The need for reciprocity after the first violent confrontation in early colonial Latin America was quickly acknowledged by Indians and Spaniards alike. Conqueror and missionary turned to individuals among the native elites to seek support for their goals in exchange for patronage and alliance that would ensure the elites survival under the ruthless colonial regime. For the native elites, this demanded a subtle application of diverse strategies and skills in an ongoing process of negotiation with the Spaniard.

The ability of native elite members to maneuver within the newly established order of the colonial regime and their access to independent initiatives were very much determined, however, by the social and political structures of their society prior to the Spanish conquest. In areas like the province of Chiapa, on the southern edge of the Mexica empire, and in Yucatan, the fall of the major centers had long since left its impact on local hierarchies. Under Spanish rule in Yucatan, for example, territorial rulers (halach vinic) were swiftly reduced to the status of lords governing much smaller units. Local traditional hierarchies in civil and religious matters remained basically unchanged by the conquest, but their authority shrank to the sphere of the community.1 In these areas, responses to the challenges of conquest and Christianization were likely to take the form of more flexible initiatives on the part of the local elites, as groups or as individuals. Where fragmentation into more independent units had created a vacuum, there was also more room for an intermediate stratum—merchants, interpreters, and others—not part of the hereditary nobility, to rise to power through direct ties with the Spaniards. Such was the case of the Zoque and the Maya territorial units in the postconquest province of Chiapa in southern Mesoamerica, which will be the focus of this essay.

How apt were different native elites in their interaction with Spanish colonial institutions, with individual Spanish patrons, and with the agents of Christianization? Did patterns of exchange between native elites and the Hispanic-Catholic world in areas that were part of the great, pre-Columbian empires vary noticeably from those in the remote areas of the periphery? These questions have repeatedly arisen in recent research on Indian-Spanish relationships during the entire colonial period. On the periphery of the great centers, as the case of the province of Chiapa demonstrates, Indian elites were selective in their accommodation of the material and spiritual worlds of the invader, preserving (as Farriss suggested for Yucatan) “what was essential of the past.”2 What was preserved and how far the native elites sought to adapt to Hispanic culture during the early colonial period remain open questions. Strategies of cooperation varied from region to region and particularly in relation to the distance from the Spanish towns, the administrative centers of the colonial regime. Taylor and Chance have shown how during the early seventeenth century an entire segment of the native elites in the area of Oaxaca-Antequera migrated to the Spanish town, where they could better defend their position and property. And the one characteristic that elite members of different ethnic affiliation shared was that they all “for one reason or another, severed their ties with their native communities and cast their lot with Spanish society.”3 But on the whole, and especially during the sixteenth century, the solution for the overwhelming majority of elite members lay in creating changes within their own society.

What was the basis for reciprocity between individuals or groups from the Indian elites and the Spaniard on the periphery? How intense were the contacts established? What were the responses on the part of those involved? In a recent article on the southern Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico, Judith Zeitlin has commented that “an enormous social distance would have limited opportunities for mutual observation and understanding between Spaniard and Indian on the rare occasions that they met.”4 My findings challenge this assumption, at least for the area under study.

Through a case study of the colonial district of the audiencia of Guatemala and the province of Chiapa in particular, I seek to establish how strategies of cooperation with the new colonial rulers and the new religion affected the lives and career patterns of individuals from among the Indian elites. I will further explore the attitudinal and behavioral patterns that characterized these elites, and the social and religious frameworks that emerged as a result of the transition they underwent following the conquest. The policies adopted by the church hierarchy and colonial government as well as the regular orders in charge of the Indian parishes—and their role in the overall power struggle over Indian lands—are, to my mind, also central to understanding the developments that affected the native world.

The Initial Contacts: Reciprocity Under Constraints

The first twenty-five years of Spanish colonial rule in Chiapa, from 1522 to 1547, were an important transitional period. Indian society was granted a short term in which to reestablish itself after the initial trauma of the conquest and the epidemics that followed, and to reaffirm the socioeconomic pre-Columbian patterns of control thrown into disarray by the colonial campaigns of resettlement (reducciones) and Christianization.

At the end of 1529, a violent measles epidemic ravaged the entire region of Chiapa for about a hundred days, taking a heavy death toll. Many Indians abandoned their communities and scattered in the woods or in other less affected communities, leaving their dead behind and unwittingly carrying death with them.5 Between 1540 and 1582, it has been estimated that around two-thirds of the indigenous population of Chiapa and Guatemala was wiped out by pandemics, mainly the infamous Gucamatz, pneumonic plague, smallpox, and bubonic plague, not to mention drought and famine.6 By the midsixteenth century, major territorial units had gradually disintegrated.

The extensive reducciones carried out by missionaries and colonial officials in dispersed communities and settlements in the region undoubtedly contributed significantly to the process of political and social erosion of local traditional structures. The only communities left untouched by resettlement campaigns were the major cabeceras, such as Chiapa de Indios, Comitán, Ocosingo, Tecpatlán, and Zinacantlán. Thus it is in these major Indian centers that one is able to identify, during the 1540s, the rise of the smaller, semiautonomous, traditional framework of the calpulli7 in place of the former great territorial unit of the city-state. The structure and social organization of the calpulli were to become the basis of power and stability in Indian society during most of the colonial period, a frame-work from which the local lords derived their power and legitimacy. Their ability or inability to sustain the traditional social order and resist changes pressed upon them by the new Spanish suhordinator, I believe, relied on the support they received in the calpulli as much as in the cabecera of their community. Furthermore, it was on this level that initial contacts and patron-client relations were established between “lesser elite” members belonging to the cabeceras and Spanish dignitaries.

Throughout the early colonial period, the relationship between the native population and the local Spanish community in the district of the Audiencia of Guatemala was generally reflected in the strict legal barriers prohibiting the settlement of Spaniards among the Indian communities. The creation of Spanish-style townships away from the dispersed Indian hamlets and settlements was followed by legislation restricting the movements of Spanish colonists within the Indian communities.8 Nevertheless, town Spaniards settled in lands on the outskirts of dense Indian population centers in the district. At first, they established rural properties close to the main trade routes leading to the towns, mainly in the valleys of Petapa and Canales near Santiago de Guatemala and north of Chiapa de Indios in the province of Chiapa.9 Later, they extended their settlements to the frontier, especially with the cacao plantations in the areas of Suchitepéquez, Escuintla, and Chiquimula in Guatemala, and in the Grijalva Valley in Chiapa.10 These rural properties were essentially primitive sugar mills, cattle ranches, and pig farms managed most of the year by the colonists bastard sons from Indian women or by humble Spaniards who served as mayordomos.11

The degree of native support given to the Spaniards in the province of Chiapa depended mainly on conditions in a specific community at the time of the conquest. However, beginning in 1546-47, when cooperation between Spaniard and Indian emerged in political alliances between some of the Indian hereditary lords of the province and Spanish dignitaries in charge of the district, such support became widespread among the lesser elite.12 During the first half of the sixteenth century, the lesser elite among the different Indian ethnic groups of Chiapa consisted predominantly of young merchants, petty tradesmen, public notaries, and interpreters (naguatates), most of whom were in their midtwenties. Besides their native languages, they spoke Nahuatl, the lingua franca, as well as Spanish, and their occupational background was partly hereditary, as their fathers were priests, merchants-dignitaries, and councillors.13 Unlike central Mexico, where in pre-Columbian times the merchant class (pochtecas) traditionally filled the role of political intermediary, the Mayas (and probably also the Chiapanecs and Zoques) lacked a distinct group that could function in this unique capacity.14 Consequently, anyone among the higher or lesser elite could assume the role of political and cultural mediator that the new colonial reality required.

During the late 1540s, the introduction of the Spanish-style cabildo in the forcibly resettled Indian communities in Chiapa contributed to the rise of the lesser elite at the expense of the hereditary lords. They often collected tribute for the encomendero, oversaw the weekly recruitment of labor from the barrios for the Spanish town residents, participated in court cases as interpreters and notaries, and served as catechists and aids (teupantlecas) to the local parish priest.15 Colonial court records and a variety of other sources, including probanzas de méritos, identify some of these early intermediaries as thirty-year-old Domingo Nambino, a Chiapanec merchant, Juan Mendonal, a Chiapanec dignitary of the same age, and Antonio Mobo, a local interpreter for the Spaniards.15 Among the most prominent was Juan Atonal, a merchant-dignitary from the community of Chiapa de Indios. Although the data are insufficient for a group profile, he appears to exemplify some more general currents of native society during the second half of the sixteenth century. Much the same can be said of Cristóbal Arias, a lord from the neighboring Maya-Tzotzsil community of Zinacantlán, as representing a higher level of the native elite.

The Struggle for Political and Cultural Integrity

Teochiapán (the preconquest Chiapa de Indios), situated on the right bank of the Río Grijalva, was the most prominent power on the southeastern border of the Mexica confederacy. We know from testimonies of its own Indian rulers that it was a highly organized city-state with at least six towns within its territorial dominion, most of them Chiapanec and some Zoque, like Tustla. Other Zoque settlements to the northeast were forced to pay an annual tribute to the city-state, and all major trade routes of the region were under its authority.17

In March 1523, on the eve of Teochiapán’s surrender to the Spanish task force of Capt. Luis Marín, the city had a population of about ten thousand, excluding the periphery.18 Under Nacayola, its supreme lord, Teochiapán included eight semiautonomous calpulli, each ruled by its own political and religious hierarchy. Nacayola’s control was very far from solid. His pragmatic decision to surrender to the Spaniards did not prevent other local lords from offering fierce resistance.19 Moreover, even before his final surrender, several principalities subject to Teochiapán had joined its traditional foes in the area, like Zinacantlán, to offer the Spaniard their help in delivering the final blow.20

On his death bed in 1536, Nacayola appointed Pedro Nuti, one of the local calpulli lords, to be his successor. Realizing that after his death a struggle would break out between the few lords who supported him and the majority who had resisted the Spaniards, Nacayola’s choice was a conscious concession to the latter. His only condition was that after Nuti’s own death the hereditary right should return to his family, to his son Luis, who at that time was too young to rule.21

Juan Atonal first appears in the sources in 1543, when he was placed by the encomendero of Chiapa de Indios, Baltazar Guerra, in charge of the Indian slaves drafted from the encomienda to work in the encomendero’s nearby sugar mill on land that belonged to the community holdings of Chiapa de Indios.22 It was probably then that Juan Atonal began to form his first network of patronage with Spanish men of power across the district. In 1545, when the New Laws were introduced in the province of Chiapa, Baltazar Guerra freed the Indian slaves and allowed them to settle on the land where the sugar mill stood.23 Nevertheless, Indians from the community were still employed at the encomendero’s rural estate and in his household in Ciudad Real on the basis of the repartimiento through the faithful mediation of Juan Atonal.24

In 1547, when the important encomienda of Chiapa de Indios was taken from Baltazar Guerra and placed under the crown, the community and its annexes were made directly subordinate to the municipal council of Ciudad Real.25 Chiapa de Indios then became the center of a fierce power struggle between opposing factions of the local elite—those like Atonal, who openly supported the interests of the Spanish encomendero oligarchy that ruled the town council of Ciudad Real (as well as the entire province), and the calpulli lords, backed by the Dominican parish priests.26

Between Easter Eve 1545 and the summer of 1547, a strong political and ideological conflict had broken out within the small Spanish colonial community of Ciudad Real between the recently arrived Dominicans, who followed the radical legacy of their master Bartolomé de Las Casas, and the local encomenderos. This struggle was essentially over the control of the Indian population in the surrounding communities and the right to direct the local social and political transformations that were taking place under colonial rule. From the Spanish community, where the conflict was the subject of public preaching from the pulpits in the town’s cathedral, the conflict spread to the Indian communities. A close analysis of Indian responses shows that the Indians were well acquainted with the political feud, and their interpretations of the events are crucial to understanding the changes occurring on the community level.27 Local Indian dignitaries were divided between supporters of the priests and supporters of the encomenderos and entangled in ever-growing acts of hostility that threatened to extend well beyond the boundaries of their community.

The power struggle within the Indian community soon led to open conflict. On July 22, 1547, the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalene, the two Dominican friars residing in Chiapa de Indios, Fr. Pedro Calvo and Fr. Diego Calderón, challenged the Spanish encomendero oligarchy of Ciudad Real from the pulpit in the church, proclaiming a joint program to free Chiapa de Indios from the colonists’ domination. Among the rebelling lords was Pedro Nuti, who in August 1546 had been deposed by the encomendero oligarchy on the ground of disobedience to his encomendero, Baltazar Guerra, and to the colonial regime in general. He was sentenced to exile, all his possessions were confiscated, and the cacicazgo of Chiapa de Indios was granted, as planned, to don Juan Tegcapán, a well-known colonial sympathizer. By the end of 1546, however, Nuti was back in his community through the initiative of the two local priests.28

During the past year, a local cabildo had been established in which supporters of the colonists filled most public offices. However, the gathering at the church on the feast day also served as an occasion for the public condemnation of Juan Atonal and his associates within the lesser elite who openly cooperated with the Spaniards and were rapidly accumulating power within the community at the expense of the hereditary lords. They were denigrated as “having made a pact with the Jews and the devils of the underworld.”29 The strong Christian typology used to describe the relationship between the lesser elite and their Spanish patrons reveals more about the direct involvement of the Dominican friars in the internal conflict than about the absorption of the new faith in this community.

The program of redeeming Chiapa de Indios from the colonists’ rule was to be carried out in several stages. The first stage was to break away from the recently established cabildo in the cabecera of Chiapa de Indios. The second was to take place on the other side of the Río Grijalva, where Pedro Nuti was to assume the position of the preconquest Chiapanec territorial ruler and to form alliances with the lords of the six client communities formally subjects of Chiapan, who would join him together with their macehuales. Emissaries were in fact sent to the six client communities to secure their support, and the local macehuales of Chiapa de Indios were ordered by their lords to stop providing services to the colonists and to trust the Dominican friars only. Meanwhile, the two friars left with a delegation of two hundred Indians for Ciudad Real to proclaim their program in front of the municipal council, a step the colonists interpreted as an open act of aggression in preparation for a general uprising of the entire province.30 However, in contrast to what the testimony suggests, Nuti did not plan to rise against the colonial regime, but to maintain the relative cultural and political autonomy of the past thirty years. The entire program was a desperate attempt on the eve of an era of drastic changes in Indian society.

The program was shattered by an armed expedition of the Spanish municipal council. Nuti was arrested and his calpulli disbanded, and one of the cooperating lords, Hernando Noyola, was nominated as the cacique.31 But in December 1547 a commission of the Audiencia of Guatemala, led by Lic. Diego Ramírez, arrived in the province of Chiapa to investigate the events that had taken place between the encomendero oligarchy and the Dominicans, recognized Nuti as the rightful ruler of Chiapa de Indios, and supported his supremacy.

The occurrences in Chiapa de Indios and the province in general reflected the growing power struggle over jurisdiction and control of the Indian population between the recently established audiencia and the encomenderos. At least during these early years the new audiencia pursued the recommendations of the Spanish crown and the Council of the Indies, strongly opposing independent acts of reprisal initiated by the encomendero oligarchy and denying its rights to nominate new caciques and depose the ruling hereditary elite. Accusations brought against some of Ciudad Real’s most prominent encomenderos and alcaldes had seriously injured the local oligarchy’s authority and temporarily hampered its capacity to exercise power over internal affairs in the Indian communities.32

During the 1570s, the rivalry between the Dominicans and the Ciudad Real oligarchy over Indian lands in the province reached its peak.33 Pro-Spanish lesser-elite members in the various communities in the province of Chiapa, like Juan Atonal of Chiapa de Indios, were again mobilized by the encomenderos to preserve their interests in these communities. At the same time, the Indian communities’ collective enterprise—the cofradías—created under the friars’ guidance and until then owned and administered by each community was now shared by the Dominican priories. Popular confraternities like St. Mary and Our Lady of the Rosary provided the framework for the appropriation of communal lands and estancias through “donations” to the Dominican order and for the distribution of labor by the friars and recently settled Spanish colonists. In the case of the Dominicans, earlier alliances and bonds of patronage with their local client lords and dignitaries proved most useful for this purpose.

Juan Atonal during the 1570s regularly provided the Spanish municipal authorities of Ciudad Real with information concerning the economic transactions of the friars in the Indian communities, such as their acquisition of two ranches from the local community holdings of Chiapa de Indios.34 Information was also regularly passed to the alcalde mayor concerning tribute exemptions by the Dominicans. Thus, for example, in 1580, Juan Atonal and his son-in-law, Pedro Mata, sent a letter to the alcalde mayor informing him of two hundred men who had been exempted by the local Dominican priest from paying tribute.35

The struggle for Indian hearts, allegiance, and loyalty became a fierce struggle over land and income, all at a time of severe economic depression in the colony. The shaky economic and social situation in the Indian communities made it easier for colonists to purchase vacant land from the native lords, who were willing to sell, in particular, lands removed from their jurisdiction by the resettlement policy. The acquisition of Indian community lands, however, often met with strong opposition from the Dominican parish priests, who also interfered with encomenderos’ attempts to secure royal permission to establish cattle ranches on such lands.36 In 1581, members of the municipal council of Ciudad Real thus complained bitterly to Philip II that the friars influenced royal decrees against them, “destroying all our estancias, letting the Indians kill our cattle and occupy our land.”37

Zinacantlán: The Case of the Higher Elite

If Juan Atonal represented the alliance between Spaniards and the lesser elite, Cristóbal Arias, a lord from the Maya-Tzotzil community of Zinacantlán, represented reciprocity between the Spaniards and the higher elite of the hereditary lords and their descendants in the province. While the information concerning Juan Atonal was gathered from overlapping sources, a full record of Arias’s personal history exists in the probanza de méritos that he presented to the Spanish crown in 1581. In his probanza, Arias asked for the following privileges: that his son Caspar Arias should be nominated to the office of public notary of Zinacantlán, that his kin should be granted the hereditary right to ride horses and carry arms, and that his other son, Lorenzo, should become an alguacil mayor (high constable) and a permanent regidor of the community.38 It was an extravagant list of requests of a kind rarely presented to the Spanish colonial administration. In 1584, the requests were still under consideration by the Council of the Indies in Madrid. We have no indication that they were ever granted.

In 1581 Arias was sixty years old, the legitimate son of Cuzcacuatl, the pre-Columbian supreme lord of Zinacantlán. In Arias’s family, cooperation with the Spaniards began with the conquest. In December 1522, his father, Cuzcacuatl, came to Villa de Espíritu Santo, together with another lord, Macuychiche, to offer his submission and cooperation in the conquest of neighboring city-states. The offer was made before Francisco Marmolejo, one of the younger captains of Sandoval’s men, who received the important encomienda of Zinacantlán through Cortés’s personal orders.39 The offering of submission to the foreign invader was carried out in accordance with the rigid and highly ritualized set of norms established by pre-Columbian Maya and Mexica traditions, of which we possess a compelling account in Marmolejo’s legal proceedings for the reinstatement of his encomienda.40

During Easter 1523, Cuzcacuatl participated in the final pacification of the Zoque, Chiapanec, Maya-Tzotzil, and Tzeltal centers of Coapilla, Solochiapa, Chiapan, Chamula, Huistlán, and Comitán by the Spanish Capt. Luis Marín. In 1528 he led Diego de Mazariegos into the valley of Huehezacatlán where the Spanish capital was established.41 Motivated by traditional regional rivalries, this cooperation later seriously endangered Cuzcacuatl’s supremacy in Zinacantlán as well as his personal safety, and he had to seek the protection of his new encomendero, Pedro de Estrada, and other leading Spaniards in Ciudad Real. It was then that the basis for a future alliance between Arias and his father’s protectors was formed.42

Arias’s father was one of the wealthiest men among the native population of the province, an owner of property who engaged in commerce across the region. During the fifteenth century, Zinacantlán served as an important trading post on the route from the Valley of Mexico to the Pacific coast of Soconusco as well as from Acalán and Xicalango through the Zoque area. Besides Zinacantlán itself, its territory included six subject settlements. Zinacantlán’s center had in 1522 180 houses and 400 “vecinos”—possibly referring to able men (warriors)—and the entire Zinacantec territory had 781 vecinos.43 The specialty of Zinacantlán was the production of blue and black tint, with which the Indians dyed clay objects, feathers, and cotton fabrics, valued commodities in the highland and lowland trade barter in the Coatzacoalcos-Xicalango markets.44 Two decades before the Spanish conquest, when Zinacantlán was a subject of the Aztecs, its market served Aztec pochtecas, and by 1545, Zinacantlán’s weekly market (tianguis) had regained its status as the largest in the province after that of Ciudad Real.45

His prosperity from trading with the neighboring Indian communities, with Spaniards in Zinacantlán’s market, in Ciudad Real, and even with the distant Valley of Mexico enabled Cuzcacuatl to repay his Spanish patrons for their protection. In times of agricultural shortages, he offered them scarce provisions and even money; during major Catholic feasts, he presented them with gifts.46 Thus, Cuzcacuatl, as would later generations of Hispanicized Indians, tried to reinforce his posture as an ally of the Spaniards rather than as their inferior dependent.47

When Cuzcacuatl died, probably in the mid-1540s, Arias inherited a great part of his estate and his close connections with Spanish dignitaries, but not his status as the supreme lord of Zinacantlán.48 The Dominicans intervened to support his ardent opponent, Bartolomé Tzon, against the will of the encomendero, Pedro de Estrada, and deprived Arias of his hereditary rights. The conflict that erupted between the friars and the encomendero resulted in a Spanish raid on the community on Christmas Day 1546.49

Confronted with continuous opposition inside Zinacantlán, Arias was obliged to extend his political and social alliances with the Spaniards. By 1580, three of his closest Spanish patrons in Ciudad Real, besides his encomendero, were Lorenzo de Menzes, one of the first conquerors and settlers in the town; Diego de Trejo, one of the town’s regidores; and Sancho Solórzano, an honorary resident of the town and a regular visitor to Zinacantlán, who had trade contacts with Arias.50 Like Juan Atonal of Chiapa de Indios, Arias also kept close working relations with the municipal council of Ciudad Real. Thus, for example, on January 13, 1580, he paid 561 tostones for eleven horses offered at public auction by the council in the town’s main square; these were divided between the alcalde mayor and Lic. Antonio de Collecos, the town’s prosecutor.51

Arias’s involvement with the Spanish community no doubt required a greater commitment than that required of the lesser elite members such as Juan Atonal. In 1556, he was asked by his Spanish patrons to participate together with an army of Indians in the first expedition of the oidor Pedro Ramírez de Quiñones to the still unsubjugated Lacandón and Pochutla regions. Testimonies given on his behalf stressed his military initiative and ability, yet only in 1573, seventeen years after his participation in the military expedition, was Arias exempted by his encomendero and Cristóbal de Axcoeta, an oidor of the Audiencia of Guatemala, from paying tribute, and by then he was in any case close to reservado status.52

Even if full acceptance by the Spaniards was often elusive, reciprocating elites inevitably enjoyed certain privileges that set them apart from fellow Indians. Such accommodation and the adoption of Spanish cultural paradigms alienated the bulk of the native population from the Hispanicized Indians and strongly affected their access to power within their own communities. This alienation, however, was soon to serve as catalyst for the molding of a group identity among members of the Hispanicized elite in the province of Chiapa that crossed geographical and ethnic lines.

The Religious Facet of Accommodation

Strategies of reciprocity with the Spanish colonial rulers adopted by members of the Indian elites in the province of Chiapa on the political, economic, and social levels during this period also resonated in the religious sphere, where the degree of assimilation of Catholicism depended significantly on local needs and traditional structures. The religious organization and practices of Indian communities in the province provide numerous examples of the conflict that typically accompanied the process of accommodation among the native elites.

During the 1570s and 1580s, within Indian parishes, the constant shift of traditional practices from the limits of the calpulli to the community’s center, the cabecera, meant that these practices often remained inseparable from the living reality of the native society. The reading of the sacred books of the community, the recitation of traditional chants, and the performance of ritual dances accompanied by the wearing of masks and feathers during major Catholic feast days rivaled the celebration of mass and participation in the Eucharist. The miracle of the Host was challenged by the miracles of the principal deities still venerated in hidden locations, where they spoke through the deity impersonators. The performance of healing ceremonies by the patrilineal group elders and the efficacy of their sorcery continually tempted the Indians away from the miraculous powers of the saints in the local church.53 The ability of the parish priest to confront this deviance was weak, since he could seldom distinguish between mere popular practices or superstitions and outright idolatry. Incantations, divinations, the wearing of masks on feast days, the blessing of the fields, the enacting of popular myths and legends, and the practice of sorcery were often perceived by the inexperienced parish priest as popular practices that could be understood within the penumbra of lay piety.

The constant crisis within the Indian community and the conflictive nature of reciprocity with the Spaniards led many among the local elites to seek a common ritual framework as answer to the personal distress of those caught between two worlds. Pious devotion to the powerful Catholic saints of their patrons could provide neither the sense of protection nor the solidarity that they sought. Moreover, the solution no longer lay in following pre-Columbian traditions. They turned instead to a syncretist practice within the recently established framework of the Indian cofradía.54

The Indian Cofradía in Early Colonial Perspective

What we know of the nature of the Indian cofradía in the district of the audiencia of Guatemala comes primarily from sources related to the first and second decades of the seventeenth century, when cofradías became especially widespread in the Indian communities. A few dispersed accounts from the last decades of the sixteenth century indicate that when the first cofradías were founded in the Indian parishes during the 1560s, the church considered them not only effective social and religious mechanisms to control idolatry and superstition, but also catalysts for the development of communal property such as livestock ranches, cotton fields, and other means by which the Indian community increased its economic independence. The cofradías soon proved to be particularly useful for the institutionalization of charity and welfare, for financing public offices and feasts, for burying the dead, and for recruiting men for collective labor.55

In the beginning, membership in the cofradías depended on the nomination of the local lords and the cabildo elders. By the middle of the seventeenth century, at least some offices had become hereditary, limited to the wealthy and prestigious members of the community and their sons. Offices in the cofradía, especially the office of the patron, became a source of wealth as well as of social and political status. In the lowlands of Chiapa and Guatemala, the patrons would often allocate lands for the cultivation of maize and cacao, the harvests being distributed to the cofradía members, the community, and the patron himself.56 According to Thomas Gage, the patrons of the cofradías manufactured images of their favorite saints and founded shrines in their houses that attracted a local clientele, whose donations would be transferred to the parish priest. However, the patron kept fees charged for particular family services, such as the burial of the dead or masses for the souls of the deceased.57

As early as the 1570s, the church and the colonial government in the district of the audiencia of Guatemala became increasingly concerned over indications of the improper use of the cofradías and the spread of heresy within them. As a result, both the ecclesiastical and the secular arms moved to limit the relative independence of the cofradías through ordinances that confined the number of annual feasts celebrated by the cofradías to the feast of the local patron saint, Easter, and vespers on the day of Corpus Christi.58

The Elite Cofradía of the Twelve Apostles: Group Identity and Ritual

The elite Cofradía of the Twelve Apostles in the province of Chiapa was probably founded by Juan Atonal during the mid-1570s in Chiapa de Indios. Preliminary contacts for the establishment of this cofradía were made between Juan Atonal and Cristóbal Arias and the latter’s associates among the local elite in the community of Zinacantlán, where the two would meet regularly.59 Further contacts with other adherents of this cofradía were possibly made through trade relations in the regional markets, where Zoque, Zinacantec, and Tzeltal merchants met, and through their mutual Spanish patrons among the tiny Spanish population of Ciudad Real.

By 1584, the Cofradía of the Twelve Apostles included between fifteen and twenty active members in Chiapa de Indios alone, besides Juan Atonal’s son, Cristóbal; elite members from the six client communities of Chiapa de Indios; dignitaries from the Maya-Tzotzil community of Zinacantlán and Zoque community of Ocotepeque, from the Maya-Tzeltal community of Ocosingo, and from the Maya-Tzeltal communities of the tierra caliente.60 In structure and essence the Cofradía of the Twelve Apostles was a Hispanic framework for group identity that strengthened existing ties between closely related individuals of the Indian higher and lesser elites of diverse ethno-linguistic affiliations in the province of Chiapa. It also created a new form of alliance among its members, based on the ritual kinship of compadrazgo.

The brotherhood lodge was founded by Juan Atonal in one of his households in the client community of Suchiapa, possibly to avoid constant surveillance by the Dominican priests who resided in Chiapa de Indios. In Suchiapa, a shrine was erected in honor of the Chiapanec high god, Maviti, whose anthropomorphic figure was worshipped along with such popular Catholic images as Our Lady of the Rosary, venerated in Chiapa de Indios.61 In the cofradía Juan Atonal nominated ten of the members, besides himself and his son, to officiate as priestly mayordomos, each named after one of the Apostles. These twelve embodied the sky gods of the Chiapanec cosmology. Apart from the twelve men, a ritualistic role was also given to two women priests, who were named after the venerated St. Mary and St. Mary Magdalene and acted as earth goddesses in charge of fecundity.62

This unusual cofradía formed part of a more general process of transition affecting the entire Indian belief system and structures as a result of interaction with the Hispanic-Catholic world. After they had studied the native languages and oral traditions, the mendicant parish priests labored to replace characteristics intrinsic to local deities with virtues attributed to the patron saints who were introduced in each of the parishes. But the friars’ teachings frequently assumed another form, shape, and meaning when translated into local cosmology. A Maya myth from the Tzeltal community of Oxchuc in the province of Chiapa, for example, relates how the old terrestrial deity, impersonated by Antichrist, was defeated by the patron saint of the community, St. Thomas, and left in a remote volcano tied to one of the four pillars of the earth. The patron saint is later described emerging from the volcano accompanied by Ku Ch’ul Chan, the Maya Tzeltal version of Quetzalcoatl, the benevolent sky deity, who showed him the way to the community church. This myth suggests a compromise reached by the Maya deities and the patron saints, rather than the superimposition of the latter upon the former.63

In most of the Indian parishes in the province of Chiapa, the gradual transformation and fusion led at first to the emergence of two parallel religious systems: the autochthonous ritual, with its regional high god and patrilineage and calpulli deities, venerated in the traditional caves, mountain tops, and water holes, and the public cult of the Catholic saints in the local church.64 In comparison, the ritual of the Cofradía of the Twelve Apostles transcended the obvious demarcation between the two religious spheres, and therefore may represent a more advanced stage of fusion of the two religious systems. The cofradía’s unique development caught the attention of the church and the colonial government.

The Bishop’s Visitation: The Response of the Church. Early in February 1585, Fr. Pedro de Feria, the Dominican bishop of Chiapa, sent a memorial to the third Mexican provincial synod in Mexico City in which he described a visitation he had made the previous September to the Indian parishes of Chiapa de Indios and Suchiapa, where a heretical cofradía known as the Twelve Apostles was unearthed. The heresy of this particular cofradía, according to the bishop, “was spreading fast, like cancer all over the province of Chiapa” and was disseminated especially among Hispanicized (“ladino”) elite members of the Indian communities in the province.65 Up to September 1584, when the Cofradía of the Twelve Apostles was discovered, its members were regarded by the Spanish colonial community, including the parish priests, as the most devoted Christians in native society. The second generation to be Christianized, they were brought up by the church. Some of them had even served as catechists and aids to the priests, and they had been administered the sacraments of confirmation, communion, and confession for the past thirty-nine years, as the bishop noted in his memorial. In short, they were the most prestigious group to emerge as a product of evangelization in the district of Guatemala. The discovery of their deviance therefore aroused disbelief and indignation among the parish priests and the bishop.

Bishop Feria’s memorial emphasizes acts of blasphemy against Christianity and a deliberate subversion of the new faith that derived not from ignorance, as was usually the case with Indian idolaters, but from spite and malice.66 The bishop had been well aware for some time of the ambivalence and inconsistency present in his own order and among the Mexican bishops regarding the measures that should be adopted against Indian religious deviance. The need for a firm hand and stricter measures had been acknowledged four years earlier by Fr. Alfonso de Vargas, the parish priest of the Maya-Tzeltal community of Ocosingo, who warned in a letter of the spread of heresy in the bishopric and placed the blame directly on his Dominican predecessors who had done little to combat deviance in their parishes.67

The unique case of the Cofradía of the Twelve Apostles was an opportunity for the bishop and other hardline Dominicans to initiate new debate on the neophytic status enjoyed by the Indians until then. In order to corroborate his case of heresy before the Mexican synod, Bishop Feria in his memorial applied the typology used during that period in Spain to describe prominent heresies related in particular to the recently converted religious minorities, the moriscos and conversos. He therefore remarked in his memorial that the ritual contexts of this particular cofradía “seem to resemble those of the Alumbrado sects.” The denial of confession, the belief in an alternative, direct form of divine revelation, the rejection of the sacrament of communion, and “simple fornication” were the most substantial accusations presented against the cofradía’s leaders, similar to those found in contemporaneous Inquisitorial court records concerning the sects of the Alumbrados.68 When he wrote his memorial, Bishop Feria also had in mind the resolutions of the first Mexican provincial council of 1555, which recommended punitive actions against Indian idolaters similar to those forced upon heretics and apostates in Europe.69 He was convinced that the case of this elite cofradía would influence the synod to revive the policy of 1555.

In the middle of September 1584, when Bishop Feria visited Chiapa de Indios and the neighboring communities, Juan Atonal and his son had been away in the town of Santiago de Guatemala. Anticipating the grave results that might arise once the bishop’s visitation ended and the existence of the syncretist cofradía was revealed, Juan Atonal provided the president of the audiencia, García Valverde, with a full report in justification of his and his associates’ activities. Like other members of the cofradía, Juan Atonal was well aware of the strong protection he enjoyed from the secular arm of the district and was fully prepared to use it. Only a few months earlier, the alcalde mayor of Chiapa instructed the corregidor of Chiapa de Indios to pressure the local cabildo to elect Pedro Mata, Atonal’s son-in-law, the next alcalde of the community—an event delayed by the developments of September 1584. Following the bishop’s visitation (and Atonal’s report), President Valverde issued a special order prohibiting Fr. Pedro Barrientos, the parish priest, and his fellow friars from proceeding against the accused. In so doing the president quoted a bull of Pope Gregory XIII declaring that “in the New World, the bishops retained the duty to absolve the Indian neophytes of any sins committed against the Christian faith.”70

In the course of the ten days of Bishop Feria’s visitation to the communities surrounding Ciudad Real, many inhabitants of Chiapa de Indios and the client communities had, however, come forward to denounce the Cofradía of the Twelve Apostles. Soon afterward members of the cofradía were arrested by the Dominican friars, put in stocks, and prepared to stand trial in Santiago de Guatemala. In Chiapa de Indios and Suchiapa the cofradía members were placed in stocks facing a crowd in the community square and forced to make public penance. The cofradía’s principal image of Maviti was then broken into small pieces by the parish priest, Barrientos, and cast into the fire where it turned to ashes.71

One reason for the eagerness with which many among the native population collaborated with the friars against the cofradía can doubtless be found in the hostility stretching back to the 1540s between the Hispanicized Indians of the cofradía, Juan Atonal in particular, and the traditional hierarchy of the community. The Indian community was willing to sacrifice its unfavored members to protect the entire community from the persecution of the church. Very similar responses had been recorded during the campaign of Diego de Landa and the Franciscans to extirpate idolatry in Yucatan.72

The Response of the Colonial Government and the Issue of Assimilation. The trial in Santiago de Guatemala never took place, for the cofradía’s leaders were released through a decree of the Audiencia and sent back to their communities. Five months later, on January 1, 1585, the day of the New Year’s elections for the local cabildo of Chiapa de Indios, Juan Atonal was elected alcalde and his son, Cristóbal, regidor through the direct intervention of the Spanish encomendero oligarchy in Ciudad Real and the corregidor of Chiapa de Indios.73 In the rest of the Indian communities in the province, leaders and members of the cofradía also took their places in the local political scene.

The way in which the Audiencia of Guatemala chose to treat the cofradía’s leaders can be understood only if we take into consideration the ongoing power struggle between church and state—the mendicant orders and the colonial government—for hegemony over the Indians. In this conflict, which went on until the 1590s, Hispanicized Indian elites in the province, as we have seen, played a major part as guardians of the interests of the colonial government in their communities. Furthermore, President Valverde and other members of the Audiencia regarded the Hispanicized elites as the vanguard in the process of assimilating Indians into a homogenized Hispanic colonial society. Contemporary programs for this assimilation drawn up by members of the Audiencia of Guatemala had existed for some time. According to them, Indian society would become Hispanic only when the Spanish language and Spanish material culture were adopted, and ultimately through marriage between the two races.74 In 1582, President Valverde himself presented a similar program to Philip II in which he described how educating the Indians alongside the Spaniards would allow them to partake in a society of “proper human discipline” and eventually would lead to the mixing of the two races.75

In 1640, the Audiencia of Guatemala was still applying a variety of means to persuade the Indians to assimilate Spanish into every aspect of community life, especially by associating it with social and political mobility. Those who spoke Spanish, even macehuales, were to be allowed to wear a cloak, until then restricted to Spaniards and Hispanicized Indians only, to mount horses, and to own mules. The Audiencia also emphasized that only those among the local population acquainted with Spanish should be allowed to hold public office in their communities.76 By the middle of the seventeenth century, when the “caste system” was established in the district, programs for assimilation were temporarily abandoned. They were resumed by later generations, although all efforts through the end of the seventeenth century to enforce Spanish on the Indian population failed.77

The case of the province of Chiapa in early colonial Mesoamerica demonstrates, in any event, how adaptation to the colonial situation took a variety of forms among the native elites. Domineering communities such as Chiapa de Indios and Zinacantlán became a stage for the clash of opposing policies and strategies regarding reciprocity with the colonial regime and its agents. Some hereditary lords found in the Dominican friars their best allies against the Spanish intrusion and its threat to the political and cultural integrity of the Indian community, a cooperation that in extreme cases led to far-fetched attempts to retain their political and cultural autonomy of the first thirty years after the conquest. Others, predominantly though not exclusively among the lesser elite, found their best allies in powerful Spanish patrons who could provide them with political and economic advantages within the community and outside it. Fierce conflict between these factions soon came to prevail in many Indian communities of the province. In a parallel conflict that erupted between the Dominicans and the powerful encomendero oligarchy of Ciudad Real over control of the Indian communities’ lands and resources, the native elites played an important role.

The personal histories and career patterns of Juan Atonal and Cristóbal Arias, the first representing the lesser elite and the second a somewhat higher stratum of hereditary lords, illustrate the high degree of cooperation between native elites and powerful Spanish lay patrons. Their case studies also provide an example of how these strategies of reciprocity and the tensions that accompanied them could lay the basis for molding a new group identity in the religious sphere among Hispanicized elites. In the face of constant conflict between Catholicism and pre-Columbian native traditions and practices, the Cofradía of the Twelve Apostles became a unique example of how these elites coped with the cultural constraints of the colonial situation through a syncretist ritual practice.

The responses of the colonial church and government to the deviance of the Cofradía of the Twelve Apostles demonstrated once again their contrasting interests. For the colonial church this heretic cofradía presented an opportunity to initiate a policy of stricter measures against Indian idolatry and heresy in general. For the colonial government, the Hispanicized elite leaders and members of the cofradía embodied the vanguard in the process of assimilation of Indians into a homogenized Hispanic colonial society. The upper hand of the audiencia in the affairs of the Indians in the district finally secured the relegitimation of the political status of these members of the Hispanicized native elites.

An earlier version of this paper was read at a seminar, “Late Medieval and Early Modern Social and Cultural History,” directed by P. Burke, M. Rubin, and R. W. Scribner, Clare College, Cambridge, England, on November 24, 1987. I am indebted to David A. Brading, Serge Gruzinski, Nancy M. Farriss, J. H. Elliott, A. R. Pagden, and Bili Melman, who have read the paper in its various stages and contributed most helpful comments.


Nancy M. Farriss, Maya Society under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival (Princeton, 1984), 242-243.


Farriss, “Indians in Colonial Yucatan: Three Perspectives,” in Spaniards and Indians in Southern Mesoamerica, ed. M. J. MacLeod and R. Wasserstrom (Lincoln, 1983), 1-39.


J. K. Chance, Race and Class in Colonial Oaxaca (Stanford, 1978), 83-84; William B. Taylor, Landlord and Peasant in Colonial Oaxaca (Stanford, 1972).


Judith F. Zeitlin, “Ranchers and Indians on the Southern Isthmus of Tehuantepec: Economic Change and Indigenous Survival in Colonial Mexico,” HAHR, 69:1 (Feb. 1989), 46-47.


“Autos entre partes: Francisco Marmolejo, vecino de San Cristóbal de los Llanos de Chiapa, contra Pedro de Estrada, sobre el pueblo de Zinacantlán, 1533,” Archivo General de Indias (hereafter AGI), Justicia, leg. 120, fol. 240r: testimonies by Juan Martínez, calpixque of Zinacantlán and Malina, an Indian called to testify on behalf of Pedro de Estrada.


On the pandemics in Guatemala see M. J. MacLeod, Spanish Central America, a Socioeconomic History, 1520-1720 (Berkeley, 1973), 98-99; also, T. T. Verblen, “Declinación de la población indígena en Totonicapán, Guatemala,” Mesoamerica, 3:3 (June 1982), 26-66. Demographic recuperation in the Indian communities in the area probably began only in the second decade of the seventeenth century.


The Nahuatl term calpulli refers here to a semiautonomous territorial unit with its own political and religious hierarchy. The Aztec calpulli, adopted throughout Mesoamerica, were organized as wards within Indian towns and were allocated lands around them.


Recopilación de leyes de los reynos de las Indias, mandadas imprimir y publicar por la Magestad Católica del Rey Don Carlos II, 4 vols. (Madrid, 1681), book 1, título 15, ley 18; Magnus Morner, “La política de segregación y el mestizaje en la audiencia de Guatemala,” Revista de Indias, 24:95-96 (Jan.-June 1964), 137-151.


On possessions in the province of Chiapa see, for example, Alonso López de Cerrato to Charles V, Jan. 25, 1550, in which he describes the possessions of Baltazar Guerra, the encomendero of Chiapa de Indios. AGI, Guatemala, leg. 9. A ranch owned by the encomendero of Copanahuastla, Diego Holguín, was situated at the foot of the Meseta de Ixtapa mountain range to the north of Chiapa de Indios. Executoria de las tierras de los pueblos de Chiapa, Acala y Chiapilla, 1571,” in C. Navarrete, The Chiapanec History and Culture (Provo, Utah, 1966), appendix, doc. 1.


Petitions for land grants submitted to the Audiencia of Guatemala and the royal chancellery between 1556 and 1580 demonstrate the normally modest nature of rural settlement, at least during its primary phase. The expedientes consulted for this period in the Archivo General de Centro América were A.1.51890, leg. 5934; A.1.2.4, leg. 2196; A.3.2863, legs. 41964 and 41968; A.1.23, leg. 4588; and A.1.57, leg. 51891. Also see MacLeod, Spanish Central America, 221-224.


AGI, Guatemala, leg. 9, Jan. 25, 1550.


In contemporary Spanish colonial documentation, all elite members of Indian society in the province, apart from caciques and gobernadores of the communities, are usually termed principales, with no distinction between higher and lesser elite.


Colonial court records from 1547 and 1548 bring to light some of these individuals. Among them were thirty-year-old Juan Mendonal, a principal from Chiapa de Indios, who spoke both Chiapanec and Nahuatl; Juan Omya, a young merchant from the same community, who spoke both Chiapanec and Spanish; and Pedro Tlalicah, naguatate from Copanahuastla, who was able to communicate in three languages—Maya Tzeltal, Nahuatl, and Spanish. “Comisión dada a Lic. Diego Ramírez para averiguar los malos tratamientos a los padres de Santo Domingo en Chiapa, 1547-8,” AGI, Justicia, leg. 331.


On Mexico, see Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún, Codex florentino (Mexico City, 1983) book 4, chapters 17-19; book 9. On the Mayas, see A. Chapman, “Port of Trade Enclaves in Aztec and Maya Civilizations,” in Trade and Market in the Early Empires, ed. K. Polanyi C. M. Arensberg, and H. W. Pearson (Glencoe, Ill., 1957), 114-153.


On labor recruitment, see a letter by Lic. López de Cerrato to Charles V, Gracias a Dios, Sept. 28, 1548, Colección de documentos inéditos. . . de América y Oceanía, 42 vols. (Madrid, 1864-84), XXIV, 464; in “Comisión dada a Lic. Diego Ramírez para averiguar los malos tratamientos,” testimony by Francisco Hernández, the Indian alguacil of the Tlaxcalans’ barrio in Ciudad Real. On this new social stratum around Santiago de Guatemala, see, for example, “Juan de Arguyo, defensor de los Indios de los assientos y barrios de Santo Domingo, San Francisco, La Merced y milpas del valle y comarcas de la ciudad de Santiago. . . sobre que los Indios teupantlecas. . . alcaldes, regidores y alguaciles fuesen relevados de pagar tributo, 1570,” AGI, Justicia, leg. 292, no. 3, ramo 2.


These intermediaries emerge mainly in the court records from the province of Chiapa between 1547 and 1548. AGI, Justicia, leg. 331, fols. 27v-30r.


Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, Historia general de los hechos de los castellanos en las islas e Tierra Firme del Mar Océano (Madrid, 1726-30), book 1, chapter 11. The six towns were Tustla, 550 inhabitants; Zacalotepeque, Coatla, and Pochutla, each with around 200 inhabitants; Acala, 934 inhabitants; and Suchiapa, 940 inhabitants. This estimate is according to the ratio of 3.6 inhabitants to 1 tributary. “Pleito entre Fr. Pedro Calvo y Baltazar Guerra, 1547,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 110; “Don Rodrigo de León, indio principal del pueblo de Chiapa, probanza de méritos y servicios, 1569,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 59.


Bernal Díaz del Castillo provides a figure of more than 4,000 “vecinos” in his Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, 3 vols. (Mexico City, 1950), II, 394. Peter Gerhard estimates the population of the entire area before the conquest as 36,000 inhabitants in The Southeast Frontier of New Spain (Princeton, 1979), 158. By 1598 the local population of Chiapa de Indios and its dependent communities amounted to around 8,800 people (“Carta de Fr. Juan de Morales, procurador de la orden de Santo Domingo en nombre del convento de Chiapa de Indios, 1598,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 172).


“Don Rodrigo de León,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 59; “Probanza de méritos y servicios de Diego de Mazariegos, 1561,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 116, fol. 3v.


Díaz del Castillo, Historia, II, 394-395.


“Don Rodrigo de León,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 59, fols. 6v-7r.


Residencia of Lic. Alonso López de Cerrato, Lic. Tomás López Mendel, and Lic. Rogel, testimony by Baltazar Guerra, 1548, AGI, Justicia, leg. 301.


Fr. Antonio de Remesal, Historia general y particular de la gobernación de Chiapa y Guatemala, 2 vols. (Madrid, 1964), book 3, chapter 5.


AGI, Justicia, leg. 301, fols. 679v-680r.


“Pleito entre Fr. Pedro Calvo y Baltazar Guerra,” testimony by Miguel Chapolina, a naguatate, Aug. 1, 1547, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 110.


Remesal, Historia, book 6, chapter 13.


On public preaching, see ibid. On the conflict’s spread to the Indians, see AGI, Justicia, leg. 331, fol. 27v, testimony given in Zinacantlán by don Cristóbal Quauitl, a local lord, June 18, 1548. On these developments in Chiapa de Indios and Zinacantlán, see also Wasserstrom, Class and Society in Central Chiapas (Berkeley, 1983), 19-22, which strictly follows Remesal’s accounts. We possess quite a few examples of Indians’ interpretations of this conflict from court records on the period in Chiapa. Three are from AGI, Justicia, leg. 331: testimony by don Francisco Onima, a sixty-year-old lord of Zinacantlán, June 18, 1548; testimony by Diego Ocuma, twenty-seven-year-old principal from Zinacantlán; and testimony by Francisco Nobuy, a merchant from Chiapa de Indios.


“Pleito entre Fr. Pedro Calvo y Baltazar Guerra,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 110, fol. 2v, testimony by Juan Martínez, Aug. 3, 1547.




Ibid., fols. 24v-33v, testimony before the commission of the alcalde ordinario Gonzalo de Ovalle, Aug. 2, 1547.


Ibid., fol. 21v.


AGI, Justicia, leg. 331, 1547-48; Remesal, Historia, book 8, chapter 12.


“Relación de las derramas. . . 1581-3,” testimony by Diego de Paz Quiñones, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 56, fol. 298v.


Letter by Fr. Ignacio in Chiapa de Indios to the Dominican provincial, Fr. Tomás de Aguilar, Apr. 29, 1580, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 170, fol. 46v; letter by Lic. García Valverde to the crown, Apr. 1, 1585, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 10. Between 1575 and 1580, two estancias of cattle and 4,000 sheep were acquired by the Dominicans from the bienes de comunidad of Chiapa de Indios through the mediation of a Portuguese meat dealer. AGI, Guatemala, leg. 56, fols. 360r, 380v.


AGI, Guatemala, leg. 10, Apr. 1, 1585.


“Probanza ante la justicia ordinaria de la ciudad de Guatemala sobre algunos exesos que los religiosos cometen, 1562,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 45(95), testimony by Pascual Bernabé, resident of Santiago de Guatemala, and Gerónimo de Barieies, secular priest of Pochutla. Regarding opposition to cattle ranches, see testimony by Diego Vázquez de Riba de Neyra, an accountant from Ciudad Real.


Letter by the town council of Ciudad Real to Philip II, Dec. 30, 1581, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 10.


“Probanza de méritos y servicios de Cristóbal Arias, principal de Zinacantlán, 1581,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 114.


“Autos entre partes: Francisco Marmolejo, vecino de San Cristóbal de los Llanos de Chiapa, contra Pedro de Estrada, sobre el pueblo de Zinacantlán, 1533,” AGI, Justicia, leg. 120.




“Petición por los alcaldes y tlatoque de Zinacantlán, 1625,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 123.


“Despues que los Españoles vinieron a poblar ésta tierra, los principales otros que habian en el pueblo de Zinacantlán tubieron odio e mala voluntad al dicho Cuzcacua por que abia traydo a los Españoles a poblar esta tierra e procuraronle de matar hasta que vino a noticia del encomendero que le favoreció.” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 114, testimony by Diego Sanches, lord of Chamula.


The six subject towns were: Chiacitepeque, 20 houses and 60 vecinos; Maycuchutepeque, 40 houses and 80 vecinos; Xicaltenango, 25 houses and 83 vecinos; Anqueytepeque, 40 houses and 60 vecinos; Tultepeque, 21 houses and 38 vecinos; Ochiatulita, 10 houses and 10 vecinos. AGI, Justicia, leg. 120, fols. 281-282. In 1598 Zinacantlán had 422 tributaries. “Memoria de los pueblos y beneficios que ay en el obispado de Chiapa y lo que tienen los clerigos y frailes, 1598,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 161.


AGI, Justicia, leg. 120.


U. Kohler, “Reflections on Zinacantlán’s Role in Aztec Trade with Soconusco, in Mesoamerica Communication Routes and Cultural Contacts, ed. T. A. Lee and Carlos Navarete, papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, 40 (Provo, Utah, 1978), 67-74.

On Zinacantlán’s market, see Fr. Francisco Ximénez, Historia de la provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala, 3 vols. (Guatemala City, 1920-31), I, chapter 48. The major prestige items traded in Zinacantlán’s market were amber from Simajovel, the commerce of which was exclusively in the hands of Zinacantec and Zoque merchants, and salt. The salt works to the north of the community, near Ixtapa, were shared at the time with merchants from Chiapa de Indios, one of whom was possibly Juan Atonal. Other principal items traded by Zinacantlán were cotton cloth (mantas) and cacao beans from the Pacific slopes. Antonio Vázquez de Espinosa, Compendio y descripción de las Indias Occidentales (Madrid, 1954), 145; A. P. Andrews, Maya Salt Production and Trade (Tucson, 1983), 59-62; Kohler, “Reflections on Zinacantlán’s Role.”


“Lo ha visto favorecer e prestar dineros a Españoles e indios para suplir sus necesidades.” “Probanza de méritos y servicios de Cristóbal Arias,” fol. 12v, testimony by Pedro Sanches of Chamula, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 114.


A similar strategy can be observed in the case of the son of Pedro Nuti in Chiapa de Indios, who in December 1590 had been granted full liberties to exercise his authority and powers over all the community’s calpulli and its estancias. He was also instructed to act rigorously against idolatry, to ensure justice, and to cultivate the milpas. “Testimonios sacados de los mandamientos que para ello me entrego Don Bernabe Guerra, natural, governador de Chiapa, 1603,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 59.


AGI, Guatemala, leg. 114, fol. 13r, testimony by Doña Catalina de Mastresala, Indian wife of a Zinacantec lord, Nov. 4, 1581.


June 18, 1548, AGI, Justicia, leg. 331, fol. 27r.


“Sabe su lengua materna y el trato y costumbres de ellos y an estado en el pueblo de Zinacantlán muchas veces y trató y conversó al dicho Cristóbal Arias.” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 114, fol. 17v.


“Testimonios del fraile provincial de los dominicos a los capítulos del alcalde mayor, Juan Mesa de Altamirano, 1580,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 170, fol. 257r.


“Sirvió en la dicha guerra muy bien, asi en los negocios de la guerra como para hacer puentes e caminos en el Rio Topiltepeque, el qual no se podían pasar sino era haziendo la dicha puente.” Testimony by Diego de Trejo, a Spanish regidor of Ciudad Real, Nov. 12, 1581, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 114, fol. 16v. On his exemption, fol. 18v.


Sermons given by the Dominican, Fr. Domingo de Ara, in the Maya-Tzeltal community of Copanahuastla during the 1560s strongly manifest this ongoing power struggle in the parish. “Opus Frati Dominica d’Hara, de Comparacionibus e similitudibus” (in the Maya-Tzeltal), Newberry Library, Ayer Collection, manuscript no. 1688, Aug. 4, 1570; also, Francisco Núñez de la Vega, Constituciones diocesanas del obispado de Chiapa (Rome, 1702), fol. 8v. Unfortunately, I was unable to consult the critical edition by María del Carmen León and Mario Humberto Ruz of the Constituciones (Fuentes para la cultura maya, 6, Mexico City, 1988).


On the dual religious practice in the Maya communities during the colonial period, see Farriss, Maya Society, 317-318, and Francisco de Solano y Pérez-Lila, Los mayas del siglo XVIII: Pervivencia y transformación de la sociedad indígena guatemalteca durante la administración borbónica (Madrid, 1974), 372-376.


Early in 1616, Fr. Juan Zapata, the bishop of Chiapa, published a decree calling for the establishment of cofradías in every Indian community in the bishopric to augment the Indians’ knowledge of the sacraments. During Lent of 1617, the decree was approved by the Dominican provincial chapter in Chiapa. Fr. Juan Zapata to the crown, Apr. 28, 1617, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 173. On the establishment during the 1560s of cofradías dedicated to St. Mary in Apopa, Cuzcatlán, Los Izalcos, and Cuxutepeque, near San Salvador, see, for example, “Comision de Dr. Mexia, informacion del tributo exercido por los padres Dominicos en Cuzcatlán, 1566,” testimonies by the cacique of Apopa, the fiscal of Cuzcatlán, and the fiscal of Cuxutepeque, fols. 79r-80v, AGI, Justicia, leg. 332; on cofradías in Chiapa during the 1570s and 1580s, see, for example, accounts of St. Mary’s cofradía, Comitán, Chiapa, 1581, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 56, fol. 174r.

Several scholars have questioned the role of the cofradía, for it served both as a purely religious institution and as an economic mechanism for the promotion of the Indian community’s self-subsistence. See, for example, MacLeod, “Ethnic Relations and Indian Society in the Province of Guatemala ca. 1620-ca. 1800,” in Spaniards and Indians, 207. Also see Robert Hill’s article on Guachivales in eighteenth-century Guatemala, Mesoamerica, 11 (June 1986).


Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, manuscript no. 2719, fols. 500-501 (1698-1720); see also MacLeod, “Papel social y económico de las cofradías indígenas de la colonia en Chiapa,” Mesoamerica, 4:5 (June 1983), 64-86.


Thomas Gage’s Travels in the New World, ed. J. E. S. Thompson (Norman, 1969), 231, 235.


“Ordenanzas del visitador, Juan Maldonado de Paz, 1623,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 16, fols. 24v-26r.


“Relación que hace el obispo de Chiapa Fr. Pedro de Feria a un religioso de una cofradía que se hallo en Suchiapa con el titulo de los Doce Apostoles, 1584,” AGI, Patronato, leg. 181, ramo 11, fols. 3r-4v.




Fray A. de Remesal, the Dominican chronicler, describes “todas las partes de este ídolo, cabezas, ojos, orejas, cuello, pechos, brazos, manos y pies,” in Historia, book 2, chapter 12. On the local cofradía dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, established in Chiapa de Indios by Fr. Pedro Barrientos, see Antonio de Ciudad Real, Tratado curioso y docto de las grandezas de la Nueva España, 2 vols. (Mexico City, 1976), II, 41-42.


“Con las cuales. . . hazian ciertas cerimonias diziendo que con ellas se trocaban y hacian otro y otras y se espiritualizaban y se convertian en dioses y las mugeres en diosas y que ellos como dioses avian de llover y enviar las temporales y dar muchas riquezas a quien quisiesen.” AGI, Patronato, leg. 181, fol. 1r.


On the Dominican friars’ influence over religious change in Chiapa de Indios during this period, see, for example, Ximénez, Historia, book 1, chapter 49. The myth of Antichrist is told in the communities of Oxchuc, Cancuc, and Chanal in Chiapa (my own fieldwork, 1980-82).


On local religion in early colonial Chiapa, see Núñez de la Vega, Constituciones. On sites, “ciertas cuevas en una de las cuales hallaron un ídolo de los mas principales de aquella nación Chiapaneca. . . y tambien hallaron senales de sacrificios frescos,” AGI, Patronato, leg. 181, fol. 1r.


On the third Mexican provincial synod of 1585, see Stafford C. M. Poole, Pedro Moya de Contreras, Catholic Reform and Royal Power in New Spain,1571-1591 (Berkeley, 1987), 135, 158. AGI, Patronato, leg. 181, fol. 1r (for the memorial), fol. 2v (“cancer”), fol. 2r (“ladino”). The designation ladino during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was applied by the church and the colonial government to a member of the Indian community who gradually adopted Hispanic material and spiritual paradigms. He spoke Spanish, was well acquainted with Hispanic culture, and as a consequence was well assimilated into Christianity. By the second half of the seventeenth century, the designation ladino applied to all castes.


“Por ser como son principales y aber nacido y criado en la iglesia en los pechos de los religiosos con muy mucha doctrina, que no pecan de ignorancia sino de malicia y de estar malifetos a las cosas de Nuestra Religion Cristiana.” AGI, Patronato, leg. 181, fol. 3v.


“Carta de un religioso del convento de Ocosingo, 1580,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 171. In Vargas’s words, “no one dares to pronounce that the heresy of Lucifer openly enters the communities, and those who have introduced it remain unpunished.”


AGI, Patronato, leg. 181, fol. 2v. For Ferias quote and the accusations, see fol. 1r. On the Dominicans’ role in the persecution of the Alumbrados in sixteenth-century Spain, see V. Beltrán de Heredia, “Los alumbrados de la diócesis de Jaén,” Miscelánea Beltrán de Heredia, colección de artículos sobre historia de la teología española, 4 vols. (Salamanca, III, 235-334; B. Llorca Vives, La Inquisición Española y los Alumbrados (1509-1667) (Salamanca, 1980), 161-162, 170-176; M. E. Perry, “Beatas and the Inquisition in Early Modern Seville, in Inquisition and Society in Early Modern Europe, ed. S. Haliczer (London, 1987), 158.


A. Garrido Aranda, Moriscos e indios, precedentes de la evangelización en México (Mexico City, 1980), 102-108.


Letter by Lic. Valverde to the crown, Apr. 1, 1585, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 10.


Remesal, Historia, book 11, chapter 12.


On Landa’s campaign, see France V. Scholes and E. Adams, Don Diego de Quijada, alcalde mayor de Yucatán,1561-65, documentos sacados de los archivos de España, 2 vols. (Mexico City, 1938), and Inga Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniards in Yucatan, 1517-1570 (Cambridge, 1987).


AGI, Patronato, leg. 181, fols. 3v-4r.


On the early programs, see, for example, Tomás López Mendel to the Council of the Indies, March 29, 1551; Tomás López Mendel to Charles V, 1551, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 9; also, T. López Mendel, colonización de América, informes y testimonios 1549-1572, ed. L. Perena, C. Baciero, and F. Maseda (Madrid, 1990).


Lic. Valverde to the crown, Santiago de Guatemala, Apr. 23, 1582, AGI, Guatemala, leg. 10.


“Autos del oidor Mangrovejo, 1646,” AGI, Guatemala, leg. 16.


Between 1671 and 1685, for example, the church of Guatemala was able to persuade the Audiencia to let it levy tithes on Hispanicized Indians who already owned cattle ranches, cultivated wheat, and manufactured valuable products that they sold in the towns’ markets. The tithe was obviously employed to prevent this able social group from becoming an economic (as well as social) threat to creole society. “Pleito entre la iglesia Católica de Guatemala y los Indios de la jurisdicción de ella sobre la paga de diezmos de los frutos de Castilla que siembran en esa jurisdicción, 1671-85,” AGI, Escribanía de Cámara, leg. 336a. On repeated programs for Hispanization in late eighteenth-century Guatemala, see also A. Van Oss, Catholic Colonialism (Cambridge, 1986), 144.