These two books exhibit recent nuances in the scholarly study of central Mexican populations that accentuate detailed examinations of indigenous pictographic and linguistic sources. Both exploit information that was originally assembled to extract or assess tribute in order to examine diverse aspects of indigenous life and the social, political, and economic structures regulating native societies. Munehiro Kobayashi examines the larger, multiregional pre-Hispanic tribute system, and S. L. Cline focuses on two colonial-period communities.

Kobayashi’s work includes three related articles about pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica that were originally presented in Japanese (1979, 1980, and 1984). His principal sources include the second part of the Códice Mendocino, the Matrícula de Tributos, and the “Información sobre los tributos que los indios pagaban a Moctezuma” (1554). He employs these three sources to reconstruct a hypothetical “Padrón de tributos de Moctezuma,” which serves as the basis for his analyses. Each of the three articles treats different aspects of the Mexica tribute system and attempts to expose the underlying structures of Mexica society. The first examines consumable foodstuffs in the tribute system: their acquisition, transport, and distribution and their consumption in various social sectors. The second focuses on political and territorial organization of, and relationships among, the señoríos of the Basin of Mexico before, during, and after the formation of the Triple Alliance. The third examines labor tribute organization and the prestige objects of the tribute system, such as items of personal adornment, clothing, precious stones, and weapons, to elucidate social functions of the huey tlatoani and his role in the redistribution of these items of wealth.

The third study also touches on the roles of priests in Mexica society, the redistribution of prestige goods to provision priests and to service the gods, the intrinsic symbolic content of these goods, and their use in religious ceremonies and festivals. Although readers may quibble with particular details of Kobayashi’s reconstruction and interpretation of Moctezuma’s tribute register for specific regions, taken together, the resulting analyses appear reasonable. Even with the conjectural analysis, the total view of the tribute system and its dominant role in Mexica society is refreshing and sufficiently enlightening to justify the risk of Kobayashi’s approach.

The work of S. L. Cline advances both our knowledge of early colonial indigenous lifeways and the Nahuatl language in central Mexico less than a generation after the arrival of the Spaniards. She provides a complete transcription, an English-language translation, and an introductory analysis of sixteenth-century Nahuatl-language census materials from the communities of Huitzillan and Quauhchinollan in the present-day Mexican state of Morelos, south of the Valley of Mexico. These house-to-house censuses probably derive from an attempt to assess the number of vassals in the Marquesado of Hernando Cortés in the Cuernavaca region sometime between the mid-1530s and the early 1540s. The manuscript comprises volume 549 of the Archivo Histórico, Colección Antigua from the Museo de Antropología e Historia in Mexico City and represents the shortest (63 folios on native bark paper, amatl) of the three extant volumes housed in Mexico. The other two volumes, 550 and 551, deal with other nearby communities that have been studied and partially published on by Pedro Carrasco (Tepoztlan) and Eike Hinz, Claudine Hartau, and Marie-Louise Heimann-Koenen (Tepetenchic and Molotlan).

In the introduction, Cline describes and summarizes the many different aspects of indigenous life touched on in the manuscript: the communities’ political and social structures; individuals’ age, gender, and status; baptismal and marital patterns; household size and family structure; land tenure; and quotas of labor and tribute. Her findings reveal important information about the fundamental structures of local-level indigenous life not more than 20 years after the conquest, as well as the degree to which colonial rule had already had an impact on the natives and their language. It is an engaging view of home and life, the natives’ struggle to cope with adversity and survive, and it conveys a wealth of detail that remains without counterpart in other early colonial-period documents, whether recorded in Spanish or in Nahuatl. This exceptional contribution to the study of cultural change in colonial Mexico will be essential reading for scholars for many years to come.