Movie Boycott -Stereotyping Native People

CBodif9907 at CBodif9907 at
Sun Jan 23 08:56:14 UTC 2000

    Forgive my spelling, but I felt compelled to write on this list for the
first time.  This message is very long, the typing is probably atrocious.  I
didn't have time to proofread it, but I really wanted to stick up for Craig a
bit, though he doesn't really need my help.  If you have no interest in this
Movie Boycott issue, by all means delete this message.  Ok here goes:
    My experience as a student taught about the history of the Conquest of
the Mexica has been an endless litany about European atrocities committed
against a very sympathetic and noble culture.  Anyone who is concerned that
European atrocities are being glossed over in favor of painting an unfair
picture of Mexica religious practices has totally missed the last 30 or so
years of scholarship on the subject.  I can't think of an anthropology
student who has escaped the whole "Spaniards destroyed everything, profaned
native rituals, burned all the sacred books and annihilated all the great
religious centers, and committed any number of horrors in the name of
Christianity" speech.  It is difficult to imagine a more sinister portrait
being painted of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. I don't really deny of it.
It may have been the single greatest human engineered catastrophe in history.
 It was an unrecoverable loss to humanity.  But if anyone out there is
concerned that the Mexica are coming across as the bad guys and the Spaniards
are coming across as the good me, you have nothing to worry
    No doubt the European perception of the meaning of human sacrifice in
Tenochtitlan was far different from the internal perspective of the Mexica
and their priestly class.  But there is pretty solid evidence that large
scale sacrifices of captives were made in Tenochtitlan as well as many other
large ceremonial systems throughout the Triple Alliance Empire.   How do you
account for the Xompantli (skull racks) if the sacrifice of war captives was
not practiced?  They don't merely exist as eye witness accounts, Xompantli
can bee seen carved as relief images on precolumbian stone structures as
well.  You must also consider that some accounts of Nahua religious life and
customs came directly from the mouths of Nahua people.  Nahua legends of
Quetzalcoatl (and yes, there are MANy of them) do mention human sacrifice.
In fact, in one legend I believe Quetzalcoatl is opposed to it.  That doe
snot prove that it occurred, but it certainly suggests that it was an element
of the culture from time to time.  It was my understanding that human
sacrifice on the Templo Mayor was conducted to commemorate Huitzilipochtli's
great victory over his enemies when he sent them tumbling down the mountain.
I donlt understand why anyone would want to classify that as negative Spanish
propaganda.  I imagine the Mexica of the time would have been shocked by
anyone questioning the validity of such a practice.  It wasn't meaningless
butchery, it had a purpose.
    It can certainly be debated whether or not this practice was performed on
a large scale to intimidate or send a message to foreign dignitaries visiting
the Tenochtitlan.  But why is it THAT implausible?  The Spaniards certainly
committed some atrocities in the name of religion, why not gain some extra
political advantadge from a legitimate religious practice?  If this level of
sacrifice wasn't practice, then why were other kingdoms who were coerced into
supplying large number of Flowery War captives for sacrifice so willing to
send tens of thousands of warriors along with the Spaniards to Tenochtitlan?
That certainly suggests to me that not everyone was happy with Mexica rule.
Doesn't mean the Mexica were bad folks.  That is just the state of affairs
everywhere people rule another people, but the degree of hostility certainly
lends credence to the claims that lesser kingdoms were very angry with the
Mexica's continual demands for sacrificial victims.  It is unfair to look at
the civilizations of Mexico at the time of the Conquest as a single
monolithic political enitity living in perfect harmony.  Mesoamerica was
linguistically, culturally, and politically diverse, and there were
definitely certain groups who did not like each other.  The Purepecha (I am
still puzzled why they are referred to as Tarascans) were noted for their
success in battle against the Mexica, who made entreaties for them to join
forces in an attempt to drive out the Spaniards.  Closer to Tenochtitlan,
first hand accounts recorded from the testimony of survivors of the Conquest
in Tlalocan paint an unsympathetic picture of  the defenders of Tenochtitlan,
while the defenders of Tlalocan come across as absolutely fearless
intractable warriors.  I am not saying that they were not, but I have doubts
that the picture their testimony paints of Mexica defenders in Tenochtitlan
lacking resolve are accurate.  I am certain they fought ferociously to defend
their capital.
    There is a final comment I want to make about this hostile reaction to
Craig's "absurd presumptions" concerning the likelihood that human sacrifice
took place.  IF it took place for the religious reasons recorded by Spanish
(and some Nahua) chroniclers, the Mexica would be pretty pissed that this was
doubted and considered as some form of malicious Spaniard slander used to
justify genocide.  I cannot remember the source off hand (if that makes me a
liar, I can't defend that, but for what it's worth I am being honest here)
but I remember the tale of a particularly valiant and intelligent enemy war
captain from Tlaxcalla who was captured in a Flowery War.  The Emperor wanted
to keep him as a war captain to use in a campaign against the Purepecha
(Tarascans).  This captain served in the campaign, but only on the condition
that afterward he would be sacrificed.  I believe another account describes
the rage of a noble father at his sone who was captured over his attempts to
avoid being sacrificed.  It appears from these and other accounts that
accepting sacrifice after capture was rather like committing sepukku or
ritual suicide in Japan.  It was the honorable thing to accept, even demand
your fate.  This is why I am really suprised by the reaction to Craig's
comments.  It's not like Craig said, "It is an absolute fact that the Mexica
murdered people by the thousands."  I can't think of a SINGLE book written on
the subject that makes that sort of biased judgment about the meaning of
sacrifice in Mesoamerica.  Sure, lots of primary resources are filled with
religious and cultural bias, but the bias is usually transparant and easy to
spot.  At least I think so, perhaps I am mistaken.  I think most of the
polemics regarding Nahua religious practices are formulaic as hell.  Plain
old smear tactics.  But the volume and consistency of the descriptions of the
practice of human sacrifice in Tenochtitlan is compelling.  And I think in
most cases the description of the practice is very matter of fact.  Very
often the priests were meticulous in recording the meaning and function of
what they labelled "heathen" religious practices so they would know who and
what they were up against.  When a modern reader goes through these accounts
of sacrifice it comes across as a practice of great importance and
meaning...NOT as large scale murder.  Again, it can be debated whether some
political opportunists capitalized on these sacrificial events and used them
to intimidate foreign dignitaries......but it certainly wouldn't be the FIRST
time religion and poltics have mingled, one has only to look to the role of
the Roman Church in politics for at least 700 years in Europe.  I think it is
a reasonable assumption that if I were a Zapotec or Mixtec ambassador and I
saw 1000 warriors tumbling down the Templo Mayor, I would have quaked with
fear at the might of the Empire Huitizilipochtli helped build, and I would
have been a more tractable subject than if I had stayed in a fortified
mountain city and never set foot in the Mexica capital.  It is pure
conjecture, but reasonable.  If it is offensive I apologize, you certainly
don't have to agree.
    A final point I want to make in Craig's defense--what is wrong with the
explanation that some Nahuas may have believed the Spaniards were
supernatural.  They were pale with heavy facial hair, they wore metal armor
and rode animals the indigenous people had never seen.  The ships were
certainly unlike anything in the Americas.  I am not saying they were better
at all, but certainly unlike anything ANYONE on the mainland at that time had
ever seen.  The remarkable coincidence of Cortez arrival in the year 1 Reed
must have also had a spiritual impact on the people.  If they were a
spiritual and religious people whose lives were guided in many ways by ritual
cycles, I would be shocked if the people did NOT harbor at least a suspicion
or nagging fear that Cortez might be Quetzalcoatl.  Cortez was an
opportunist, I am sure he took advantadge of this misinterpretation and
amplified the suspicions of his Godly origin.  As rumor made its way to the
capital, it seems perfectly sensible that the Emperor, with his religious
role and ties to the Toltecs through religious history, WOULD think to
himself...."Oh this for real?"  The stakes could not have been
higher if he judged Cortez a man when he was not.  I am sure like all
societies, there were skeptics right from the beginning who knew the
Spaniards were just very unusual men, however mysterious their origins.  I
don't see any reason to take insult at the suggestion that many of the Nahuas
thought or feared Cortez might be a god.  Religious hysteria is commonplace
throughout the history of Europe.  With such calendrical and religious
factors coinciding as they did with the arrival and appearance of Cortez, and
Cortez incentive to perpetuate this misunderstanding to aid him in conquering
a population so vast it boggled the imagination, why WOULDN'T this belief
have been held by a portion of the population?  If you were a Mexica who
never saw Cortez, but only heard rumors of his appearance and his success in
battle, wouldnt you get a little worried?  Come on, this isn't some unfair
slam on the Mexica, if people in America can buy into that guy who led
Heaven's Gate,  why couldn't some of the nahua population have believed in
the divine origin of Cortez and his men, at least at first?  That's far more
reasonable than offing yourself for "Do" in my opinion.  I think it's too the
credit of the people that fought him so valiantly later, despite the diseases
ravaging the population and the advantage of powder weapons and horse, that
they might have harbored some belief he was a god and battled against him
    Well, this went on too long, but I think the criticism leveled at Craig
was unfair to him, and to be perfectly honest unfair to Mesoamerican history.
 Those people fought and died in the millions for their original beliefs.  To
throw out the sacrfice of war captives as religious propaganda is like
throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Not to mention it ignores
millenia of religious motifs, and a few original documents which still
survive.  I think it is similarly unfair to label the belief that some Nahua
peoples believed Cortez and his men were gods or divine as "biased
assumption."  There is a perfect precident set in the encounter of Captain
Cook with the people of Hawai.  He arrived at the beginning of a religious
festival which honored the arrival of the divine founder of the hawaiian
islands.  He was at first thought to be this god and greeted with excitement
and honor.  When he stayed beyond the ceremonial time at which the god Lono
was supposed to depart, the Hawaiian people (no doubt some already
suspicious) killed him.  Spiritual belief can powerfully shape the perception
of reality, and when something incredible occurs that has some sort of
religious precedent, it is easy for the line between reality and the
spiritual to blur.  Easier for some than others.  Some I think are natural
born skeptics.  No doubt many of the Mesoamerican peoples were skeptical from
the get go.  But I think it is selling short one of the richest spiritual
cultures in history to dismiss such a misunderstanding as a biased attempt to
justify European conquest.  I am sure some very bad people have taken this
event and run with it, using it to justify all sorts of atrocities, but that
doesn't mean it didn't happen.
    And as far as this movie goes, all Craig was saying is, just because a
member of a particular group in a film has cultural characteristics
exagerrated to become a bad guy, doesn't mean the film is racist.  Maybe it
is, maybe it isn't, let's at least KNOW what we are picketing.  If you just
draw up the picket signs and stand out front without even knowing what you
are really protesting, it does more harm than good.  People who might be won
over to your cause begin to doubt your sincerity.  Be a good example for your
cause, see the movie, then if it ticks you off, picket all you want.  Just
find out first before using blanket assumptions to justify a protest sight
unseen.  It's too important for this cause to be taken seriously to jump the
gun.  Tell folks to be on the lookout maybe, but just because something has
happenned before doesn't mean it wil be the same every time.  That same sort
of stereotyping is what helped justify genocide in this hemisphere for
hundreds of years.
    Well after this long rant I am sure no one ever wants to hear from me
again.  Just had to get that off my chest.  If I am offended by the film I
will be sure to spread the word about it.  But I will find out some specifics

If you made it this far, thanks!
Case Bodiford

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