Way back to Aztlan : sixteenth century Hispanic-Nahuatl transculturation and the construction of the new Mexico
This thesis is a library and archive-based study within the field of historical anthropology. It is concerned with one particular case of cross-cultural borrowing that occurred during the sixteenth century Spanish conquest of mainland North America; a process of imperial expansion that resulted in the establishment of several colonial provinces, which comprised all of present-day Mexico, Guatemala and some parts of the United States of America and were administratively dependent on the viceroyalty of New Spain. The thesis focuses on the creation of the most northerly province within this territory, Nuevo Mexico, which - unlike other provinces in the Spanish overseas domains - had a social and political existence before it had an actual geographic embodiment. Rather than the actual politico-geographic entity founded as a colonial "kingdom" in 1598, Nuevo Mexico is understood in this study as a "disembodied imaginary world," mainly consisting of the image of the Aztec ancestral homeland that Spanish conquerors and their Indian allies and/or subjects fabricated in the context of their colonial interaction. Therefore the focus of this thesis is on the transformation of abstract, symbolic space into concrete, politically marked territory. Through the semantic analysis of the term Nuevo Mexico and via reconstructing the process of its formulation and reification (1539-1598) I have explored issues of alterity, local knowledge, cultural hybridity and misunderstanding. Part one of the thesis discusses the relevance of historical case-studies for anthropological theorisation on colonialism and the creation of culture. It also provides an ethno-historical background for the area and people addressed in the thesis and displays the chain of events related to the exploration and conquest of Nuevo Mexico. Part two argues against traditional interpretations of the colonisation of Nuevo Mexico as entailing the transplant of the European mediaeval imagery and proposes instead that it was the Nahua pre-conquest myths of origin what prompted the Spanish conquest of the area. Finally, it discusses the complexity of cross-cultural interaction and the creation of culture in colonial contexts.