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date: 27 January 2023

Indigenous Language Literatures of Colonial Mexicofree

Indigenous Language Literatures of Colonial Mexicofree

  • Heather J. AllenHeather J. AllenDepartment of Modern Languages, University of Mississippi


Writing in indigenous languages, particularly Nahuatl, was widespread throughout colonial Mexico (called the viceroyalty of New Spain at the time). From the 16th through the 18th century, the república de indios—indigenous communities governed by native elites—functioned separately from the república de españoles. Within these native communities, alphabetically written Nahuatl (as opposed to pictographic) was used to record local government minutes; legal documents such as wills; and annals, histories, and genealogies. Semasiographic literature (writing with signs) also persisted, although in altered form; Spanish colonization destroyed the cultural structures that perpetuated this expertise and introduced European artistic and literary conventions. Some works combined semasiographs and alphabetic writing. While alphabetic and semasiographic literatures preserved indigenous knowledge and served as legal evidence within the colonial Mexican court system through the 16th and 17th centuries, by the mid-17th century their legal weight diminished as Spanish respect for indigenous collective memory faded.

Indigenous language literatures circulated largely in manuscript form because printing presses were controlled by Spanish clergy until late in the colonial period. Moreover, paper was costly and the few presses could not keep up with publishing demand. When items were printed in indigenous languages (including Nahuatl, Mixtec, Otomí, Purépecha, Zapotec, and Mayan), they were generally grammars, dictionaries, sermonaries, confessionals, and catechisms, which were intended for evangelization rather than preservation and dissemination of the native archive. Because Nahuatl was the lingua franca in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica and the New Spanish viceroyalty, the majority of indigenous language imprints were also in Nahuatl. The friars who wrote these texts rarely acknowledged their native coauthors by name or recognized the full extent of their contribution, in part because the ecclesiastical authorities doubted the accuracy of native authors’ doctrinal knowledge. The Tetzcoca priest Bartolomé de Alva, was the only indigenous author who succeeded in publishing a Nahuatl-Spanish confessional. Published indigenous language books for a lay audience were much rarer, with the exception of a Spanish-Nahuatl phrasebook meant for merchants working with the Nahua population.

When 19th- and mid-20th-century scholars studied colonial Mexican intellectual culture, they tended to focus on Spanish-language texts and gave less attention to native intellectuals and indigenous language literatures. This occurred because they did not speak or study indigenous languages and because the bulk of indigenous language texts sat undiscovered in local, national, and foreign archives until the groundbreaking work of Ángel María Garibay, who built the foundation for 20th-century Nahuatl studies beginning in the 1930s. These scholars believed that literate Spaniards and criollos (children born in the Americas to Spanish parents) moved in separate circles from literate indigenous people. But later 20th- and early 21st-century research demonstrates a social-intellectual network that crossed ethnic and linguistic boundaries, suggesting that there was a larger Nahuatl-speaking reading public interested in both European and Mexican literatures. Studying the contents and linguistic characteristics of indigenous language literatures, as well as how people in colonial Mexico utilized these texts, gives a historical voice to indigenous perspectives and better defines the vital role of indigenous language literatures in building colonial Mexico and transitioning to independence. Moreover, the increase in digitization of rare materials has made these items more accessible, contributing to a shift in the field aimed at centering indigenous voices.


  • Latin American and Caribbean Literatures

Pre-Hispanic Indigenous Language Literatures

At the turn of the 16th century, Mesoamerica was home to civilizations with many languages, literatures, and record-keeping practices. Broadly speaking, these civilizations fell under two zones of influence: the Nahua in the central and isthmus region and the Maya extending south from the Yucatan peninsula into what is now Guatemala and Honduras.1 In spite of their cultural and linguistic differences, both groups recorded knowledge pictographically and orally. The Nahua wrote with a semasiographic system, which in general conveys concepts and ideas, while the Maya used a glottographic system, which is largely phonetic. Both groups, however, combined elements from these systems in order to preserve information, which they recorded in accordion-fold books; tiras (scrolls); lienzos (canvases); and objects such as murals, stone sculptures, pottery, baskets, textiles, and jewelry. Recitations accompanied these records, and an independent oral tradition existed as well.2

The Nahua artists who painted record-keeping objects were called tlahcuiloqueh (sing.: tlahcuiloh). They created content under the direction of tlamatinimeh (sages; sing.: tlamatini). Tlamatinimeh directed production, read, interpreted, and taught the contents of record-keeping items; and they counseled rulers with knowledgeable advice. Although an individual could be both artist and sage, these roles were more often separate. It was not customary to sign one’s work. Noble and commoner children learned to read, and were taught from, these painted records in calmecac and telpochcalli (schools offering civilian and military training, respectively).3 Noble families had treasured personal libraries that they passed on to their descendants, and they decorated their walls with open accordion-fold books and tiras. Monarchs had extensive institutional libraries that housed royal genealogies and histories lionizing the ruling line. Other literary genres included almanacs, prognostications, religious ceremonies, and rites of passage such as birth and marriage.4

Scholars have recovered considerably less detailed knowledge about pre-Hispanic Maya literacy. Maya scribes, or aj ts’ib, wrote, painted, and carved record-keeping objects—only a few of which are signed. They were educated members of the elite and employed by the monarch. In addition to chronicling rulers’ exploits and working as astronomers and mathematicians, the aj ts’ib’s duties may have included royal librarian, historian, genealogist, tribute recorder, marriage arranger, and master of ceremonies.5 Like the tlamatinimeh, they were in charge of educating noble children; and those children who showed proclivity could in turn become scribes.6 Literacy was likely confined to elite classes, although the general public could interpret some pictographic writing on public monuments and buildings.7

From the pre-Hispanic period there are approximately sixteen extant Mesoamerican pictographic codices containing calendrical, historical, economic, cartographic, and genealogical information. Five of the surviving codices are historical genealogies from the Mixtec region. Five central Mesoamerican accordion-fold books, known as the Borgia Group, and the four Maya codices are ritual calendars used to schedule and conduct religious ceremonies. As such, they include astronomical tables, divinations, prophecies, horoscopes, and dates and deities associated with religious festivals.8 Most of these codices survived because they were shipped to Europe as part of the royal fifth (a form of tribute or tax) owed to the king of Spain, thus escaping destruction and landing in relatively more secure, lower-humidity storage—although many consequently sat deep within archives until they were rediscovered in the 19th and 20th centuries.9

Transition to Alphabetic Writing

During the Spanish-Aztec (1519–1521) and Spanish-Mesoamerican Wars (1517–1550) and concurrent evangelization efforts, the devoutly Catholic Spaniards destroyed many Mesoamerican books because of their supposedly idolatrous content.10 They also demolished personal and institutional libraries. The royal library in Tetzcoco, a pre-Hispanic cultural hub, was perhaps the greatest cultural and historical loss. In response, Mesoamericans hid their books from the invading troops and evangelizing clergy.11 Extant pre-Hispanic and early colonial codices are consequently rare: approximately sixteen remain.12

Although the Spanish considered Mesoamerican pictographs to be writing, they generally regarded it as inferior to alphabetic writing. First, because although pictographs preserve and transmit ideas, only alphabetic writing is a direct representation of speech (although some Maya phonetic glyphs are a close approximation). Second, pictographic records had corresponding oral explications and were therefore deemed incomplete on their own.13 In spite of this critical view, Spaniards did value the information Mesoamerican writing communicated. For instance, maps helped them navigate terrain, plan military operations, and adjudicate land disputes, while tribute records provided pre-invasion precedents for collecting tribute in the New Spanish viceroyalty. Pictographic annals and genealogies served 16th- through 18th-century European and criollo historians in writing histories of pre-Hispanic Nahua ethnic groups, such as the Mexica and Tlaxcalteca.14 These historians filtered their source material through their Eurocentric world view; for example, comparing indigenous cultural practices to those of the Greeks and Romans and likening indigenous rulers to Biblical figures. In spite of this bias, however, these histories are indispensable sources on pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican peoples.15

Compounding the destruction of record-keeping objects during the wars, the viceregal administration dismantled the cultural and institutional structures that maintained Mesoamerican systems of knowledge and record-keeping. Children no longer learned to read pictographic records in schools or from priestly tutors, and there was little to no training for Nahua tlacuiloqueh and tlamatinimeh or Maya aj ts’ib. Older generations with this specialized knowledge passed away, and newer generations had few formal institutions or mentors to train them. As a result, this knowledge went underground or fell into disuse and eventually was lost.16

However, Spanish civil and ecclesiastic authorities did recognize the need for schools, but only to evangelize and acculturate their Mesoamerican subjects rather than preserve indigenous cultural practices. To acquire indigenous languages for this purpose, clerics relied on indigenous collaborators—often children—to learn local languages. To further aid in acquisition, the friars alphabetized these languages using the Roman alphabet and Spanish orthography. With this linguistic knowledge they developed grammars, confessionals, breviaries, and other evangelization manuals for fellow clergy and founded schools for indigenous upper-class and exceptional commoner children.17

Local monasteries often provided children with a basic European education (literacy, catechism). Two renowned schools offered greater educational depth: San José de Belén de los Naturales in Tenochtitlan, founded in 1527; and Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco, founded in 1536.18 In the latter, which was a secondary school, or colegio, Franciscan friars and then Nahua alumni taught Castilian, Latin, alphabetically written Nahuatl, rhetoric, logic, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, theology, music, and indigenous medicine.19 The students consequently learned to read and write their native tongue in the Roman alphabet, and this new form of literacy became the dominant method of record-keeping in Nahuatl, along with pictographic documents combining European and pre-Hispanic artistic conventions for a short time.20

In the face of Mesoamerica’s incredible linguistic variety, the New Spanish viceregal government and the Catholic church chose Nahuatl as the indigenous lingua franca, as it had been under the Triple Alliance (the Nahua political entity ruling central Mesoamerica before the Spanish-Aztec War).21 It was the most widespread and mutually intelligible of the many languages in use. Because of this, the majority of colonial indigenous language literatures were produced in Nahuatl, so this article focuses largely on Nahuatl texts.22

The colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco became the center of Nahuatl textual production in 16th-century Mexico. Nahua alumni and friars at the colegio collaborated to write the majority of Nahuatl texts until the school fell into decadence in the 17th century.23 The Nahua alumni, some of whom became teachers at Santa Cruz, were knowledgeable scholars, skilled grammarians, protoethnographic interviewers, typesetters, and copy editors. However, they were not always credited as authors, and indeed until the late 20th century were referred to as informants or aides, terms that do not accurately express their roles. The Spanish clerical coauthors praised their contribution in prologues but rarely referred to them by name.24 However, the collaborative workshop at Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco indicates a cross-cultural intellectual exchange.25

Indigenous Language Imprints

The texts created at Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco took print and manuscript form. Printed texts were strictly utilitarian, ranging from sermonaries, breviaries, and confessionals to linguistic manuals, such as grammars and dictionaries meant to teach Nahuatl to evangelizing clergy.26 However, Nahua scholars are named in only two colonial church publications. One of these is Juan Bautista’s Sermonario en lengua mexicana (1606), in which he credits eight Nahuas: Hernando de Ribas, Juan Berardo, Diego Adriano, Francisco Bautista de Contreras, Esteban Bravo, Antonio Valeriano, Pedro de Gante, and Agustín de la Fuente. Several of these men coauthored other volumes, including Alonso de Molina’s (ca. 1513–1585) influential Vocabulario en lengua mexicana y castellana (1555). The friars may have minimized Nahuas’s contribution to published literature for political reasons. Clergy participating in the first New Spanish Provincial Council in 1555 expressed doubt that Nahuas could accurately copy and translate church documents; and censors feared that they would introduce inaccuracies or even heresies into religious texts. By acknowledging nameless aides rather than naming Nahua coauthors, the friars eliminated one possible obstacle in the difficult publication process.27

An exception to the trend of minimizing Nahua authorship is the work of Tetzcoca scholar Bartolomé de Alva (ca. 1597–?). In 1634 he published the Confessionario mayor y menor en lengua mexicana as its sole named author. Alva was a member of the noble Ixtlilxochitl family and the younger brother of Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, a respected chronicler and translator. Bartolomé de Alva earned a degree from the Universidad Autónoma Nacional de México and obtained a post as parish priest in spite of his mestizo heritage. His education and Nahuatl expertise may have provided the necessary edge to overcome the church’s restrictions on indigenous and mestizo men entering the priesthood. Moreover, the secular clergy needed language experts in order to compete with the high linguistic competency of the religious orders.28 The Confessionario is formatted in two columns, Nahuatl on the left and the Spanish translation on the right, with marginal notes offering further examples. It is aimed at a priestly Spanish-speaking audience and focuses on the sacrament of penance. It contains information to help priests identify and extirpate pagan practices, a common concern expressed in contemporary religious literature.29 The censors who approved Alva’s Confessionario for publication praised his expert translation of Catholic doctrine into Nahuatl. Confirming that he was a respected translator, Alva served as a censor for the Jesuit Horacio Carochi’s (1586–1666) indispensable Nahuatl grammar, Arte de la lengua mexicana (1645).30 These factors help explain how Alva, a Tetzcoca priest and scholar, brought his book to print at a time when Nahua coauthors were seldom fully acknowledged or named.

Access to the printing press in New Spain was further restricted by the archbishop and the viceroy, the religious and civil authorities. Ecclesiastic authorities decided whether to grant publishing permission based on the assessments of a small group of selected censors. In the case of indigenous language texts, censors were recognized authors and experts in the language—a small number of whom, as in the case of Bartolomé de Alva, were native speakers.31 The viceroy seems to have relied on ecclesiastic approval to grant license requests. This Spanish gatekeeping—along with the issues that the few presses in New Spain struggled with to fulfill local demand for printed materials, including the cost and scarcity of paper—made it difficult for nongovernmental, lay, and non-Spanish authors to publish.32 These factors indicate why printed indigenous language literatures in colonial Mexico were largely limited to religious, linguistic, and legislative texts. Moreover, because Nahuatl was the indigenous lingua franca, it comprised the majority of printed works in any one language. And since the Nahua scholars at Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco were from the Valley of Mexico—specifically Tlatelolco, Tetzcoco, Azcapotzalco, Huexotzinco, Cuernavaca, and Xochimilco—these texts were written in the variants of Nahuatl that they spoke.33 Other evangelization materials were published in languages including Tarascan, Mixtec, Chochu, Huastecan, Otomí, Purépecha, Zapotec, Maya, and Guatemalan variants.34 Of the 180 extant imprints made in Mexico City during the 16th century, thirty were written in Nahuatl or a combination of Spanish and Nahuatl and thirty-eight in other indigenous languages.35

Indigenous Language Manuscripts

Imprints were one format of indigenous language literatures in colonial Mexico, and manuscripts were another. Because it is more time-consuming to create copies of manuscripts and there are consequently fewer, they did not circulate as widely as imprints. However, they did circulate, as is evident when New Spanish authors cite and allude to sources that were never published, including pictorial codices and alphabetically written indigenous language literature. Moreover, because manuscripts were not subject to the same censorship and licensing process as texts destined for the press, friars named their Nahua colleagues more frequently, for instance in manuscripts produced at Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco. But they still tended to acknowledge them as aides rather than coauthors.36

A renowned example of a cited yet unpublished manuscript is the Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España (1590), also known as the Florentine Codex because it resides in the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy. It is an illustrated protoethnographic encyclopedia of Nahua culture written in Spanish and Nahuatl. This years-long project, begun in 1545, was created by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún (1499–1590), twenty-two unnamed Nahua artists, and five Nahua scholars at Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco (several of whom worked with Juan Bautista): Antonio Valeriano, Pedro de San Buenaventura, Antonio Vegeriano, Martín Jacobita, and Andrés Leonardo. Ecclesiastic authorities seriously hindered the project in 1577 when they ordered Sahagún to cease work and turn over the manuscript.37 This may have been because of his collaboration with Nahua intellectuals, its portrayal of the Spanish conquistadors as excessively violent, and descriptions of pre-Hispanic Nahua religious practices that could help revive ceremonies the church considered idolatrous.38 Yet ecclesiastic censure did not prevent others from reading the document. The manuscript circulated among New Spanish intellectuals who used various versions to compose their own texts, often without explicitly citing the source.39

Nahuas who were not associated with the colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco also wrote in Nahuatl. Their texts fall roughly into the following categories: chronicles; notarial records; religious plays; and pictographic documents, such as codices and maps. These items were intended for a Nahua audience (although legal documents came to be used in Spanish courts and were consequently also pitched at a Spanish-speaking audience), and most are unsigned although scholars have been able to identify the authors in some cases.40 Since the 1970s, New Philologists have attempted to reconstruct New Spanish history from a Nahua point of view by examining these documents with a methodology combining ethnohistory, linguistics, and anthropology.


Nahuatl chronicles are also called annals. The authors often came from elite or noble families who had safeguarded archives from Spanish destruction or had access to such archives. Because their annals are written in Nahuatl, chroniclers evidently intended their work for a Nahua audience, and often for a specific ethnic group. However, some authors may not have expected a contemporary audience at all, instead writing simply to preserve and perpetuate the historical archive for future generations.41

Annals are episodic in nature, as authors recount events they consider relevant to a specific altepetl (political entity or community), ethnicity, or family. As such, they are in some ways a continuation of the pre-Hispanic xiuhpohualli (yearly count) genre. Events include local politics and economics, celebrations, births, deaths, legal disputes, wars, and natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes, and epidemics. Chroniclers organize their annals chronologically, often using both the pre-Hispanic calendrical date and its corresponding Gregorian calendar date. Sometimes they record events out of order; for example, if they previously omitted something they now consider important or wish to make an argument that is better served through narrative juxtaposition, as is the case with the Annals of Juan Bautista (1560s).42 Some chroniclers begin their annals at a time predating the moment they began to write, using older or pre-Hispanic sources to recount events they did not personally live through. When relating current events, they speak from their own experience and that of other contemporary witnesses. Authors generally present information objectively and refrain from including personal information as they narrate events, although they occasionally state their opinions or provide enough clues for readers to deduce them. They rarely sign their work, but scholars have identified some authors.43

The Historia Tolteca Chichimeca (HTC; 1540s–1560s) is an example of an unsigned annal. Combining pre-Hispanic images and glyphs with alphabetic Nahuatl, the HTC chronicles the history of Cuauhtinchan (a region to the east of Puebla). It was created by one or several scribes familiar with pre-Hispanic and European literary and artistic conventions. Don Alonso de Castañeda, tlahtoani (ruler) of a Cuauhtinchan-area altepetl, commissioned it around 1545 to bolster his family’s land claims.44 In support of this goal, the HTC reports that in the 15th century, the Mexica conquered the altepetl and consequently redistributed the land and corresponding tribute income, disenfranchising Alonso de Castañeda’s ancestors. The HTC continues Cuauhtinchan’s history through the late 1540s, including don Alonso’s appointment as tlahtoani under the New Spanish viceregal government.45 Because it frames local history in a way that supports don Alonso’s geopolitical goals, Dana Leibsohn considers it “a re-working of the past in order to make it comprehensible and . . . responsive to the colonial present.”46 Moreover, it provides evidence that land, for the Nahua, is not merely territory. It is a defensible home that provides its people with a material anchor for their history, sustenance to thrive, and, consequently, freedom from servitude.47

An example of an author who signed his alphabetic Nahuatl annals is Domingo Francisco de San Antón Muñón Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin (1579–1660). Chimalpahin is perhaps the most prolific and studied Nahua chronicler. He kept annals while living in Mexico City, where he was the mayoral (manager) of a small church in the southeastern Xoloco neighborhood. While recording events of note in Mexico City, he often emphasized occurrences that affected people from his birthplace, Chalco. His extended family owned pictographic and alphabetic sources which Chimalpahin cited in his annals. He may also have had access to the institutional library at the church where he worked. Chimalpahin seems to have written for a strictly Nahua audience, considering he openly criticized the New Spanish viceregal administration.48 Similar to other annalists, he wrote to preserve Nahua and specifically Chalca history for future generations, and he took pains to justify the merits of pictorial sources to an indigenous audience that had become increasingly Hispanicized.49

Nahuatl annals like the HTC and Chimalpahin’s works were prized by New Spanish intellectuals, just as they are valued by scholars in the 21st century. They comprise a portion of the native archive, which Amber Brian defines as “the knowledge native communities collected in an effort to preserve their connection to the pre-Hispanic past in the context of European domination.”50 Nahua historians who wrote in Spanish rather than Nahuatl, and Spanish and criollo intellectuals, preserved the native archive by amassing personal collections and by writing new histories synthesizing what they found in the native archive. Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl (ca. 1578–1650), Bartolomé de Alva’s older brother, was one such Nahua intellectual. Ixtlilxochitl wrote the Historia de la nación chichimeca (ca. 1610–1640), a history of pre-Hispanic Tetzcoco, and a series of eight histories called relaciones, which recount events through the Spanish-Aztec War and beyond. In order to do so, he collected oral histories from surviving eyewitnesses and referred to Nahuatl texts, such as Juan Bautista Pomar’s Relación de Tetzcoco (ca. 1580), and pictographic documents, such as the Codex Xolotl, the Mapa Quinatzin, and the Mapa Tlotzin. He wrote his own texts in Spanish, and they were not published in his lifetime but rather circulated in manuscript form.51

After his death, Ixtlilxochitl’s personal library passed to criollo polymath Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora (1645–1700). Sigüenza added it to his own formidable collection, which he bequeathed to the library at the colegio de San Pedro y San Paulo in Mexico City. Later scholars journeyed to the colegio to work with Sigüenza’s famed collection, which came to be seen as the native archive rather than one archive of many. Over time his collection was slowly cannibalized as foreign collectors and political powers took items for their own uses; and it came to be dispersed across North America and Europe.52

Nahuatl annals continue to be valuable to scholars studying Nahuas in colonial Mexico because they provide insight into individuals’ points of view and beliefs at a hyperlocal level. Annals also cite pre-Hispanic pictographic sources that no longer exist, which adds to our understanding of these genres, although, as many scholars lament, verbal descriptions cannot fully capture the contents of the images in these long-lost codices.53

Notarial Documents

Just as annals are a rich source of information on Nahuas daily life in colonial Mexico, government and legal documents provide similar detail and likewise form part of what 21st-century scholars consider to be the native archive. Beginning in the 1540s, each indigenous cabildo had its own escribano (notary) appointed by the alcalde (mayor) and regidor (councilor), and some larger communities had several. Evidence from Tlaxcala’s notarial documents, which are unusually detailed and extensive, suggests that the first Nahua escribanos were trained by Franciscan friars at local monasteries, and the next round learned as apprentices on the job.54 Little is known about their specific training and qualifications, but Barbara Mundy’s careful comparison between notarial documents produced by Spanish and Nahua escribanos shows that both followed similar document formats and protocols. This supports the theory that Franciscans initially trained the first escribanos, but furthermore indicates that they also may have trained under Spanish escribanos at some point.55 It is more difficult, however, to assess any overlap between the training and work of Nahua escribanos and pre-Hispanic tlacuilohqueh.56

Escribanos created and managed the town’s legal documentation, served as witnesses, and signed petitions sent to higher authorities, among other duties. Their literacy and domain over legal documents made them quite influential locally. Notarial documents range from cabildo meeting minutes and formal reports of cabildo decisions to testaments and deeds.57 Although these records are mundane, they nonetheless tell us about “native forms of expression, family and religious life, attitudes, practices, and strategies . . . daily concerns, motivations, and activities.”58 For instance, in an 18th-century will from a town in Tlaxcala, various participants speak in the first person, which gives an idea of testament-writing practices and the actual scene in which the writing occurred.59

Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl serves as an example of how notarial documents indicate elite shared concerns and the existence of Nahua lettered circles. His personal collection, in addition to annals and pictographic sources, contained notarial documents pertaining to the legal disputes of indigenous noble elites throughout the region, including those of his own family. Ixtlilxochitl and nobles from the area were clearly interested in maintaining high-ranking indigenous families’ property rights. Moreover, the fact that these families shared their legal proceedings with him indicates a network of like-minded elites who also sought to preserve the native archive through their own collections.60

Even more significant, the relationship between Ixtlilxochitl and his descendants with Sigüenza indicates that the separation between Nahua and Spanish lettered circles was more porous than previously understood. When Ixtlilxochitl passed away, Sigüenza was the executor of his will and inherited Ixtlilxochitl’s archives. He used some of these documents, as Ixtlilxochitl had, to help the family continue claiming their land rights. He used other texts when writing his own history of New Spain, Parayso occidental (1684). Amber Brian argues that this volume “reveals the degree to which Sigüenza’s connections with an elite native family informed the writing of the text and, just as importantly, the ways in which that family imprinted their own agenda on the creole scholar’s work.” Consequently, it is an “example of how knowledge moved between intellectual spheres via a complex web of power and agency.”61

Religious Plays

Religious plays comprise another common Nahuatl genre that circulated in manuscript form throughout New Spain. Franciscan friars and anonymous Nahuatl neophytes collaborated to write the majority of the early extant plays, with the purpose of converting the Nahuas to Catholicism via theater and performance, genres found in both cultures. The evangelizing friars understood that pre-Hispanic religious rituals involved individuals dressing up to embody deities and perform for a large public. They somewhat inaccurately equated these ceremonies to Catholic religious plays, although Nahua rituals were unscripted and European theater is scripted. Most early extant Nahuatl religious plays are morality plays, biblical stories, and hagiographies. Some are original while others are translated adaptations of work published in Europe. These manuscripts do not provide information about the authors, where the plays were composed, or when or where they were staged. They do, however, demonstrate how collaborative religious theater contributed to evangelization.62

One author, however, did sign his plays: Bartolomé de Alva, author of the Confessionario mayor y menor de la lengua mexicana, translated three Spanish Golden Age plays into Nahuatl in 1640 and 1641. Scholars speculate that the grammarian Horacio Carochi requested that Alva translate them since they span a variety of conversational styles that could serve as pedagogical examples for his Arte. They also offer a variety of theatrical styles that would appeal to a Nahuatl-speaking audience interested in Golden Age drama.63 If Carochi did indeed request the translations, Alva did much more than a word-for-word rendering. He prepared the plays for production, including stage directions and adapting the contents to make it more appropriate for a local Nahua audience.64 For instance, he abridged them, making them shorter perhaps to address the fact that they would be performed by students in Jesuit schools (i.e., amateur actors). He repeated the plays’ didactic messages so that the intended audience, new to Catholic doctrine, would better understand and remember. And he relocated European settings to local places familiar to the audience.65

Alva’s plays, rediscovered in the Bancroft Library in the 1990s, have expanded our knowledge of colonial Mexican indigenous language literatures. On a linguistic level, Barry Sell explains that “Alva’s interpretative choices confirm repeatedly that, at least as late as the 1640s, there was someone who could generate the full range of [Nahuatl] preconquest-style usages.”66 On an anthropological level, Alva’s translations for Carochi are yet another example of interaction and exchange between, or the porous nature of, Spanish and indigenous intellectual circles. Moreover, Alva’s plays suggest an educated and cultured readership interested in Golden Age theater and seeking to engage with European literature.

Pictographic Codices and Maps

In addition to alphabetic Nahuatl imprints and manuscripts, from the 1540s to the early 1600s codices were created that combined semasiographs and alphabetic glosses in Spanish or Nahuatl, including the Aubin, Osuna, and Xolotl. Several of these items were made at the behest of Spanish authorities and span topics that include Mexica and Tetzcoca history, education, and tribute collection. Pictographs combine pre-Hispanic artistic conventions, like name and city glyphs, with European conventions, such as perspective. As was customary for pre-Hispanic pictographic codices, the indigenous painters did not sign their work.67

The Codex Mendoza (1541) is perhaps the best known of these pictographic-alphabetic codices. Commissioned by the viceroy Antonio de Mendoza—hence its name—it relates the foundation and history of Tenochtitlan (which became colonial Mexico City); tribute practices; and daily life, including childrearing and education. The codex was intended for a European audience, so Spanish glosses name and explain many of the images. Its contents provide a major primary source for information about the pre-Hispanic Valley of Mexico, while the Spanish pictograph glosses expand linguistic knowledge of pictographic and alphabetic Nahuatl.68 In 2015 the Mexican government fully digitized the codex via an interactive application with explanatory mouseovers and hypertext in Spanish and English, in an effort to digitally repatriate a codex that currently resides in Oxford’s Bodleian Library.69

The Codex Xolotl (pre-1542) contains several maps with extensive Nahuatl glosses. Unlike the Codex Mendoza, it does not seem to contain direct Spanish influences.70 The codex takes its name from the hero, Xolotl, ruler of the Chichimeca and—according to the codex—the first to establish an empire reaching beyond the Mexico basin. Ixtlilxochitl and Spanish historian Juan de Torquemada used the Codex Xolotl as a source for their own histories of pre-Hispanic Mexico, taking on the codex’s likely exaggerated view of Xolotl’s power and importance. Ixtlilxochitl had a vested interest in the Codex Xolotl’s version of Tetzcoca history. His family descended from Xolotl, so the codex legitimizes his family as rulers of Tetzcoco. Indigenous sources from other regions, in contrast, suggest that Xolotl was a minor leader whose empire was not so extensive. In this way, the Codex Xolotl provides a wealth of data on pre-Hispanic pictographic and cartographic conventions, Tetzcoca history (which must be reconstructed from partisan sources), and how historians utilized that information throughout the colonial period.71 France’s National Library, where the codex is housed, has digitized it and made it publicly available online, enabling more scholars to work with this invaluable document.72

Somewhat contemporaneous to the creation of these largely pictographic codices is an unusual corpus of land transfer documents dating from the 1550s to the 1570s. Items in the corpus consist of a full folio with a map on one side and an alphabetic Nahuatl description of the property and sale on the other.73 This corpus is significant for several reasons. First, the way in which the documents were created gives insight into the escribano (scribe) and tlahcuilo (painter) professions during this period. Working together for the cabildo, a group of eight tlahcuilohqueh painted the maps and seven escribanos wrote the alphabetic portions. The tlahcuilohqueh did not sign their work as per pre-Hispanic artistic tradition, which suggests that either European ideas of artists’ ownership had not yet seeped into their training or they had not fully embraced the practice. However, the escribanos who wrote the script portions of the documents did sign their creations.74 Second, maps still connected to their associated alphabetic texts are rare, since over time collectors, archivists, and scholars have separated them and examined them as discrete items. The items in this corpus may have survived intact because they held legal weight in Spanish courts in later centuries and were revered as family heirlooms.75 Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the maps appear to hold more legal weight than the alphabetic writing; the land owners appeal to the images as evidence of ownership in their written testimony.76 Although writing in indigenous languages had largely shifted away from pictographs since alphabetic writing was more economical and direct, these hybrid documents undermine the larger trend.77

Nahuatl Literacy and Indigenous Language Literature Readership

As the field of Nahuatl studies developed and more documents were found over the course of the 20th century, scholars revised their theories on the nature and extent of Nahuatl literacy. In 1982, linguist Frances Karttunen concluded that only the town notary and elite Nahuas were literate—meaning that they could read and write Nahuatl in the Roman alphabet. Because Nahuatl literacy served an administrative function before and after the Spanish invasion, by the 1550s most indigenous communities had a notary to keep town records in Nahuatl; and often the notary was the only literate person in the area. There were some notable exceptions, however, including the town of Amaquemecan, Chalco, where the upper classes read and wrote in Nahuatl into the 18th century. Nahuatl literacy continued to exist while it served a public role, but eventually faded away toward the end of the colonial period as Spanish literacy replaced it.78

By 1993, Barry Sell argued that there was widespread Nahuatl literacy in colonial Mexico, although it is still difficult to quantify. He based this conclusion on the existence of Nahuatl notarial documents throughout New Spain, annals, and evidence from published literature. In prologues to published works from the 1540s into the 17th century, clerical authors address or refer to Nahua readers. For example, in his Confesionario mayor, en lengua mexicana y castellana (1565), Alonso de Molina addresses his Spanish clerical audience and his Nahua audience. He explains that the Confesionario is intended to help the former better understand Nahuatl and to aid in the latter’s salvation. In somewhat of a reversal, another clerical author, Martín de León, aimed to hide information on the pre-Hispanic calendar from his Nahua readers by composing that portion of his text in Spanish for his priestly audience. In this way he attempted to avoid giving his Nahua readers information that could help them recreate religious practices while helping priests recognize persisting idolatry.79

There was a contingent of Spaniards who spoke Nahuatl beyond the clergy who studied the language in order to successfully evangelize. In the prologues to artes, gramáticas, and vocabularios (linguistic pedagogical texts), authors claimed that they could aid in proselytization as well as serve nonnative speakers seeking to learn or improve their Nahuatl and Nahuas who wished to learn Spanish.80 But there was also one very popular linguistic text aimed at laypeople who lived and worked with Nahuas and Nahuatl speakers: Pedro de Arenas’s Vocabulario manual de las lenguas castellana y mexicana (1611). Arenas (1459–?), a businessman whose clientele were Nahua, created his volume by asking Nahuatl speakers to translate common phrases from Spanish into Nahuatl. It is the only lay linguistic text published in colonial Mexico, with nine editions printed between 1611 and 1793—the most of any colonial imprint. In opposition to Molina’s large, heavy, and expensive Vocabulario, it was a small, portable, and therefore utilitarian grammar.81

Mundane legal documents such as wills and testaments, deeds, land transfers, and minutes from cabildo (town council) meetings, were initially aimed at an exclusively local Nahua audience. Written in Nahuatl by native-speaker notaries, they allowed Nahuas to govern themselves within the república de indios, largely independent from the república de españoles. Over time, however, the audience expanded into a Spanish legal context, when they became useful as proof in litigation in the Spanish courts, although the legal audience required a translator.82


Indigenous language literatures were significantly transformed from pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica to the end of colonial rule in the 19th century. Pre-Hispanic semasiographic and oral modes of recording knowledge encompassed a variety of formats, including scrolls, accordion-fold books, textiles, pottery, sculpture, songs, and ceremonies. After the Spanish-Aztec and Spanish-Mesoamerican Wars, when the Spaniards established the viceregal government and ecclesiastic administration, these methods of recording knowledge were shifted into alphabetic writing, albeit with great deficiencies. The Catholic friars’ attempts to preserve what they believed to be lay indigenous knowledge and discard idolatrous practices further exacerbated these losses. Yet indigenous communities adapted to alphabetic writing while maintaining forms of semasiographic writing and oral traditions. Spanish-trained indigenous notaries kept town records in alphabetic Nahuatl, including testaments, wills, land transfer records, and mundane documents. Communities and families also recorded genealogies and local histories. Chimalpahin’s annals, the Historia Tolteca Chichimeca, the Codex Mendoza, and the Codex Xolotl are outstanding extant examples of these genres.

Spanish and European clergy also wrote in indigenous languages, and many of these works were published. These printed texts were mostly limited to religious genres because the printing press was controlled by Spanish ecclesiastic and governmental powers. Friars wrote books to help with evangelization, including grammars, dictionaries, sermonaries, confessionals, and catechisms in a range of indigenous languages, such as Nahuatl, Mixtec, Otomí, Purépecha, Zapotec, and Mayan. Although Nahua scholars frequently coauthored these volumes, the friars seldom recognized them by name because ecclesiastic authorities doubted their knowledge of Catholic doctrine. Friars also collaborated with Nahua scholars to write religious plays aimed at teaching newly converted Nahuas Catholic doctrine. The only known exception is Bartolomé de Alva, a Tetzcoca priest who published a Nahuatl-Spanish confessional under his own name and translated three Spanish Golden Age plays into Nahuatl, adapting them to his cultural and temporal context for an educated Nahuatl-speaking audience.

Ángel María Garibay renewed scholarly interest in other indigenous language literatures and Nahuatl in particular by presenting it through a humanistic lens and translating and publishing archival manuscripts in the 1940s and 1950s. Subsequent scholars developed methodologies to address the biases Spanish friars introduced into colonial-era indigenous language literatures. For instance, some suggest terms that go beyond “literature,” which some see as too narrow and European to accurately encompass indigenous language methods of recording knowledge. Others suggest broad definitions of literature and writing. New Philologists in turn demonstrate the value of seemingly mundane Nahuatl documents by extracting information about the daily lives of indigenous people living in New Spain. New Philologists’ translations of Nahuatl texts into Spanish and English have made this information more widely available, and digitization of rare materials in archives throughout the world have done so as well. These developments in the field help center the previously marginalized voices of indigenous language literatures in colonial Mexico.

Discussion of the Literature

The study of colonial Mexican indigenous language literatures (and Latin American indigenous language literatures more broadly) has been limited by what scholars consider to be writing and how they define literature. Sixteenth-century European intellectuals did not consider Mesoamerican semasiographic systems to be fully developed writing because they do not capture uttered speech. However, these scholars valued the information these systems preserved, and they used pictographic documents and other sources to govern, evangelize, and write histories of indigenous groups they encountered in Mesoamerica. As part of this process, Catholic friars imposed European genres on indigenous literatures; for example, erroneously separating what they considered religious and secular information in order to eliminate supposedly idolatrous knowledge. Consequently, the connection between literature and related embodied practices like music, dance, and ritual were often lost. What is more, friars used Latin grammar as a model when learning indigenous languages and developing linguistic pedagogy. Although they recognized that Latin grammar was inadequate for the accurate description of languages like Nahuatl, they lacked another model to follow. In sum, Europeans could only understand and filter Mesoamerican knowledge through their own epistemologies.83

As Spanish became more widespread into the 18th and 19th centuries, indigenous escribanos (scribes) kept local governmental records in Spanish rather than Nahuatl, although Nahuatl was still widely spoken. Historians more often relied on colonial-era Spanish chronicles to write their histories, instead of returning to indigenous language sources. However, in the early 20th century, Ángel María Garibay Kintana (1892–1967) brought indigenous language literatures out of obscurity, in particular Nahuatl. Garibay, a Catholic priest, linguist, philologist, and historian, studied Nahuatl texts from a humanist perspective.84 He framed them as part of Mexico’s national literature alongside Spanish-language sources. His Llave del nahuatl (1940) presents translations and grammatical explanations of selected Nahuatl passages in order to help readers to learn the language. Inspired by and building on 16th- and 17th-century friars’ linguistic work, his two-volume Historia de la literatura nahuatl (1953, 1954), gives a history and typology of Nahuatl literature from the colonial era to 1750, laying out its fundamental genres and concepts using Nahuatl rather than Spanish terms. Although Garibay artificially separated the literature into European genres (e.g., religious and lyric poetry, epic, drama, prose including history and fiction) and did not recognize that the Spanish friars’ interventions led to bias in these texts, the Historia remains foundational to Nahuatl studies. He published texts buried in archives, translated them for a scholarly reading public that was not fluent in the language, and provided a theoretical framework that Western scholars found acceptable to classify and study Nahuatl literature. In addition, he founded the Nahuatl seminar at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and, together with his pupil Miguel León-Portilla (1926–2019), taught Nahuatl and pre-Hispanic history and culture, which further helped establish the field.85

In 1976, a methodology called New Philology—a term coined by James Lockhart (1933–2014)—grew from Garibay’s foundation.86 In New Philology, linguists, historians, and ethnographers work with and translate indigenous language manuscripts, such as council minutes and other government records, personal wills and testaments, and land transfers. New Philologists made a growing corpus of indigenous-authored accounts more widely available to those who do not know the language. In addition, the information they obtained by studying trends in linguistics and noting key details in this corpus helped reconstruct indigenous daily life in colonial Mexico, fleshing out multiple indigenous perspectives that Spanish-authored colonial-era documents often lack.87

Likewise building on Garibay and León-Portilla’s groundbreaking theoretical and promotional work, in the 1980s scholars began to grapple with the Europeanization of colonial Mexican indigenous language literatures. They now widely recognize that Spanish priestly mediation of colonial indigenous language texts must be taken into account to avoid perpetuating this intellectual colonization.88 Scholars have mitigated the legacy of Europeanization by proposing new terminology to replace “literature,” so that indigenous language literatures can become central to Latin American studies, rather than peripheral. For instance, in 1986 Peter Hulme proposed “colonial discourse” because it is much broader and refers to many genres. Moreover, literature is defined with European criteria in which European alphabetically recorded knowledge has an inherently higher value than semiotically recorded, or pictographic, indigenous language knowledge.89 Walter Mignolo agrees with Hulme in this respect. However, he points out that colonial discourse is still not comprehensive enough because it cannot accurately refer to oral and pictographic intellectual production; nor does it capture the semiotic interaction between different systems for recording knowledge. Instead, in 1989 he proposed “colonial semiosis,” which reminds us to consider the historical context and social position of the author—for instance, as colonized or colonizer, indigenous (including the specific ethnic affiliation), mestizo, or Spanish—as well as the author’s intended audience.90

Another approach is to expand the definition of writing and literature. In her introduction to Writing Without Words (1994), Elizabeth Hill Boone traces Western scholars’ pejorative attitude toward nonalphabetical writing over time and advocates for an inclusive definition of writing as “the communication of relatively specific ideas in a conventional manner by means of permanent, visible marks.”91 Literature likewise broadens to encompass written items, which brings indigenous language items under the literature umbrella, confirming them as legitimate objects of study.92

In the 21st century, digitization of special collections and rare or delicate items have improved our knowledge of indigenous language literatures by making them more widely accessible to scholars and the general public alike. Institutions with extensive Mesoamerican special collections, such as the John Carter Brown Library, the University of Austin’s Benson Latin American Collection, the Bancroft Library at University of California in Berkeley, the Library of Congress’s World Digital Library, and Mexico’s National Library are working on digitizing their archives (see “Links to Digital Materials” for links). Nonprofit organizations like the Internet Archive are also contributing to open-access digitization. Further projects will broaden access and facilitate collaborative research on items that previously were only available to those who could obtain funding and institutional access. All of these developments help scholars foreground indigenous voices in academic fields previously dominated by Spanish voices.

Another 21st-century development is that scholars recognize that artificially imposed and Eurocentric divisions between the fields of art history, history, literature, anthropology, ethnography, and cultural studies are yet another obstacle to understanding indigenous perspectives. Working with only alphabetic texts or pictographic codices in isolation fails to take into account the complexity of the sources and their specific sociohistorical contexts. Scholars must be able to work with alphabetic and semasiographic sources or collaborate across fields to better study sources of all formats.93

Further Reading

  • Boone, Elizabeth Hill. Stories in Red and Black: Pictorial Histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.
  • Brian, Amber. Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2016.
  • Brokaw, Galen, and Jongsoo Lee, eds. Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl and His Legacy. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016.
  • Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge. How to Write the History of the New World. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.
  • Garibay Kintana, Ángel María. Historia de la literatura Nahuatl. 3rd ed. Mexico: Porrúa, 2007.
  • Karttunen, Frances. “Nahuatl Literacy.” In Inca and Aztec States, 1400–1800: Anthropology and History. Edited by George A. Collier, Renato I. Rosaldo, and John D. Wirth, 395–417. Berkeley, CA: Academic Press, 1982.
  • Klor de Alva, José Jorge, Henry Bigger Nicholson, and Eloise Quiñones Keber, eds. The Work of Bernardino de Sahagun, Pioneer Ethnographer of Sixteenth Century Mexico. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.
  • Lee, Jongsoo. The Allure of Nezahualcoyotl: Prehispanic History, Religion, and Nahua Poetics. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015.
  • León-Portilla, Ascensión H. de. Tepuztlahcuilolli: Impresos en Nahuatl—Historia y bibliografía. 2 vols. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1988.
  • Lockhart, James. The Nahuas after the Conquest. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.
  • McDonough, Kelly S. “Indigenous Intellectuals in Colonial Mexico: The Case of Antonio del Rincón, Nahua Grammarian and Priest.” Colonial Latin American Review 20, no. 2 (2011): 145–165.
  • McDonough, Kelly S. The Learned Ones: Nahua Intellectuals in Postconquest Mexico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2014.
  • Mignolo, Walter. The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.
  • Mignolo, Walter, and Elizabeth Hill Boone, eds. Writing without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994.
  • Mundy, Barbara. The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016.
  • Rama, Ángel. La ciudad letrada. Monterrey: Ediciones del Norte, 1984.
  • Restall, Matthew. When Montezuma Met Cortés: The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History. New York: Harper Collins, 2018.
  • Schroeder, Susan. Chimalpahin and the Kingdoms of Chalco. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991.
  • Townsend, Camilla. Annals of Native America: How the Nahuas of Colonial Mexico Kept Their History Alive. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • Wood, Stephanie. Transcending Conquest: Nahua Views of Spanish Colonial Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003.


  • 1. Nahua refers to peoples in central Mexico who spoke the Nahuatl language in the 15th and 16th centuries. Although they shared a language, these groups had varying ethnic origins and political relationships with one another. The term is broader and more accurate than “Aztecs.” James Lockhart, The Nahuas after the Conquest (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 1; and see also Michael D. Coe and Rex Koontz, Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, 5th ed. (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002), 11–18.

  • 2. Elizabeth Hill Boone, Stories in Red and Black: Pictorial Histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000), 17–21.

  • 3. Edward Calnek, “The Calmecac and Telpochcalli in Pre-Conquest Tenochtitlan,” in The Work of Bernardino de Sahagun, Pioneer Ethnographer of Sixteenth-Century Mexico, ed. José Jorge Klor de Alva, Henry Bigger Nicholson, and Eloise Quiñones Keber (Albany, NY: Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, 1988), 169; and Jacques Soustelle, Daily Life of the Aztecs, trans. Patrick O’Brian (London: Phoenix Press, 1995), 172.

  • 4. Boone, Stories in Red and Black, 23–27; and Serge Gruzinski, La colonización de lo imaginario (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007), 22.

  • 5. Michael D. Coe and Mark Van Stone, Reading the Maya Glyphs (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001), 13, 94.

  • 6. Michael P. Closs, “I Am a Kahal; My Parents Were Scribes” (Washington, DC: Center for Maya Research, 1992), 19.

  • 7. Coe and Van Stone, Reading the Maya Glyphs, 13–14; and Stephen Houston, “Literacy among the Pre-Columbian Maya: A Comparative Perspective,” in Writing without Words, ed. Elizabeth Hill Boone and Walter Mignolo (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 40.

  • 8. John B. Glass, “A Survey of Native Middle American Pictorial Manuscripts,” in Handbook of Middle American Indians, ed. Robert Wauchope (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975), 11–13.

  • 9. Glass, “Survey of Native Middle American Pictorial Manuscripts,” 13.

  • 10. Restall proposes these terms, rather than “Spanish Conquest,” for the fighting that took place during that time. Matthew Restall, When Montezuma Met Cortes: The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History (New York: Harper Collins), xxxi.

  • 11. Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, Obras históricas, ed. Edmundo O’Gorman (Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, 1975), 1, 527; and Juan Bautista Pomar, “Relación que se envio a su majestad,” in Documentos para la historia de México, ed. Joaquín García Icazbalceta (Mexico City: Imprenta de Francisco Díaz de León, 1891), 3, 3–4.

  • 12. Scholarly assessments of whether codices were pre- or post-Hispanic have changed over time. John S. Henderson, The World of the Ancient Maya, 2nd ed. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 16–17; and John B. Glass, “Survey of Native Middle American Pictorial Manuscripts,” 13.

  • 13. Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), 84.

  • 14. Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001), 64–69.

  • 15. Jongsoo Lee, “Emergence and Progress of Contemporary Nahua Literature: Fray Ángel María Garibay Kintana, Miguel León-Portilla, and the Pre-Hispanic Past,” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos 39, no. 1 (2014): 33–34.

  • 16. Henderson, World of the Ancient Maya, 13–14.

  • 17. Ángel María Garibay Kintana, Historia de la Literatura Nahuatl (Mexico City: Porrúa, 2007), 15; and Roland Grass, “America’s First Linguists: Their Objectives and Methods,” Hispania 48, no. 1 (1965): 61.

  • 18. Charles Gibson, The Aztecs under Spanish Rule (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1964), 99, 382–383, 490n7.

  • 19. Gibson, Aztecs under Spanish Rule, 382; and SilverMoon, “The Imperial College of Tlatelolco and the Emergence of a New Nahua Intellectual Elite in New Spain (1500–1760)” (PhD diss., Duke University, 2007), 86.

  • 20. Frances Karttunen, “Nahuatl Literacy,” in The Inca and Aztec States 1400–1800, ed. George A. Collier, Renato I. Rosaldo, and John D. Wirth (New York: Academic Press, 1982), 396. Barbara Mundy, “The Emergence of Alphabetic Writing: Tlahcuiloh and Escribano in Sixteenth-Century Mexico,” The Americas 77, no. 3 (2020): 400.

  • 21. The Triple Alliance consisted of the city-states of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Tetzcoco, and Tlacopan. Ross Hassig, Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988), 146–147; and Karttunen, “Nahuatl Literacy,” 410.

  • 22. Garibay Kintana, Historia de la literatura Nahuatl, 25.

  • 23. Barry Sell, Friars, Nahua, and Books: Language and Expression in Colonial Nahuatl Publications (PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1993), 245.

  • 24. Sell, Friars, Nahua, and Books, 46–54, 148–156.

  • 25. Amber Brian, Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2016), 7.

  • 26. Sell, Friars, Nahua, and Books, 69.

  • 27. Sell, Friars, Nahua, and Books, 120–122.

  • 28. Scholars also speculate that Alva omitted the surname Ixtlilxochitl to minimize his ethnic background. Barry D. Sell, Louise M. Burkhart, and Elizabeth R. Wright, eds. and trans., “Preface,” in Nahuatl Theater, vol. 3, Spanish Golden Age Theater in Mexican Translation (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), xv–xvi; and Barry D. Sell, “Two Eminent and Classical Authors of the Discipline: Father Horacio Carochi, S. J., and Don Bartolomé de Alva, Nahuatl Scholars of New Spain,” in Nahuatl Theater, eds. Barry D. Sell, Lousie M. Burkhart, and Elizabeth R. Wright, 3: 26.

  • 29. John F. Schwaller, “Don Bartolomé de Alva, Nahuatl Scholar of the Seventeenth Century,” in Bartolomé de Alva, Guide to Confession Large and Small in the Mexican Language, 1634, ed. Barry Sell, John F. Schwaller, and Lu Ann Homza (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999), 8–9, 12.

  • 30. Sell, “The Classical Age of Nahuatl Publications,” in Guide to Confession Large and Small, eds. Barry Sell, John F. Schwaller, and Lu Ann Homza, 21.

  • 31. Sell, Friars, Nahua, and Books, 122–123, 144–145.

  • 32. Magdalena Chocano Mena, “Colonial Printing and Metropolitan Books: Printed Texts and the Shaping of Scholarly Culture in New Spain, 1539–1700,” Colonial Latin American Historical Review 6, no. 1 (1997): 78, 89.

  • 33. Sell, Friars, Nahua, and Books, 148.

  • 34. Joaquín García Icazbalceta, Bibliografía mexicana del s. XVI (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1954), xxiii.

  • 35. Ascención H. de León-Portilla, Tepuztlacuilolli: Impresos en Nahuatl—Historia y bibliografía (Mexico: Universidad Nacional de México, 1988), 1, 4.

  • 36. Sell, Friars, Nahua, and Books, 47, 49, 55.

  • 37. Diana Magaloni Kerpel, The Colors of the New World: Artists, Materials and the Creation of the Florentine Codex (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2014), 27. Rocío Cortés, “The Colegio de Tlatelolco and Its Aftermath: Nahua Intellectuals and the Spiritual Conquest of Mexico,” in A Companion to Latin American Literature and Culture, ed. Sara Castro-Klarén (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2008), 89–90; and Sell, Friars, Nahua, and Books, 46–47. Sahagún and his collaborators, however, continued to work on a version of the manuscript until his death in 1590. Sell, Friars, Nahua, and Books, 45.

  • 38. Sarah L. Cline, “Revisionist Conquest History: Sahagún’s Revised Book XII,” in The Work of Bernardino de Sahagún, Pioneer Ethnographer of Sixteenth-Century Mexico, ed. José Jorge Klor de Alva, Henry Bigger Nicholson, and Eloise Quiñones Keber (Albany: State University of New York, 1988), 93–106.

  • 39. Diego Durán is one example of a Spanish historian who cites and references manuscript and pictographic sources that are no longer extant. Ángel María Garibay Kintana, “Estudio preliminar,” in Historia de las Indias de Nueva España e Islas de la Tierra Firme, ed. Ángel María Garibay Kintana (Mexico City: Porrúa, 1967), 1, xxvii–xxviii.

  • 40. Mundy, “Emergence of Alphabetic Writing,” 399.

  • 41. Camilla Townsend, Annals of Native America: How the Nahuas of Colonial Mexico Kept Their History Alive (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 1–10.

  • 42. Townsend, Annals of Native America, 92–93.

  • 43. Townsend, 1–10.

  • 44. Dana Leibsohn, Script and Glyph: Pre-Hispanic History, Colonial Bookmaking and the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca. (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2009), 2–3, 8–9.

  • 45. Townsend, Annals of Native America, 31.

  • 46. Leibsohn, Script and Glyph, 24.

  • 47. Leibsohn, Script and Glyph, 97–98; and Townsend, Annals of Native America, 50–51.

  • 48. Townsend, Annals of Native America, 151–152.

  • 49. Townsend, 156–160.

  • 50. Brian, Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s Native Archive, 14.

  • 51. Brian, Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s Native Archive, 24–25.

  • 52. Brian, 37.

  • 53. Brian, 7; and Camilla Townsend’s Annals of Native America undertakes a granular study of the extant annals to date, thoroughly contextualizing them, comparing overlapping information across the annals and pictographic codices, and constructing detailed author biographies.

  • 54. Lockhart, Nahuas After the Conquest, 41.

  • 55. Mundy, “Emergence of Alphabetic Writing,” 381–383.

  • 56. Lockhart, Nahuas After the Conquest, 41.

  • 57. Lockhart, Nahuas After the Conquest, 40–41.

  • 58. Justyna Olko and Jan Szeminski, “Nahua and Quechua Elites of the Colonial Period: Continuity and Change in a Cross-Cultural Context,” in Dialogue with Europe, Dialogue with the Past: Colonial Nahua and Quechua Elites in Their Own Words, ed. Justyna Oklo, John Sullivan, and Jan Seminski (Louisville: University Press of Colorado, 2018), 41.

  • 59. Olko and Szeminski, “Nahua and Quechua Elites,” 42–43.

  • 60. Brian, Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s Native Archive, 23–26, 31.

  • 61. Brian, Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s Native Archive, 69.

  • 62. Sell, “Preface,” xvii; and John F. Schwaller, “Foreword,” in Nahuatl Theater, eds. Barry D. Sell, Louise M. Burkhart, and Elizabeth R. Wright (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), xii.

  • 63. Schwaller, “Foreword,” xvii–xviii.

  • 64. There is no evidence, however, that the plays were ever performed. Schwaller, “Foreword,” xviii; and Louise M. Burkhart, “How Alva Mexicanized the Spanish Dramas,” in Nahuatl Theater, ed. Barry D. Sell, Louise M. Burkhart, and Elizabeth R. Wright (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), 35.

  • 65. Burkhart, “How Alva Mexicanized the Spanish Dramas,” 35–36.

  • 66. Sell, “Two Eminent and Classical Authors of the Discipline,” 32.

  • 67. Mundy, “Emergence of Alphabetic Writing,” 378.

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  • 69. Codex Mendoza [ca. 1541], MS Arch. Selden A.1, Bodleian Library, London, England.

  • 70. Lockhart, Nahuas After the Conquest, 578.

  • 71. Jongsoo Lee, The Allure of Nezahualcoyotl: Prehispanic History, Religion, and Nahua Poetics (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015), 56–57.

  • 72. Codex Xolotl [ca. 1542], Mexicain 1-10, Bibliothèque Nacionale, Paris, France.

  • 73. Mundy, “Emergence of Alphabetic Writing,” 365.

  • 74. Mundy, “Emergence of Alphabetic Writing,” 378, 389.

  • 75. Mundy, 400.

  • 76. Mundy, 392.

  • 77. Mundy, 365.

  • 78. Karttunen, “Nahuatl Literacy,” 400, 415; and Frances Karttunen and James Lockhart, “Textos en náhuatl del siglo XVIII: Un documento de Amecameca, 1746,” Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl 13 (1978): 155.

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  • 83. Mignolo, Darker Side of the Renaissance, 71–81, 84; and Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World, 64–69.

  • 84. Miguel León-Portilla, “Ángel Ma. Garibay Kintana (1892–1992), en el centenario de su nacimiento,” Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl 22 (1992): 172–173; and Miguel León-Portilla, “Lengua y cultura nahuas,” Mexican Studies 20, no. 2 (2004): 222.

  • 85. Lee, “Emergence and Progress of Contemporary Nahua Literature,” 30–34.

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  • 87. Restall, “History of the New Philology,” 113–114.

  • 88. Lee, “Emergence and Progress of Contemporary Nahua Literature,” 33, 37–38.

  • 89. Peter Hulme, Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492–1797 (New York: Routledge, 1992), 2–3.

  • 90. Walter Mignolo, “Afterword: From Colonial Discourse to Colonial Semiosis,” Dispositio 36/38, no. 4 (1989): 333–336.

  • 91. Boone, “Introduction,” 15.

  • 92. Boone, “Introduction,” 3–26.

  • 93. Mundy, “Emergence of Alphabetic Writing,” 374; and Townsend, Annals of Native America, 6–7.