In midcolonial Villa Alta, Oaxaca, New Spain, indigenous political conflict intersected with the extirpation of idolatry to shape an arena of native social life and colonial legal culture about which we know little: Indian jurisdiction over crime. Through analysis of bilingual missionary texts and a unique corpus of Zapotec-language criminal records, this article highlights the role of indigenous judges as translators and innovators of legal procedure, notarial form, and criminal discourse. As they prosecuted crimes in Indian tribunals while seeking justice in Spanish courts, native judges and litigants—in conflict and alliance with Spanish civil and ecclesiastical officials—engaged in a spiraling process of translation that vernacularized colonial criminal justice. By putting the histories of Christian translation and of law and empire into productive dialogue, we reconstruct the processes whereby a Spanish and Christian moral order became locally meaningful and politically useful in indigenous communities far removed from Spanish administrative centers.

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