The Relación de Michoacán is our most important single source for the pre-conquest Tarascans. It was compiled about 1540, probably by the Franciscan missionary Fray Martín de Jesús de la Coruña, from information provided by Indian informants. The surviving text, which lacks the first part, begins with an account of Tarascan government in the period just prior to the Spaniards’ arrival and proceeds systematically to deal with religion, warfare, marriage, and other political and social topics. The text then becomes one of narrative history, and we have the Spaniards’ arrival and events of the conquest. “Part II” then deals with an earlier history of migration and settlement, the foundation of the Tarascan state by Tariacuri, and relations with the Aztecs. In all, the amount of information is considerable and its value high, especially given the dearth of alternative and supplementary material. The text is accompanied by forty-four very interesting illustrations depicting the events described and presumably contemporary with the original.
The English edition is attractively presented in a straightforward translation with illustrations, a map of the Michoacán area, and glossaries of terms, deities, and festivals. The translators provide occasional explanatory notes, but for the most part they confine their task to that of rendering the 16th-century Spanish into readable English. A foreword introduces the reader to the materials and presents some related data on Tarascan society and the history of the Escorial manuscript and its copies.
The title, The Chronicles of Michoacán, might at first suggest that additional documents are included in the publication, as in Federico Gómez de Orozco’s anthology of 1940, Crónicas de Michoacan. The publication however is of the Relación de Michoacan alone, and the term Chronicles, while not inappropriate to the content, might be criticized as somewhat misleading. The translators do not seem to be aware of Gómez de Orozco’s work, nor of Félix C. Ramírez’ study of the manuscript published in 1956. These are perhaps explainable omissions in an edition that is not intended to incorporate all past research. But what I find inexplicable is that no reference is made to the 1956 facsimile by José Tudela, which was the subject of a special review in the HAHR by John Glass and which received the usual publicity accorded to important scholarly publications. That translators in 1970 should revert to the Morelia edition of 1903 and refer to this as “probably the best edition” strains one’s credulity. It means of course that the commentary and other useful materials of the Tudela edition are not used. What we have instead is a translation of Martínez Solórzano’s Introduction to the 1903 edition, which incidentally suggests that his source was not the 1869 publication but the “fraudulent” work of 1875. The translators follow Donald Brand in the belief that the 1869 edition was the basis for the 1903 edition, as well as in statements on the supposed “three other manuscript copies.” I know that Brand made a very valuable contribution, but that was in 1943. In any event much more has now been done by way of commentary on the manuscript, identification of other copies, and discussion of relevant problems.