Receipt: April 15, 2021
Acceptance: June 9, 2021
The dance that was the object of the images presented in this photographic essay converses with many stories. It all depends on where, when and for who these stories are danced for. For the 17th Century missionaries, its first promoters, this dance was a way to instill and celebrate the arrival of a new religion. However, in the 19th Century, with the Independence, and the later victory of Juarez’s army on the French, that vision of the defeated changed sides and with this, dances also changed. Rural teachers took the place of the missionaries, spearheading a new way to think and present the past; the first pro-indigenous variants began taking the spotlight or they mixed or coexisted with the pro-Spaniard variants.
Through the work of a certain Casimiro Jiménez, probably a native of the neighboring state of Oaxaca, one of these pro-indigenist variants began to spread in the Mixteco-Amuzgo region of the Costa Chica of Guerrero, between 1910 and 1915. My Amuzgo friends loved to reconstruct its diffusion in the region, and today this is the story they are most interested in telling. The other, the history told through dance, also makes them proud because despite the defeat, their ancestors shine for their bravery and their resistance. I hope that the connoisseur and the specialist in these subjects can appreciate in the photos that I present the echoes of these stories whose protagonists are surely much more numerous than those who appear on the screen.
The dance that was the object of the images presented in this photographic essay converses with many stories. It all depends on where, when and for whom these stories are danced for. For the 17th Century missionaries, its first promoters, this dance was a way to instill and celebrate the arrival of a new religion. However, in the 19th Century, with the Independence, and the later victory of Juarez's army on the French, that vision of the defeated changed sides and with this, dances also changed. Rural teachers took the place of the missionaries, spearheading a new way to think and present the past; the first pro-indigenous variants began taking the spotlight or they mixed or coexisted with the pro-Spaniard variants.
Thanks to a Casimiro Jiménez, probably from the neighboring state of Oaxaca, one of these pro-indigenous variants began spreading in the Mixtecan-Amuzgan region of the Costa Chica de Guerrero, between 1910 and 1915. My Amuzgan friends loved to rebuild their culture dissemination process, and it is currently the story they most like to tell. The other story, the one told through dance, also makes them proud because, despite their defeat, their ancestors shine for their bravery and their resistance. I hope that people who are knowledgeable and specialist in these topics are able to see, in the photos I present, the echoes of these stories, with surely much more protagonists than those that show up on the screen.
Keywords: anthropology of dance, visual anthropology, structural history, amuzgos.
In the 1990s I participated in a collective research project on the genre of "dances of conquest", which in addition to a book (Jáuregui and Bonfiglioli, 1996) also led to an in-depth study of a particular case: that of the Dance of the Conquest of Mexico in Tlacoachistlahuaca (Bonfiglioli, 2004), a mestizo-Amuzgo municipality in the Costa Chica of Guerrero. I cite these two studies because it is from them that I will draw to introduce and contextualize the photos that I will present in this essay.
The Dance of the Conquest of Mexico shares with other dances of the same genre -see the cases of the Dances of the Conquest of Guatemala, of Peru, or the case of the Reconquest of Spain- the same argumental and choreographic proposal, that is, "the formation of two groups or sides whose antagonism is based -by means of the staging of a combat- on the conquest, recovery or defense of a territory. To this must be added: 1) the ethnic and religious character of the warring sides and 2) the epic-military aspect of the conflict." (Bonfiglioli, 2004: 14).
It has been rightly said (Warman, 1968) that the most important antecedent in the conformation of the first novo-Hispanic models was the dance of Moors and Christians, whose most relevant theme is the danced and theatricalized staging of the Reconquest of Spain. The Spaniards brought it to the American continent with the purpose of celebrating and magnifying the new conquest for evangelizing purposes (Ricard, 1932; Foster, 1962). In order to achieve it -that is, to transform this dance into a dance of the Conquest of Mexico- it was necessary to operate some substitutions of protagonists and to carry out certain argumental adaptations. The organization and direction of these stagings was in the hands of the missionary friars, who in American territory enriched them with religious elements, since with them it was not only a question of theatricalizing a military conquest, but above all a religious supremacy.
Perhaps the best known example of this colonial period, and certainly the oldest, is the libretto of the Danza de la Conquista known as the Codex Gracida and written, apparently, by Dominican friars in the xviii. This libretto, which refers to the case of Cuilapan, exemplifies the main characteristics of the colonial variants, whose main axis is "conquer to convert" and whose narrative is decidedly pro-Hispanic. In it, everything concerning the Spaniards is oriented towards this "noble purpose", conversion. Consequently, all the episodes must be read in this light. Cortés is here presented as a military man in the service of a religious truth (the same one professed by the friars who organized these representations). His plan is linear; his action, determined, without stumbles and without defeats. However, before waging war against the Mexicans, he tries to persuade his opponent, Montezuma, with kindness and convincing arguments. In this attempt he is helped by the Malinche, who betrays her husband Moctezuma to make possible the conversion of the Mexican people. The attempt fails, Montezuma does not want to convert. Thus, faced with the obstinacy of the Mexican chief, Cortes is left with only the military option. The war that followed was brief. Moctezuma surrenders; he asks Cortés for forgiveness, but Cortés sends him to prison so that his punishment may serve as an example.
What is striking about these variants is that the Spaniards are presented as flawless and virtuous. Their superiority is, in reality, the superiority of the true God over the false gods of the Mexicans. It is understood that the purpose of this version was to show, in an edifying way, how the Mexicans became Catholics. The theme of territorial conquest is of little weight and subordinate to the religious purpose.
In another variant, always from Cuilapan, from the first half of the first half of the century. xix (McAfee, 1952), the "historical adjustments" are even more surprising. Cortés praises the virtues of Christianity and invites Moctezuma to convert. Both chiefs exchange words of peace and love. Montezuma accepts "with all his heart" the water of baptism. Solemn music is played to celebrate this act of understanding and harmony. When Cuauhtémoc, the other Mexican chief, appears on stage to urge his people to fight the Spaniards, Moctezuma and Cortés reply with words of peace, inviting him to convert, but Cuauhtémoc declares war. In the fight that follows, Cortés invokes the apostle Santiago, the angels and the Virgin Mary to intervene in the battle to defeat Cuauhtémoc, who in addition to dying goes to hell. The dance ends with Moctezuma rejoicing for the victory of the holy faith.
It happens sometimes that history turns around and so do dances. Once independence was achieved in 1821, a fact that was consolidated with the end of the French intervention in 1867, what was imposed in the country was a rewriting of history in a nationalist key. The dance-theatrical representations of the Conquest of Mexico suffered the same fate and, at the end of that century and the beginning of the next, they were rewritten in a nationalist key. xxDuring this period, the dance librettos passed from the hands of the friars to the hands of lay educators, who made their own adjustments to the texts. It was during this period that the colonial variants underwent an important modification according to the new purposes. In the popular imagination, the conception of the conquest began to be reformulated as the result of a struggle between native peoples and Spanish invaders. At the same time, the pre-Hispanic past began to be valued in public education for nationalist purposes.1
The main focus of the variants corresponding to this second period was to "conquer". versus Resist", which is why the theological conflict was minimized and the military confrontation was magnified. On a basic scheme typical of the Moors and Christians dances, richer in combats and challenges than the colonial versions of the Conquest of Mexico, was superimposed -until today- an extreme reaffirmation of the bravery, heroism and non-surrender of the Mexicans.
In this type of variant, the characters are characterized according to new ends: Cortés becomes evil and Moctezuma becomes good; or, Cortés and Moctezuma become evil and Cuauhtémoc becomes a patriotic hero who sacrifices his life to defend his people and his land. The theme of Cortés' greed -his interest in Moctezuma's gold- appears for the first time and, in certain cases, his conduct is deceitful and cowardly. Within the code of the military confrontation, the successes of the Mexicans are multiplied and the final result of the confrontation is rearranged in a pro-indigenist key. In retrospect, it seems to me that there were three ways of resolving the confrontation in favor of the Mexican side. The first, most striking, was to attribute the victory to the Mexicans, as if the history of the Conquest had ended with the episode of the Noche Triste, the only military achievement of the natives over the foreigners - the variant of Cuilapan recorded by Loubat at the beginning of the century - and the only military achievement of the Mexicans over the foreigners. xx- (Loubat, 1902). The second, more common, is to load on the figures of certain "traitors", mainly the Malinche, the responsibility of the Spanish victory, leaving to the other Mexicans the merit and the honor of the resistance -the variant of the Costa Chica, for example-. The third way -which corresponds to a current tendency of the Oaxacan danza de la Pluma- is to weaken the presence and the performances of the Spanish side until it literally disappears from the stage, and on the other hand, to enhance, by means of "aesthetic grace", the performance of the Mexican side.2
It is legitimate to ask whether at the heart of these representations of the Conquest of Mexico, which insist on showing an imaginary victory of the natives and other "distortions" of the historical facts, there is an underlying pensée sauvage extremely naïve that seeks to hide the undeniable. In reality, what is naïve is not the indigenous vision of history, but to think that history is the object of a "re-presentation". What can be affirmed from our examples, and paraphrasing Turner (1981: 10-11) and the first Lévi-Strauss,3 is that the Conquest of Mexico served from the beginning as a floating referent to inspire, in most cases, the discursive framework of the ritual processes, but also to think the events and the characters in a new condition. Following this perspective, the correspondences between the supposed historical fact and its staging can become inconsequential. It is as if the indigenous memory, rather than being focused on describing and interpreting the events, were concerned with evidencing other issues, more affective than descriptive: the feeling of resistance, of permanence, for example, an aspect of great importance in the variants of the Danza de la Pluma of the xx. After all, if we are talking about history, we must not forget that those victorious Spaniards of the 20th century xvi were defeated 300 years later, in the war of independence; and that another foreign army, this time French, was also defeated after another 50 years, in the period known as the French intervention, by the first and only Mexican president of indigenous descent. I am referring to Benito Juárez, Zapotec and Oaxacan, like the indigenous people who, in other times and in other ways, suppressed the Spanish from their own representations.
After this brief, yet dense, summary of the excursus structural history, I would now like to address the local history of the variant of the Danza de la Conquista de México danced in Tlacoachistlahuaca. It was exciting for me to involve the Ignacio family, particularly brothers Pedro (†), Andres (†) and Nico, natives of the place, in my inquiries about the dance. The first two (qpd) at that time were rocket men by profession, and the third, Nico, was a country person. But the most important thing is that all three were "men of taste".4 of the dance of the Conquest and of others that are organized in the town or that are requested from neighboring towns. Pedro, the eldest, was a person who went through all the positions, a great organizer. He was a member of the group of tatamandones of the town for many years.5 I had many conversations with him during my six or seven stays in Tlacoachistlahuaca. With Andrés and Nico as well. Andrés was a dancer and at the time he was also a teacher of the Danza de la Conquista; with him I had talks about this dance, about the teaching profession, about dance as a promise. Of Nico -exdanzante, mascarero- I remember his fondness for the Dance of the Tlaminques. When he spoke of this dance, his eyes would light up. In one of my stays -I remember it was a carnival- he invited the tiger of Cozoyoapan to participate in the party. A great event that we recalled in an interview I did with the Ignacio brothers.6 With the three brothers I had a beautiful relationship, affectively intense. I am deeply grateful to them for the "gusto" they transmitted to me. But of the three, I had the most intense relationship with Pedro. I do not remember the reason why I was taken to him the first time. But I began to frequent him because he was delighted to talk about "traditions", and I more than him. In a certain period at least we saw each other almost every day. He didn't always understand things at first. I came from the Sierra Tarahumara, land of silences. And here, no; the conversations were coming out in droves.
The story I will tell next was taken from my talks with don Pedro Ignacio. It was published in my book Cuauhtémoc's epic in Tlacoachistlahuaca (2004). But I think it is worth quoting it again.
"Previously -says don Pedro Ignacio Feliciano (†), an indigenous elder from Tlacoachistlahuaca, a curious and passionate person- in Tlacoachistlahuaca only the Doce Pares were danced", but in other nearby towns, such as Acatepec, Ometepec or Xochistlahuaca the Danza de la Conquista had roots. Suddenly a person "of taste" came up with something new. This is what happened with Amancio Reyes in 1949, the mayordomo who invited for the first time a teacher from Acatepec to perform the dance in Tlacoachistlahuaca. Don Pedro tells me that in the forties, between the faithful of Acatepec and those of Tlacoachistlahuaca there was an exchange of "promises": during the respective patron saint festivals, the faithful would return each other's visits for religious purposes.
At that time," says don Pedro, "there was a lot of music from here and they also came. But at the end we thought of inviting the dancers from there. Before, they only came with their promise, but later they wanted us to invite... [that is, to pay their expenses] The teacher told me: look, don Pedro, I'm going to teach the dance and I'm not going to charge a penny, I'm going to do it as a promise to the Virgin. The only [thing] we want [is] for you to come on the day of the rehearsal. But what they wanted was for us to bring the drink because they knew there was a factory here [of aguardiente] and they wanted us to bring dinner when the battle was over.
After some time, the Tlacoacheños wanted to have their own
We had to go, but at the end I told him [the principals of Tlacoachistlahuaca]: hey, what are we looking for expenses, what are we doing over there, we'd better put the dance here. That teacher came twice. The mayordomos paid for him to come and teach the dance here.
Don Pedro also clarifies that the dance of Acatepec continued to visit Tlacoachistlahuaca even when the people of the village had already established their own representation of the Conquest. Thus there were two groups of the Conquest performing simultaneously a few meters from each other and under the supervision of the master of Acatepec. However, a few years after the dance was introduced in Tlacoachistlahuaca, the custom of the visits was interrupted. In this regard, Gildardo Díaz, dance teacher in the latter town, gives us another interpretation:
Look, I am going to tell you the truth. Here the people here are very tasteful, here the people are elegant, they like to dress well and those from Acatepec didn't want to come because they dressed very shabby; I have to tell you that sometimes, as they came on the road, they brought their clothes in their bag and there on the road they dressed and didn't put much shine on them. And [compared to them] the dance here always came out ahead [better]. And they saw the luxury and of course here, not to say, but the people are a little more civilized. It happened [in addition] that [here] we danced pure good race, pure mestizos, they all expressed themselves well and among them -the dancers from Acatepec- there were people who failed in relationships, in terms of costumes, in terms of speech, so it also depended on them that they no longer... for fear that they would make fun of them. That was one of the main points [why] those from Acatepec no longer came. And those from Tlacoachistlahuaca, when they didn't come, they didn't go there. That was the reason, it was nothing else and many of them said so.
After I understood how the dance had been introduced in Tlacoachistlahuaca, I tried to reconstruct with don Pedro the vicissitudes of the dance in a larger region, and soon realized that all roads led to Acatepec, the town that everyone pointed to as the place of its beginning. Nor was it clear to me who had been the teacher who had first taught the dance there in Tlacoachistlahuaca. Arnulfo, Rodolfo... don Pedro could not remember well. What he did have clear in his mind was the place of origin, Acatepec, and even the name of the person who at that time was the teacher of all teachers, that is, the initiator of the dance in Acatepec itself. His name was Casimiro. He had also once met the brother of the person who introduced the dance in Tlacoachistlahuaca, "a certain Bartolo something-or-other”, who, according to him, still lived there, in that town. When I heard this, I asked Don Pedro: "Wouldn't you accompany me to look for this gentleman?" The next day we were in Acatepec, a Nahua-Mestizo town, 20 minutes by cab from Ometepec.
We then arrived at the house of Bartolo de la Cruz, a person with a warm and friendly manner, kind even in his eyes. They quickly came to reminisce about what had united them half a century before. I noticed in the eyes of both of them how those memories flowed "on the fly" and with veiled nostalgia:
At that time we were newer. When the dance was brought to Tlacoachistlahuaca," said Bartolo, "they wanted it so much... And the people liked it that they went to Tlacoachistlahuaca on December 8... And then they came more and more to ask for the dance....
Don Pedro nodded, implying that he was among the Tlacoacheños who went to Acatepec to request the presence of the dance.
The person who started the Danza de la Conquista in Acatepec was Casimiro Jiménez. That man was not from here. He came from over there, from that side of that hill, from Guadalupe, from Huixtepec. When that man started this dance, we didn't know it here in the region. Here the Dance of the Conquest was started by that gentleman over there. And now yes, from there they say that a man from Ometepec had the whole story. Efrén Sandoval was the name of that man, who is also deceased. And that gentleman finished expanding the history of the Conquest... that gentleman gave him the relations that the deceased Casimiro needed. Casimiro was my brother Adolfo's teacher. He began dancing as a child, first as a Negrito, with the simplest primer. That's where he started, and dancing and dancing he was changing primer and changing primer until he became General Cortés. And there, then, he caught the wave. He was the one who taught it to all of us. Here, in Azoyú, San Luis Acatlán, Cuajinicuilapa, he was around a lot. He worked with the late Fidel Ruiz... One day, almost in front of everyone, Casimiro and Adolfo made an agreement with this Fidel, they agreed to work together. Then, my brother Adolfo passed the story to my brother Chico [Francisco de la Cruz]. And after that it was my turn. I could see that also... [that is, that because Adolfo was old he could no longer teach]. Brother, I told him, pass me the history or sell it to me, let's see if we can do some work ourselves. Yes, I said. When we have some work we'll give you something to eat. Well, then, and he gave me all the relations. I wrote them down, as I can do [writing], I wrote everything down. Then I got a little job and I gave 25,000 to my brother; then my nephew, who started working with me, gave him 50,000 and he was happy. And then when there is another move we give you more and that's how he made me responsible for everything. So I have all the relations and increase of relations that were given to me by a teacher from Ometepec called Pedro Rodríguez....
Bartolo says that he does not know the date of the beginnings, but thanks to a cross-reference of events it is possible to estimate, with a good approximation, that the introduction of the dance in Acatepec may have occurred between 1910 and 1915. From there the dance was transferred, with some modification, to the neighboring city of Ometepec, by Efrén Sandoval, and to the predominantly Amuzgo town of Xochistlahuaca by maestro Victoriano López. According to Agadeo Polanco, late master of the dance in Xochistlahuaca:
Victoriano modified it quite a bit, at least in the costumes and also the sones and the part of Montezuma's betrayal and other things. First the Mexicans dressed like the Spaniards, all with the same jacket. With a jacket and a hat, of different colors. They were distinguished by the hat. Because the Mexicans all wore crowns and the Spaniards wore hats. I think that Mr. Victoriano saw in a book.
When the dance and the dance teacher from Acatepec stopped visiting Tlacoachistlahuaca -in 1951-, the dance teacher from Xochistlahuaca, Victoriano López (Amuzgo), was invited to teach the Tlacoacheños how to dance the dance. And in 1954, Tlacoachistlahuaca had its own dance teacher: Gildardo Díaz.
Don Lalo managed to own an index of relations (dance notebook) when he was only thirteen years old; at fifteen, he taught dance for the first time in the Amuzgo village of Huehuetónoc. In this regard, he tells us:
I was the one who spread everything up here. At the beginning, pus, it was in Huehuetónoc; the second year it was my turn here [we are talking about 1954, when don Lalo was 16 years old]. That year when I started here, Adolfo de la Cruz -the teacher from Acatepec who started the dance in Tlacoachistlahuaca- was going to come, and who knows why, but he failed; the people were already gathered and the butler already had expenses; then they said: we saw that Lalo can do it; at least, if there is any failure, it is very small, we are going to try to have him teach here already, because we saw that the dance in Huehuetónoc went very well, so we have to give preference to him. So they looked for me and the dance came out well, and then I stayed and every year and every year I taught....
It was thanks to Gildardo Díaz, Andrés Feliciano -another teacher of the dance in Tlacoachistlahuaca-, Filiberto Carmelo de Jesús, Victoriano Agustín and Agadeo Polanco, teachers from Xochistlahuaca, that the dance spread to the small towns of the Montaña region. All these teachers assumed the same role that Casimiro Jiménez, the de la Cruz brothers and others played in the coastal plains. All of them, together with other teachers who have replaced them nowadays as well as other people "of taste", have been the protagonists of this diffusion.
Today dance is firmly rooted in dozens of mestizo, Amuzgo and Mixteco villages on the coast and in the highlands, the result of a miraculous union between "taste, promise and necessity". Being a dance teacher in those times and in that region, has undoubtedly been a way to "earn a little money", but also to offer work to the Patron Saint so that the people can shine on the day of his feast. From the beginning, all the dancers, musicians, mayordomos, indigenous tatamandones and other collaborators have contributed to this, each one paying the expenses or working in their own way. To all this we must add that in this time in which everything is disseminated through social networks, dance could not escape this dynamic. Just by typing the words "Dance of the Conquest of Mexico" in the search engine of our phone, the amount of images, videos and information at our disposal becomes absolutely unthinkable, especially imagining ourselves melancholically, sitting at the table with Don Pedro and Don Bartolo in the house of the latter, evoking and reconstructing little by little when it all began. Sitting in front of my computer, I can jump in a few minutes clicks from Ometepec to Igualapa, to Cochoapa, Xochistlahuaca, Cozoyoapan, Tlacoachistlahuaca, San Pedro Amuzgo and other places. But the ease and speed of these kinds of evocations -their hyper-availability- have a price: it seems to me that the most important one is the flattening of temporality-territoriality; the loss of that historical intensity that the narratives presented above set out to recreate: the narrative of conversion, of resistance, of permanence. Taste as an engine of rootedness and diffusion. The photos I present below are imbued with this experiential intensity. I hope they can be seen in this perspective.
Bonfiglioli, Carlo (2004). La epopeya de Cuauhtémoc en Tlacoachistlahuaca. Un estudio de contexto, texto y sistema en la antropología de la danza. México: Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana.
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García, Rosario (1995). Danza de la Pluma o de la Conquista en Zaachila, Oaxaca [tesis de maestría]. México: Escuela Nacional de Danza Folklórica / Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes / Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes.
Jáuregui, Jesús y Carlo Bonfiglioli (coord.) (1996). Las danzas de conquista i. México contemporáneo. México: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes / Fondo de Cultura Económica.
Loubat, Joseph-Florimond duque de (1902). “Letra de la Danza de la Pluma de Moctezuma y Hernán Cortés con los capitanes y reyes que intervinieron en la Conquista de México”. Congrès International des Américanistes, núm. 1, pp. 221-261.
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Turner, Victor (1981) . “Prólogo”, en Ronald L. Grimes, Símbolo y conquista. Rituales y teatro en Santa Fe, Nuevo Mexico. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, pp. 9-11.
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Val Julián, Carmen (1991). “Danses de la Conquête: une mémoire indienne de l’histoire?”, en Alain Breton, Jean-Pierre Berthe y Sylvie Lecoin (ed.), Vingt études sur le Mexique et le Guatemala réunies à la mémoire de Nicole Percheron. Tolosa: Centre d’Etudes Mexicaines et Centramericaines / Presses Universitaires du Mirail, pp. 253-266.
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Carlo Bonfiglioli He completed his undergraduate studies at the National School of Anthropology and History (1993) and his master's degree (1995) and doctorate at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (1998). He is the author of two individual books -Pharisees and Matachines in Sierra Tarahumara, 1995 y Cuauhtémoc's epic in Tlacoachistlahuaca2004-, coordinator of six collective books -Conquest dances in contemporary Mexico (1996); The Northwest routesvol. 1 (2008), vol. 2 (2008), vol. 3 (2011); Reflexivity and otherness. Case studies in Mexico and Brazil1 (2019) and vol. 2 (in process) - and author of more than 50 scientific articles. He has taught several courses and directed theses at the Graduate School of Anthropology and Mesoamerican Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. unam. He has coordinated two interinstitutional and interdisciplinary projects: the first on a systemic perspective of Northwest Mexico and the second on American indigenous ontologies. His current field of research points to a "Rarámuri theory of shamanism". He has twice received the Bernardino Sahagún Award (1994 and 1999).