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The Mapa de Cuauhtlantzinco

By Christine L. Hernández, Curator of Special Collections, The Latin American Library at Tulane University

The Mapa de Cuauhtlantzinco (hereafter referred to as Mapa), held in the Latin American Library at Tulane University, is a watercolor copy on European paper, made around 1855, of a late seventeenth–early eighteenth century lienzo kept in the village known today as the barrio San Juan Cuautlancingo located just outside the metropolitan zone of the city of Puebla in southern Mexico. The Mapa contains a local account of the exploits, efforts, and aide made by the cacique, Tepoztecatzin, and three fellow cacique leaders, all equal participants alongside Hernán Cortés in the conquest of the Aztec Empire. The introduction of Christianity to Cuauhtlantzinco and other surrounding villages is also a major theme of the manuscript.

The original Mapa, consisting of forty-four oil paintings on European paper, each 30 x 40 cm, was first discovered in 1836 by Padre D. José Vicente Campos. On a subsequent visit in 1855, Campos had the paintings pasted onto cotton sheeting and mounted in two wooden frames to conserve and protect them. Adolph F. Bandelier briefly saw the paintings when he visited the town in 1881, and Frederick Starr began photographing them when he visited in 1895. Returning in 1898 to take better pictures, Starr found that part of one frame had unfortunately been destroyed by fireworks. Starr describes one of the stretchers as having twenty-seven painted scenes (with twenty-nine numbered texts in Nahuatl) laid out in three horizontal rows; the second had seventeen paintings in two horizontal rows, with the odd numbers set crosswise at the right-hand end. Padre Campos, with the assistance of townspeople, completed a Spanish translation of the Nahuatl texts between 1855 and 1856. The translation was written on the border of the pictures, on paper pasted onto the canvas. The Tulane copy retains the order in which Starr found them during his 1898 visit (Tulane University and Martha B. Robertson 1991: 10–11).

There are four protagonists in the Mapa’s account who were indigenous leaders (caciques) at the time of Spanish contact: Tepoztecatzin, Cacalotl, Cencamatl, and Sarmiento. The original manuscript from which the current Mapa was copied was allegedly created by Tepoztecatzin himself, though scholars think it more likely that the original manuscript dates to the late Viceregal period and was probably compiled by the descendants of one or more of the four protagonists, possibly drawing on a number of sources, including old records and documents, oral histories, plays, mural paintings, and other artifacts (Wood 2003: 82-83). This is to say that the document should not be taken as an accurate history of events and personages. It is more likely the case that it was drawn up by descendants to promote themselves as early and equal allies joining up with Hernán Cortés and his forces to conquer the Aztecs. A recorded legacy of military deeds and religious conversion on the side of the Spanish was essential for indigenous elites and their descendants in order to support their claims to the Spanish Crown for the promised rewards to conquistadors of land, privileges, and exemption from tribute payment as residents in New Spain. The Mapa was created for the purposes of personal advancement and enrichment, yet carefully and skillfully cast in such a way as to benefit the larger indigenous community as a whole by proclaiming corporate communal rights. So, individual and family agendas are pursued whilst not alienating local supporters (Oudijk and Restall 2007; Wood 2003, 2007).


Mapa de Cuauhtlantzinco, detail; © 2018 The Latin American Library, Tulane University.

In scene 7, the text recounts the triumph of the Spanish over the inhabitants of Tecuanapan (a subject town of San Isabel Cholula) who were very likely tributaries to Tepoztecatzin. The serpent represents the adherence of the indigenous peoples to their pre-Hispanic religion, in contrast to the Christian faith held by the Spaniards and represented by the image of the Virgen de los Remedios floating above the Spanish forces. None of the four protagonists are pictured, but the name of Cacolotzin is attached to the end of the text, suggesting he may have been involved in this particular conflict. Translated, the Nahuatl text reads, “we draw them from their errors and false beliefs: this was the greater part of my lands, called Achichipilco, in which they were giving superstitious worship to the snake which they adored” (Starr et al. 1898: 24).

Mapa de Cuauhtlantzinco, detail; © 2018 The Latin American Library, Tulane University.

In scene 23, the text recounts Cortés’s return to Spain, and Tepoztecatzin delivers gifts to Cortés for the journey back: “I gave them gifts, supplying them three portions of gold of the size of a head, much food, many deer and rabbits, many greenstones, and I accompanied them to the pueblo of Quimiaochitiolan (today Quimixtlan, Puebla), where I shed many tears; where I felt myself penetrated with a profound grief for their absences, carrying them in my mind” (Starr et al. 1898: 27). Quimixtlan is in eastern Puebla near the Veracruz border and likely near the end of the territorial boundaries of these people as Cortés was heading back to the Gulf Coast of Mexico. In keeping with the document’s intention of displaying close and cordial relations with the Spanish, the text describes a heartfelt goodbye.

Sources Cited

Matthew, Laura E., and Michel R. Oudijk. 2007. Indian conquistadors: indigenous allies in the conquest of Mesoamerica. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Oudijk, Michel R. and Matthew Restall. 2007. “Mesoamerican Conquistadors in the Sixteenth Century.” In Indian conquistadors: indigenous allies in the conquest of Mesoamerica, edited by Laura E. Matthew and Michel R. Oudijk, pp. 28–64. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Starr, Frederick, Tepostecatzin, and Joseì Vicente Campos. 1898. The Mapa de Cuauhtlantzinco: or Coìdice Campos. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tulane University, and Martha B. Robertson. 1991. Mexican Indian Manuscript Painting: A Catalog of the Latin American Library Collection, Tulane University. [New Orleans, LA]: The Library.

Wood, Stephanie. 2003. Transcending conquest: Nahua views of Spanish Colonial Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Wood, Stephanie. 2007. “Nahua Christian Warriors in the Mapa de Cuauhtlantzinco, Cholula Parish.” In Indian Conquistadors: Indigenous Allies in the Conquest of Mesoamerica, edited by Laura E. Matthew and Michel R. Oudijk, pp. 254–288. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

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