The role of caciques, principales, and other Indians of high social status has long been a focus of research for scholars concerned with colonial Mesoamerica.1 Indigenous nobles’ activities as middlemen and cultural brokers between Indian commoners and Spaniards during the conquest and later in the sixteenth century are widely known.2 They have been portrayed as procurers of labor, foodstuffs, and other valued items for the conquerors, and as sometime collaborators in the process of colonial domination. Many became well acquainted with Spanish culture early on, learning the language, adopting European dress, engaging in business enterprises (such as silkworm raising or cochineal marketing), and generally moving in certain sectors of Hispanic society. At the same time, they tended to dominate local politics — and sometimes Catholic religious sodalities as well—in their own jurisdictions. Straddling both sides of the colonial cultural divide, the role of the sixteenth-century Indian noble was fraught with ambiguity.

In the succeeding centuries, the ambiguities surrounding cacique status increased even more as the popular and legal concepts of the term diverged. By law, a cacique was a single heir and possessor of a cacicazgo estate, which always included land and often a subject labor force to work it. The Indians themselves, however, saw things differently, and by late colonial times it was not unusual for all the sons and daughters of a cacique (or cacica) to adopt the title.3 How and why this change took place, its chronology, and what it meant for local community organization remain imperfectly understood. At the very least, late colonial caciques and principales should not be written off as “spurious” or somehow less authentic than their sixteenth-century forebears. The late colonial setting was vastly different, and indigenous noble claims of the period must be understood in the context in which they arose. Eighteenth-century indigenous communities supported inequalities of various kinds, and they redefined and reshaped the early colonial cultural designs to fit changed circumstances.4

The existence of late colonial Indian elites in Mesoamerica is now well established, but much remains to be learned about the forms the elites took and their relationship to the contemporary Spanish and indigenous status terminologies that appear so often in the documentation. These relationships, as might be expected, varied significantly by region and even by town.

Three regional variants have emerged in recent scholarship: one in northern Yucatán and two in Oaxaca.5 In northern Yucatán, Nancy Farriss sees Indian elite survival in the eighteenth century as a function of its hold on local political power.6 Maya elites in this region succeeded in rechanneling Spanish-imposed municipal offices into the native structure. The caciques and principales, collectively known in Maya as almehenob, monopolized the colonial cabildos (municipal councils). The caciques claimed descent from royal pre-Hispanic ancestors, and Farriss argues that the source of their legitimacy lay within the Maya community, not the Spanish. Yucatán’s poverty, its undeveloped market system, and its lack of Spanish magistrates (corregidores or alcaldes mayores) before the 1770s all fostered the persistence of preconquest Maya political structures at the local level.

In the isolated Sierra Zapoteca of northern Oaxaca, the Zapotec-speaking native nobility was poorer and less fortunate.7 Cacique families went into decline after the conquest, and only a few cacicazgos (cacique estates) survived as late as the 1720s. Yet several decades later, status differences were actually on the increase, as principales proliferated in association with the trading practices (repartimientos de efectos) of the Spanish alcaldes mayores. These officials needed the cooperation of Indian cabildos to keep their trade running smoothly. The village councils became crucibles of conflict over status achievement. Many of these disputes were adjudicated by the alcaldes mayores themselves, who usually confirmed the plaintiffs’ principal status even when the evidence was weak. After all, doing so was good for business in these small pueblos of just a few hundred people, where cabildo elections were conducted annually and most adult males necessarily held high political office at one time or another.

In the late eighteenth century, more than one-third of the inhabitants of these Zapotec villages (especially in the Rincón area) claimed principal status. Recognition from outside the community was also critical for many aspiring principales, who sought confirmation of their status in the Spanish court in Villa Alta in order to win privileges and exemption from community service at home. The result was a “dependent elite” that owed its existence not only to descent and political officeholding but also to the support of the alcaldes mayores.

A third variety of late colonial elite existed in the Valley of Oaxaca and the neighboring Mixteca Alta, where the focus was once again on the caciques. By the mid-eighteenth century, these Zapotec and Mixtec nobles had long since lost the struggle for political supremacy in their communities. The basis for their role had become largely economic: they were private owners of the titles and lands known as cacicazgos. The cacique families, furthermore, integrated themselves with the European mercantile economy very early, and many of them became highly acculturated. Thus in these two regions, the key to Indian noble survival in the late colonial period was the possession of an independent economic base.

One region in which the late colonial indigenous elites remain little understood is Nahua central Mexico. Here the Spanish presence was greater than anywhere in Oaxaca or Yucatán, and the traditional Nahuatl terminology of nobility had fallen into disuse by the mid-seventeenth century.8 Nahuatl-speaking village elites clearly did not disappear, however, and they remained influential in many areas. Historians have frequently noted the role of central Mexican caciques as agents of colonial hegemony.9 Caciques acted as intermediaries between Spaniards and Indian commoners. They often had good connections with hacendados and other non-Indian powerholders and served as labor brokers.

Although these elites were the most land-rich Indians in their communities, hereditary cacicazgos on the scale of those in the Valley of Oaxaca and the Mixteca Alta seem to have been rare in the eighteenth century.10 In the Valley of Mexico, the large Alva y Cortés cacicazgo of San Juan Teotihuacan seems more the exception than the rule.11 Robert Haskett, in his important study of the indigenous ruling elite of colonial Cuernavaca, mentions two sizable estates, though he notes that cacicazgo records are not common for that jurisdiction and stresses instead the political foundation of Cuernavaca’s elite.12

Central Mexico was nevertheless a large, diverse region, and there is no reason to expect its late colonial Indian elites to conform to a single type. This paper focuses on the Nahua community of Santiago Tecali in the Valley of Puebla, in what James Lockhart calls the “eastern Nahua region,” which differs in important respects from the Valley of Mexico and Cuernavaca.13 Located 40 kilometers southeast of the city of Puebla and seat of a small alcaldía mayor (judicial district) in the eighteenth century, Tecali had the highest proportion of caciques of any community in the province of Puebla at the close of the colonial period. Indeed, the number of caciques steadily increased as the eighteenth century wore on.

Relying on parish marriage records from 1672 to 1823, supplemented by other sources, this study attempts to plumb the local meaning of the term cacique, account for its proliferation during this period, and characterize the people who used it. Marriage records in Tecalis parish archive go back as far as 1572, but relatively complete, continuous coverage for the cabecera itself (the focus of this paper) does not begin until 1672. Kept entirely in Spanish after the 1630s, these records show clearly the chronological patterning of the term cacique and related terms. The entire colonial honorific system was abandoned in the marriage records after 1823.14 This essay will argue that cacique status in Tecali involved both class and ethnic factors, and that ethnic considerations became dominant in the last third of the eighteenth century.

The Emergence of the Cacique Elite

At the time of the Spanish conquest, Tecali was part of the empire of the Triple Alliance and one of the principal towns of the tribute province headed by nearby Tepeaca.15 Mercedes Olivera believes that Tecali was founded in the mid-fourteenth century by a dissident group of Chichimec nobles from neighboring Cuauhtinchan, who subjugated the indigenous inhabitants of the area.16 The town’s principal language was Nahuatl, though a few Popoluca and Otomí speakers could be found in outlying hamlets. Tecali quickly became a cabecera (head town) in the Spanish governmental scheme, an administrative center with a large Franciscan monastery and 21 subject pueblos by the end of the sixteenth century. By the mid-eighteenth century, this number had been reduced by half as some pueblos achieved their autonomy, though all remained under the jurisdiction of the Spanish alcalde mayor, who resided in Tecali from 1726 on.17 The town remained an Indian community during the entire colonial period. In 1777, 86 percent of the cabecera’s population of 1,844 was identified as Indian; the corresponding figure for the entire parish, which included seven indigenous settlements and five Spanish ranchos, was 90 percent.18

Like other Nahua communities, pre-Hispanic Tecali was highly stratified. There were four teccalli, or noble houses, three of them headed by teteuctin (lords) and the largest by a tlatoani (ruler). Each of these four leaders had a retinue of pipiltin (or pillis in later Mexican Spanish), the lower-ranking nobles. Each noble house controlled a substantial amount of land and the Indian macehuales (commoners) who worked it. Overall, the social system had several feudal characteristics: ties of patronage and kinship bound commoners to nobles and low-ranking nobles to higher-ranking ones. The nobility controlled most of the land, and the stratification system comprised two estates—nobles and commoners—with membership in each legally defined and ascribed at birth.19

The Spanish conquest brought many changes, the most significant of which, for the native elite, came in 1591, when the viceroy granted land titles to 55 individual nobles (53 men and 2 women).20 These grants amounted to confirmation of lands that the nobles already controlled, and although the estates varied greatly in size (from 1 plot of land to 73), they all came to be identified by the Spanish term cacicazgo. Taken together, the 55 new cacicazgos controlled virtually all the land in the municipality and continued to have rights to the labor of their resident macehuales. In this manner, the legal and material basis was established for a new colonial class of indigenous landowners. European concepts of private property came into play (though they were interpreted on a collective rather than individual basis), and much later, in the nineteenth century, the 1591 viceregal grants still served as the basis for claims in legal disputes over land ownership.

The colonial period also brought significant changes in the terminology used to describe different social positions. Nahuatl remained the community’s principal language, though in the final decades of the eighteenth century Spanish became increasingly common and, by the 1850s, predominant.21 Early parish marriage records, kept in Nahuatl until the 1630s, along with a handful of Nahuatl wills, suggest that the colonial Nahuatl status terminology in Tecali conformed in broad outline to the trends Lockhart has sketched for Nahua central Mexico as a whole.22 The term pilli, or noble, was a regular feature of the marriage records in the sixteenth century. It appeared less frequently in the early seventeenth century and disappeared altogether with the switch to Spanish record keeping after the 1630s. Teuctli (lord) was hardly ever used, except in the case of one or two individuals in the late sixteenth century who continued to use the title chichimecateuctli after their Spanish surnames.23 The term tlatoani (ruler) was also rare, and in one will of 1706, it had clearly lost its earlier meaning and become synonymous with the Spanish cacique, a general term applied to all nobles.24

From the time of the conquest, three Spanish terms were commonly applied to Indian nobles: principal, cacique (cacica for women), and the honorific don or doña. It was not unusual for all three to be used together, though there were some regional differences, such as in the Sierra Zapoteca of Oaxaca in the eighteenth century, where caciques held higher status than principales.25 In Tecali, principal was most often used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though the compound designation cacique y principal was not uncommon.26 The pattern in the marriage records shows that the don or doña was consistently used in the seventeenth century. Cacique and cacica made their first appearance in 1706, eventually overtaking don and doña by midcentury. After 1756 no dones or doñas appeared who were not also listed as caciques or cacicas. Don and doña virtually disappeared (for Indians) in later years as cacique and cacica became the terms of choice. By the eighteenth century cacique and cacica, along with the invariant don and doña, came into regular use to refer to members of the local Indian elite.27 As Lockhart points out, by this time the term cacique had no viable Nahuatl counterparts in central Mexico, and was used more often in dealing with Spaniards than when speaking Nahuatl.28

The emergence of cacique and cacica as the preferred terms of noble status coincided with an increase in the number of persons using the titles. In her study of the Nahuatl marriage records of Tecali and its subject pueblos between 1583 and 1594, Olivera found 4.4 percent of the brides and grooms identified as pillis, 93.4 percent as macehuales, and 2.2 percent unidentified. Thus the pillis at that time apparently were not an especially large group.29 Nearly a century later, in the period 1672-1715, among those marriages in Tecali in which either bride or groom was a resident of the cabecera (usually both were), only 2.5 percent of the partners were nobles. The percentage rose significantly, to 8.2, in the period 1716-66, however (see table 1).

In 1743, caciques accounted for 80, or 4.8 percent, of the alcaldía mayor’s 1,652 Indian families, including all 15 pueblos and a small number of Spanish haciendas. All 80 of the cacique families lived in the cabecera, along with 399 families of macehuales.30 A lawsuit from 1755 lists 123 adult cacique landowners, including 74 men and 49 women.31 In later years the numbers rose even higher. A 1777 census of the parish of Tecali, which included about half of the pueblos in the alcaldía mayor, recorded a total cacique population of 509, which accounted for 22.4 percent of the parish’s Indian population of 2,275 and 32 percent of the cabecera’s Indian population of 1,593.32 This very large proportion of nobles is confirmed in the marriage records for the period 1767-1823, in which cacique partners accounted for 29.4 percent of the total (see table 1).

The greatest growth in the cacique sector came in this final period, at a time when the town’s population as a whole was declining.33 Tecali was losing some of its macehual families to Spanish haciendas, other communities, and the nearby city of Puebla. The regional economy of central Puebla stagnated during this period, and reasons to migrate, especially if one was a landless commoner, were not lacking. Yet although the number of macehual partners was halved between the second and third periods in table 1, the number of cacique partners more than doubled. Obviously, cacique status in Tecali had a different meaning than it did in other places, such as Cuernavaca or the Sierra Zapoteca of Oaxaca, where a very restricted number of individuals and families used the title.34 This observation leads to the question of what it meant to be a cacique in Tecali.

Class and Ethnic Components of Cacique Identity

Noble status rested on an essentially pre-Hispanic foundation in Tecali through most of the sixteenth century. The first Spanish encomienda was assigned in 1520, and the town was attached to the alcaldía mayor of Tepeaca in 1555.35 But the most influential outsiders in the early years were the Franciscans, who arrived about 1540 and, in the 1550s, imposed a Spanish-style community structure, consisting of the cabecera of Santiago and 21 dependent pueblos. Olivera and I have each discussed how this imposed territorial organization weakened the hegemony of the four noble houses, which had operated through networks of kinship (among nobles) and patronage (linking nobles and commoners).36 By 1580, the noble houses were no longer functioning as political or tributary units, yet they continued to shape kinship and property relations among the nobility, and the Nahuatl terminology of noble status remained more or less intact.

If the imposed community structure of the 1550s was the first major threat to pre-Hispanic institutions, the viceregal land grants of 1591 to the four heads of the noble houses and 51 pillis came to have equally far-reaching consequences: they introduced the European concept of private ownership, and in time permanently altered noble kinship and property relations. Whereas nobles once had gained access to land and terrazgueros (those macehuales who were bound to the noble estates) through kinship ties to the head of their teccalli, this was no longer sufficient. Now they had to produce proof of legal title or demonstrate descent from an ancestor who had held such a title. Although they varied in size, all the 55 land grants had the same legal status and were referred to as cacicazgos; none of them, however, was ever legally entailed in the manner of Spanish mayorazgos. This shift in land tenure, more than any other single factor, stimulated the conversion of the former noble estate into an economic class based on near-exclusive ownership of the means of production.37 These landed pillis of the 1590s were the real progenitors of the caciques of the eighteenth century.

Land tenure in both pre-Hispanic and colonial Tecali thus diverged in several ways from patterns in the western parts of central Mexico, including the Valley of Mexico itself.38 Colonial Indian land is usually portrayed as a mixture of private (cacicazgo) and communal holdings, but it is also known that not all Nahua altepetl (city-states) held corporate lands in preconquest times. Tecali was one of those that did not.39 The basic Nahua land category of calpollali — communal lands of the calpulli—did not exist in Tecali at the time of Spanish contact. Some landholding calpulli had lived there earlier, after migrating from Cholula, but their lands eventually were usurped by the nobles who controlled the local teccalli. The same pattern prevailed in the Valley of Tetzmelucan in the jurisdiction of Huejotzingo.40 Land belonged fundamentally to the teccalli controlled by nobles, and all commoners were landless tenants, or terrazgueros, as they came to be known in Spanish.

By late colonial times, however, virtually all Indian communities held common lands, and Tecali was no exception. The municipality rented land to non-Indians on a regular basis during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These properties were variously called tierra de comunidad, bienes de comunidad, or propios, and were leased by the cabildo for periods of four to nine years. At the close of the colonial period, Tecali’s propios included six pieces of land that brought the community 485 pesos per year in rent.41 Yet in the seventeenth century, there was still no clear division between tierras de comunidad and privately held cacicazgo land. Leases at that time were usually cobbled together from pieces held by several nobles (or their kin groups) as well as the community itself, and the agreements always stipulated how the rents were to be divided.

In 1687, for example, the cabildo leased a plot of tierra de comunidad to Juan González de los Ríos, a Spanish farmer, for 210 pesos per year over nine years. The written lease stipulated that the annual rent was to be divided, with the community treasury taking 21 percent, 2 church cofradías 10 percent, and 13 individual caciques sharing the remaining 69 percent in unequal amounts.42 In 1663, when Alférez Pedro de Sierra of Tepeaca leased some of Tecalis propios for four years, the presiding alcalde mayor noted that “although [the lands] belong to certain individual Indians, the said community of Santiago Tecali holds them, and uses the rents to pay overdue tribute which it owes His Majesty and its encomenderos.”43 The mechanisms by which cacique property came to be converted to communal holdings are unclear. It is unlikely that commoner terrazgueros usurped much of it; in at least one instance a noble declared that he had donated some land to the community.44 Significantly, this study found no mention in Tecali of communal tierras de repartimiento, land distributed by cabildo officers to individual households.45

Communal institutions therefore were weak in colonial Tecali, as they had been in pre-Hispanic times. Class, kinship, and patronage had the greatest hold on individual loyalties, and the cacique landowners were the town’s undisputed hegemonic group. Indeed, Tecali and its caciques were inseparable in most people’s minds. Mention of one always implied the other. The town’s macehuales remained a disenfranchised majority, highly dependent on the nobles for their livelihood. Commoners had no access to the higher cabildo offices and could not establish a political base of their own. Tecali therefore differed significantly from the “independent landholding village, the basic cell of Indian life in the centuries since the coming of the Europeans.”46 It did not fit the model of the closed corporate community so often applied to colonial Mesoamerican Indian villages, for in Tecali the community as a unit had only limited control over land or other resources.47

The supremacy of class (and later, ethnicity) over community had definite implications for the development of Indian leadership. It meant that cabildo officers, foremost among them the gobernador, were concerned more with representing their own class or ethnic interests than those of the community as a whole. Caciques certainly had a stake in maintaining their Indianness, but after 1700 they also found that their economic and political interests were better served by cooperating with the Spaniards than by establishing common cause with the community’s macehuales. Thus gobernadores often worked closely with Tecali’s Spanish magistrates and sometimes participated with them in joint business ventures. None was more successful at this than don Cayetano de Tovar, who, during at least nine terms as gobernador in the early eighteenth century, helped administer the alcalde mayor’s repartimientos de efectos and played fast and loose with funds he collected for community fiestas and ceremonies, lawsuits, tribute, and the salary of the local priest.48

Tecali’s internal political life awaits further study, but the principle of loyalty to one’s class, ethnic group, or kin rather than one’s community remained fundamental for the indigenous nobility. Significantly, struggles over economic resources in the town were not reflections of increased loyalty to the community, as they often were in the Valley of Mexico and elsewhere, but efforts of particular cacique families and kin groups to further their own interests.49 Only in Tecali’s subject pueblos, inhabited entirely by commoners, did the struggle for land and political independence promote the kind of communal solidarity and corporate mentality often associated with colonial Indian life. The case of Tecali shows that such features cannot be taken for granted, and that rural Indian society in colonial central Mexico could be quite diverse, even within narrowly circumscribed areas.

By the late sixteenth century, most nobles in Tecali were easily recognizable by the Spanish surnames they had adopted. The basic set of surnames persisted, and by the eighteenth century a core group of 20 surnames had coalesced, including most of the original recipients of the 1591 land grants. The macehuales, on the other hand, as in other parts of central Mexico, ordinarily used two Spanish first names.50

All the noble families continued to live in the cabecera. The division of the town into barrios in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reflected the lingering presence of noble sublineages, some of which can be traced back to the founding Chichimec groups of the fourteenth century.51 While these territorial units also included unrelated macehuales, the nine most prestigious barrios between 1767 and 1823 each contained one or two clusters of noble families who shared the same surname. The Floreses lived in the Camachilpan barrio, the Lópezes in Coapan, the Calixtos and Téllezes in Mosaucayopan, and so forth.52 These surname clusters can be interpreted as cognatic lineages, maintained through a preference for patrilocal residence.53 Other loosely structured descent groups probably existed but were not localized in any particular barrio.

In the eighteenth century, the principal raison d’être of these kin groups was their corporate right to land and terrazgueros. Their members were the heirs of the 55 estates founded in 1591, and only one or two of the cacicazgos were legally subdivided. In most cases, ownership was vested in the lineage as a whole, whose members all claimed descent from the founding ancestor. In the case of the largest cacicazgo, that founded by the sixteenth- century tlatoani don Miguel de Santiago, the 27 heirs (families) in 1755 were subdivided into six casas, or houses, each with a cabeza, or head.54 Sale of cacicazgo land in the late colonial period was expressly forbidden by law, and occurred only rarely.55 Access to land remained fundamentally a matter of kinship — one had to be a descendant of the founder of the cacicazgo or married to someone who was.56 Caciques would sometimes justify this style of corporate ownership to Spanish officials by noting the considerable court costs that legal subdivision among individuals would entail.

The maintenance of group tenure caused much confusion in Spanish courts, but judges continued to tolerate it. While the pre-Hispanic roots of this practice are obvious, it is significant that the founding ancestors invoked were usually those caciques who had received their titles from the viceroy in 1591. In the more than one hundred eighteenth-century land litigation cases examined for this study, not once did a cacique (or anyone else) seek to buttress an argument by claiming descent from a preconquest personage.57

If cacique status meant having rights to land through kinship and marriage (even if those rights had been usurped, as often happened), it also meant not being a macehual, especially a terrazguero. Access to any significant amount of agricultural land carried with it a complex set of social and economic relationships with the commoners who actually did the cultivation. In pre-Hispanic times these terrazgueros lived on the lord’s land, but after the congregación of 1599 they became increasingly concentrated in the subject pueblos.58 As early as the 1540s, they felt the pinch of a salient contradiction in colonial policy in the region: Indian commoners were expected to farm and reside in nucleated villages after the Iberian fashion, yet these were to be essentially landless settlements, for the indigenous nobility was confirmed in its right to nearly all agricultural land. In the alcaldía mayor of Tecali, even the townsites of the pueblos founded in the mid-sixteenth century were located on cacique lands. This led to much resentment, sporadic acts of violence, and incalculable litigation over the entire course of the colonial period and beyond. In the eighteenth century especially, barely a year passed without a land or labor squabble somewhere in the jurisdiction, either in or out of the courts. In a phrase, it was a classic case of class conflict.

This drama had many players, but the key dispute was launched by the landless inhabitants of the neighboring town of Tochtepec, who sought to extricate themselves from the Tecali caciques’ domination. In the 1730s, the situation was exacerbated by the extremely exploitative trading practices of Alcalde Mayor Joseph de Cárdenas, who was supported and even partially financed by many of the caciques. An uprising occurred in 1735.59 In 1746 Tochtepec became a politically independent pueblo and the seat of a new parish. Decades later, nevertheless, many residents of Tochtepec and other pueblos in the district still depended on Tecalis caciques for their livelihood. The caciques still owned much of the land; some of it was planted and harvested for them by terrazgueros, some was rented by the terrazgueros or their pueblos for their own use, and still other tracts were rented to Spaniards. This protracted conflict —never resolved during the colonial years —served to heighten class consciousness on both sides. The land-poor pueblos pressed their claims for territory through the courts, and the caciques responded by defending their titles and cacicazgo lands. The process was expensive and tedious for all concerned.

To be a cacique also meant freedom from tribute during the eighteenth century, and possibly in earlier times as well. While the law specifically exempted only firstborn offspring, it was not rigorously applied in Tecali.60 The exemptions were not from carelessness on the part of Spanish officials, for the alcaldes mayores kept detailed lists of the names of exempt individuals. In neighboring Cuauhtinchan, for example, 110 caciques (41 married couples, 20 single men, and 8 single women) were exempt in 1734, having presented written proof of their status.61 Significantly, disputes in Tecali over who was exempt from tribute were rare.

Finally, to be a cacique in late colonial Tecali meant that one was a privileged Indian and not a mestizo. Although mestizos in New Spain acknowledged some Indian ancestry, they identified culturally with Hispanic society. They were also legally prohibited from living in Indian communities like Tecali, though many did. Unlike Tecali’s macehuales, whose Indian identity rarely changed or came into question, a number of caciques possessed enough linguistic skills and cultural knowledge to encourage some people to think of them as mestizos rather than Indians. This was a potentially threatening attribution that most caciques sought to avoid, for if the mestizo label stuck, they could find themselves stripped of their cacicazgos and forbidden to hold political office.62 Although the caciques themselves rarely, if ever, used the term indio, they took great pains to present themselves as pure-blooded indigenous nobles, free of the taint of racial mixture.63

Cacique status thus involved ethnic as well as class characteristics. Whereas class, in the sense used here, refers to position in the social relations of production, ethnicity is a more subjective, dynamic concept. A group of people assumes and uses an ethnic identity to assert its status vis-à-vis another group in certain situations. Claims to an ethnic identity may be based on any number of cultural or physical traits, but belief in the descent unity of the group is often fundamental, as it was in Tecali.64

Class and ethnic boundaries may sometimes coincide, though just as often they are apt to diverge. They may also affect each other in concrete ways. To become publicly known as a mestizo or mulatto could endanger a Tecali cacique’s access to resources—that is, class position. The community held the legal status of a república de indios, and only Indians were permitted to hold political office on the town council; the caciques knew well that their hegemonic position in the community would suffer if they lost control of the council, which had never had any acknowledged macehuales or castas (people of mixed racial ancestry) in its ranks. Furthermore, much of the land was still tied up in cacicazgos, ownership of which required kinship ties with the sixteenth-century founders. To join the ranks of the castas openly would have meant risking an elite Indian status with tangible material benefits in exchange for a low rung of Hispanic society with few comparable advantages. It is no coincidence that Tecali was never home to many castas. In all periods, they were outnumbered by the caciques (see table 1). Passing as an español, or Spaniard, an option that might have been more attractive, never occurred in this community, though it may have been an alternative for some caciques who emigrated to the city of Puebla or Mexico City. Yet this strategy, too, would have placed access to cacicazgo property at risk.

At the same time, other citizens did not share the caciques’ self-image as an indigenous elite. Ethnic boundaries blurred in the final decades of the colonial period. Mestizaje was an ongoing process, whether it occurred through intermarriage (see tables 3 and 4) or, more commonly, extramarital liaisons. By the mid-eighteenth century, furthermore, many caciques led an increasingly Hispanized life. They had long since adopted Spanish dress and European-style household items. Most spoke Spanish; many of the men could read and write it as well. Nahuatl was still spoken, but it was slowly losing ground. The last known document written in Nahuatl in Tecali is a will from 1737; the last from the subject pueblos is a will from Jesús Nazareno Tepeyahualco dated 1754.65

A number of practical incentives, especially for men, led caciques to increase their dealings with Spaniards. The small, Spanish-run ranchos and haciendas, only marginal in number before 1700, multiplied over the course of the eighteenth century. Most were established on rented cacicazgo land. The periodic hostilities with terrazguero laborers, who sometimes refused to work at all, made renting to Spaniards attractive to most caciques. Spanish labradores had greater financial resources and often were willing to pay higher rents than the Indian commoners. They were more reliable in their payments, and could sometimes pay more than a year in advance at the start of a new lease. Even under a court order to give preference in land rentals to macehuales of certain pueblos (Tochtepec after the 1740s, for example), caciques were reluctant to comply, stating that it was in their best interest to rent to Spaniards or mestizos.

Within the community, the cultural gap between elite and commoners was growing. Political disputes sometimes turned ugly. In 1790, several macehuales protested to Spanish authorities that the caciques were not “indios puros” and therefore were unfit to hold public office. The commoners further accused the caciques of collusion with Spanish oppressors, a reference, no doubt, to the nobles’ predilection for renting land to Spaniards.66 Within the cacique group, accusations that a certain individual, family, or faction was “really” mestizo or mulatto, and therefore should be barred from holding political office or enjoying other privileges, were not uncommon.67 The caciques’ increasingly mixed racial status was plainly evident to Spaniards in the community as well. In 1785, the parish priest, Gerónimo Mateo Gil de Taboada, lamented the mixing of the caciques and the castas and the disappearance of some venerable old noble families.68 Under these conditions, maintaining a cacique identity was not just simply exercising an option or preference. It required effort; and for some —especially the most and least propertied—it was a struggle, often involving considerable time and money.

Class and ethnicity among members of Tecali’s noble stratum were thus intertwined in complex ways, bearing discernible threads of both continuity and change. From the late sixteenth century until the early eighteenth, the nobles are best understood as a class of landowners. This was, to be sure, an economically heterogeneous group; even in the 1590s, pillis controlled widely varying amounts of land and terrazgueros, and some had no land at all.69 Information is scant for the seventeenth century, but noble landholding does not seem to have been seriously challenged, and ethnic considerations had not yet become important. As late as 1715, Tecali was still an inward-looking community, where the noble class comprised no more than 2 to 3 percent of the population and the term cacique had only recently come into general use.

Subsequent years, however, brought increasingly frequent challenges to the noble families’ hold on land. The unity of the pilli class began to give way; many nobles had to abandon the older, insular way of life and deal with the threat from the restive terrazgueros by establishing stronger ties with Spaniards and mestizos in other towns and in the city of Puebla. As they did so, a new sort of ethnic unity began to develop, and the designation cacique became more and more fashionable.

The eighteenth century also brought important changes in Tecali’s economic base. The proliferating Spanish haciendas and ranchos recruited their labor force among the Indian macehuales who had formerly worked the land as the caciques’ tenants. Equally important, by midcentury Tecali clearly was no longer an exclusively agricultural community. One Spanish observer in 1743 noted that the town’s 399 macehual families now supported themselves either by weaving woolen cloth or by working as peons on haciendas in various jurisdictions.70 Economic diversification continued in later years, and by the time of independence, Tecali was said to be a town of weavers, tailors, carpenters, hacienda laborers, and peddlers. Weaving of woolens was by far the most common of the male artisan trades, and if later nineteenth- century censuses may serve as a guide, most of the town’s barrios had a significant number of weavers.71

Thus the old classes of pilli landowners and terrazguero tenants were joined by a growing number of agricultural proletarians and a significant new class of artisans and petty merchants. While direct information is lacking, the growing proportion of caciques in Tecali in the late eighteenth century- close to a third of the population in 1777—leaves little doubt that many had found their way into commerce or artisan trades. Interaction with non- Indians, whether through litigation, the leasing of land, or new occupational roles, was transforming the nobles into a multiclass ethnic group.

A watershed year, if one is needed, was 1746, when Tochtepec became an independent pueblo and the number of Tecali’s sujetos was cut in half. While this did not spell the end of cacique landholdings in the newly independent areas, caciques who still owned land came to depend for their livelihood less on terrazgueros and more on Spanish and mestizo renters. Yet even as the caciques began to lose their class unity and become more of an ethnic group, they never lost their public association with land ownership. Caciques were still publicly regarded as Indians of noble descent who possessed cacicazgos, had special political privileges, and did not pay tribute. That some of them were poor and landless and had married macehuales did not change this general image. Indeed, a substantial core of cacicazgo land remained intact for a very long time. Olivera claims that the 1856 Mexican privatization of communal lands simply added to the holdings of several old cacique families, and the division between landlords and peons continued into the early twentieth century. According to a 1913 census, 65 percent of Tecali’s household heads were landless peons who worked on haciendas and ranchos. Only 5 percent owned land, and most of it was controlled by just 8 families.72

Class, Ethnicity, and Marriage

Another window on the changing relationship between class position and ethnic status can be found in the parish marriage records. To what extent did caciques marry among themselves, and to what extent did they intermarry with Indian macehuales, castas, or Spaniards? Tables 2, 3, and 4 summarize the marriages in the Tecali parish church between 1672 and 1823 in which either bride or groom was a local resident. The vast majority of these marriage partners were also natives of the town. Community endogamy among Indians, including both nobles and commoners, was surprisingly high, averaging 95.7 percent in the period 1672-1715, dropping to 82.7 percent in 1716-1766, and rising again to 88.9 percent in 1767-1823.73

Assuming that most marriage partners sought mates who were in some sense like themselves, the question then becomes what kinds of similarities mattered most. To what degree were marriage choices made on the basis of class consciousness, ethnic solidarity, or perhaps simply cultural affinity? Demographic considerations also played a part. Given their relatively small numbers, the caciques, Spaniards, and castas could not marry as endogamously as the numerous macehuales because they had a harder time finding mates within the group. The chi-square statistic employed in tables 2 through 5 takes these population proportions into account. It helps measure how far marriage choices deviated from those that would be predicted on the basis of chance alone (that is, in purely random mating). Tables 2, 3, and 4 all have high chi-square values, nullifying the hypothesis that marriage preferences did not differ among the four groups at the conservative .001 level of probability. In other words, ethnic endogamy remained significant from 1672 until the end of the colonial period. Statistics alone, however, cannot tell what kinds of social and cultural parameters influenced actual marriage choices; these must be inferred from the different social contexts for each of the three periods studied.

That macehuales in Tecali remained highly endogamous in all three periods comes as no surprise. They formed the vast majority of the population; and in this group more than in any other, class and ethnic boundaries coincided. Macehuales were Indians; they were also poor tenants, agricultural proletarians, or artisans who worked for others. Few spoke Spanish or exerted much control over the means of production. As yet, no cases of wealthy or politically powerful macehuales in Tecali have come to light.

In the first period (table 2), the tiny size of the noble group is quite striking, as is the relative absence of españoles (a category that included both creoles and peninsulars) and castas (see also table 1). Significantly, before 1706 the term cacique was not used at all in the marriage registers; nobles were identified either as principales, by don or doña, or not at all. (Research for this study was able to identify some by surname.) This indicates that caciques had not yet emerged as a significant ethnic category, and it implies that the traditional class lines between nobles and commoners were a major factor in marriage choices.

Table 5 compares the marriages of Indian nobles with those of all other inhabitants in all three periods. Although less than half of the noble brides and grooms married within the group at all times, the high chi-square values show that the degree of endogamy was nonetheless significant, given the population sizes involved. Those nobles who did marry out of their group were most likely to choose macehual mates. Most nobles thus remained rooted in the Indian side of the colonial ethnic divide, though marriage with castas (mostly mestizos) was on the upswing in the final period. After 1715, however, significant changes took place. The term cacique came into regular use, an indication that ethnic considerations had joined those of class. Cacique was, of course, a Spanish term, and its use implies that validation of noble status was now being sought from outside —from Spanish judges, political officials, priests, lawyers, bureaucrats, and farmers —as well as from inside the community.

To understand the changing cacique marriage practices more fully, a statistic that can measure the relative degree of noble endogamy in each period is desirable. Table 5 employs Pearson’s contingency coefficient, expressed here on a scale of o (no endogamy) to 1 (complete endogamy). This provides a look at the relative strength of in-group marriage over time. The contingency coefficient is based on the chi-square. As table 5 shows, the coefficients for the three periods do not differ radically, but some variation does occur.

The greater strength of endogamy in the middle period might best be understood as an artifact of increased class consciousness. A quarter-century of population growth peaked in the 1720s, and the mid-eighteenth century was a time of especially sharp conflict between caciques and macehuales over land and labor rights.74 Class consciousness in the period 1716-66 was probably higher than at any time since the sixteenth century. The traditional system of class-based land access was attacked by the macehuales and defended by the caciques. While ethnic determinants of marriage choices were not insignificant, as attested to by the growing use of the term cacique itself, class conflict with the commoners set the general tone.

The final period, 1767-1823, brought still more changes. Class consciousness, while never ceasing to be a factor, abated somewhat as Tecali lost population, its agricultural base was supplemented by commerce and cottage industry, and hostilities with the macehuales decreased (or at least stabilized). While caciques were still significantly endogamous, more were now intermarrying with other groups than in the previous period. The percentage of endogamous cacique marriages held steady at 47 through both the second and third periods, yet the number of cacique marriage partners more than doubled, from 242 to 549 (see table 1).

This development presents a paradox. Why did in-group marriages decrease between 1767 and 1823, at a time when use of the cacique title was increasing dramatically? If class conflict with the Indian commoners actually had abated, what accounts for the enlargement of the noble sector and its more cosmopolitan approach to marriage? What was occurring may have been a subtle shift in the basis of cacique identity. With regard to its cultural identity, Tecali in the late eighteenth century was becoming less of an indigenous community.75 Nahuatl-speaking Indian commoners still predominated in the town, and the cacique elite remained the hegemonic group at the center of the community’s identity. But by 1767, the caciques had lost some of their control over land and labor as several subject towns in the jurisdiction became independent. At the same time, the growing estrangement between caciques and macehuales, the nobles’ increasingly Hispanized way of life, and their racially mixed background all had some effect.

In earlier years, the caciques had defined themselves as an elite class of indigenous landowners; that is, indigenes but not commoners, not macehuales. Even as ethnic concerns began to manifest themselves after 1715, the struggle was still mainly cast in terms of access to land; in other words, in class terms. After 1767, however, the caciques’ status as indigenes was increasingly called into question, often by macehuales but also by Spaniards and castas. This was a different sort of challenge, even if the stakes — ownership of cacicazgo land and political control of the community—remained the same. Access to these privileges in earlier times required periodic demonstrations that one was not an Indian commoner. After 1767, this was no longer sufficient: one also had to demonstrate that one was neither mestizo nor mulatto. Thus while the class component of cacique identity persisted, its ethnic component intensified, as mestizaje increased and caciques drew culturally closer to Spaniards and castas.

This cultural shift is reflected in the less-exclusive cacique marriage patterns after 1767, especially the more frequent unions with mestizos. Acculturation certainly had its advantages, but it also had dangers. Loss of cacique identity would be a step downward socially and would jeopardize access to land and political power. Even those nobles who did not enjoy those perquisites had relatives who did. Lineage was still a powerful ideology, and it lent itself easily to the expression of ethnicity. Poorer caciques also had their family honor to defend and their hopes for a better future; many of them tried incessantly to regain access to cacicazgo land through litigation. The increased use of the title cacique in the waning years of the colony should be understood in this context.76

The Changing Nature of Cacique Status

Over the century-and-a-half that provides the context for this study, the status of cacique in colonial Tecali displayed a number of constant features. From the arrival of the Spanish through the entire period, the term never lost its generalized meaning of Indian noble. Caciques were noble Indians who owned land (or at least had potential rights to land ownership) and ran the municipal government, under the watchful eyes of Spanish civil and ecclesiastical officials. During much of the colonial period, caciques also enjoyed rights to the labor of terrazgueros, though these diminished with time. Succession to cacique status was primarily by descent, through either males or females, though marriage ties also conferred certain rights, especially for husbands. Ownership of cacicazgo land was vested in lineage groups, not persons, despite the Spanish preference for individualized private property. Indeed, it was the cacicazgo estates that kept the kin groups together and made cacique status desirable to maintain. And, of course, cacique status brought legal recognition from the state and freedom from tribute. Some of these elements had been appropriated from the colonial state; others derived from Nahua culture and provided clear links with the pre-Hispanic past.

Yet it is also clear that, at least by the eighteenth century, caciques had ceased to appeal to the pre-Hispanic past to bolster their legitimacy. Their genealogical knowledge (insofar as the available documentation reveals it) extended not much farther back than the 1590s, when the colonial cacicazgos were formed; and even those years were beyond many nobles’ recollection. Caciques and cacicazgos had undeniable roots in Nahua culture, but this was a living, evolving culture, not a fossilized relic that ceased to exist after the Spanish conquest. Modern scholars therefore must avoid viewing these colonial nobles as heirs to a “pristine” past or as “vestiges” of preconquest times.77 This was certainly not how they saw themselves.

Thus, despite the continuities, the changing nuances of cacique status were just as important. The Spanish conquest gave rise to classes of landowning nobles and landless commoners. Contradictions in government policy and the ready accessibility of Spanish courts ensured that tensions between the two classes would run high. The caciques became a rentier class, the majority living off what their terrazgueros produced. Challenges to cacique status before the 1770s came mainly from below; macehuales and their pueblos wanted land, and in the jurisdiction of Tecali they could obtain it only at the caciques’ expense. Conflict gave rise to class consciousness on both sides, which reached its peak in the uprising of 1735.

Beginning in the early years of the eighteenth century, however, other forces emerged, bearing profound consequences for cacique identity. Increased literacy in Spanish and commercial and political relations with the Spaniards fostered greater acculturation. Although relatively few Tecali caciques or cacicas actually married Spaniards, mestizaje became more common after 1767. And although they may have taken these changes for granted at the time, caciques still had to resist open identification with castas to preserve their noble privileges and their birthright. A kind of ethnic consciousness thus came to supersede and, for some, to replace class consciousness. Because caciques, moreover, were now economically a diverse lot, they expressed their unity increasingly in ethnic terms. Their class position in relation to commoners had purely local significance, but their ethnic status as Indian caciques commanded a wider sphere of influence and a more diverse audience of non-Indians.

Of all the various racial and ethnic statuses that existed in New Spain, that of the late colonial cacique was perhaps the most ambiguous. Only caciques had good reasons for resisting identification both with those below them (Indian commoners) and those above them (mestizos) in the Spanish sistema de castas. What Tecali reveals is a gradual transformation of an elite, over a period of about 70 years, from a landowning class to an increasingly heterogeneous, multiclass group defined more in ethnic terms.

More remains to be learned about how exclusive a group the Tecali caciques were and how deeply any upwardly mobile macehuales penetrated their ranks. Though cacique endogamy was significant at all times in Tecali’s colonial past, slightly more than 55 percent of cacique unions between 1672 and 1766 involved marriage to macehuales. (The percentage dropped to 41 in the period 1767-1823, reflecting the widening cultural distance between nobles and commoners and a rise in marriages to mestizos.) The number of surnames used by noble families also expanded somewhat over time. By the late colonial period, caciques and macehuales sometimes shared the same names (Santiago, for example). Genealogical research remains to be done, but it is likely that commoners’ “infiltration” of the cacique ranks occurred mainly through intermarriage and was confined to those poor, peripheral noble families who controlled little or no land and possessed little more than the noble title itself.

The cacique “power elite,” the core group that dominated the municipal council and most of the land, appears to have been remarkably impervious to incursions from below. In the large amount of documentation this study surveyed, hardly ever did enemies accuse a cacique of being of macehual extraction. (The charge of mestizo ancestry was much more common.) Nor could noble status be achieved through political office, as was sometimes possible elsewhere in late colonial Mexico.78 Proper kinship and descent ties were the all-important roads to noble status in Tecali, and it appears that the core cacique group remained quite exclusive during the entire colonial period.

A final issue is that of representativeness. How far can the pattern described for Tecali be generalized? The indigenous elite portrayed here differs in many respects from the regional variants in northern Yucatán and Oaxaca. The class characteristics of Tecalis elite make it more comparable to the “economic elites” of the Valley of Oaxaca and Mixteca Alta; yet Tecalis cacicazgos were not at all like those in Oaxaca, nor were its nobles as well integrated into the colonial mercantile economy. Tecalis elite may be characterized as confrontational, in that its members actively asserted their status as caciques and did so from a position of strength based on cacicazgo ownership.79 This characterization applies best to the middle period addressed here, 1716 to 1766, when cacique identity and control of land and terrazgueros were most closely associated. Yet even in later years, as increasing numbers of nobles lost the competition for land, they continued boldly to assert their cacique status. Descent and family honor were still important reasons to seek public recognition of one’s ties to the traditional, if now fading, landholding elite. The alternatives, to join the ranks of the macehuales or the mestizos, were equally unpalatable; those choices would have drawn scorn from family members and relatives.

It remains to be seen how much of this pattern applies to other parts of Nahua central Mexico. Differences with late colonial Cuernavaca have already been noted: the cacique label was used more sparingly there, and apparently lacked the historical association with landholding that it had in Tecali. The two known cacicazgos in the Cuernavaca jurisdiction appear to have been much larger than any in Tecali.80

The contrast between Cuernavaca and Tecali may well be related to significant differences in preconquest social structure. Lockhart has recently observed that in Cuernavaca and elsewhere in the “western” Nahua region, the calpulli was predominant and most of the inhabitants were ordinary macehualtin, not dependent directly on individual lords. In much of the “eastern” Nahua region, however, the patrimonial teccalli was more influential, and the majority of the macehualtin might be landless and “special dependents” of nobles (as they were in Tecali).81 This is a fruitful lead for future comparative research, but other factors surely were also at work in the late eighteenth century.

A tribute roster from about 1800 shows that while recognized cacique household heads were still common throughout New Spain, their numbers could fluctuate dramatically, even from one town to another. In the Provincia de Puebla, the Partido de Tecali —the smallest in the province—topped the list with 63 caciques, while the neighboring jurisdiction of Amozoc had only 10. The similarly close Partido de Tepeaca, covering a much larger area than that of Tecali, had no caciques listed at all. Numbers of caciques listed in other Puebla partidos ranged from none (in Chautla, Chietla, Huauchinango, Huayacocotla, Izucar and Ahuatlan, Tetela de Xonotla, Tochimilco, and Zacatlan) to 48 (in the Partido de Puebla, which included the city). In the Provincia de México, to mention just a few partidos, Teotihuacan had 2 caciques, Mexico City had 19, Queretaro had 116, and Tlaxcala a whopping 241, reflecting, no doubt, the special privileges granted to descendants of those who had assisted the Spaniards in the conquest three centuries earlier.82

While Tlaxcala may be a special case, the meaning of this terminological variation is far from certain, and more local studies are needed to put such gross statistics in perspective. In more general terms, however, Tecali exemplified a trend toward “status inflation” that was present in widely disparate parts of rural Mexico at the close of the eighteenth century. The proliferation of principales in the Sierra Zapoteca, mentioned earlier, is a case in point. Likewise, in the Mixteca Alta, the number of people who identified themselves as caciques was on the increase long after cacicazgos in the region had gone into decline.83

These examples suggest that historians of New Spain (the Maya area seems to have been different) have been too quick to measure the significance of native elites according to the rise and decline of their cacicazgo estates. Noble property and access to labor surely did “decline,” but this term does not accurately portray the fate of elite status itself in the late colonial period, as cases like Cuernavaca and Tecali make clear. Local definitions of noble status were changing in ways that remain only partially understood. The term reconstitution might best capture the general nature of the process. Promoted by increasing levels of Hispanization, the reconstitution of village elites was a process of cultural syncretism that appropriated aspects of the state’s image of a subject native elite and fused them with local indigenous traditions. As the case of Tecali shows, this process had a salient ethnic dimension, and it was still continuing at the time of independence.

The following abbreviations are used for archival material: Archivo General de Indias, Seville (AGI); Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City (AGN); Archivo General de Notarías del Estado de Puebla (AGNP); Archivo Municipal de Cuauhtinchan (AMC); Archivo Municipal de Tecali (AMT); Archivo Parroquial de Tecali (APT); Archivo Judicial de Puebla, microfilm collection of the Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City (AJP-MNAH); and Archivo Judicial de Tecali in the same microfilm collection (AJT-MNAH).

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Ethnohistory in Tempe, Arizona, November 10-13, 1994. Research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. I wish to thank Frederic Hicks and Stephen Perkins for their comments on the meeting paper, and Perkins, Michael Barton, and Julia Hernández de Chance for their help with the transcription and tabulation of Tecalis marriage records. Special thanks go to two anonymous HAHR reviewers.


The term cacique, of Arawak origin, was widely used by Spaniards in the New World and was initially applied to successors of pre-Hispanic rulers or ruling families. Principales could be relatives of caciques, successors of the pre-Hispanic second-echelon nobility (such as the Nahua pipiltin), or political officeholders and their successors. Pedro Carrasco, “La transformación de la cultura indígena durante la colonia,” Historia Mexicana 25 (1975), 182.


The classic conceptualization of caciques as brokers can be found in Eric R. Wolf, “Aspects of Group Relations in a Complex Society: Mexico,” American Anthropologist 58 (1956), 1065-78. Important substantive contributions on sixteenth-century Mesoamerican caciques and Indian village elites in general are numerous. Special influences on the present research include Charles Gibson, The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519-1810 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1964); Delfina E. López Sarrelangue, La nobleza indígena de Pátzcuaro en la época virreinal (Mexico City: UNAM, 1965); Ronald Spores, The Mixtec Kings and Their People (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1967); idem, The Mixtecs in Ancient and Colonial Times (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1984); William B. Taylor, Landlord and Peasant in Colonial Oaxaca (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1972); Carrasco, “La transformación”; Carrasco, Johanna Broda, et al., eds., Estratificación social en la Mesoamérica prehispánica (Mexico City: INAH, 1976); Judith Francis Zeitlin, “Ranchers and Indians in the Southern Isthmus of Tehuantepec: Economic Change and Indigenous Survival in Colonial Mexico,” HAHR 69:1 (Feb. 1989), 23-60; Zeitlin and Lillian Thomas, “Spanish Justice and the Indian Cacique: Disjunctive Political Systems in Sixteenth-Century Tehuantepec,” Ethnohistory 39:3 (1992), 285-315; Nancy M. Farriss, Maya Society Under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1984); Kevin Gosner, “Las elites indígenas en los Altos de Chiapas, 1524-1714,” Historia Mexicana 33:4 (1984), 405-23; idem, Soldiers of the Virgin: The Moral Economy of a Colonial Maya Rebellion (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1992); James Lockhart, The Nahuas After the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1992); Robert S. Haskett, “Living in Two Worlds: Cultural Continuity and Change Among Cuernavaca’s Colonial Indigenous Ruling Elite,” Ethnohistory 35:1 (1988), 34- 59; idem, Indigenous Rulers: An Ethnohistory of Town Government in Colonial Cuernavaca (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1991).


Gibson, Aztecs Under Spanish Rule, 161-62.


See, e.g., William B. Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1979), 20; Marcello Carmagnani, “La ricostituzione delle nazioni indi: il governo etnico nell’area de Oaxaca nel’700,” Quademi Storici 45 (1980), 1027- 45; Eric Van Young, “Conflict and Solidarity in Indian Village Life: The Guadalajara Region in the Late Colonial Period,” HAHR 64:1 (Feb. 1984), 55-79; Nancy M. Farriss, “Indians in Colonial Yucatán: Three Perspectives,” in Spaniards and Indians in Southeastern Mesoamerica: Essays on the History of Ethnic Relations, ed. Murdo J. MacLeod and Robert Wasserstrom (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1983), 1-39; and John K. Chance, “Colonial Ethnohistory of Oaxaca,” in Supplement to the Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 4, ed. Victoria R. Bricker and Ronald Spores (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1986), 165-89.


This topic is treated in more detail in John K. Chance, “Indian Elites in Late Colonial Mesoamerica,” in Caciques and Their People: A Volume in Honor of Ronald Spores, ed. Joyce Marcus and Judith Francis Zeitlin, Anthropological Papers no. 89 (Ann Arbor: Museum of Anthropology, Univ. of Michigan, 1994), 45-65.


Farriss, Maya Society, chap. 8.


John K. Chance, Conquest of the Sierra: Spaniards and Indians in Colonial Oaxaca (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1989), chap. 5.


Lockhart, Nahuas After the Conquest, 117.


See Solange Alberro, “Inquisition et société: rivalités de pouvoirs à Tepeaca (1656- 1660),” Annales, Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations 36:5 (1981), 758-84; Serge Gruzinski, Man- Gods in the Mexican Highlands: Indian Power and Colonial Society, 1550-1800 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1989), chap. 5; Robert S. Haskett, “Indian Town Government in Colonial Cuernavaca: Persistence, Adaptation, and Change,” HAHR 67:2 (May 1987), 228; idem, “Living in Two Worlds,” 35-42; idem, Indigenous Rulers; James Lockhart, Introduction to Provinces of Early Mexico: Variants of Spanish American Regional Evolution, ed. Ida Altman and Lockhart (Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center, 1976), 21; idem, “Views of Corporate Self and History in Some Valley of Mexico Towns: Late Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” in The Inca and Aztec States, 1400-1800: Anthropology and History, ed. George A. Collier, Renato I. Rosaldo, and John D. Wirth (New York: Academic Press, 1982), 367-93; Cheryl English Martin, Rural Society in Colonial Morelos (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1985), chap. 7; Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion, 21; John M. Tutino, “Creole Mexico: Spanish Elites, Haciendas, and Indian Towns, 1750-1810” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Texas, Austin, 1976), 270; idem, “Provincial Spaniards, Indian Towns, and Haciendas: Interrelated Agrarian Sectors in the Valleys of Mexico and Toluca, 1750-1810,” in Altman and Lockhart, Provinces of Early Mexico, 182; and idem, “Agrarian Social Change and Peasant Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Mexico: The Example of Chaleo,” in Riot, Rebellion, and Revolution: Rural Social Conflict in Mexico, ed. Friedrich Katz (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1988), 100-102. Arij Ouweneel argues that in many parts of eighteenth-century central Mexico, the indigenous gobernador still ruled the pueblo as a kind of lordship modeled on the pre-Hispanic tlahtocayotl. “From Tlahtocayotl to Gobernadoryotl: A Critical Scrutiny of the Characteristics of Indigenous Rule in Eighteenth-Century Central Mexico,” American Ethnologist 22:4 (1995), 756-85. See also Chance, “Indian Elites,” 50.


For the Valley of Oaxaca and Mixteca Alta, see Taylor, Landlord and Peasant; Rodolfo Pastor, Campesinos y reformas: la mixteca, 1700-1856 (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1987); and Kevin Terraciano, “Nudzahui History: Mixtec Writing and Culture in Colonial Oaxaca” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of California, Los Angeles, 1994).


Guido Munch G., El cacicazgo de San Juan Teotihuacan durante la colonia (1521-1821) (Mexico City: INAH, 1976).


Haskett, Indigenous Rulers, 172.


Lockhart, Nahuas After the Conquest, 102.


The original marriage records are housed in APT. Research for this study used microfilm copies made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and deposited in the AGN, Fondo de Genealogía y Heráldica. I worked principally with the informaciones matrimoniales on rolls J.I.T. 3712-20 and J.I.T. 3727-39. Records are missing for the years 1691-92, 1803-4, 1807, and 1810-14.


In Nahuatl documents, Tecali is always referred to as Tecallimapan. In the sixteenth century it was also known (in Spanish) as Santiago Tecalco.


Mercedes Olivera, Pillis y macehuales: las formaciones sociales y los modos de producción de Tecali del siglo XII al XVI (Mexico City: Casa Chata, 1978), 73-74.


AJT-MNAH, roll 1, exp. 34. Peter Gerhard states that the Tecali district split off from the alcaldía mayor of Tepeaca in 1664. A Guide to the Historical Geography of New Spain, 2d ed. (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 255. That arrangement, however, proved only short-lived. A few years later, Tecali was reattached to the Tepeaca jurisdiction and remained so until 1726.


AGI, México 2581.


Olivera, Pillis y macehuales, 61-122, 168.


Ibid., 201. Tecali was not unique; other nobles in the Valley of Puebla received title to their lands at about the same time. Rik Hoekstra, Two Worlds Merging: The Transformation of Society in the Valley of Puebla, 1570-1640 (Amsterdam: CEDLA, 1993), 100.


Roberto García Moll, “Distribución de lenguas indígenas en el Estado de Puebla en el siglo XIX,” Tlalocan 5:2 (1966), 97-108.


Lockhart, Nahuas After the Conquest, 117; APT, Libros de matrimonios for 1572- 74, 1583-94, and 1609-33. The sources for the Nahuatl wills are AJT-MNAH, roll 3, exp. 101 (1616); AGN, Tierras 500, exp. 4 (1629), Tierras 1449, exp. 7 (1654, 1683); AGNP, Protocolos de Tepeaca, caja 11, exp. 4 (1656); AGN, Tierras 2730, exp. 2 (1706); AJT-MNAH, roll 1, exp. 44 (1718), roll 2, exp. 95 (1737); AGN, Tierras 1216, exp. 2 (1737); AJT-MNAH, roll 3, exp. 102 (1748).


E.g., Juan García Chichimecateuctli, head of the teccalli of Chichimecatecpan in the 1580s. Olivera, Pillis y macehuales, 106.


The court-ordered Spanish translation of the 1706 will renders the phrase pilli tlatohuani as cacique principal. AGN, Tierras 2730, exp. 2, fol. 36.


Chance, Conquest of the Sierra, 137-46.


Hoekstra states that in the Valley of Puebla in the early colonial period the terms cacique and principal referred to different groups of people. While members of both groups became impoverished in the late sixteenth century, Hoekstra notes that the caciques were more successful in maintaining their noble status. Two Worlds Merging, 220.


See APT, Libros de matrimonios.


Lockhart, Nahuas After the Conquest, 133.


Olivera, Pillis y macehuales, 164. Hoekstra estimates that nobles accounted for about 10 percent of the indigenous population in the Valley of Puebla in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Two Worlds Merging, 197.


AGI, Indiferente General 108, tomo 3, fols. 161v-87. The figure for the cabecera given by José Antonio Villaseñor y Sánchez, who also used these reports, is an error. He also omits the count for the pueblo of San Juan. Villaseñor y Sánchez, Theatro americano: descripción general de los reynos, 2 vols. (Mexico City: Editora Nacional, 1952), 2:321-22.


AGN, Tierras 1865, exp. 4, fols. 6v-7v.


AGI, México 2581.


The decrease in the number of marriages in the third period, 1767-1823, stems partly from the absence of data for eight years after 1800. Even so, a steady decline in the number of marriages performed in each decade—the 1770s (281), the 1780s (193), and the 1790s (171) — indicates that Tecali was indeed shrinking.


Haskett, Indigenous Rulers, 133-35; Chance, Conquest of the Sierra, 137-46.


Gerhard, Guide to the Historical Geography of New Spain, 255.


Olivera, Pillis y macehuales, 139-46, 190; John K. Chance, “The Barrios of Colonial Tecali: Patronage, Kinship, and Territorial Relations in a Central Mexican Community,” Ethnology, forthcoming.


The fundamental unity of the cacique group following the land grants conforms quite well to the Marxist relational definition of class: people who share a common position within the social relations of production. See Erik Olin Wright, “Varieties of Marxist Conceptions of Class Structure,” Politics and Society 9:3 (1980), 323-70.


See Gibson, Aztecs Under Spanish Rule, 257-99; Lockhart, Nahuas After the Conquest, 142-56.


Ursula Dyckerhoff, “Colonial Indian Corporate Landholding: A Glimpse from the Valley of Puebla,” in The Indian Community of Colonial Mexico: Fifteen Essays on Land Tenure, Corporate Organizations, Ideology, and Village Politics, ed. Arij Ouweneel and Simon Miller (Amsterdam: CEDLA, 1990), 40. For more on Tecali, see Olivera, Pillis y macehuales, 195- 96. Noble monopoly of land was also common in other communities of centra] Puebla, such as Cuauhtinchan and Tepeaca. See Pedro Carrasco, “Las tierras de dos indios nobles de Tepeaca en el siglo XVI,” Tlalocan 4 (1963), 97-119; idem, “Más documentos sobre Tepeaca,” Tlalocan 6 (1969), 1-37; Hildeberto Martínez, Tepeaca en el siglo XVI: tenencia de la tierra y organización de un señorío (Mexico City: Casa Chata, 1984); Luis Reyes García, Cuauhtinchan del siglo XII al XVI: formación y desarrollo histórico de un señorío prehispánico (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1977).


Dyckerhoff, “Colonial Indian Corporate Landholding,” 41-42.


AMT, caja 14, exp. 2.


AGNP, Tepeaca, caja 26, exp. 1, fols. 117-19.


Ibid., caja 23, exp. 49, no fol. nos.


Olivera, Pillis y macehuales, 210.


For a discussion of tierras de comunidad and tierras de repartimiento in Cuernavaca, see Haskett, Indigenous Rulers, 72-74.


Van Young, “Conflict and Solidarity,” 56.


For the closed corporate community model, see Eric R. Wolf, “Closed Corporate Peasant Communities in Mesoamerica and Central Java,” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 13 (1957), 1-18; idem, Sons of the Shaking Earth (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1959), 214-32.


Chance, “Indian Elites,” 51; William B, Taylor, “Conflict and Balance in District Politics: Tecali and the Sierra Norte de Puebla in the Eighteenth Century,” in Five Centuries of Law and Politics in Central Mexico, ed. Ronald Spores and Ross Hassig, Vanderbilt Univ. Publications in Anthropology no. 30 (Nashville: Vanderbilt Univ., 1984), 87-106.


Gibson, Aztecs Under Spanish Rule, 36; Van Young, “Conflict and Solidarity,” 67.


For a good discussion of colonial Nahua naming patterns, see Lockhart, Nahuas After the Conquest, 117-30.


See Chance, “Barrios of Colonial Tecali.”


Some of the same surnames are still prominent in Tecali today, but the names of the high-status barrios have been totally forgotten.


Chance, “Barrios of Colonial Tecali.” In cognatic (or ambilineal) descent groups, members trace their descent from a common ancestor through either male or female links. Patrilocal residence means that at the time of marriage, a couple establishes residence with or near the groom’s family. Olivera argues that descent among Tecalis pillis in the sixteenth century was reckoned patrilineally (through the male line only). My eighteenth-century data suggest a more cognatic pattern, more in line with Susan Kellogg’s portrayal of descent in preconquest Tenochtitlan. Olivera, Pillis y macehuales, 185, 188; Kellogg, Law and the Transformation of Aztec Culture, 1500-1700 (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1995), chap. 5. This topic needs further research.


AGN, Tierras 26, exp. 1, fols. 28r-v.


Most sales that did occur were to Spaniards and were a means of liquidating tribute debts owed by many gobernadores (who were always caciques) on leaving office. House lots (solares), however, changed hands much more frequently. Things were different in the late sixteenth century, however, when caciques in the Valley of Puebla sold a considerable amount of land to Spaniards. Hoekstra, Two Worlds Merging, 102.


Not all caciques had access to land, however, and many claimed that what was rightfully theirs had been usurped by unscrupulous relatives, usually brothers or uncles. Lawsuits over land that pitted one cacique family against another abounded in the eighteenth century.


Most of these lawsuits are in AGN, Tierras, and AJT-MNAH. Kellogg makes a similar observation for seventeenth-century nobles in Mexico City. Law and the Transformation of Aztec Culture, 48.


For further details, see Olivera, Pillis y macehuales, 142-54. Hoekstra, Two Worlds Merging, 114, has judged the congregación a failure.


Taylor, “Conflict and Balance.”


Recopilación de leyes de los reynos de las Indias, 3 vols. (Madrid: Consejo de la Hispanidad, 1943), 2:230; AGI, Indiferente General 108, tomo 3, fols. 161v-87.


AMC, paquete 1, exp, 21.


We know much more about mestizo identity in cities than in Indian towns. For Mexican urban settings see, among other works, John K. Chance, “On the Mexican Mestizo,” Latin American Research Review 14:3 (1979), 153-68; idem, Race and Class in Colonial Oaxaca (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1978); Patricia Seed, “Social Dimensions of Race: Mexico City, 1753.” HAHR 62:4 (Nov. 1982), 559-606; Robert Douglas Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City, 1660-1720 (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1994).


This was also the practice in Cuernavaca, though in the seventeenth century, caciques there claimed ancestry from both the Spanish and indigenous sides. Haskett, “Living in Two Worlds,” 40-42. No cases of this have turned up in Tecali.


On ethnicity, see Frederik Barth, ed., Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (Boston: Little, Brown, 1969); Anya Peterson Royce, Ethnic Identity: Strategies of Diversity (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1982); and Manning Nash, The Cauldron of Ethnicity in the Modern World (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989). A good discussion of the relationship between class and ethnicity in a modern Mexican Indian community can be found in Lynn Stephen, Zapotee Women (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1991), chaps. 2, 6.


AJT-MNAH, roll 2, exp. 95, roll 4, exp. 134.


AJP-MNAH, rolls 46, 47.


For an example from 1755, see AGN, Tierras 1865, exp. 4, fol. 29r.


AGN, Tierras 1873, exp. 10, fol. 4r.


Olivera, Pillis y macehuales, 170-84.


AGI, Indiferente General, 108, tomo 3.


AMT, caja 5, exp. 3; caja 7, exps. 2, 6; caja 16, exp. 1; caja 18, exp. 1; caja 20, exp. 5; caja 22, exp. 3.


Olivera, Pillis y macehuales, 55-57.


Endogamy and exogamy by barrio are discussed at some length in Chance, “Barrios of Colonial Tecali,” 28-35.


Lutz Brinckmann S., “Natalidad y mortalidad en Tecali (Puebla): 1701-1801,” Siglo XIX (Monterrey) 4:7 (1989), 219-69; Gunter Völmer, “La evolución cuantitativa de la población indígena en la región de Puebla (1570-1810),” Comunicaciones (Puebla) 8 (1973), 37-39; Chance, “Barrios of Colonial Tecali,” 17, 23; Taylor, “Conflict and Balance.”


Chance, “Barrios of Colonial Tecali,” 38-40.


The shift in cacique identity postulated here coincided with the decline of the “barrio system” in Tecali. See Chance, “Barrios of Colonial Tecali.”


Farriss, “Indians,” 2-6.


For the Sierra Zapoteca of Oaxaca, see Chance, Conquest of the Sierra, chap. 5.


Chance, “Indian Elites,” 54.


Haskett, Indigenous Rulers, 135, 172.


Lockhart, Nahuas After the Conquest, 98. For substantive studies on the teccalli and noble landholding in the preconquest Valley of Puebla, see note 39.


AGN, Tributos 43, exp. 3.


Pastor, Campesinos y reformas, 166-75, 308; John K. Chance, “The Mixtec Nobility Under Colonial Rule” (Paper read at the Second Mixtec Gateway, Las Vegas, Mar. 11-12, 1995).