Tlaltecuhtli in the Altepetl
FIGURE 18. Relaciones Geográficas map of Misquiahuala, circa 1579. Photo by Barbara Mundy. Benson Latin American Library, Austin, Texas.
FIGURE 19. Detail, Relaciones Geográficas map of Misquiahuala, circa 1579. Photo by Barbara Mundy. Benson Latin American Library, Austin, Texas.
FIGURE 20. The tribute province of Axocopan, folio 26v of the Codex Mendoza. Bodleian Library, Oxford.
FIGURE 21. Detail, the tribute province of Axocopan, folio 26v of the Codex Mendoza. Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Our consideration of Central Mexican place signs in the previous section focused on examples from two sources: the Matrícula de Tributos and the Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Although these two documents were created by political rivals—the Aztecs and the Tlaxcalans—both share a regional, wide-scale point of view. Both are documents of Anahuac as a place “Beside the Water.” The places described in both documents stretch from the shores of the Caribbean to the shores of the Pacific, covering thousands of square kilometers. However, the place signs in both documents refer above all to political units, not to geographic features. The Hill of the Jaguar on folio 15v of the Matrícula is above all making reference to an altepetl called Oceolotepec, and not to a particular hill in the Central Mexican landscape.
However, from other documents we know that Central Mexican altepetl often took their names from geographic features in their local landscapes.24 If the Matrícula de Tributos and the Lienzo de Tlaxcala both focus on mapping political geography, other Central Mexican documents are more like landscape paintings. These other kinds of documents chronicle the eyes and shoulders of Tlaltecuhtli in more detail. Significantly, these other, smaller-scale documents used the same pictorial conventions and linguistic constructions we just studied.
For example, in Figure 18 you can see a map of Misquiahuala, a town located about 90 kilometers north of Mexico City.25 It was painted around 1579. It was created because Spain’s King Philip II wanted a geographic survey of his lands in the New World. As a result, in 1577 a list of 50 questions was printed up and sent to the New World. Royal officials were to see that as many towns as possible provided answers to these questions. (A similar survey was also conducted at the same time in central Spain).26 Several of the questions specifically asked that maps of local communities be drawn. Nearly a hundred of these maps (and their accompanying questionnaires) still survive, housed in the Benson Latin American Library in Austin, the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, and the Real Academia de Historia in Madrid. As a group, these documents are called the Relaciones Geográficas (“Geographical Accounts”). Most of these are written on paper, but the map of Misquiahuala is painted on deerskin, like a prehispanic codex.
In the space at the middle of the Misquiahuala map are painted three noblemen, all seated on woven yellow thrones and wearing capes and feathered headdresses. Each man looks directly at a Christian church, drawn with thin black lines. These three pairs of rulers and churches represent the town of Misquiahuala and two communities subject to it: Tezontepec and Atengo. To the left of these three places curves the splashing waters of a river. Originally, this was probably painted blue, but over time its color has faded to a greenish brown.
Drawn around the edge of the sheet of deerskin are a series of rounded hill signs, as well as a yellow border out of which sprout trees and cacti. These are meant to represent the territorial boundaries of the altepetl of Misquiahuala. Boundary maps like these would be incredibly important throughout the colonial period. They were used by indigenous people as evidence in lawsuits against both Europeans and other Native Americans. Hundreds still survive in Mexican archives.27 Each detail in this bordered landscape represents a specific boundary marker, most of which are hills. For example, at the top of the map (which represents East, an orientation very common in indigenous cartography) is a hill marked with a flint knife (Figure 19). This, not surprisingly, represents an actual hill to the east of Misquiahuala called Tecpatepec, “Hill of Flint” or “Hill of Flints.” The answers to the questionnaire that accompanied this map make it clear that this was an actual hill. Furthermore, this hill gave its name to the neighboring altepetl of Tecpatepec:
To the eighth question it is responded that the towns with which boundaries are shared are Tecpatepec, named for a low hill located in the direction of the sunrise, two leagues from here…28
With this Hill of Flint drawing, we can see the complex interaction of different altepetl with the physical landscape. For the altepetl of Tecpatepec, the Hill of Flint was probably an important, even sacred location.29 This hill was the place from which their community took its name. In contrast, for Misquiahuala (whose name means “Where There are Many Mesquite Circles”), this hill was just one of several hills surrounding their town and defining its boundaries.
Some of these other boundary hills also appear on the Misquiahuala map. Painted to the right of the Hill of Flint is another hill sign decorated with a bead. Research by Barbara Mundy has shown that this corresponds to another actual hill between Misquiahuala and Tecpatepec, this one called Cuzcatepec (Hill of the Bead)30. Further to the right is another hill labeled with a serpent. This is yet another hill in the landscape surrounding Misquiahuala, a hill called Coatepec, Hill of the Serpent.
The map in Figure 18, then, provides us with an image of the landscape surrounding Misquiahuala, Tezontepec, and Atengo. This landscape included a line of hills separating those three settlements from their neighbor Tecpatepec. Figure 20 also depicts Misquiahuala and Atenco and Tecpatepec, but this time through the eyes of Aztec bureaucrats. Figure 20 is taken from folio 26v of the Codex Mendoza.31 This was an illustrated book on Central Mexican life created in the 1540s. Significantly, many of its pages about Aztec tribute demands were copied from the pages of the Matrícula de Tributos. Some of the pages of the Matrícula have since been lost, and many are now damaged, so the pages of the Mendoza are an important record of what the Matrícula once looked like. The page you see in Figure 20 (showing the tribute province of Axocopan) is one of the pages now missing from the Matrícula. In the row of towns along the left-hand side you can see the place glyphs for Tecpatepec (the hill with red and white flints, at the very bottom) as well as Misquiahuala and Atengo (Figure 21).32
In other words, Figure 18 and Figure 20 are both representations of the same basic region of Central Mexico. But where the map of Misquiahuala is created from a local point of view, and records the details of local geography, the map from the Codex Mendoza was created far away, in Tenochtitlan. The Codex Mendoza (and its source, the Matrícula de Tributos) records local geographic features only indirectly. They appear when they have given their names to political units, to altepetl like Tecpatepec.
The Conquest of Jaltepec, or, The History of Añute >
24 Boone 2000, 53; cf. Lockhart 1992, 15, 577 n. 6.
25 For a discussion of this map, and of the Relaciones Geográficas in general, see Mundy 1996, 135-138 and plate 7.
26 Christian 1981, 1-22.
27 Leibsohn 1995, 1996. Transcripts of nearly a hundred such boundary documents from Oaxaca, spanning the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, are included in the “Ñudzavui Geographies” section of Mesolore’s Archive.
28 Acuña 1985, 33:“A la octava [pregunta] se responde que los pueblos con quien se parte [términos] es Tecapatepeque, por un cabo que cae a do[nde] sale el sol, [a] dos leguas de aqui…”
29 For example, we know that an actual Hill of the Serpent gave its name to the altepetl of Coatepec (coatl is Nahuatl for snake; see Hodge 1994). This was an important sacred location (Acuña 1985, 132-133). According to their histories, the ancient ancestors of the people of Coatepec decided to settle in Coatepec because they saw a large white snake on top of the Hill of the Serpent.
30 Mundy 1996, 137.
31 Berdan and Anawalt 1992, vol. 3, folio 27r.
32 On the ground, Tecpatepec is due east of Misquiahuala, while Atenco is to the southwest of Misquiahuala; Berdan and Anawalt 1992, vol. 2, 50.