La Visión indígena de la Conquista

The narrative of the conquest of Guatemala – or the invasion as many indigenous prefer calling it – has been shaped by the Spanish perspective. It is the one that most children are taught at school. The indigenous vision remains untold, chiefly because the documents produced by Maya are viewed as impenetrable, but most of all because they are not considered valid sources. La visión indígena de la conquista aims to reclaim that forgotten voice.

The book offers several new contributions. It outlines the political situation at the eve of the Spanish invasion, in particular in the Quetzaltenango area where the main confrontations took place. It shows that, contrary to conventional beliefs, the Maya lords of this area were kept up to date about the Spanish progress. Being part of the Mesoamerican trade-network – Quetzaltenango was an important market for the exclusive quetzal feathers, hence its name – local merchants were used to go back and forth to Central Mexico. Here’s where they first learned about the arrival of these new strangers. Conversely, Mexican traders, familiar with the route, served as guides for the Spanish-Mexican army. The book also reviews the legend of Tecum Umam, Guatemala’s national hero. Based on the sources, it leaves little doubt that he was a historical person, but that his proper name was only Tecum, probably a title for the nima rajpop achij ‘senior captain of the Ajpop’, or Lord of the Mat. It was an office usually held by the son or grandson of the ruling Ajpop.

Part of the book is dedicated to an amazing new discovery done by Dutch anthropologist Florine Asselbergs. As known, the Spanish army came reinforced with thousands of Mexican troops. These mostly Central Mexican auxiliaries also left their records, especially in pictographic forms, painted on large pieces of cloth or lienzos, such as the Lienzo de Quauhquechollan. When Asselbergs studied the lienzos of the pre-Hispanic Mexican town Quauhquechollan, she found that this pictorial of which it was always thought to be depicting local battles, actually seemed to portray the conquest of Guatemala. She knew that Quauhquechollan troops had accompanied the brother of conqueror Pedro de Alvarado, Jorge. Asselbergs invited me to have a look at this Lienzo de Quauhquechollan and together we spent many hours deciphering its imagery and toponyms. It indeed depicted the invasion of Guatemala, displayed in a series of military campaigns painted in a geographical and temporary order. Hence this piece of cloth, measuring 2.35×3.25m, proved to be the first map of Guatemala.