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DIFFICULTIES IN LEARNING THE ANCIENT HISTORY OF MEXICO

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There is a contaminated, confusing and complex cloud that prevents us from knowing the history of our ancient past. Among existing problems in this regard we can, at least, mention the following:

1. The 5 century old cultural colonialism, which condemned the vanquished peoples to lose their historic memory, in order to completely and permanently dominate them.

From 1521 onward those who have held power during this time period, whether conquerors, colonizers or creoles, have developed a complex and efficient system so that the children of the children of the invaded—defeated, lose contact with their ancient origins and link their past to the arrival of the dominant culture. The dominant culture titled the 7,500 years of human development prior to the invasion "Pre-Hispanic history". That is, our Old Grandfathers were divested of their name and are now called "before the Spaniards". Because of the colonization processes we now do not know how they called themselves, or how they called this land.

 

2. Little is known of the first two periods (Pre-classic and Classic), because when the late Classic or pinnacle period ended, the knowledge centers and those who inhabited them, mysteriously disappeared without a trace and left no tangible evidence of their passing, for they destroyed and buried, not only their impressive buildings, but basically the wisdom and knowledge that allowed their apex.

 

3. The Aztecs in their expansion period, ordered the destruction of all important codices, where the ancient Cem Anahuac[1] historical memory was kept, and they re-wrote history, wherein they appear as the chosen people; in spite of the fact that, since the founding of México-Tenochtitlan (1325), until the arrival of the invaders (1519), only 194 years had elapsed since the Post-classic which is already considered to be a decadent phase of Anahuac civilization; during which they degraded and transgressed the Quetzalcoatl’s philosophy and religion.

 

4. When the conquerors arrived, they exterminated and destroyed almost all the men of knowledge and their codices, the knowledge centers, temples, and all traces of their civilization until its apparent extinction from the new Spanish world.

 

5. Texts written during the first century of the invasion face the following problems: the Nahuatl of those times was much richer than Castilian Spanish, chief reason why the translation of many ideas and concepts of philosophical, scientific, religious, poetical nature, proved impossible to convey and understand due to the degree of complexity and of the abstraction of the native thought, relative to the primitive european world of the middle ages. Texts written by the conquerors and native converts, were written without any scientific rigor, and were part of allegations to demonstrate their participation and "sacrifices" in the conquest, and to ask for reward or compensation from the Spanish Crown. The missionaries, who described the customs of the defeated peoples, did it in order that other men of the Church could understand native practices and be better able to evangelize the defeated.

 

“The history of the primitive Anahuac population is so obscure and altered with so many fables (as is that of other peoples of the world), that it is impossible to pin point the truth... Several of our historians wanting to penetrate this chaos, guided by the weak light of conjecture, futile combinations and suspicious paintings, have been lost in the darkness of antiquity and have been forced to make puerile and unfunded narrations" (Francisco Javier Clavijero. 1779)[2] The myth of the intellectual missionaries who "defended" and researched the invaded civilization is disproved by serious researchers of the Catholic Church, such as the text entitled "Flower and Song of the Birth of Mexico".

 

"There were some —the lesser— that, as Sahagún, devoted incredible care, worthy of the best modern anthropologist, to delve, in depth, into the Anahuac world;" but this was not due to any appreciation for it, but by the explicit and confessed desire to better destroy it. [The doctor —he asserts at the start of his monumental work— cannot accurately apply medicines to the sick unless he first knows what causes the illness... to preach against these things and even to find out if they exist, it is necessary to know how they were used]. He thus acted (Sahagún), as a captain in command, carefully studying the schematics of enemy facilities: not to admire or copy them, but to better destroy them." (Jose Luis Guerrero. 1990)[3]

 

Indigenous people and their culture represented "the real presence of the devil and evil" for Europeans of the 16th century and the justification for their atrocities. It also has to be considered that "informants" of the missionaries, men of knowledge, now defeated, would not hand over their wisdom to those who, they knew, wanted to obliterate it. Finally, in this regard we shall say that, in cases where the missionaries valued the “diabolical civilization” from another perspective, would be scrutinized by the Holy Inquisition and the Royal bureaucracy, which censored and destroyed any text that would cast doubt over the dogmas which sustained the church and the "just and legal" process of colonization from Spain.

 

"The most deplorable case in this chain of censorship and repression is that of Bernardino de Sahagún. In the fifty years that Sahagún dedicated to the compilation of the grandiose body of knowledge concerning the indigenous culture, he successively suffered the contradiction of Friars and the ecclesiastical authorities of Nueva España (New Spain), the haggling of economic support to conduct his work, the dispersal of his work, and, finally, the confiscation of all his documents, as ordered by the Viceroy Enríquez, which were sent to Spain to be examined by the Indies Council. He died without knowing what fate befell the work to which he devoted his best energies.

 

The requisition of Sahagún’s work was an act linked to the Crown’s decision to ensure that the knowledge of the indigenous past only served its own interests." (Enrique Florescano. 1987)[4]

 

6.- That the majority of the texts of about ancient Mexico were written in the late XIX and XX centuries, and were written by foreigners, with a vision of superiority imbued with a strong euro-centric dose and, in addition, “we have always been investigated by our differences and not by our similarities", and from an assumed plane of cultural superiority and as a scientific prize.

 

7.- Westerners have always, for their research, compared the Anahuac civilization with the European civilization. They study and explain our ancient past with the spirit, ideology and the vision of the Europeans. This is a grievous error, because the current descendants of the original peoples, the so called "indigenous" peoples, do not share the same world and life vision, not even with the Creoles and mestizos, who do not understand how these people do not want or seek "richness", the exploitation of nature, hoarding, comfort, material progress and modernity sourced externally". This was truer still during the periods of conquest and colonization.

 

“Thus, perhaps, it will yet be admitted that those men were not "primitive" rain worshippers, worried about the abundance or the loss of their crops, by the plausible land fertility, but rather had a metaphysical knowledge of what exists. A concept of the world that could explain the qualities of its great mathematicians, astronomers, engineers, architects, sculptors, that are, paradoxically, universally recognized

 

Because everyone agrees in asserting: the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica were distinguished engineers and architects; as is proven by the unparalleled works of the temples and plazas built as if by miracle, in forests or in summits turned into plains, in marshes converted into sound land. There is an amazing use of spaces and masses, as if they were a type of cosmic music in which blocks of silence alternate to perfection with harmonious apertures to silence.

 

They were, likewise, incomparable mathematicians, as is attested by their calculations, and understood the notion of zero, the measurability of movement, according to positions of before and after.

 

They were, also, admittedly and irrefutably, able astronomers, familiar with the motion of celestial bodies, the laws that dictate the advancement and retrocession of planets, the cyclical progression of stars, the weaning and waxing of the moon. These were all known to them by reason and experience; and their time measurement allowed them to calculate, with accuracy, and in minute detail, endless projections of calendar dates.

 

No one denies them the ability to create, in works that have, later on, been deemed to be art, symbolic or realistic images of in clay, wood, metal, stone, of unparalleled quality. The colors they utilized have come down to us in a multiplicity of objects whose plastic values effectively transmit the testimony of their willingness to be. They were, as is universally recognized, artful masters of techniques that have not, to date, been fully explained.

 

It is rightfully assumed that they had a wise, stratified, social organization, hierarchized, based on sound moral principles, according to which common life daily living took place orderly and safely with order and safety.

 

It is known that they spoke rich languages which could express concepts of maximum abstraction, and contained nuances capable of soundly expressing, directly and metaphorically, the languages of science, philosophy and poetic expressions. All this and more, not easily listed here, is admitted by everyone as obvious and plausible. To summarize, we’ll say without a doubt, that the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica were learned men, intellectually and morally able, who knew themselves and the world around them.

 

This notwithstanding, when considering their view of the world and of themselves, authors almost unanimously judge them to be rudimentary savages whose only concern was that the fertility of the land, due to rainfall, would yield the fruits that sustained them. Under the pretext that they made up farming communities, all their spiritual forces are discarded, as is the totality of their religious metaphysical constructs, now reduced to a primitive physical desire for food, at the core and periphery of their existence.

 

With a few exceptions, most authors have this inexplicable fallacy in judgment" (Rubén Bonifaz Nuño. 1986)[5]

 

The brilliant and revealing work of people such as Dr. Carlos Lenkersdorf points out that, due to their colonization, Mexicans have lost access to one of the oldest, and most successful, sources of human wisdom. Lenkersdorf demonstrates that we need to create new relationships with the so-called indigenous peoples and cultures of the twenty-first century.

 

"This we learned due to the fact that we lived and worked for many years with the Tojolabal Mayans, our contemporaries in Chiapas, who taught us their language and culture, which we learned for a reason that we consider important to explain. We had studied and taught in several countries in Europe and in this continent. We had excellent teachers from whom we learned a great deal, who still command our respect. But we were not taught anything about the original peoples in all these universities...

 

The Tojolabal accepted us and taught us their language and culture during three weeks. They did so without books, without prepared teachers, for neither was available. In fact our teachers were illiterate...”

 

>>“You are the first to come amongst us to learn about ourselves. All those who come here want to teach us, as if we knew nothing. They are teachers, doctors, politicians, officials, field workers. Everyone wants to teach us.<<

 

They added another comment. They realized that we tried to write down what we heard from them. They saw something they had not previously seen: their written language. This observation refuted what others had told them: "your dialect cannot be written due to lack of letters". Both observations emphasized the unbalanced relationship between the dominant society and the indigenous peoples, the Tojolabal, for the case in point. The group remained without writing and was disregarded, because “nothing could be learned from them”. The two comments changed our course. For us, the Tojolabal were teachers and not merely ignorant Indians. They taught us what they knew and we ignored. The classes, in addition, were dialogic; we learned their language and they learned how to write it. The relationship to which the Tojolabal were accustomed, transformed. They became educators, and thankfully, we became learners. A change that had not occurred in 500 years, with a few exceptions… (Lenkersdorf, Carlos. “Aprender a Escuchar” “Learning to Listen”, PyV. Méx. 2008, p. 14). [6]

 

8.- The fact that recent texts, written by domestic researchers continue to repeat and take as a base for departure, the errors of foreigners and, most importantly, they pretend to delve into our past based on "objects" (archaeological and documentary remnants) and do not venture into the "subjects" (the historical memory of the native peoples and the philosophical-spiritual aspect that sustains them until today, and that is present in a Stele, in a Codex, a polychrome vase, or a piece of contemporary folk art, in a tradition, legend or custom).

 

“To demonstrate possible inaccuracies of documentary sources, it would suffice to take a look at the descriptions made by the “soldiers” about what they saw. There, a salient misunderstanding can be found, of what was before their eyes. See, for example, their description of the sacred images venerated in the Temple of Tenochtitlan, and compare it with the same images preserved until today. The conclusion will be that there is no similarity between what was written by them and actual reality.

 

Descriptions made by friars like Sahagún and Durán, suffer the same drawbacks when they collect impressions from the victors, and are even more serious when they recorded what was reported to them by the defeated..."

 

"Victorious over the debasement and scorn of foreigners, the signs of that spiritual system of illumination that makes up our cities, still rise.

 

There, urban planning, engineering, architecture, sculpture, metallurgy, painting, all the arts, all sciences, mathematics, astronomy, time measurement, obediently flourished before the enthusiasm of man; self-assured, proud to be the source and path of ascendance to the perfection of life." (Rubén Bonifaz Nuño. 1992)

 

9.- There is an almost total ignorance of our ancient history. When an ordinary Mexican refers to it, it is usually from a "flat perspective that lacks the depth of time". Indeed, the historical dimension of our indigenous history spans, seven and a half millennia from the onset of agriculture until the capture of Tenochtitlan. It cannot be reduced to only the 196 years that begun with the founding of Tenochtitlan until its destruction and have the Aztecs as the purported great cultural heirs of Toltecáyotl and the Anahuac.

 

Our ancient history is far deeper, diverse and complex. It has had, formative, climactic and decadent cycles. Many different cultures in time and space have been a part thereof. However, during all this time there has been a philosophical—cultural matrix inextricably joining the peoples of the Anahuac to us, Mexicans of the twenty-first century, in spite of our historical and cultural amnesia- as a continuation of their work and legacy. Only in colonizing minds, is this historical and cultural continuity unfeasible. Colonists have created our fictional but painful cultural orphanage in order to continue our exploitation and the depredation of our natural patrimony.

 

We urgently need to re-build, re-think and re-invent a history of our own. We must do so without fearing the "sacred cows", the rigid Academy, and the "organic intellectuals". History belongs to those who create it, rather than those who "investigate" it. The history of México must return to the people. It is to be told, and felt, by the people.

 

But however difficult this task may be, we hold the pieces of the puzzle; it will depend on the sensitivity, creativity and spiritual force of whomever intends to try. Our Old Grandparents, and their legacy of wisdom, are still alive in the depths of the souls and hearts of the children of their children; the Mexicans of today.

__________________________

 

1.? Cem ?náhuac is a Náhuatl language concept that refers to the continent. Land surrounded by the celestial waters.

2.? Francisco Javier Clavijero Echegaray (sometimes Francesco Saverio Clavigero) (September 9, 1731 – April 2, 1787 Veracruz, México), was a New Spain Jesuit teacher, scholar and historian. After the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spanish colonies (1767), he went to Italy, where he wrote a valuable work on the pre-Columbian history and civilizations of Mesoamerica and the central Mexican altiplano. He was born in Veracruz (Mexico) of a Spanish father and a Creole mother. His father worked for the Spanish crown, and was transferred with his family from one town to another. Most of the father's posts were to locations with a strong indigenous presence, and because of this Clavijero learned Nahuatl growing up, which would be helpful to him when he became a missionary teacher and historian. The family lived at various times in Teziutlán, Puebla and later in Jamiltepec, in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca.

3.? Guerrero, José Luís, Flor y Canto del nacimiento de México”. Librería Parroquial de Clavería. México.

4.? Dr. Enrique Florescano Mayet (San Juan in Coscomatepec, Veracruz; 1937). He is a renowned and prolific Mexican historian. He teaches at the College of Mexico and holds a doctorate degree from the École Pratique des Hautes Études. His research covers practically the entire history of Mexico, of which the most outstanding centers around the Mesoamerican period, and focuses on religious, mythical aspects and on the figure of Quetzalcoatl. He is a member of the Advisory Science Board to the Presidency of the Mexican Republic.

5.? Rubén Bonifaz Nuño (born 12 November 1923) is a Mexican poet and classical scholar. Born in Córdoba, Veracruz, he studied law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) from 1934 to 1947. In 1960, he began lecturing in Latin at the UNAM's Faculty of Philosophy and Letters and, in 1970, received a doctoral degree in classical art and culture. He has been a member of the Mexican Academy of Language since 1962 where he was Chairman from 1963 until 1996 when he resigned. He was admitted to the National College in 1972. He was awarded Mexico’s National Prize for Literature and Linguistics in 1974.

6.? Anthropologist Carlos Lenkersdorf has claimed several linguistic and cultural features of the Tojolabal primarily the language's ergativity, show that they do not give cognitive weight to the distinctions subject/object, active/passive. This interprets as being evidence in favor of the controversial Sapir-Worf hypothesis.

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