This paper traces the history of a catechetical quiz widely used in colonial New Spain. A succinct summary of Jerónimo de Ripalda's catechism directed at less “capable” Christians, the text makes its first appearance in works published in the 1630s by secular clergy posted in indigenous communities. Jesuit father Bartolomé Castaño, laboring in the colony's northern missions, published the questionnaire's most frequently repeated version in 1644. Renditions in Spanish and in 11 (or more) native languages vary somewhat in the number of questions and the exact questions asked, but a large number of shared questions, presented in the same order, allow the versions to be treated as variants of a single text, which I here call the “Little Doctrine.” That this seventeenth-century text is a standard component of pictographic catechisms calls into question the conventional placement of these pictorial manuscripts into the evangelical tool kit. I here propose a later origin for the genre, as one of the legitimating strategies pursued by indigenous elites in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I suggest that pictographic catechisms supported elites' claims that they accepted Christianity immediately upon the arrival of the friars, learning doctrine in pictographic writing because they had not yet adopted alphabetic script. I compare pictographic versions of the text with alphabetic ones and note how indigenous artists transformed a text intended for “crude” native people into a testimony to the wisdom and faith of their picture-literate conquest-era ancestors.
The “Little Doctrine” And Indigenous Catechesis in New Spain
Louise M. Burkhart is Professor of Anthropology at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is the author of many works on colonial Nahua religious texts. Her most recent book is Aztecs on Stage: Religious Theater in Colonial Mexico (University of Oklahoma Press, 2011), a student-oriented volume distilled from a larger, four-volume project on Nahuatl drama coedited with Barry D. Sell. During 2012–2013 she held the Paul Mellon Senior Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Previous awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She currently serves as president of the American Society for Ethnohistory.
Louise M. Burkhart; The “Little Doctrine” And Indigenous Catechesis in New Spain. Hispanic American Historical Review 1 May 2014; 94 (2): 167–206. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182168-2641271
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