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Thursday, January 08, 2015

Landa's Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan, Edited by Alfred M. Tozzer

The Maya of the Yucatan


































Landa's Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan,
 Edited by Alfred M. Tozzer
Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University
Vol. XVIII
Published by the Museum, 1941
Reprint by Kraus Reprint Corporation, 1966

     Diego de Landa (1524-1579) was a priest who often plays the heavy in simple minded Spanish vs. Maya narrative about the conquest of the Yucatan Maya. He is often held responsible for burning vast amounts of Mayan literature, and was largely the man-on-the-ground for the attempt of the Church to suppress indigenous believes in the area, particularly human sacrifice and idol worship.  He also wrote the best history we have of the period before and after the Spanish conquest of the Yucatan.  Even so, it's a pretty terse document, which is why having access to the incredible annotated Peabody monograph translation is so critical.  This book sells for 150 bucks on Amazon, and it is well worth it for the definitive (for 1941) answers given to the questions raised by Landa's sometimes confused descriptions.   The Peabody annotation has over 1,000 detailed footnotes (which often occupy almost the entire page of text) and a detailed index.

    The combination of Landa's translated text and the detailed annotations give the reader a clear picture of the history of the Yucatan Maya in the period prior to and just after the Spanish conquest.  The major detail that emerges from the notes is the role of the Mani area Maya in collaboration with the Spanish, and the opposition of the other Conquest era Maya powers- the Itzas (who would eventually retreat south) and the towns of the Cancun/Quintana Roo Pacific coast.

   Mani, a town which exists today, is the closest major settlement to the ruins of Uxmal, and the local Mayan elite played an outsized role in integrating Spanish and Mayan cultures. The general idea of the period before the Conquest is that there was an indigenous Mayan population who were "conquered" by elite groups and their followers from outside the area- either Mexican influenced Mayans from the South and East, or Mexican groups themselves.  These groups, in either guise, brought distinctly Mexican cultural practices to the area, most notably the art of the human sacrifice and intense idol worship (vs. the worship of natural geographic features like mountains and cenotes.)

   My sense is that the Mani area Maya don't get enough credit for their early acquiescence to Spanish rule.  After all, Mani is still there and, occasional 16th century inquisition inside, hasn't seen a lot of drama.  I'm not sure you could even say they were colonized, because it doesn't seem like much development has taken place in the area.

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