By Francisco Miraval
Condensed by Native Village
DENVER – A 16th century map painted by Mexican Indians may help us learn about the migration of Mesoamerican peoples from original homelands in today's U.S. Southwest.
“Five years of research and writing (2002-2007) by 15 scholars of Mesoamerican history show that this document, the Map of Cuauhtinchan 2, with more than 700 pictures in color, is something like a Mesoamerican Iliad and Odyssey,” Dr. David Carrasco from Harvard University. “The map tells sacred stories and speaks of pilgrimages, wars, medicine, plants, marriages, rituals and heroes of the Cuauhtinchan community, which means Place of the Eagle’s Nest in the present-day Mexican state of Puebla.”
The map, known as MC2, was painted on amate paper made from tree bark probably around 1540, just two decades after the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
Through images and pictographs, the map recounts the ancestral history of the Mesoamerican people of Chicomoztoc, which means Place of the Seven Caves. It then follows their migration to the sacred city of Cholula and the foundation of Cuauhtinchan, probably in 1174.
In 1527, conquistadors and priests began imposing their religions on the people in Cuauhtinchan and nearby areas By 1530, they had dismantled an Indian temple to build the town's first convent. MC2 was apparently meant to resolve a land-ownership dispute between the indigenous peoples and the conquistadors .
“The history begins in a sacred city under attack and continues with the people of Aztlan coming to the city’s rescue. In compensation they are granted divine authority to travel long distances until they find their own city in the land promised them. Their travels are guided by priests, warriors and divinities,” Carrasco said.
That sacred city and the original land of Aztlan would have been in what is today the Southwestern United States.
The Map of Cuauhtinchan 2 remained in Cuauhtinchan until 1933, then passed through hands until Espinosa Yglesias acquired it i 2001. He then contacted Harvard’s Center of Latin American Studies where Carrasco was selected to analyze it. Carrasco's studies led to a book, “Cave, City, and Eagle’s Nest: An Interpretive Journey Through the Map of Cuauhtinchan No. 2.”
“This map and the book we published to decipher it have changed our understanding of the Mesoamerican codices and of the sacred lands of that region,” Carrasco said.
That new understanding has political and social significance today.
“This map links the identity and politics of Mexican-Americans, that is, the Chicano people, with the art, rituals and philosophical practices of pre-Colombian Mexicans,” he said. “The insistence of Mexican-American scholars and activists on using Aztlan as their symbol is strengthened by the history recounted by this map, since it places Mexicans in the United States within a wider history of migration, ethnic interactions, religions and rituals.”
MC2, according to Carrasco, links Chicanos “with the lands where the struggle for their freedom and rights took place before the oppression.”
Together with his students and his interdisciplinary team, Carrasco continues to study the sacred objects and numerous plants that appear on the map. “This map is a treasure for academics because it reveals with artistic splendor and in detail the way of life of an Indian community that told its own story in the midst of a serious social conflict,” he said.