Chapter 8 Revolutionary Spiritualities in Chiapas Today: Immanent History and the Comparative Frame in Subaltern Studies



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Chapter 8

Revolutionary Spiritualities in Chiapas Today: Immanent History and the Comparative Frame in Subaltern Studies
This chapter traces some of the signature concepts of the Zapatista insurrection of 1994 and the pacifism of Las Abejas back to native colonial pictorial articulations of the possibility of dwelling in a plurality of worlds, of the possibility of being modern and non-modern without incurring contradiction. I prefer the notion of the “non-modern” to the “pre-Modern” in that the latter carries a built-in teleology that posits modernity as an historical necessity. It has been argued that the Spanish invasion of the Americas in the sixteenth-century should be considered as the beginning of modernity; we should take care not to define indigenous forms of life under colonial power as one more instance of the modern, but as life forms with their own periodicity. In this regard, the juxtaposition of Mesoamerican, colonial and modern texts in this essay seeks to reproduce the sense of a multi-temporal present that characterizes the native colonial pictorial maps and histories, the Zapatista communiqués, and even Antonio Gramsci’s understanding of historical immanence. I first draw from the map of Cholula in the Relación Geográfica of 1581 an example and a definition of immanent history, and finally I close with the question of revolutionary spiritualities in Chiapas today. If native hybrid pictorial and alphabetical texts from central Mexico lend themselves for an initial articulation of historical immanence and plural-world dwelling, these colonial texts also give historical depth to the mural “Vida y sueño de la cañada Perla” and the photographic testimonio of the pacifist Catholic organization Las Abejas (The Bees) that I examine at the end of the essay.1 My critique of Gramsci’s conception of subaltern studies enables me not only to document further what I mean by immanent history, but also to lay out strategies for curtailing the constitution of a transcendental concept or institution that would subordinate immanence to an exterior source of meaning.
Cartographic Specters or the Immanence of Memory

In the map of Cholula from 1581 (fig. 6), we can trace the indigenous production of artifacts for Spanish bureaucrats that comprised at least two codes. If we know the identity of the corregidor, Gabriel Rojas, who provided the verbal responses to the questionnaire of the Relaciones Geográficas, which included a question requesting a pictorial representation of the locations, the tlacuilo (the native painter), who drew the map of Cholula remains unknown. For the most part the painting of maps were delegated to the tlacuilo, but as we will see further down Rojas’s written information proves invaluable for tracing the double register the tlacuilo deploys in the map of Cholula. On the one hand, the townscape of Cholula would satisfy the Relaciones Geográficas’s request of pictorial representations. On the other hand, the tlacuilo, the native painter, inscribed the signs that would enable readers to recognize pre-colonial structures and meanings beyond the colonial order signified by the gridiron pattern of streets, the use of alphabetical writing, and the massive buildings occupying the center of the town.2 The tlacuilo displays an ability to use European cartographic systems of representation, but the map also contains indigenous pictographic forms. Under a close examination, the map manifests that the Spanish pictorial vocabulary is used as signifiers rather than the signifieds usually associated with the meanings conveyed by grids, perspective, and landscape in chorographic maps and townscapes. These forms do not convey the corresponding realities of street patterns, the realistic depictions of cities, and the topography of the surroundings, but rather the system of representation itself. That is not to say that buildings and temples represented in the map did not have a corresponding reality but that beyond these structures we find an immanent historical layer that becomes manifest when we juxtapose a map of pre-colonial Cholula (fig. 7) from the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca (ca. 1545-1565).3 As in the case of the tlacuilo who drafted the map of Cholula, the “authors” of the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca remain anonymous, and was produced independently of Spanish authorities mainly intended for use within the community of Quautinchan. In both cases we must assume a collective “author” rather than an individual tlacuilo working independently. Even when the map of Cholula was produced at the request of the corregidor Rojas, we can imagine the tlacuilo consulting the elders of Cholula, and, as such, tracing the past under the ruins that remain legible in spite of the erasure inflicted by the colonial city. The juxtaposition of the two maps, which constitute places of memory for the collective remembrance of the ancient past, reveals a palimpsest in which under the new Cholula one can trace the continuation of the ancient Mesoamerican past in the Indian colonial present. Thus, the map of Cholula provides a frontispiece for the question of immanent history that I elaborate in this essay.

The first thing one notices is the conjunction of at least two codes operating on the surface of the map. We find a body of water represented by a traditional glyph in the central square on the top and the inclusion of glyphs that write the name of Tollan, a combination of tolin (rush, reed) and -tlan (a relational word that means next to, among). The juxtaposition of the sign of water (atl) and a hill (tepetl) is a conventional form of writing altepetl, the term for the pre-colonial polity that included a conglomerate of calpulli (from calli [house] and -pul, a suffix that denotes large), the most basic social unit often translated as big house or neighborhood. In this case it names Tollan Cholula and thereby establishes the connection of the city with the ancient civilization of the Toltecs, who abandoned Tollan in the ninth century. Separated by the trumpet we read the term tlachiualtepetl, which combines tlachiualli (something made, artificial) and tepetl (mountain), the name of the main pre-colonial temple in Cholula. The pyramid consists of a series of layers that correspond to different historical moments and form a hill in their superimposition. The trumpet, which in Nahuatl is called tepuzquilistli, a combination of tepuztli (metal) and quiquiztli (conch), invokes the blowing of the conch in pre-colonial times to congregate the community around the temple. According to Gabriel Rojas, the corregidor—a bureaucrat charged with administering tributaries of the crown—the missionaries found “muchos caracoles marinos con que los indios antiguamente tañían en lugar de trompetas” (many snails that Indians played instead of trumpets), when the missionaries inquired about the two occasions on which lightning destroyed the large cross that was constructed on top of tlachiualtepetl to neutralize the forces of Chiconauh Quiahuitl (chiconauh [seven] quiahuitl [rain]), the deity to whom the ancient temples was dedicated.4 The trumpet fulfills this function now under Christianity. The Franciscan Monastery of Saint Gabriel and the chapel to the side in the central part of the map have replaced a pre-colonial temple, but also note that there are six churches next to hills in the squares surrounding the map. These churches correspond to the sites of six calpulli that the map identifies as cabeceras. Each of these calpulli had a temple that is now symbolized by a hill, but Cholula was flat with the exception of two smaller mounts next to the tlachiualtepetl, the artificial hill.



Serge Gruzinski sees in this recurrent hill different perspectives from which the tlachiualtepetl could be perceived from the different neighborhood.5 If this is the case, the representation of the hill, always on the right hand side, is not very realistic. The painter obviously could have placed the hill in locations that would correspond to the positions of the churches with respect to the tlachiualtepetl. In the same fashion that the tlachiualtepetl has been reduced to a mount, the hills on the different neighborhoods could be seen as conveying the political autonomy of the calpulli, which in pre-colonial times had a particular temple. We can read behind the churches the presence of the old temples, a continuation of the past in the present that the citizens of Cholula could not have failed to recognize. Indeed, Gabriel de Rojas confirms this when he writes, “Y estos ídolos tenían, también, unos cerrillos menores hechos a mano a modo del sobredicho, con su ermita en lo alto, llamada teucalli, que quiere decir ‘casa de dios’” (And these idols also had hand-made small hills according to the mode explained above, with its hermitage on top, called teucalli, which means “house of god”). Further down, Rojas adds, “y aun hay hoy, por toda la ciudad, reliquias de otros muchos menores que, con los edificios de las casas, [se] han ido gastando, como lo hace hoy de los que hay” (and even today, there are relics all over the city of other less important ones, that with the structures of the houses, they have been decaying, as it occurs today with those still standing).6 The temples and their hills have been destroyed and the debris has been used for the construction of the new city. Note that for Rojas the debris is not just material remains, but relics that haunt the city with a memory of old. Moreover, the debris from the old temples and houses coexists with the ruins of the chapel’s dome, which collapsed on the night that followed the celebration of its completion: “Que fue milagro que Dios obró en que cayese de noche, que, de ser asi el día antes, hiciera un estrago notable, por haber más de mil personas dentro. Estas ruinas se han quedado así porque, como los indios van en disminución, no la tornan a edificar” [That it was a miracle by God that it collapsed at night, that, if it had been the day before, it would have a notable devastation, since there were more than one thousand people inside. These ruins remain as such, because the Indians become increasingly fewer, they do not rebuild it].7 In the map of Cholula, the elaborate dome of the chapel, on the left of the convent of San Gabriel, figures intact. The map simulates an organized town built on a geometric grid, but archaeological digs have demonstrated that the depiction of the grid stands for the new Spanish order rather than for an accurate representation of the city blocks. The scenographic realistic representation of the hills and the churches of the neighborhood, a highly symbolic gesture, alternate with orthographic schematic depictions of buildings within the blocks. Thus the tlacuilo displays his mastery of Spanish codes in his juxtaposition, in his citing of orthographic and scenographic systems of representation.

For Gruzinski, the map resembles a Necker cube that shifts backgrounds alternating between a hollow cube and a solid one. He also speaks of a mestizo mind to characterize the genius of the tlacuilo’s production of cultural artifacts that deploy elements from different cultures for an end not contemplated by the supervising authorities. As such, the mixture of the pre-colonial and the colonial alternate in the dominance of one of the components that ultimately makes it very hard to distinguish the Indianization of Christianity from the Christianization of the pre-colonial.8 Thus, the discreetness of the European and the Indian life forms would disappear into a mestizo mind. For Barbara Mundy, this is an instance of double consciousness, a terms she derives from W. E. B. Du Bois, though she fails to mention the African-American scholar: “In this respect they [Indian maps] show us the double-consciousness of the colonized artist: working to satisfy an immediate local audience and laboring with a set of expectations about the colonizers; this artistic double-consciousness marks a much larger set of images from the New World.”9 If the mere fact of using European systems of representation and categories makes the artist colonized, then the fact that I am writing here in English and within an U.S. academic context would also make me and you who reads this colonized. I am contaminating you, if you were not already, by the mere fact that you are following me. There may certainly be a conflict between the two demands of speaking to the community and responding to the colonial instructions, but there is no reason why the tlacuilo could not have perceived himself as mastering the codes of European cartography, while at the same time knowing that there is more to the townscape than mere European institutions. He may have experienced a conflict between Christian and Indian spirituality, but this would be a result of the imposition by missionaries and lay officials, not one that the tlacuilo would have necessarily internalized. The internalization of the conflict is in fact the end of the ideological warfare conducted by the colonial order, which should not imply that the internalization of incompatibility would need to be a natural consequence of the evangelization. Indians expressing perplexity over the need to abandon their gods in order to embrace Christianity is at least as notorious in missionary literature as the friars’ lamentations that for the Indians the Christian God was one more god that could coexist with the rest. To my mind, the coexistence of multiple systems of representation conveys a capacity to dwell in a plurality of worlds without incurring contradiction. Plural-world dwelling would not necessarily imply a struggle between two consciousnesses as manifest in Mundy’s definition of double-consciousness or the blending of two life forms into one as in Gruzinski’s notion of mestizaje, but would rather imply the ability to participate in at least two discreet worlds without incurring in contradiction. The tlacuilo displays knowledge of Western forms but also of local practices; as in the case of the Necker cube, in the blink of an eye one finds a Nahuatl world signified.

Subalternized indigenous subjects developed the ability to dwell in more than one world because colonial orders demanded that Indians recognize the authority of and subject themselves to Spanish institutions. The colonial order constituted itself as the only true world whether under the axis of Christianity or of modern science. In order to protect the integrity of their worlds, indigenous subjects systematically excluded others from learning about and dwelling in their culture. The tlacuilo who drafted the map of Cholula was expected to produce a townscape that would follow the principles of European map making. One finds a double coding on the surface of the map that did not seem to have posed a threat to the corregidor Rojas. Although Rojas consulted Indians, he does not give us their names. To all appearances Rojas was a nahuatlato (speaker and interpreter of Nahuatl) who translated all the information provided by the Indian informants.

Let’s now juxtapose a map from the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, a hybrid text that uses both the alphabet and pictorial representation and was produced outside the supervision of Spanish authorities. The fact that the tlacuilo used both the alphabet and pictography does not make this text less indigenous, as if one would lose one’s Indianness by the mere fact of riding horses, weaving with wool, or using the pen to write letters. Nothing remains pure in the aftermath of the European invasion. The Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca provides a pictographic history and an alphabetical transcription of an oral performance of the stories associated with the paintings. This map underlies the map of Cholula of 1581 as in a palimpsest that manifests the ghostly continuity of the pre-colonial order in the colonial map. It provides a key for understanding the background of the map of Cholula as indigenous. I understand by background the philosophical concept that stands for the absolute presupposition from which and against which one make sense of life forms.10 Here I have been arguing for multiple absolute presuppositions that remain discreet though never pure in plural-world dwelling.

The existence of discreet worlds does not imply that one cannot make sense, exappropriate, and transform life forms belonging to another world with its own absolute presuppositions. I derive the term exappropriation from Derrida: “What is a stake here, and it obeys another ‘logic,’ is rather a ‘choice’ between multiple configurations of mastery without mastery (what I have proposed to call ‘exappropriation’). But it also takes the phenomenal form of a war, a conflictual tension between multiple forces of appropriation, between multiple strategies of control.”11 This process of deploying and making sense with life forms belonging to another culture would not exclude the possibility of also understanding those forms in terms of their own background. The ability of switching backgrounds might enable someone to describe the rules of or the contradictions in the social and cultural practices of another culture. The example of the anthropologist who isolates the rules of a culture comes to mind, but we must also observe colonial spaces in which Indians saw through the social, cultural, and religious forms practiced by Spaniards. In fact, indigenous people under colonial regimes have an advantage over the anthropologist in that Indians are required to understand and make themselves familiar with European institutions. Spanish lay officials and missionaries often expressed dismay and persecuted and repressed Indians who showed them contradictions in their most valued doctrinal beliefs and evangelical practices.12

In the 1581 map of Cholula the indigenous background coexists with a Spanish background that defines space in terms of European forms of representation and urban landscape. The European life forms function not only as signifieds but also as signifiers that now constitute a vocabulary that the tlacuilo has invented to represent European objects from within an indigenous conception of the world. The correspondence of the map of Cholula with the structure that supposedly existed centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards reveals that the new map constitutes a palimpsest for those who could trace the old in the terms of an indigenous background. In addition to the tlachiualtepetl (the artificial hill) the map invites the reader to locate the institutions that made up “yn uel ytzontecon mochiuhtica yn toltecayolt” (the true head of the essentially Tolteca): “Tlachihualtepetl ycatcan, Atlyayauhcan, Xochatlauhtli ypilcayan, Quetzaltotl ycacan, Iztaquautli ytlaquayan, Iztaczollin ynemomoxouayan, Calmecac, Ecoztlan, Temmatlac, Apechtli yyonocan y Couatl ypilhuacan.” With the exception of the tlachiualtepetl (the artificial mountain) and the calmecac (the school) the other institutions listed defy translation. The tlacuilo, or at least the recorded verbal performance of the map, speaks in the present tense: “uel nican monezcaycuiloua yn imaltepeuh yn iuh yyollo quimatico yn tachtouan yn tocolhuan auh tel yn axcan zan iuh catqui yn imauh yn intepeuh yn tolteca calmecactlaca” [here is painted the figure of the town; thus it is; thus our great-grandfathers and grandfathers came to know it; and notwithstanding today also as such it is the town of the Tolteca, the Calmecactlaca].” Observe that the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca speaks of the coming to be of Cholula in exclusively Indian spiritual terms, yn zan ipaltzinco yn ipalnemoani, yn tlalticpaque (only with the power of that by means of which we live, the possessor of the earth).13 There is no mention of a Chrisitan deity or attempt to demonize these manifestations of the creative force. By underscoring the present, the world witnessed by the ancient great-grandparents remains accessible even after the havoc brought about by the Spanish invasion.

The tlacuilo of the map of Cholula conceived at least in part an audience that participated in the indigenous background of the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca. Those native informants that provided the corregidor Rojas with information about pre-colonial Cholula would have unfailingly recognized the indigenous past on the surface of the depicted colonial present. Rojas quite laconically states, “Y aun hay hoy, por toda la ciudad, reliquias” (and even today, there are relics all over the city).14 In the map of Cholula, the tlacuilo conveys her mastery of several codes and the ability to include at least two radically different readings. Beyond comparison and translation, the map of Cholula invites us to shift backgrounds. Thus, the tlacuilo manifests her capacity to dwell in multiple worlds. Moreover, the mastery of Spanish forms then and modern discourses today need not entail getting caught on the rails of the dialectic bound to hegemonizing and homogeneizing discourses.

The Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca also illustrates the fascination native scribes had with the alphabet as a technology for the recording of voice. The record of voice by means of the alphabet obviously embalms, some would say kills, orality, but by the same token it gives place to a site for the resurrection of the dead. Indian alphabetical texts, at least those recording speech and song, like the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca were not intended to be read in private but rather to be subjected to an oral performance, much like in the pictorial codices of the pre-colonial period. Note the opening remarks that invite the elders to sit and listen to the performance of the alphabetical and pictorial text:

¶ chacui — chini tanquehue xihuiqui notlatzin ximotlali ypan ycpalli — chitao

¶ chacui qieaha tanquehe xihualmohuica ximotlali

¶ chacui tachi — tanquehue — xihuiqui nocoltzin ximotlali

¶ chontana dios tachi — ma Dios mitzmohuquili nocoltzin

¶ chini yn chay — tihimaxoconmit notlatzin tepitzin

¶ chontana chana Dios ma Dios mitzmohuiquili tlatouane

[chacui — chini tanquehue come my uncle sit down on the chair — chitao



chacui qieaha tanquehe come sit down

chacui tachi — tanquehue — my grandfather, come sit down

chontana dios tachi — my grandfather, may God take you

chini yn chay — may you drink my uncle a little bit

chontana chana Dios Oh ruler may God take you]15

This is a bilingual text that juxtaposes Popoloca and Nahutl. I have underlined the Popoloca. This opening statement most likely dates from the early eighteenth century. By invoking the elders to sit and drink this brief text testifies to a performance almost two-hundred years after its production. Several interpretations have been given for the inclusion of a Popoloca version of the Nahuatl. Michael Swanton has argued that this is a ritual text, though he does not fully explain the function bilingualism would have played in the ritual.16 A simpler explanation would be that Popoloca speakers attended, and that it merely reflects an invitation. What remains beyond doubt is that it signals the collective participation in the ritual that reminisces the origins and foundation of Quautinchan. We know the document remained in the community up to 1718, when it became part of Lorenzo Boturini collection. Today it is housed in the Bilbiothèque nationale de France. Since it remained in the community for two-hundred years we may argue that the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca was produced for internal consumption rather than for arguing a case in Spanish courts. We must also assume that the production of the verbal and the pictorial document involved the whole community and that alphabetical writing was soon to be understood as a record of voice, of a particular voicing of a pictorial text that could be brought back, enhanced, relived in future generations. Ghosts particularly haunt writing as a record of voice.

These two maps are products of immanent history that is constituted in the speech of the communities. This space of immanence makes worlds through native languages and backgrounds that often coexist with Euroamerican backgrounds. The community may master the Western codes, stop being subalterns according to a Gramscian definition, but without necessarily subjecting the meaning and significance of their discursive practices to a transcendental principle or institution.

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