This book studies Indian political structure in colonial Morelos through an analysis of officeholders, offices, and the nature of village government. The author argues that much of the area’s preconquest political structure survived three centuries of colonialism with only minor modifications; that village governments were run by political elites of considerable durability and adaptability; and consequently that the political impact of colonialism on the native people was not nearly so disruptive as argued by Charles Gibson and others.
Although this book contributes to our knowledge of colonial Mexico, it has shortcomings. The author’s knowledge of Spanish city government seems to be limited, and consequently he exaggerates the functional differences between Spanish and Indian cabildos. The book is also marred by vague tables and inaccurate use of accents (e.g., Yautepéc, seménteras). More serious, however, is Haskett’s cursory treatment of demography, especially when this is the only cause of historical change mentioned in the book. Merely repeating that the Indian population declined in the sixteenth century, stagnated in the seventeenth, and expanded in the eighteenth is inadequate; precision is required. Similarly, in tables, the author divides villages into “larger” and “smaller” (than what?) without providing data on settlement size.
What s more, the neglect of demography is symptomatic of the lack of attention to factors of change, a natural result of the functionalist approach used in this and many similar studies. The book covers three centuries of history, yet whenever data are scarce—as is especially the case for the sixteenth century—Haskett simply assumes continuity, thereby obviating the need to consider change, let alone account for it. Most important, he fails to demonstrate continuity between preconquest and colonial elites; his case studies even suggest the contrary. The evidence proves that an elite ran the villages—a tautological argument—not that the original elite did so. Haskett focuses exclusively on officeholders, thereby ignoring the social elite and social stratification; and he fails to discuss tribute, religious taxes, labor drafts, and commercial repartimientos—all of which affected village political structure in major ways, as demonstrated by Karen Spalding and Steve Stern for Peru. As a result, all the issues connected with elite rule—the changing basis of class, status, and power—are left out. Revealingly, John Chance and William Taylor are cited for data, but their Weberian analysis is ignored. So too is historical materialism; a great deal of Mexican and Andean ethnohistory is thus deemed unmentionable.
In the end, Haskett’s thesis is difficult to accept, for it would mean that indigenous culture in early nineteenth-century Morelos was stronger than it actually was. One suspects that future scholars, most likely Mexicans, will put together a more convincing argument.