Fray Bernardino de Sahagun and the Nahua : conflicting interests intertwined
Some men, a few men, in the early period of colonization, while helping birth New World mythology, and with their own Eurocentric purposes and curiosity at hand, recorded the world of the conquered people. One such man was the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagun, who wrote, with the collaboration of indigenous participants, an extensive, encyclopedic compendium. The twelve book work, Historia Universal de las Cosas de Nueva Espana, was composed of information gathered from certain groups of Nahua people, during the mid to late Sixteenth Century. A careful study of this work serves to prove that the conquest, and its aftermath, were equivocal, contradictory, ambivalent, and complex processes that involved many peoples, most of whom were not members of the European Imperial cast. The indigenous people were not the flat surfaces upon which Europe wrote history, but they were people with sophisticated and distinctive cultural constructs of their own, complex languages and historical recording processes that were not limited always to oral histories. They were people with serious attachments to their gods and to their traditions. Only recently, in the last thirty years or so, the indigenous people’s voices and versions of history have begun to receive their due credit among scholars and activists. The information that Sahagun recorded has the power to adjust the indigenous stereotypes, and the historic assumptions, that still today function to subjugate those people imagined as the vanquished, the voiceless, those erroneously imagined as parts of cultures that somehow vanished. This work is part of the effort to show that the Conquest, and subsequent colonization were plurivocal processes. They were not the mere actions of a homogenized ‘subject’ empire over an equally homogenized Pan-Indian indigenous ‘object’. Indeed, it was a ‘come-and-go’ of individual and group-specific interests seeking to represent themselves.