalapa del Marqués, ), one for the Assumption (Lachiati, ), two for the
Nativity of Mary (the church of Santo Domingo, , and Xalapa, ), one on the con-
version of Paul (Huizoo, ), one on the feast of the Purication, and twelve others. HSA-
Gramática r, r, r, r, r, r, r.
. e manuscript bears multiple sections in various hands and includes sermons
preached between the s and s, a date range beyond Pozo’s lifetime; he died in 
(Burgoa  [], ; Peñael , xlii).
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. In the Dominican Nahuatl Doctrina,following something as a deity” appears only in
v, v, r, and r.
. Córdova (b, r, v, r, v, v, r, v, v, r, r) glosses -cete pri-
marily as a verb related to teaching or learning, translates quela huezaa as “active making,
fashioning” (r) or “procreation(v), and glosses quela huecete as “passive” teaching
(r). By “passive” and “active,” Córdova illustrated the anti-causative and causative forms
of Zapotec verbs, elucidated in Smith-Stark (, ).
. Douay-Rheims Bible, accessed January , ,
. Córdova (b, v): see nabaquilachia.
. For a dierent interpretation, see Farriss (, , ).
. Córdova (b, v): see tillaaya. Here, Feria uses a couplet featuring two verbs,
chaba, “to be dirty, ugly,” and hygoto be fetid.” He uses the stative aspect when they refer to
the tallow, and the perfective aspect, probably for emphasis, when they refer to the body.
. Córdova (b, v): see tochooa.
. Córdova (b, v): see nititije çoo; v: see coxacanititijea.
. Córdova (b, r): see tixijñea.
. Original: Cicani yobi anima: nacàchilooni natijni lani pelalati: yaca ca quienilooni:
chelañe yobi anima toninabanini tocuinini pelalati. Tebela pelalati yaca xianimani, yaca pij
xitenini, cani naayatini; yaca quicuyni yaga caçâni, yaga ca quiñàni, yaga ca qujenini ... quitaa
loo quela nabani yaga ca conitobitini, cani naani çica quie, çica yaga [. . .] Cetobiga, çica yobi
zaa nachaba naca[n]i, nahygo tillaani: laani çica pelalati oachaba nàcani huahygo tillaani?
Xixa naca pelalati? cani quixi nacani, cani q[ue]la [y]ocho nacani. oatacalachito conipeato ni
naca pelalatito Canachahuyyobito nititie tuato, xiîtola, pizalootola, tiyagatola, chela quitubi
çô bènito q[ui]xi naca q[ui]taa, q[ue]la nixiñe, q[ue]la tocho naca q[ui]taa, oachaba tete
huahygo tete nàcani.
. Original: Pues el mismo cuerpo del ho[m]bre (de que tanto se precian y enuanescen
los hombres) querria que mirasses con buenos ojos, que tal es, por muy hermoso que por de
fuera parezca. Dime ruegote que otra cosa es el cuerpo humano, sino vn vaso dañado, que
todos quantos liquores echan en el, luego los azeda y corrumpe? ue es el cuerpo humano
sino vn muladar cubierto de nieue, que por defuera parece blanco, y de dentro esta lleno de
immundicias? ue muladar ay tan suzio, que aluañal, que tales cosas eche de si por todos sus
desaguaderos? Los arboles y las yeruas, y aun algunos animales dan de si muy suaues olores:
mas el hombre tales cosas echa de si, que no parece ser otra cosa sino vn manacial [sic] de
. Strikingly, Bautista Viseo’s publication was supported by written approvals from the
viceroy, the Franciscan commissary general in the province of Mexico, and the theology
chair at the Royal University of Mexico.
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. Córdova (b, v): “Today, as in an hour that passed... pàa ... Today, not long ago...
pàatigàa.” Ibid., v: “One bit of time aer another... pàati pàati... napaa napaaa.”
. For an analysis of ba ela, “period of the night,ba tola, “period of the darkness of night,
and ba cahui, “period of the darkness of dawn,” see Tavárez .
. Appropriations occurred in both directions, as Zapotec specialists called this creation
account probaza biexo [sic], “the old probanza [probative document]. e rst translation
of this text appeared in Tavárez (, ); for a dierent version, see Farriss (,
. My translation interprets goge as a variant of gogue, “lord,” as gogue is attested in three
wills: AHJO-VA Civil , L-E, r; AHJO-VA Civil , L-E, v; AHJO-VA Civil ,
L-E, r. It is less likely that goge would be a variant of goxee, “he/she created.
. Córdova (b, r), glosses North, South, East, and West as çòo tóla, çóo cáhui, çóo
cilla, and çóo chée and nacahui and natola as “something dark” (v, v). Zapotec scholar
Juana Vásquez Vásquez (personal communication, ) noted these words refer to a day’s
passage in Yalálag Zapotec: tiola: “darkness of night,cahui: “darkness of dawn,cilla: “dawn,
chee: “aernoon.”
. In , Agustín de Gonzalo of Betaza declared that two specialists, Agustín Gon-
zalo Sárate and Simón de Santiago, revealed that “it would not rain, there would be sickness,
and that the sun of the devil was about to come up” (AHJO-VA Civil , r).
. Córdova (b, r): see Tochijñoaticha, tocitaayaticha.
. Córdova (b, v, r): see tizàbi and tizàbia, “to be sown.” An alternate transla-
tion, “when dawn was alo,” would be based on tizàbi or tizàbia, “to be suspended in the air;
to y.” (Córdova b, v, v).
. Córdova (b, r): see toochaya, pijchaya.
. Here, guiya may be “eld of reeds” (cañaueral) or “reeds” (cañas . . . como carrizo); see
quiyaa in Córdova (b, r-v). In other Zapotec texts, guia may refer to a place of origin
for ancestors, so it is glossed as “origin” here.
. See Córdova (b, r): reed mat [. . .] quijtáha.
. In Nahuatl, Tollan means “Place of Reeds.For “place of reeds” as a metaphor for
civilization and for a discussion of quela tene, “Lake of Blood,” as a place of ancestral origins,
see Oudijk (, ).
. AGI-Mex , v: lani queçelao yagcoeo biye laxo.
. AGI-Mex , r: xohuaa quehue teni yoola eetela.
. For a dierent view focusing on some songs from this corpus, see Farriss ().
. Of the total,  spoke Mixtec,  Mixe, Chontal, Chinantec, Zoque, Nahuatl,
and Huave. AGI-Mex , Ministers examined in languages, July .
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... Furthermore, mendicant authors and indigenous scholars shaped the reception of two devotional strands: a rejection of worldly pleasure, or contemptus mundi, and the devotio moderna, the meditative and reflexive devotional practices advocated by Kempis and his followers. Regarding the former, in 1567 the Dominican Pedro de Feria published a doctrinal work in Valley Zapotec that included a covert adaptation of a section on the impurity of human bodies drawn from Granada's Libro de la oración y meditación (see Tavárez 2017). But few went further than Bautista Viseo, who boldly published a Nahuatl adaptation of Granada's Libro in 1604, and also prepared a translation of Estella's Libro de las Vanidades. ...
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This chapter sketches two distinct modes of engagement pursued jointly by Franciscans and Nahua scholars as they produced a printed and manuscript corpus that spans the decades between the 1550s and the 1620s, which was impacted by censure and increasingly orthodox evangelization policies. It plumbs into the Nahua-Franciscan confidential mode to reveal a previously unknown work: a Nahuatl-language adaptation, by the Franciscan Alonso de Molina and one or more Nahua co-authors, of ‘On the Government of a Polity,’ a political treatise by the fifteenth-century theologian Denys the Carthusian. The chapter argues this translation was part of several attempts to test the boundaries of what Counter-Reformation policies allowed not only to be printed, but also to be circulated in manuscript form among indigenous colonial subjects.
The Tercer abecedario espiritual (1527) was the most influential work of Franciscan friar and widely read spiritual author Francisco de Osuna (c.1492–c.1540). This essay focuses on descriptions of the soul in his treatise in order to highlight a series of correspondences between Nahua and Franciscan metaphysics. It argues that these correspondences, based on sensorial experiences of the material world and inductive reasoning, aided the success of the Franciscan project of evangelization during the early decades of the colonization of Mexico through the 1570s. Moreover, it contends they led to changes in the concept of the soul in the Nahua/Spanish contact zone. Because Nahua terms for animating forces ihiyotl, -yolia, and tonalli—which signify winds, heart, and heat—have been studied in close detail, this essay uses them as a framework to interrogate Osuna's representations. Such an approach demonstrates that scholarship comparing Mesoamerican metaphysics with that of colonizing missionaries requires reciprocal scrutiny of European concepts at the time of contact. Finally, this analysis explores Bruno Latour's ‘compositionism’ as a model for approaching the premodern qualities of meditative recollection and for examining the intersections between Nahua and Franciscan aesthetics of interiority.
This paper describes the system of positional verbs (e.g., ‘be standing’ and ‘be lying’) in Colonial Valley Zapotec (CVZ), a historical form of Valley Zapotec preserved in archival documents written during the Mexican colonial period. We provide data showing that positional verbs in CVZ have unique morphological properties and participate in a defined set of syntactic constructions, showing that positional verbs formed a formal class of verbs in Valley Zapotec as early as the mid-1500s. This work contributes to the typological literature on positional verbs, demonstrating the type of morphosyntactic work that can be done with a corpus of CVZ texts, and contributes to our understanding of the structure and development of the modern Zapotec positional verb system with implications for the larger Zapotec locative system.
This paper presents an overview of negation in Colonial Valley Zapotec (CVZ) based on a corpus of texts written in Valley Zapotec between 1565 and 1808. There are four negative markers in CVZ, two bound (ya=, qui=) and two free (aca, yaca). Standard negation employs a negative word and an optional clitic, =ti. Understanding the syntax of an historical form of Valley Zapotec allows us to make some observations about related forms in modern Valley Zapotec languages, in particular San Lucas Quiaviní Zapotec (SLQZ). For example, the morpheme =ti, which is required in clausal negation in SLQZ, is not obligatory in any negative constructions in CVZ until around 1800. In Vellon 1808, the youngest text in the corpus, we observe =ti required in one type of clausal negation. This allows us to observe details of the development of the modern Valley Zapotec negation system, including the fact that the remaining changes leading to obligatory =ti in clausal negation in SLQZ must have occurred within the last 200 years.
The correlation of archaeological and ethnohistorical information should be one of the key methods in the determination of historical processes and events in the Valley of Oaxaca during the Postclassic period. The mere existence of alphabetical and pictorial historical documentation in a region that has received extensive archaeological investigations over the last half a century creates possibilities that scholars in many other Mesoamerican regions envy. It is consequently disturbing and disappointing that historians and archaeologists alike have not taken full advantage of this opportunity. There are two principal reasons for this failure. On the one hand, ethnohistorical studies using pictorials and documents written in Tíchazàa, or the Zapotec language, have only recently begun and the results are still undergoing considerable changes when new material is found or studied. On the other hand, the chronology of the Postclassic period has largely been ignored by archaeologists, leaving an unacceptably long period without any significant subdivisions and making it almost useless for the correlation with short-period historical processes (Chapters 1 and 2). An additional problem is that the archaeological and ethnohistorical discourses are handicapped by the existence of opposing "camps" of scholars, making the exchange of ideas and a constructive discussion virtually impossible. Within the discussion on the Postclassic period, ethnohistorical and archaeological evidence has been used without making any distinction between the two. Consequently, one of the major issues of discussion was caused by an adaptation of the archaeological evidence to the historical model-the fall of Monte Albán. That is, the distinction between two archaeological phases (MA IIIB and IV) was made based on the historical event of the fall of Monte Albán rather than the archaeological evidence. At no time have the two disciplines and the information generated by them been compared independently. The objective of this chapter is to propose a Postclassic chronology based on ethnohistorical information that can then be used for comparison and correlation with the archaeological chronology. With such a method I follow Michael Smith (1987:38), who suggests that "the archaeological and ethnohistorical records should be analyzed independently to yield their own separate conclusions before correlation is attempted. When the two records are compared, one should not confuse any resulting composite models with the independent primary data sets." This approach forms part of a broader discussion in historical archaeology, and between archaeologists and historians in general, concerning the nature and status of their respective sources: The thing and the word (Andrén 1998; Malina and Vasicek 1990; Moreland 2001; Small 1995; Trigger 1989). Although there is still much to be said about this issue, in practice it seems best to follow the method of keeping independent records.